Monday, October 26

Security instead of freedom: how our society is more and more shy of risk


WITHwhite, three, at most four meters from the race track, the photographers were standing when Jochen Rindt, who was in the lead, shot through Eau Rouge in his Formula 1 car. More than waist-high crash barriers were not considered necessary in the dreaded combination of corners at Spa-Francorchamps. Even back then, in 1970, Rindts Lotus brought 400 hp to the slopes. Collisions were not uncommon. Motorsport was a life and death thrill for everyone involved. 14 days after Spa the Briton Piers Courage had a fatal accident at the Grand Prix in Zandvoort. The German cattle, celebrated as a legend, died a few weeks later during the final training in Monza.

Niklas Záboji

Half a century later, the handling of dangers in Formula 1, which has since cost the lives of 17 other racing drivers, is different. Risky corners like Eau Rouge have been defused, and the pilots’ heads have been provided with cockpit protection. Photographers, marshals and spectators look at the asphalt from a great distance. Already questioned by environmentalists, Formula 1 is exemplary in terms of safety. Those responsible know: Anyone who dies could irreparably damage the reputation of the racing series.

Progress needs risk and freedom

The reassessment of risks is not only evident in motorsport. Everywhere else, too, society is exercising more caution: Most of the time there is a speed limit when driving, while smoking is mostly prohibited when visiting restaurants; Banks were put on the curb, many children on the leash of their helicopter parents. The reasons range from technical and scientific progress to market failure to a need for optimization that evidently extends to education. And the state likes to restrict. Requirements such as the VDU work or the industrial safety ordinance reveal a special state pressure to regulate the workplace – with success, mind you: While the responsible federal agency counted 53 accidents per million working hours in 1970, it was less than half as many at the turn of the millennium. Thanks to the increased office work, of course.

A society that knows more, it seems, tries to further eliminate risks – and finds a well-meaning carer in the welfare state. It is questionable whether this has only advantages. Because where security rules, new things often cannot thrive. Progress needs risk and freedom.

Growing prosperity becomes a problem. If you follow the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in their “Prospect Theory”, people shy away from taking risks. Given a choice, they are more likely to opt for safe but lower profits than unsafe payments – even if these can be much higher. And with increasing prosperity, the gains are relatively smaller, while the potential losses are greater.

From the point of view of the sociologist Dirk Baecker, two trends can even be observed when dealing with physical violence: On the one hand, we have become much more sensitive to pain in the past two to three hundred years. “And on the other hand, paradoxically, the fear of becoming a victim of an act of violence grows, while the actual probability of becoming a victim decreases,” says Baecker. This paradox is known from migration research: reservations are often greatest where there are hardly any immigrants.


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