SC Executive Network: The perils of risk aversion

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Controversial prof Frank Furedi ruffled some feathers at the third meeting of our exclusive club for industry leaders.

Controversial prof Frank Furedi ruffled some feathers at the third meeting of our exclusive club for industry leaders.

Members of the SC Executive Network enjoyed another round of cocktails, gourmet snacks, intellectual rigour and provocation, this time held in the afterglow of a midsummer's day in central London.

The lush surroundings of the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in Knightsbridge were the venue for a talk by Frank Furedi, controversial professor of sociology at the University of Kent and author of Politics of Fear, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Therapy Culture and Paranoid Parenting.

Furedi has specialised in the study of the workings of precautionary culture and risk aversion in Western societies. In his books he has explored controversies and panics over issues such as health, children, food, new technology and terrorism. His talk at the event reflected many of these themes and was particularly pertinent to members of the audience, who spend every working day of their lives dealing with risk.

Furedi criticised the management of BP and its handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which he said relied too much on documented rules and procedures, rather than direct and instinctive action.

Coming closer to home, Furedi spoke of the detrimental effect on wider society of the over-protection of children from the risks and realities of everyday life.

He caused controversy on the night by claiming that British Army officers are now trained to ensure that the safety of the soldiers in their charge is paramount, over and above all other considerations.

Furedi extended this to criticism of other emergency services that, he said, would rather exercise caution and ensure zero casualties to their own forces – to the detriment of victims of crime and warfare.

This proposition caused an extended argument between speaker and audience, many of whom disagreed with his assessment in lively fashion.

His arguments have called into question the whole ethos of entering wars in the first place and for what aims. Furedi is known to be an outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan and what he sees as its increasingly confused and risk-averse policies.

SC editor Paul Fisher said: “While many of those present this evening may not have agreed with all of Furedi's assertions, there is no doubt that he stimulated some vigorous and genuine debate – which is part of what the Executive Network is for.”

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