[Fwd: [x-risk] Cerulo: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst]

From: George Dvorsky (george@betterhumans.com)
Date: Tue Sep 19 2006 - 08:07:11 MDT

Thought I'd forward this here. Got me thinking about not just cultural
attitudes that foster indifference to potential catastrophes, but how we
are as a species cognitively impaired when it comes to dealing with and
accepting bona fide catastrophic scenarios.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [x-risk] Cerulo: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2006 09:35:18 -0400
From: Hughes, James J. <James.Hughes@trincoll.edu>
Reply-To: For discussion of existential risks
To: <existential@transhumanism.org>

Cerulo, Karen A. Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning
the Worst. 336 p. University of Chicago Press.

Cloth $73.00sc 0-226-10032-4 Fall 2006
Paper $29.00sp 0-226-10033-2 Fall 2006

People-especially Americans-are by and large optimists. They're much
better at imagining best-case scenarios (I could win the lottery!) than
worst-case scenarios (A hurricane could destroy my neighborhood!). This
is true not just of their approach to imagining the future, but of their
memories as well: people are better able to describe the best moments of
their lives than they are the worst.

Though there are psychological reasons for this phenomenon, Karen
A.Cerulo, in Never Saw It Coming, considers instead the role of society
in fostering this attitude. What kinds of communities develop this
pattern of thought, which do not, and what does that say about human
ability to evaluate possible outcomes of decisions and events?

Cerulo takes readers to diverse realms of experience, including intimate
family relationships, key transitions in our lives, the places we work
and play, and the boardrooms of organizations and bureaucracies. Using
interviews, surveys, artistic and fictional accounts, media reports,
historical data, and official records, she illuminates one of the most
common, yet least studied, of human traits-a blatant disregard for
worst-case scenarios. Never Saw It Coming, therefore, will be crucial to
anyone who wants to understand human attempts to picture or plan the

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