But of course, the saying applies only to a specific situation, without regard for context. If, for example, there are other horses in the barn, there’s a very good reason to close the door – to prevent the others from escaping.
That’s the best way to look at a situation such as the aftermath of the tragic fatal crash last week at a busy intersection in Calvert City. Police Chief David Elliott immediately began calling for, and taking first steps to bring about, changes in the traffic laws that surely may have contributed to that collision.
It is the nature of the human beast that we learn by mistakes. The examples are endless. We began to install padded dashboards in automobiles, then added seat belts, and now we have air bags – all of those steps, in chronological sequence, in response to crashes that caused serious injuries or deaths, not before the first injury occurred.
Should we have known better? Maybe so. But that’s a much easier conclusion in hindsight compared to trying to look ahead and fully anticipate every contingency.
Skeptics and conspiracy theorists can (and very likely will) argue vehemently, but in all likelihood much of the harm done to humans by various technological innovations over the decades was neither deliberate nor reckless.
Should we have known, for example, that exposure to tetraethyl lead when it began to be added to gasoline in the 1920s could be harmful to petroleum industry workers? Should we have known that exhaust gasses from engines using leaded fuel could be harmful to people and to the environment?
Should we have known, for example, that thalidomide would cause birth defects as a tragic side effect to the drug’s beneficial effects for which it was prescribed in the 1950s?
Should we have known, for example, about the catastrophic health problems that would result for men, women and children in Southeast Asia from exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange?
That’s up to each of us to decide – and for the courts, when matters follow their usual course and end up in litigation. Those who are determined by due process of law to be culpable are often, if not always, required to do what they can to compensate those who have been harmed.
It is never a satisfying result. There is no bringing back a deceased loved one, there is no restoration of previous good health, there is no happy ending.
There is only the consideration of what might be done to prevent a recurrence.
A young girl is dead, and a man has to live with the knowledge that it was the truck he was driving that caused her fatal injuries.
All of the facts of that collision are still being discovered and explored and considered. In all likelihood, there was no single cause. There almost never is.
But perhaps reducing a speed limit, or installing a traffic signal, or trying once again to call to everyone’s attention how horrible the cost can be for a split second of inattention, can do some good in the future.
Perhaps another horse can be kept in the barn, where he or she is supposed to be.