Monday, December 24, 2012

10/18: the death benefit

Risk has been a topic of my day. My kitten was diagnosed with cancer yesterday and my mother almost automatically replied that she was the runt of her litter and there was always been a higher risk for illness.. as if to supply me with some reasoning and reassure me that this was not a gross unexplainable injustice  .. as if to comfort me with this blanket root cause (her birth).. and it kind of worked. I said death doesn't have to be bad. I almost have come to believe its as fair and timely a death as any. We later turned to the topic of my birth. My mother had been late to have me and my brother (age of 37) and when she found out she was pregnant she was told to get an ultrasound because of the increased risk of developmental disorders. She said it was the worst anxiety she's every experienced. She was lucky. I am lucky. That was the affective manipulation of that risk narrative. The risk value for both instances was used to make me feel better. A risk had already existed, in the past, and had either been fulfilled or eluded. In the first, it was the risk of an early death due to a troubled birth (no agency there) and the second a risk my mother could have controlled but by the time of the pregnancy it was too late (we are the lucky ones). Although these risks are not globally shared, I found the comparison fruitful because it allowed me to conceptualize the affective power of risks after the fact, after its too late, and the inability for this futurity of affective release to be a factor when the risk is bare life and the affective anxiety just builds and builds and is repressed and repressed and where does it go? Probably into more risk analysis. Grasping for control. 

The category error of risk analysis that Beck highlights - a loss of social thinking within the binary of technology/industrialization and nature - reminds me of a ill-conceived attempt by Phillip Morris to respond to the Czech Republic's tax raise on cigarettes due to claims of increased health costs.  

from this american life transcript (07/16/2010)...

"Because people die early, you also pay less out in pensions and other social benefits to the elderly. People die early, you don't have to pay health care costs for all their non-smoking-related illnesses that they would get later in life, all of which in this study are seen on that kind of positive side of the ledger.// On the negative side, you have the costs of fires started by people smoking, falling asleep in bed smoking, doing other things with cigarettes. The financial implications of people who stop working earlier, either because they die or they get too sick to work, so the state then loses the income tax that they might charge those people. Also on the cost side is, the cost of treating people for smoking-related diseases and for secondhand smoke.// So the way these consultants tote that all up is people smoking is a net benefit, a net financial benefit to the Czech state of that CZK 5.8 billion."
That was the argument the cigarette company used. And it was true. Early deaths due to cigarette use did save the government a considerable amount of money. Now again, I recognize this is not the type of risk Beck was referring to (an economic rather than safety concern/ and cigarette risks are more than speculative) but I found it an interesting albeit extreme failure of argument craftsman in the face of a threatened market...a mounting frenzy of self-defense and spin-doctors. No smoke-stack is safe.
It is the erasure of the human in our multiplicity of social variables through averaging and then this appeal to the affective response of modeling or logic (which Phillip Morris somehow lost sight of) that really interests me. The human out to determine the future. The human in to determine the present. Isn't that a bit foreboding? 

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