Monday, October 15, 2012

Risks' consequences as atemporal and contentious.

Ulrich Beck’s chapters on the rise of the risk society gave me a lot of food for thought along the lines of the role of science in maintaining a risk society, the differentiations that exist among different class lines when it comes to risk, and the idea of an imagined community of knowledge about societal risks. It is clear from the beginning of this text that risks are not distributed equally in society, but they are, paradoxically enough, going to eventually affect all of us in very powerful ways. The risks taken by inhabitants of favelas in Brazil may not seem as high as those taken by commuters in Los Angeles, California. Yet the damages of negative environmental practices and lack of social responsibility by corporate conglomerates resonate along social classes and countries, killing some slowly and others explosively. Today’s risks are universal because they are invisible and irreversible (23) and can affect people in time, as well as through time (for example, atomic energy residues causing birth defects). The consequences of the past never truly catch up to the risk society of the present; it feels as though risk lives in an atemporal vacuum: the consequences are always happening in the future. “One day, our children will suffer the consequences of climate change.” What about the consequences that our ancestors may have foreseen in the past and with which we are living today? Has the technology of the risk society, the ability to cause damage to all species (including ourselves) escaped even the presumptions of our ancestors? I think that whether it has or has not is not necessarily the most important question because the economy (or system) of knowledge about risks today prevents those who are poised to be most affected from understanding the risks. Consciousness determines being (23), and so the question of to be or not to be is also a question, essentially, to know or not to know about risks and their sometimes lethal consequences.
Beck writes that “If you distinguish between calculable and non-calculable threats, under the surface of risk calculation, new kinds of industrialized, decision-produced, incalculabilities and threats are spreading within the globalization of high risk industries…” (22). I wonder what a difference it would make if knowledge about these risks, (and the technologies, like climate change image modeling, that bring them from the unimaginable to the realm of the possible, the real and the dangerous) would spread as quickly as multi-national corporations can spread their threats. Perhaps this statement is even assuming way too much about what people in immediate risk situations do and do not know:  From my comfortable position at the lower spectrum of risk, it can easy for me to assume that individuals in the higher risk areas of the global community choose not to know about risk in the ways that First World folk imagine knowledge (as facts, numbers and figures). Perhaps they know, but their folk knowledge and lived experience of risk are confounded by doubt, the doubt science can place onto seemingly deluded, non-expert 'hearsay'. The legitimacy of these folks' knowledge of socially-engineered risks (and their painful and traumatizing experiences to boot)  sometimes into vanishes into non-existence. Should defending these folk’s position as holders of vital knowledge become a priority to fighting the consequences of the global risk society? 

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