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Psychoactive hazards in recognizing and engaging with risk


Disastrous Floods as Indicators of Systemic Risk Neglect (Part #12)


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There is a considerable body of experience regarding the engagement with risk of drivers of vehicles on roads, notably including that of Tasmania (Road Risk Reduction, 2009). This focuses on:

  • concentration and coordination, as it is affected by:
    • tiredness
    • influence of alcohol or other substances
    • distracting influences (mobile phone use, etc)
  • speed
  • misjudgement, notably with regard to safe driving in relation to road conditions and to other vehicles
  • driving skills
  • knowledge/ignorance relative to that of other drivers

Studies (and remedial campaigns) have notably focused on the appreciation or denial of risk by drivers, typically through misplaced overconfidence. These issues come to a focus in the heightened risk associated with the enthusiasm for speeding. There is a natural thrill in taking risks in many driving situations -- typically associated with a degree of denial regarding the level of risk. It is in this sense that the engagement with risk may be described as "psychoactive".

The situation is relatively clear in the case of road traffic, despite such patterns of denial. It is far less clear in many of the other forms of "flooding" described above. Clearly risks are taken in those situation -- exemplified by the high risks taken in the financial speculation leading to the recent global financial crisis.

Of particular interest is the engagement with risk relating to population increase. The implications with regard to constrained resources are evident to a degree at the collective level (shortages of food, water, energy, etc). They are also evident to a degree at the individual level within families. In these cases however, the dangers of speeding in the case of road traffic are replaced by the thrills and dangers of "growth" -- whether of the family or of an economy.

As with speeding, the response of the "drivers" involves a mix of denial, thrill, righteousness and self-fulfillment. Beyond the recognized difficulties of engaging with drivers regarding unconstrained speeding (through road safety campaigns and the like), in the case of unconstrained population increase the "right to speed" is typically framed as a fundamental right which is not readily amenable to debate. It is a "hot topic" of as deep a concern to Abrahamic religions as is the right to speed defended by motoring organizations on behalf of drivers.

With respect to the psychoactive nature of constraining population increase, the challenge of dealing with such a "hot topic" has been compared separately to that of handling radioactive materials (Overpopulation Debate as a Psychosocial Hazard: development of safety guidelines from handling other hazardous materials, 2009). This includes a section on Psychoactive hazard warnings: symbols relevant to overpopulation debate. The "symbols" are psychosocial adaptations of those conventionally used with respect to hazardous materials. They therefore correspond to the road traffic signs to which drivers are exposed.


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