Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Denialism and Irrational Thought

I was interested in the mobilizing effect of anxiety Beck pointed to at the end of chapter 1, which in regards to risk society has produced a type of denialism, in which rational scientific skepticism is replaced with a fanatic commitment to something like ideology e.g. parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of reported links between vaccinations and autism.  In regards to this type of widespread  anxiety can we equate Berlant’s precarity with something like the democratic nature of “smog” as put forth by Beck?

When considering Risk Society and something like denialism or Irrational Thought, two impactful world-wide trends come to mind: the  increasing medicalization of our society, in which normal human conditions or events have become treatable disorders, and the hyper-innovation of our tech industry. When did shyness become social anxiety disorder? Impotence erectile dysfunction? There is an increasing gap between our dependence on technology and scientific expertise, and the average person’s actual comprehension of its working. You will take vitamins, but are you clear on how they are functioning inside of your body, how they are metabolized, and if they even function in the way they are advertised to? There is a disparity in control between users and experts, between patients and doctors.  These are two systems, both defined by modernization, that we are wholly dependent on and strikingly ignorant to.

In discussing the “new global ascription of risk,” Beck notes the inconsequentiality of individual agency as the threats that exist, “the toxins and pollutants” are now “interwoven with the natural basis and the elementary life processes of the industrial world.” How much is risk society’s being “closed to decisions” (41) similar to Berlant’s individual treading water in the impasse of the present ? I’m interested in Beck and Berlant since a Risk Society and Crisis ordinariness or the impasse of the present seem to put forth completely different temporalities. In recognizing risk we are simultaneously  pessimistic (“preventing the worst”) (49) and forward-thinking (“we become active today in order to prevent the problems ..of tomorrow”) (48) placing risk and the strategies to address risk decidedly in the future. Do Berlant and Beck represent a double-bind of our contemporary situation, that of indulging in the familiar circulation within a present  we understand to have no future, while simultaneously being terrified of a future defined by forces we are vulnerable to, responsible for, and incapable of preventing/controlling?

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