Moral Outrage
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Policy makers risk taking psychology ignores evidence to the contrary

The psychology of reckless risk-taking, the impulse at work behind so many of the catastrophes of recent years: the BP disaster, the invasion of Iraq, the financial sector collapse, and the ongoing refusal to take meaningful action in the face of climate change. Again and again, policymakers ignore mountains of evidence warning of catastrophe, opting instead to roll the dice and hope for the best.

There are all kinds of explanations for what drives this sort of short-term decision-making, with greed and hubris cited most frequently. Less discussed, but possibly more important, is the phenomenon that the people taking the risks often feel distinctly distant from, if not outright superior to, the people most endangered by their decisions.

Many of our greatest risk-takers are also convinced that they personally will be spared from the worst consequences should things go terribly wrong. In most cases, this is not an irrational assumption. The U.S. government’s decision to invade Iraq was disastrous for Iraqis, whose country spiraled out of control, but in large parts of the U.S., that war is virtually invisible.

With climate change, the gap between those who created the crisis and those who pay the price may be widest of all. It is the historical emissions from the industrialized world that are responsible for the dangerous accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere. Yet in North America and Europe, where we have the infrastructure to deal with extreme weather (just don’t mention New Orleans), many of us feel we have the luxury to debate whether the phenomenon is even happening.

Meanwhile, developing nations that contributed least to the crisis are facing crippling droughts and devastating floods, without the tools to cope.

In a deeply divided world like ours, there is simply too much distance between the people with unchecked power to make grave mistakes and those who have to suffer the effects. Only when we feel that our fates are genuinely intertwined will we understand that a fire that starts in Africa will eventually incinerate us all.

[Excerpts from an article by Naomi Klein]

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