What is Risk Compensation Theory (RCT) and why does it matter to us?
Well, RCT is…
Risk compensation is a theory which suggests that people typically adjust their behavior in response to perceived levels of risk, becoming more careful where they sense greater risk and less careful if they feel more protected. Although usually small in comparison to the fundamental benefits of safety interventions, it may result in a lower net benefit than expected.[n 1]
It is then used to say, well if we allow this, or install that, or make this medicine widely available, then X, Y, or Z negative effect will result.
Installing seat belts in vehicles will just encourage people to drive more recklessly!
Making birth control available will make people more promiscuous and make STD’s spike!
Legalizing _______ will make everyone lazy and unproductive addicts! (I can be lazy on my own, thank you very much!)
Allowing guns in ____________ location will turn it into the Wild West!
All of these examples come from a distorted sense of risk management. This is the risk compensation theory, that an advancement in safety or capability will have an equal and opposite
The nuance of reality
Humans (and all animals) manage risk to ourselves (and our family groups) on a continuous basis. We use our judgement, experience
Risk compensation generally assumes that if we implement a change or precaution humanity will just adjust the risky behavior up to offset the safety gain. It feels logical on the surface, but it fails to taken into account that people like simple ways to manage risks and while some offset and increase in dangerous behaviors may occur it will generally never rise to offset a well designed safety feature or policy properly implemented.
Car safety belts are an excellent example of this. Certain theories held that with the increase in survivability provided by the belt, speeding and reckless driving would increase. Speed has increased, but this is largely a product of both vehicle and road design being able to handle faster vehicles, not a compensation of perceived safety offsetting reckless behavior.
The most prominent example of Risk Compensation we see is in College Campus arguments, they are the nominally ‘Gun Free Zone’ that is often the most easily removed as it is difficult to argue that adults who are allowed to carry most other public venues would somehow turn into raving murderous lunatics upon collegiate soil…
Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense when you dig into it.
But the theory goes that if guns are allowed, ‘accidents’ will increase on campus with firearms because students do things like drink. The other oft pushed argument is that professor who are covering ‘controversial’ subjects are no longer free to express themselves as they would otherwise because an angry student might gun them down for their challenging opinion.
Leaving aside the thought that if your opinion is throwing students into a sudden murderous rage you probably suck at conveying your opinion to provoke thought, what precisely is stopping a triggered student from murdering said professor?
Seriously, what? The rule? The rule against murder they are willing to ignore but they would somehow respect the rule of prohibition against firearms on campus? We know this isn’t true. We’ve seen example after example of campus prohibitions violated and we also have ongoing examples of campus which allow legal firearms in conjunction with the rules the state allows for other public venues and don’t see controversial professors being shot in job lots.
Weird… It’s almost like the risk compensatory arguments are utterly ridiculous, given additional rational input factors such a students being more or less reasonable persons on and off campus equally, and a true lack of meaningful protection behind the written prohibition against arms.
If a rule lacks an enforcement method, the rule is solely voluntary in nature. If the enforcement method is not one that can back the seriousness of the rule, the rule is solely voluntary in nature. The most likely person(s) to break the prohibition are those that the rule seeks to prohibit from breaking it and no enforcement method will be available at hand. It is ultimately a terrible miscarriage of your responsibilities to prohibit something, lack the resources to reasonably enforce the prohibition, and lack the responsive resources to deal with a violation of your prohibition.
This is especially true where civil rights are restricted for no more coherent reason than the ruling faculty do not like that right.