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Monday, September 11, 2006

Risk: The human adventure. by Richard D. North

Here is an excerpt from Mr. North's E-Book. I found it to be very interesting. I have also placed a link to this e-book under the blogs info and data list. Enjoy

Chapter Three

Risk and morality: Martyrs, military men, mountaineers and feeding the millions.

To take a risk is to chance damaging oneself. That is why the idea of taking risks is so challenging. It is also why it is so easy to suppose, wrongly, that the main attitude to risk will always be to reduce it.
But this can't be anything like true. Obviously, there are some risks, even to oneself, which it is worth taking. Even the biggest risks often seem to be. We find people drawn to heroism (which can be self-interested, but must risk the grandly self-destructive) and martyrdom (which is often self-interested in the sense that it is about a passionately held, but above all a personal, conviction, but similarly depends on self-destructiveness).
It is obvious that many people love at least some sorts of risk. Large numbers of sensible people queue up to behave with what looks like an irrational disregard for their apparent self-interest. The papers are full of the deaths and injuries incurred by the dangerous sports, and perhaps especially those in which man pits himself against nature, or courts risk with more than usual nonchalance. [Standard, 1999a; Telegraph, 1998b; Telegraph, 1998c Telegraph, 1999]
John Adams, an important writer on risk, discusses the idea of a “risk thermostat” which catches the fact that people seem to live their lives so that each of us experiences the amount of anxiety attractive to us. Regulation of safety risks, says Adams wisely, the displacement of risk-taking. [Adams, 1999; Adams 1997; Adams 1998]
What is over and again stressed by this sort of risk-taker is that one is never more alive than when at extreme risk of death. This may be no more than a matter of a neurological fact about the human brain and nervous system: that the adrenaline and beta-endorphin kick-in a kind of ecstasy where there is terror, followed by an ecstasy of relief. People court risk because they enjoy raiding nature's own drug cabinet.
And there is a cerebral version of this pleasure. The human mind relishes existential experiences: we are so aware of our impending deaths that in some subliminal or even fairly self-alert way, we enjoy flirting with the possibility of our own extinction. Isn’t that what we mean when we say that a risk-taker "cheats” death? Perhaps people are drawn to the rehearsal of death.
Certainly, we all know that people are richly diverse and peculiar about risks. Here is an apparently timid and shy woman who will only undertake affairs with unsuitable - that is, risky - men. Here is the mild-mannered classical scholar and philosopher (I mean, Roger Scruton) who is a passionate and courageous follower of hounds. [Scruton, 1998] Here is the 7th earl (I am thinking of Michael, Lord Onslow) who writes that his father had a "good war" which left him unsatisfied with the rest of a long peacetime life: the war was his high point. Here is the happy and successful student with an entertaining present and the promise of a challenging and rewarding future who explores drug-taking to the point where simple curiosity seems to have been replaced with real recklessness.
All these have an element of the heroic, simply because there is something like a divine discontent driving such risk-taking.
There is an odd ambivalence in our attitude to risk. Those of us who are condemned by our natures to a cautious way of life often feel that it is above all because of timidity that we achieved too little. This feeling leads us to admire anyone who behaves courageously........



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