Reactions to the Pace of Change

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Reactions to the Pace of Change

From given to calculated risksTechnological developments have not only removedheavy burdens but also elements of danger fromeveryday life. Seaworthy ships, lightning conductors,weapons and medicine have improved the safety ofour lives. We now have vaccines against formerlyfatal diseases, and we carry out research to find curesfor the ones there are no remedies for yet. The averagelife expectancy in Europe is steadily increasing(women 80.5 years, men 74.0), and the infant mortalityrate has been reduced (Europe: 9.2 % in 1986to 5.6 % in 1996). 50)Today, the things we connect with danger are ofa more indirect kind, namely manageable and calculatedrisks which we can actually read about, prepareourselves for and insure ourselves against.In the 18th century, mathematicians discovered theadvantages of taking and being able to calculate risks.Although risks were dangerous, profits would beproportionally larger if one could handle them.From1725, the British government profited from sellingannuities while mathematicians competed aboutsetting up the best tables of life expectancy. Seainsurance became a flourishing and advanced lineof business particularly in London.Today, we have social, health, economic, legal,psychological and environmental safety nets whichdeprive us of experiencing everyday life as risky,exciting, and thus victorious, as we would if wehandled our difficulties on our own.Apparently, in this area it is also the rule that ifsomething is scarce, we seek it out on our own.Risks become positive and something we approachvoluntarily and learn to master.To a large extent, modern people compensatefor this “banal” safety by turning to high-risk sports,unpleasant amusements in amusement parks, hikingin areas where scarcity of water is a daily problem,and entertainment media spelling out in detail theold drama of something real being at stake.Is everyday life too dull?In the US and Europe, one of the traditional AIDShigh-risk groups has once again started to practiseunsafe sex. Surveys of gays in San Francisco in theUS have shown that while one third of the gaypopulation practised unsafe sex five years ago, thenumber had risen to half of the gay populationbetween 1998 and 1999. According to UNAIDS,this development is a consequence of the newfoundtreatments for AIDS. “In Northern Americaand Western Europe, we have seen signs of theavailability of life prolonging treatments contributingto people practising safe sex to a lesser degree.The prospects of keeping AIDS at bay longer thanbefore have lulled the risk groups into a false senseof security, disregarding safe sex.” 51)In the US and Europe, so-called high-risk sports areon the rise, i.e. activities with no or very little marginof error such as BASE-jumping, 52) paragliding,snowboarding, mountain climbing etc. Hobbies thatseparate themselves from everyday life by confrontingreal dangers and primarily being executed outdoors.BASE-jumping is at the height of its popularity.New people sign up for this sport daily even though46 people have died ‘in the act’ in the course ofonly 18 years. In 1997, in the US alone, 33 % morepeople (48,000) were submitted to hospitals withskateboard-related injuries than the year before.The consultant agency American Sports Data Inc.confirms that participation in extreme sports isincreasing, and the common denominator for thisgrowth area is that all these sports are more challengingthan soccer. A phenomenon such as skin-diving,which is so dangerous that the Danish Sub Aqua Clubwill not have anything to do with it (because severalpeople have died while surfacing after the high pressureof the deep), is currently one of the most rapidlygrowing extreme sports in the world.The researcher of risks and writer Peter Bernsteinbelieves that the previous many years of growth andaffluence have motivated people to push themselvesto extremes. A feeling of safety that cries out forchallenges.50) Eurostat, Demographic Statistics, 1997.51) Peter Piot, Director of UNAIDS, cited in Danish newspaper Politiken November 24, 1999 referring to the 1999 UNAIDS report.52) Acronym for Building, Antenna, Span, Earth.24 R E A C T I O N S T O T H E P A C E O F C H A N G E

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