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From stability to risk and from progress to fear

The recent United Nations report on the plight of humanity due to the plight of the planet (and refusing to see the challenge does not solve it) led me to think of a book I read some time ago about the transition from a stable society to a society in constant risk.

Almost 30 years ago, the German sociologist Ulrich Beck warned in his book The Risk Society that the “new modernity” was (is) similar to “building a civilization on a volcano” where, due to lack of social stability, everything becomes political, everything becomes fragmentary and conflictive, and, ultimately, even science is a reason to return to obscurantism.

Obviously, Beck was right: we are now living and undergoing that transformation from global human society, previously relatively stable, to a society that constantly lives on the edge of the precipice, never knowing where the next conflict will arise, where the next virus will come from, or how long the current madness will last.

In other words, we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex. and ambiguous world (VUCA), first described as such in 1987 by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus within the framework of their leadership theory. in highly unstable conditions and situations. 

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) revisited the issue in 2014 stating that the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of today's world have been mistakenly taken as the basis of inaction and fatalism, while in reality they are an invitation to restructure resources, design experiments, train for the new future and learn to receive, interpret, and share relevant information.

Although that advice is absolutely true, there is nevertheless a factor that complicates its implementation: the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. But even before the pandemic, in 2018, another German thinker, Hartmut Rosa, warned that "we are no longer moved by the idea of progress, but by the threat of disaster."

This threat of disaster has already materialized: the coronavirus has arrived, the world's climate has changed, and what seemed unthinkable (the extinction of humanity) now seems a real possibility. As Rosa rightly says, we are faced with a world in which we can no longer inhabit and to which we no longer belong. In other words, we are exhausted from the world. (The "burnout society" that Byung-Chul Han talks about).

Rosa describes this situation as "the new poverty", which is no longer a "poverty" because it lacks money or resources, but an existential poverty because it lacks a life with purpose.

In the middle of the last century, the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis characterized “poverty” not as the luck of money, but as the inability of one generation to prepare the next generation for its own future. Those who only want to repeat the past and perpetuate the present leave no room for the future to emerge.

We have become so “impoverished” that we now live in an unstable, risky, stagnant world on the brink of disaster. And then we call ourselves "smart," "modern," and "advanced." What a great self-deception!

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