The difference between aggression, threats, and risks

Bo KelleherCulture, Health

More and more, I am seeing statements from people who are concretely certain about themselves, that they believe they have a right to be free from any and all forms of risk.  And usually, it’s in the context of, “Government should force people who do something I don’t like to stop, because somewhere, I (or small children, or puppies) could be at risk!”  These “risk-nazis” have brought us seatbelt laws, helmet laws, loitering laws, over-watering laws, gun control laws, mandatory vaccination laws, the TSA… and on and on.

When you think about it, the vast majority of our laws don’t exist to punish people who actually harm other people.  Most of our laws punish people who potentially put themselves, or someone else at “risk”.  Risk is a misunderstood concept when it comes to the nexus of personal liberty and the laws that infringe on it at the behest of those who are terrified of things that stand some statistical chance of happening.  I’m going to lay out a presentment of rights and logic, so bear with me. I’ve broken the elements into 3 parts: 1) aggression, 2) threats, 3) risks.


You have a right to be free from aggression. The inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot be violated through aggression or coercion unless to do so would avoid specific and imminent harm (except as provided in the reasonable and proper punishment for a crime for which one has been duly convicted).


You DO NOT have a right to be free from risk. Risk is everywhere.  Degrees of risk vary, but even the variance of risk doesn’t give you an express right to be free from it.  There are certainly situations that every person engages in that carry risk, but it’s impossible to protect against all risk (try as the nanny state might).  You’re at risk for fraud if you’re an uneducated or gullible consumer.  P.T. Barnum has your number!  But wait!  The Government Consumer Protection agents are coming to police advertising copy and make sure that your vitamins don’t make absurd claims about their ability to keep you healthy.


You have a right to be free from a threat. A threat is specific and imminent. A risk is general and merely possible. For instance: Planet Earth is at risk for being hit by a rogue deep-space asteroid, but there is no specific and imminent threat at the moment. No known asteroids imperil our planet at the moment.

It’s very important to understand the difference between these three elements:

  1. [aggression] You have a right to be free from aggression.
  2. [threat] You have a right to be free from threats.
  3. [risk] You do NOT have a right to be free from risk.
The language matters here, because it’s the not so subtle difference between these circumstances:
  1. [aggression] I am punching you.
  2. [threat] I have my fist cocked and I’m menacingly advancing in your direction and yelling cross words.
  3. [risk] I have a hand. If made into a fist, my hand is capable of inflicting great damage.
In each case, your personal right to respond is accordingly this:
  1. [aggression] You can employ aggression sufficient to stop my aggression and secure your immediate safety.
  2. [threat] If you are able to avoid the threat, you have a duty to do so, but if you can’t avoid the threat, you can employ aggression sufficient to repel the threat and secure your immediate safety.
  3. [risk] You cannot use aggression at all.

Public Health

Now let’s do the same exercise with a Communicable Disease the likes of which send the media into a breathless panic:

  1. [aggression] My family and I have been positively diagnosed with the measles. I have a fever, red spots, and I’m actively coughing near you.
  2. [threat] My child has measles and I think I may have them, too.  I ask you to meet me at the yoga studio.
  3. [risk] I have a body. Measles exists somewhere in the world, but I don’t have it.  You question my vaccination status and prejudicially fear that anyone who is unvaccinated may be a carrier of any and all vaccine-preventable diseases.

Your right to respond is this:

  1. [aggression] This is passive aggression through gross negligence.  Just as if I dumped  sharp tacks on the road in front of my house; it would be impossible to imagine that a reasonable person wouldn’t foresee the imminent danger created by allowing tacks to remain in the road (even if the spill were an accident).  You can employ any means necessary to restrain me from actively spreading disease. A mandatory quarantine would not be inappropriate. If you have damages as a result from my knowingly infecting you (medical costs, lost work due to quarantine, etc.), it would behove you to litigate and recover them in civil court. Coughing on someone while knowingly being infected is technically an assault (a crime), but individual circumstances would dictate if a prosecutor would charge it criminally.
  2.  [threat]  (a) If you have advance knowledge that I have the measles and know I’m going to yoga; you should avoid the threat and not go to the yoga studio.  You might also choose to notify the studio about the threat so that as a private business, they can refuse to serve me as a client.  You might also contact the department of health and make a report of the potential spread of the disease, you might take any other action reasonable to secure your immediate safety and of those around you, for as long as the threat persists.
    (b) If I have spots and a fever but no diagnosis and choose to go to the yoga studio instead of the doctor, I may have acted with some degree of negligence. There would be no chargeable assault, but there ma be civil liability for damages from negligence assuming a jury agreed that the negligence was beyond the level of a mistake that a normal person would make in the same circumstance.
  3. [risk] Without any kind of known, active exposure to measles, here’s nothing for you to do. You cannot employ aggression just to mitigate your risk.

Risklessness is impossible

We cannot aggress upon people who have hands because of the risk that they may punch you someday. We simply cannot deprive people of inalienable rights and mandate handcuffs or boxing gloves to restrain hands or protect “society” from the risk of being punched.  And don’t kid yourself: more people are punched every day in this country than you can fathom.

Likewise, it’s untenable to aggress against people by forcing them to be vaccinated against their will, when you have no probable cause to believe that they are a threat. Remember that a nebulous risk is not the same as a specific and imminent threat.

If anyone thinks that they have the right to use aggression against another person in order to mitigate risk and not threats, they stand in bold defiance of the Declaration of Independence but moreso the principles of self-ownership, human liberty and freedom which it illuminates.

I care, somewhat passionately, about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, so I hold the view that mandatory or coerced vaccination (e.g. ‘You can’t attend daycare, public or private school) is a totalitarian form of abject medical tyranny that stands in the way of those principles. It is fundamentally un-American and anti-human.

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