The rise and rise of risk aversion

Writing in 1896, Norwood Young opined in the Badminton Magazine that:

“A great change is gradually coming over the world. Adventure, sport, enterprise, are giving way to caution and the calculation of averages. Men do not take the risks they used to. The modern man is surrounded by police constables, sanitary inspectors, and insurance agents.”

Granted, the Badminton Magazine, with full title ‘The Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes’ was a journal that covered in full detail the adventures of the day, with detailed articles on sports such as cricket, football and rowing, but also shooting, motor racing and cycling. It was both a manual and celebration of adventure. Norwood was clearly miffed that the sporting attitude and  let’s have a go mentality was on the wane. He may have been premature – he wrote this before Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen et al set off on foot in their various adventures to find the South Magnetic Pole.

Fast forward to 2014 and listen to the character Cooper in the film Interstellar complaining that “It’s like we’ve forgotten who we are – explorers and pioneers, not caretakers.”

More than 100 years passed between the writing of the essay in the Badminton Magazine and the writing of the Interstellar screenplay. Yet both spring from the same yearning, the same perception, the same disappointment.  It is too easy to dismiss these views as the misconceived grumblings of individuals who never grew up and never moved on from boyhood adventure games and fantasy. Great adventures are still planned and undertaken today but society makes it much harder for those individuals than ever before. It is inconceivable that anyone would set off today on the equivalent of a South Pole exploration so ill-equipped as were Scott and his team. ‘The authorities’ would not permit it. When young sailors plotted a trans-ocean adventure 50 years ago, the media didn’t know about the trip until after it was completed, as was the case for Robin Lee Graham. Today, in some cases courts of law intervene to ban the planned trip, as in the case of Laura Dekker. In others, community anger and backlash against the trips can be feral, as was the case with Jessica Watson. Continue reading

UBS, $2.3b and the blame game

The trial is over and Kweku Adoboli has been sent to gaol. Seven years, is the sentence. The prosecution had compared Adoboli’s crimes with those of a paedophile, rapist and murderer. Crikey, it’s not long ago that he would have been sentenced to 7 years in Tasmania for those crimes, rather than a low security prison for white collar criminals where presumably he will serve out his sentence in England.
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