Commentary | Insurance: what is it good for?

Absolutely nothing

Before I get off and going, let us make a list – a list to keep in mind throughout, and to aid us in a more thorough dissection of what’s to follow. The list, of course, is a list of your fears. Just the little ones for now, like spiders, or dark closets, or tequila shots, or blind dates, or whatever. You can take a moment. I’ll allow exactly fifteen seconds, then you have to keep reading. Personally, my list hasn’t changed for years, and runs along the lines of guitar strings snapping in my eye, toasters burning down the cabinets they sit under, and tequila shots (that one was personal).

What are we to make of these fears? Surely they are not what pester us every day on the way to class or keep us up at night. And surely it’s the little fears that keep us in check; if no one unplugged their toasters after use then the rate of deaths caused by kitchen appliances would soar 354 per cent (check that statistic – I’m sure it’s close to being almost true).

So we see the goodness in our little fears, and you might even say that to feel them means we are still curiously, thankfully human. But sadly, once we take a grander look around, we see society’s fears as a whole and realize we are unwilling subjects to them. To be sure, there is not just one fear posing as society’s biggest vice. Rather, we are afraid of ugliness, afraid of rejection, afraid of failure, afraid of ourselves, and most of all (here comes the kicker!) we’re afraid someone will find out we’re afraid.

But what do we do to counter this miasma of fears? Ah, such good capitalists as we are, we insure. Gone are the days when auto, home, and health insurance just about rounded out the list of available plans, when a risk really meant a risk. Now we insure bags at the airport, and small chatchkas we send by DHL to our cousin in Minnesota, and our cell phones.Yet we also buy the Kevlar-coated, apocalypse-proof cases. This is all to lead me into the most grandiose, lofty insurance endeavor yet: the insurance of body parts.

I know, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Come on, who actually insures a body part?” Well, I’ll tell you who. Dolly Parton’s 42Ds are insured for $600,000, a policy which seems likely never to be filled, even though she’s got to be 125 years old by now; slightly less exciting are Keith Richards’s hands, Roger Clemens’s arm, and David Lee Roth’s man-juice. Yes, you heard right, the sex icon gets $1,000,000 if anything malignant happens to his semen. Another exercise for you, Dear Reader: Which body part would you insure? The brain, perhaps, to safeguard your parents’ suspicions that McGill partying has taken its toll? Brilliant, I’ve got it! Why not just insure your fear? This, sadly, is not a joke. By incessant insuring and guarding, we allow the cycle of fear to continue. Burying our fears in money only hides them, throwing a thinly veiled cloth over top as a disguise. Let us instead check our fears as much as they check us. Not by insuring, not by veiling them, but simply by recognition of their worth.

So far I haven’t ventured beyond a somewhat introspective look at our fears, fears over which we have at least some power. But hovering above personal and even cultural fears are those which unfold far from our reach, yet hit home all the same. Foreign military policy increasingly operates under the auspices of fear; since the Cold War, defense has consisted of precautions and pre-emption, a strategy only furthered by public support driven by being afraid. America’s Orange and Red Alerts are the obvious epitomes, while Obama’s recent decision to move proposed missile sites to waters closer to Iran is eerily reminiscent of the seventies missile standoff at the Iron Curtain. Simply put, the above is Nation Insurance, paid for yearly in taxes, and upheld by a horrifying deductible of soldiers’ and, alas, civilians’ lives. Somehow our little list of fears from before seems petty, as we realize the more drastic forms of our contemporary fear. But have no fear: to counter them simply requires that we be skeptical not only of ourselves, but of all outlets of fear, petty or extravagant.

Noah Caldwell-Rafferty is a U1 History student. Write him at

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