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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Chapter 88

World Risk Society

ULRICH BECK

Modern society has become a risk society in the sense that it is increasingly occupied with debating, preventing and managing risks that it itself has produced. That may well be, many will object, but it is indicative rather of a hysteria and politics of fear instigated and aggravated by the mass media. On the contrary, would not someone, looking at European societies from outside, have to acknowledge that the risks which get us worked up are luxury risks more than anything else? After all, our world appears a lot safer than that, say, of the war-torn regions of Africa, Afghanistan or the Middle East. Are modern societies not distinguished precisely by the fact that, to a large extent, they have succeeded in bringing under control contingencies and uncertainties, for example with respect to accidents, violence and sickness? Recent events have once again reminded us, with the Tsunami catastrophe, the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, the devastation of large regions in South America and Pakistan, how limited the claim to control of modern societies in the face of natural forces remains. But even natural hazards appear less random than they used to. Although human intervention may not stop earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, they can be predicted with reasonable accuracy. We anticipate them in terms both of structural arrangements as well as of emergency planning.

As true as all such observations may be, they miss the most obvious ...

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