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Safety Science Monitor

Modern society is obsessed with risk. Newspapers and media are filled with news and stories of all that goes wrong. Complex states bureaucracies are developed to monitor and control open and hidden dangers. Programs are developed to implement safety measures both in private and state sectors. Has it gone too far? Are we too concerned about the negative aspects of life? Is risk always something negative? Can risk also be a positive factor? After all humans survived on this planet because our forefathers and – mothers climbed down from the trees and started a risk life as bipedals on the savannahs exposed to new and hidden dangers. Our ancestors were not always prudent and risk aversive but showed risk accepting and risk taking attitudes and behaviors. Is there also inside modern humans a l’homme sauvage, a wild animal lurking beneath the polished surface of the civilized homo sapiens sapiens? In this article I will discuss the dual nature of risk and balance the negative aspects of risk against the positive aspects. I will first sketch the historical background of modernity and its focus on safety before I critically examine the problems of too much safety and sketch some of the benefits of risk taking. I then go on to show that both societies and individuals have a dual nature with a tension between the need for safety and a desire for risk. I give both an evolutionary background and a present day illustration of the risk side before I present theories that explain risk taking behavior in present society. I end by summing up my position and the consequences of the dual nature of risk.

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Norwegian School of Sport Sciences

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