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I keep encountering people who to my view are violating the prime directive of all life forms; that is – 1) survive, 1a) don’t get killed by stupid behavior, 1b) eat appropriate food, 1c) don’t get eaten, 1d) avoid disease, 2) reproduce, 2a) find the healthiest reproductive unit, 2b) help the reproductive unit survive, 3) help offspring survive, 3a) have a superabundance of offspring, or 3b) have a few offspring and nurture them carefully.

The encounters with humans that bewilder me the most are those who do appallingly dangerous things for entertainment. I could make a long list here, but if you think it’s probably dangerous it would be accepted on my list. These people’s stated reasons for their dangerous behaviors are that it makes them feel more alive to be risking their life. Close calls with danger and death give them an adrenaline rush, and that makes life meaningful. Also, there are bragging rights that accrue to those who survive stupid acts; at least they get kudos from others who get a contact rush from hearing about danger even though it is secondhand. And, hearing the fanciful tales of why they were successful and therefore still alive  clears the way for copycat risk taking.

The only reason any individual of any species is alive is because their ancestors survived the dangers and rigors of living, and their ancestors did that by avoiding getting killed, at least up to reproductive age. The natural condition of all living things is to be risk averse — it is built into their DNA — and if for some reason there was a genetic flaw that made some fail to be risk-averse then those genes soon vanished from the gene pool. Strangely there seem to be too many humans with this risk-taking trait for it to be genetic, or perhaps our modern civilization is so safe that risky behavior doesn’t result in death often enough for their line to be exterminated by natural selection.

For most people taking risks is naturally avoided, and the reasons for doing it must be culturally learned from other people who somehow become emotionally charged by being around others who are reinforcing the lifestyle. They get together and do dangerous things and this gives them an intense feeling of group identity, personal bonding, and mutual trust. Having risked their lives together they believe the other person to be more concerned with their general welfare.

My general rule is not to take any chances at all unless there is a payoff that far outweighs the risk, and even then never take a risk that will take you out of the game. There are so many little things that can be done that have real payoffs with no risk, and there are many things that are hugely dangerous that have no tangible reward.

If you think you are about to do something stupid, you certainly are, so don’t.