A philosopher discourses on chance, luck, and Covid-19.
In the midst of the pandemic, Canadian political philosopher Kingwell offers a slender, thoughtful, sometimes meandering disquisition on risk that “is inflected (or infected) by the virus, but not precisely about the virus—except as it grants new urgency to old questions of risk and politics.” A host of cultural allusions—from Shakespeare to the Simpsons, Isaiah Berlin to Irving Berlin, Voltaire, Pascal, and Derrida—along with salient academic studies inspire Kingwell to examine the many contradictory ways that humans handle risk: buying insurance and gambling, buying lottery tickets, ascribing to conspiracy theories. “Conspiracy,” he asserts, “is a form of naive theism: a belief that there is a controlling intelligence, albeit a cruel or deceitful one, and that this fact therefore makes sense of an apparently senseless world!” Most people, he has discovered, are “highly unsuccessful at estimating risk, and worse still at incorporating any such estimates into their putatively rational decision-making and actions.” The author correlates risk tolerance to one’s social and economic situation: “The more money I have, the more security I can purchase; the more security I can purchase, the more risk I can tolerate.” The demographics of the virus have revealed how risk of contagion and access to medical care are related to income, race, and geographical location. Other risks, too, such as having adequate food or access to water, fall heavily on the poor and marginalized, and Kingwell urges reforms such as equitable taxation, a universal basic income, and a crackdown on predatory financial industries. “When it comes to the politics of risk, it is not enough to comfort the afflicted,” he writes; “we must also afflict the comfortable.” The author makes the sensible point that we cannot ever eliminate risk from our lives, but since risk “is always political,” it can be “at least partly assessed and managed.”
An entertaining gloss on an enduring conundrum.
Pub Date: yesterday
Page Count: 128
Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020