I had to read this because I was starting to feel like the woman who was asked what she though of seeing Hamlet for their first time who said, It was alright, but Id heard a lot of it before. A lot of the Bauman stuff Ive been reading lately comes more or less directly from this book. But risk is a very strange thing. The first thing to notice about it is that it works in the inverse to wealth the poor get to have more than their fair share of risk in all senses. However, the world we live in cant be fixed to make sure that all the risks can be the problem of the poor. Risk is more the like plague was at the end of the middle ages. As Beck points out, Scandinavia can pass the most stringent anti-pollution laws it likes, but acid rain is still going to kill their trees, because this rain comes from the sulphates belching out of factories in other countries. The risks from there being no more bees is something for everyone to share, not just poor people. But what Ive always fond interesting about this is that the more social our lives have become you know, the more we depend on others to provide us with sewers and paved streets and to ship food to us and to keep out water clean and to design and build planes or cars or god please stop me now The more social our lives become, the more we like to think of ourselves as individuals. Marx felt that one of the things that kept capitalism going was that it produced what he called a reserve army of the unemployed. We don't have a reserve army of unemployed rather, we have an underclass of people who will never work. Worse still, rather than capitalism increasing the time that people work, there has been an odd reduction taking place. Large sections of the workforce today can also expect to be unemployed at some stage of their working lives. Capitalism might be able to convince you to eat a couple of times more than you really need, but there are limits to how much people can eat even with the best will in the world. You can always get people to consume more on the basis of overcoming perceived risks. As such, risks present the perfect solution to the need for endless expansion. We like to think that scientific rationalism is our best hope of getting us out of this mess (ignoring for the moment that scientific rationalism has created many of the problems that we are now hoping it will now fix). The problem is that the scientific method is fundamentally flawed and this is because science simply isnt the pure thing we are often told it is but rather a social activity conducted by less than perfect humans. And this concentration of 10 is an average concentration so, scientific rationalism can say, We have tested the air and the average concentration is 10 but some areas might have five times that concentration. All the same, scientific rationalism has averaged this and is only interested in this average safe concentration not the real concentration you might be breathing. But that means that a lot of the stuff that used to kill us now dont. You can avoid the risk of appearing ignorant of this book by the easy expedient of reading the damn thing.
His book is not scientifical, not well written, and his ideas arent new, or original. Second, these ideas, points to bigger, underlying problems with our society(s). If you arent afraid, or at least are left with some questions, after reading this book - then you havent read it good enough. A modern society, is only modern until it isnt. Untill the day Ulrich Beck supplies scientific proof, showing that we are exposed of substantially more risks, than any society that has come before - Im not convinced.
As being a complete alien to social science studies and having no background at all, yet maintaining a sharp critical attitude, most of the ideas were hard to grasp at a first glance.
Every so often I read a book in which the author introduces a grand theory of everything. Beck reads more like classic literature, it's a struggle in the moment but the ideas and themes endear.