A risk taking society

In my previous Dutch postings I talked about our society taking certain risks.
Not only teenagers get an information overload and seem to be hard-wired to take risks. Today’s teens are “stressed out” but also a lot of adults get bombarded with a lot of decision-making factors though frequently underestimate the value of privacy and its attendant risks, and it’s taking a toll. Over the last five years, more people got into conflicts, there’s been a steady increase in the number of anti-depressants prescribed and we could notice a lot more self-killings.

For a lot of things which come over us the last few years several individuals and groups gave early warnings. As there were te concerned nature lovers who gave notices about potential nuclear dangers and anthropologists who gave scientific proof of expecting difficulties in groups of people or economists who warned about the exchange market propensity for risk-taking without liability which were both dismissed as paranoid anticipation of low-probability events.

A table depicting some example existential risks.

Some existential risks

Effective risk management is central to economic efficiency. Yet major players in the last crises have insisted that they should not be held accountable for risks they underestimated.

Extreme weather disasters, especially floods, are on the rise (see Two seminal Nature papers join growing body of evidence that human emissions fuel extreme weather, flooding). For certain religious people it is a normal sign of the End-times, but it does not mean for them we do have to ignore neither the risks nor the ways to avoid certain risks. Climate change will compound existing weather-related risks, but the consumers do have to be aware how they can influence the weather and environmental situations.

Dirk Geldof, writer of:” not more but better” writes in his blog that it is normal to a community to produce more risks than they actual can keep under control.  Being able or not to control creates already taking in the risks.  Not wanting to see the possibility of danger or to neglect the chance on damage is the vanity of man that puts himself above possible incidents or plots. We cannot see next to climate change or global warming, globalization and imminent dualisation, increasing freedom and far-reaching individualization, growing time pressure and the explosion of diversity in our cosmopolitan cities.

<img class="thumbimage " style="border: 0 none;" src="http://www.eoearth.org/files/122301_122400/122398/200px-Ulrich_Beck.jpg&quot; alt="The sociologist Ulrich Beck. Photo: Munich University” width=”200″ height=”164″ border=”0″ />

The sociologist Ulrich Beck

We now are confronted with our world as a global risk society.  The notion ‘risk society‘ is such metaphor because it prompts us to look in an other way to our world and our society, with a focus on the risks that we – unless we not otherwise can – would preferably not like to see. Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck brought up this element of the risk society which could be “a society increasingly preoccupied with the future (and also with safety), which generates the notion of risk,” or that community which in a systematic way shall try to deal with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernisation itself.  Beck sees a dynamic that is driven by an increase in risks and in the ability of science to detect increasingly minute risks, leading to a fundamental re-ordering of social positions in society, and to a transformation in the cultural meanings of risk. These authors argue that whilst humans have always been subjected to a level of risk – such as natural disasters – these have usually been perceived as produced by non-human forces. But we should be aware that after creation man got the change to take care of mother earth. It was given to him on loan. Man had to give name to plants and animals but had also to respect them. And that is were it all went wrong. Man thought he could do anything and it would not be so important which impact it had on nature. The last decennia the materialistic man became so greedy and so ruthless that he thought he could concur anything in this world. Giddens and Beck argue that it is possible for societies to assess the level of risk that is being produced, or that is about to be produced, but hey looked over the fact that most people are not interested into the damage done for future generations.

The aim to get a better life and the aspiration to enjoy life more has brought an attitude of trying to fins as many as possible way to enlighten and to make this life as easy as possible. But then we do have to ask at what  cost. The way how we use the raw material and how we handle the feedstock are things we can not put aside. We should be fully aware how we handle the products of nature. End 60ies we came already on the streets to utter our voice, but then everybody laughed with our naïvety. The dangers we pointed at for the nuclear waste, the disgraceful use of nature, the danger of trying to modify natural products, the creation of so many by-products … everything was washed away as not important or something ridiculous small.

In certain sense, we would not have to complain for objectively seen we never before in the history had such a realm and have been so good insured .  In the Netherlands, Belgium and in the European countries the last 25 years is the wealth, the purchasing power and the consumption doubled!

Traditional institutions and structures have shaped people’s lives for ages and gave them the symbols that provided meaning, place and purpose in society, giving order to their lives and forming tight social communities. In the name of individual freedom and autonomy structures of these traditional societies became challenged in the 17th century when the individual began to emerge as the center of life. The common, traditional comprehension of life as lived within a we within traditional institutions was replaced by a new focus, the I.  The children from the 60ies boom were even more focused on that own self, and their children became the battlefield and the buying out product of the divorced couples. Early modernity championed the rights and freedoms of the individual; as this new understanding entered the imagination of modern societies it began to effect and then replace these traditional structures and institutions with new ones that shaped people
in very different ways. in the new industrial societies the extended family all but disappeared to be replaced by the small, nuclear family. Work and family were separated and most of the relationships were now in the form of more impersonal, work-related and contract-type relationships. Previously the family as a group of people, and the community as a parish, or the community of the village became not any more interested in the others of the community. The personal contacts diminished and the ‘we’ was displaced by the social contracting ‘I’ who now was going to give loyalty to professional organizations, church groups, work places and other social institutions, but from the 21st century also grow further away from those organisations. The churches became more empty and lots of people left God and His business. But by not being interested any more in His Laws and values they thought they had gained a new liberty and permission to do all those things that they wanted to do which could give them fun. Entertainment has become the main factor, and today we can notice that some people change partner as they change underpants.  Values, good morals and ethics were lost and most of the people were most concerned about themselves. We now can find loyalty to institutions
and structures to one in which meaning and identity are grounded in the self as the primary agent of meaning; a shift to the I primary agent of meaning.
For companies the worker has become an economical object without any further value then the economical statistics. The human part of the worker has become of no value at all. If we are not careful this economical asset is to conquer every bodies life.

On socio-economic terms we have the luxury that already more than 60 years we did not have to encounter war in our own environment. The wars we saw on television were far from our bed and having no share in it made us not divide and gave us no reason to complain.  Many do not to be hungry but many live in obfuscate poverty in Belgium and the Netherlands, but also in the surrounding countries, by which it so luxurious country Germany certainly can not escape.  We have private-insurances systems for our houses, our car, our holiday, our right assistance, a possible unemployment, our pension and our savings, funeral insurance and name but on.

With all this scientific and electronic gadgets is it still not that the distribution is directly tied to social class, with those at the top getting more and those at the bottom getting less. And are those who give those false micro-credits not misusing their high standards of economical higher position to create a mist of a possible intangible future? Should we not be more concerned with the distribution of “bads” instead with the distribution of “goods” —namely, the realization of untoward risks? Because many risks (e.g., mudslides, nuclear fallout, economic crises) do not respect class boundaries, everyone is, therefore, equally at risk. This dissolving of social class means that social actors are “individualized,” thrown on their own without the collective identity of social class.

I am aware that by engaging in its traditional role of generating new discoveries and new technologies, science inevitably creates and adds to existing risks but at the same time, science is the principal institution for detecting and analysing risks, especially those that are subtle. This misalignment of science’s roles is recognized by the, now, “individualised,” free-floating social actor who undertakes actions, such as in a social movement, to continuously pressure and reinvent scientific and social institutions.

Nowhere can we see the shift of the social fight and the failing from the existing institutions as clear as by the climate change. The industrialised countries should also be aware what they bring over the third world countries and the desserts and flood lands they create. People should be aware what consequences their traffic and consumerism has on the effects of our climate.
To live nicely or to lead a good life that would not damage the life of others shall confront us with the conscious choices we must make.  The ‘must’ choose became an essential risk factor in our society.  With the continuing risk making a wrong choice and the returning question how to handle that risk. The problem is that we with our very selfish capitalist society sit saddled with a group by which everybody had to see only for his own nest.

We have a common interest, but at the same time we sit with the unequal distribution of wealth and risks and thus per definition with conflicts.  Therefore also a question of ecological justice is the whole methodology of the ecological foot print per definition.  It goes over interests conflicts.  That makes the discussion over the posts-Kyoto-agreements also so difficult.  The bigger danger is, that the fight over the question who is responsible and who  must do the most efforts would lead to the fact that we are much too late and do much too little efforts.
As Freudenburg added, specialization has increased so much since the invention of the streetcar that perhaps the most salient risks of contemporary life are those associated with what he has called “recreancy,” or institutional failure—“the failure of institutional actors to carry out their responsibilities with the degree of vigour necessary to merit the societal trust they enjoy.” Citizens of an increasingly interdependent world, accordingly, need to be able to ‘count’ on not just the physical machinery they use, but also whole armies of specialists, most of whom they will never meet and who are expected to have forms of expertise that ordinary citizens may not be competent to judge, let alone have the ability to control.

We have the freedom to think and to act, but we do have to use this freedom wisely and always have to be aware of the consequentions of our acts. We should be careful of the social impacts of energy dependence and of the global ecological footprint for the things we do and which we need. We should always have to weigh up. And we should not loose tract that man proposes but God disposes.

The recent nuclear disasters should be the trigger to get people think more about the risks the previous generation has taken and the risks we our willing to take in consideration of those who shall have to continue living after us. This will mean that we have to consider threats from physical, chemical, and biological agents and from a variety of human activities as well as natural events. We shall not have to accept new technologies just like that because they seem to make live easier or would bring a cheaper solution.  We should be aware of the dangers of gene technology, nuclear power, mobile communication, voltaic cells, climate change issues, invasive species, and food hazards. We cannot be blind for the financial crisis, environmental pollution, terrorism, and health and social policy. More and more we should analyse risks of concern to individuals, to public and private sector organizations, and to society at various geographic scales. We have to take up our responsibility!

Like Yacov Haimes, University of Virginia said: “The challenge is that for many of the public, risk engulfs lots of mystery and misunderstanding and misperception. In particular we need to address the element of modeling; we have to see how to model the system,
how to understand it better. Only then can we really do proper risk assessment,
management, and communication. So the question is, How do we answer the question what are the impacts of current decisions on the jobs given that life is dynamic, all systems are changing, they are all under risk and uncertainty, and our decision must be adaptive and must be incremental at the time?”

I always say “Freedom is respecting the freedom of others”. We now do have to look for the risks we may take and we may encounter by continuing our way and by trying to come to a better way of living, not only for ourselves but for the whole world.
The law sets boundaries and the boundaries define what you must do … but those same boundaries are supposed to define and affirmatively defend the dry ground of freedom, which we have to cherish, where people can go forward focusing on their goals, including taking reasonable risks all day long, and be accountable not by law but by those who deal with them about whether they’re good at their jobs and whether they want to deal with them. That idea has been lost. Most people have also put aside the Laws of God, the Helper and Deliverer, and by doing that they have taken away a sure guideline to make the best out of life.

Previously:
Japan’s nuclear disaster reason to think twice

and about this subject of taking risks, in Dutch:

Also read:
Risks, Radiation and Regulation

The ‘Risk Society’: Tradition, Ecological Order and Time–Space Acceleration — financial crisis, environmental pollution, terrorism, and health and social policy

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  • Writing about “Agnotology, Ignorance and Uncertainty” (ignoranceanduncertainty.wordpress.com)
    In philosophy and mathematics the dominant formal framework for dealing with unknowns has been one or another theory of probability. However, Max Black’s ground-breaking 1937 paper proposed that vagueness and ambiguity are distinguishable from each other, from probability, and also from what he called “generality.” The 1960’s and 70’s saw a proliferation of mathematical and philosophical frameworks purporting to encompass non-probabilistic unknowns, such as fuzzy set theory, rough sets, fuzzy logic, belief functions, and imprecise probabilities.
    Ellsberg’s classic 1961 experiments demonstrated that people’s choices can be influenced by how imprecisely probabilities are known (i.e., “ambiguity”), and his results have been replicated and extended by numerous studies.
    Several studies have suggested that Knightian uncertainty (ambiguity) and risk differentially activate the ventral systems that evaluate potential rewards (the so-called “reward center”) and the prefrontal and parietal regions, with the latter two becoming more active under ambiguity. Other kinds of unknowns have yet to be widely studied in this fashion but research on them is emerging. Nevertheless, the evidence thus far suggests that the human brain treats unknowns as if there are different kinds.
  • Risky Business: Why Teens Need Risk to Thrive and Grow (psychologytoday.com)
    According to a recent study by University College London, risk-taking behavior peeks during adolescence, suggesting that teens are “programmed” to take risks more often than other age groups. The same study also found that teens took risks because they liked the thrill of risk-taking as opposed to not being able to understand the consequences of their behavior.

    Risk-taking and rule-breaking is linked to developmental changes in the brain that serve to help teens become healthy, analytical adults. Thus, a certain amount of positive risk-taking is necessary for adolescents to fulfill their universal need for independence, developing a separate identity, and testing authority.

  • How far do we want to go, take risks for ourselves and for others? We should know that climate change has “possible security implications”. Heat, Drought, Famine All Part of Coming ‘Exponential’ Increase Of Climate-Related Disasters (treehugger.com)
    The collective global response, taking the lead of nations on the Security Council no doubt, has been obviously been inadequate, even as donor nations themselves are not in the middle of their own climate-induced crises (the current US heatwave notwithstanding).
  • Flood victims ‘fear climate change’ (confused.com)
    People are more likely to think they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change if they have had floods in their neighbourhood, such as those in summer 2007 which led to a large number of claims on home insurance policies. They are also more likely to believe that global warming is a problem.
    Psychologist Dr Alexa Spence, at the University of Nottingham, said: “We know that many people tend to see climate change as distant, affecting other people and places.

    “However, experience of extreme weather events like flooding have the potential to change the way people view climate change, by making it more real and tangible and ultimately resulting in greater intentions to act in sustainable ways.

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About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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