In Praise of Balance in Risk and the Threat of Extremism

In Praise of Balance in Risk and the Threat of Extremism

Female climber challenged.With all the focus on the terrible events in France and Sydney recently the word of the month is extremism. Following the events of the Lindt Seige and the Charlie Hedbo Masscre leaders are careful not to associate recent acts of terror with religion but rather extremism. So what is extremism?

Extremism is characterized by an ideology of intolerance built on ideas of absolutes and fundamentalism. Extremism is the ideology of being at either poles (left of right) in contrast to being in the middle. The extremist understands the middle position (in balance) as being weak and indecisive. What fuels extremism is binary opposition logic and binary rationalism. Extremism, like its cousin fundamentalism, takes many forms for example, in religion, politics and economics. Is there an extremism in risk and safety? What are the poles in risk and safety? Where are the absolutes? Is there a balance?

On 16 January the media announced that kids were swinging off a 100m cliff on Sydney’s North Head.  The swing ride has been labelled by the ‘thrill seekers’ as ‘The Fear’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGyHmWALbKs ). Officials have decried the ‘stupidity’ of the thrill seekers. The fine for being at this spot is $300. However, this is not new, North Head has been known as ‘The Fear’ for many years (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIyDySGRU6Q&spfreload=10). ‘ North Head has always been The Fear. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuCp7IRPGHE). Unfortunately, the treacherous cliffs South Head of Sydney (The Gap) are also chosen for many over the years who have committed suicide.

None of these activities can be regulated as was confirmed by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in the lead article. There are limits to regulation and control. In the end people make judgements and decisions that don’t align with our view of the world. There is no doubt that those who seek extreme risk are extremists. Strange, when other extremists are successful they are lauded for their skill (Historic Yosemite Ascent). When we see Alex Hannold climb we are astounded at his skill (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcaHDvYKkMk), he is praised as a ‘freak’. When adventurers fail they are lambasted and rebranded as ‘idiots’. I discussed this phenomena of adventurers as extremists and the labelling of success and failure in my third book ‘Real Risk, Human Discerning and Risk’ (http://www.humandymensions.com/about-us/real-risk). A case study of Jessica Watson is instructive, one year lambasted as a fool and irresponsible, the next year Young Australian of the Year receiving her award on the Steps of The Sydney Opera House from the Prime Minister. Successful risk is attributed as skill, unsuccessful risk is blasted as idiocy. This binary judgement is as extreme as the activities undertaken by the extremists. You are either a genius or an idiot. The success of ‘extreme sports’ testifies to our thirst for this tension and judgment over others. Funny, when many of us go on holidays extreme sports are the most successful tourist attractions. New Zealand in particular markets this for ‘adventure junkies’ .

So in the binary world we have extreme risk takers on one pole and at the other we have the extremists in risk aversion, and no in-between apparently. If one calls for no ‘black and white’ or draws attention to the ‘grey’ area, one obviously wants to harm people and there can only be ‘zero harm’. At the other pole of risk aversion sits the absolutism of zero. Zero is of course infinity. Intolerance and the binary logic of zero simply cannot reconcile the necessary imperfectability of existence. To the lovers of the DuPont Bradley curve (https://safetyrisk.net/sexy-curves-and-the-paradox-of-risk/  ) these ‘natural instincts’ are ‘heresy’. What an interesting selection of such a religious term. The appeal of curves endorses the extremes of both poles (https://safetyrisk.net/nonsense-curves-and-pyramids/) this is binary heaven and heaven is zero.

When one becomes an extremist, language changes and new words are used to explain the logic of the extreme discourse. Binary logic has its own language that endorses its own assumptions. A human becomes an infidel, a person seeking asylum becomes an ‘illegal cue jumper’ and the label ‘terrorist’ is used to justify a range of dehumanising processes that disposes of all kinds of human rights. Once we have a semiology to match the binary discourse we can do what ever we want to another person. This justifies doing bad things to other people ‘for their own good’. Risk takers become ‘idiots’, and we can sack idiots without notice. However, we then find the court overruling extremism and bring balance back into the discourse (http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/bhp-workers-sacked-for-using-mobiles-to-get-their). Absolute language and ideology justifies and cultivates extremist culture, intolerance is the goal, tolerance is evil. Since when did intolerance become a virtue? No, Safety has to clear out the workplace of idiots. The absolute of Safety justifies a range of actions ‘over’ others because Safety knows best. Zero is absolute and zero rules absolutely. We don’t have safety advisors anymore we have ‘zero harm managers’, amazing. ‘I wasn’t being sociopathic to this other person, I was just protecting zero’.

Of course, there is a growing movement against extremism in risk aversion, especially with children (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/04/return-of-risk-the-growing-movement-to-let-kids-play-like-kids/). The balance is that there is no learning without risk, risk aversion and zero extremism attacks learning, creativity, imagination and adventure. These values and qualities are essential for successful business and organisational development. The more organisations stifle learning, creativity, imagination and adventure, the less productive and humanising they will be. If the ideology of zero is embraced the trade off and sacrifice is humanising others and human understanding, these go out the window. Those who are indecisive and apparently foster harm most be exorcised. So, if we know that extremism in zero is bad for kids, why is it not bad for us?

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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