The risks of the risk society: Regressive ego and fear of freedom
studi sociali e politici università milano milano, italy
Starting from Ulrik Beck´s theory of risk as the main trait of contemporary society (Risk Society: Toward a New Modernity, Sage 1992) I will explore the consequences of risk and uncertainty on individual´s life in late modernity. Drawing from Adorno´s thesis that in mass society the individual ego is regressive, that is an ego dominated by fear of autonomy and wish to be part of a group (Adorno, Lezioni di sociologia,Einaudi, 2001), I sustain that it is more so in contemporary society because risk causes fear and uncertainty that do not allow for the formation of strong mature ego.
My analysis will focus on the link between risk, fear and regression on one side, and trust, autonomy, and freedom on the other side.
A long tradition has considered the effect of fear on the ego, starting from the work of Le Bon The Crowd: A study of the Popular Mind, followed by Freud´s book Group Psychology and the analysis of the Ego and then Adorno and Horkheimer´s research on The Authoritarian personality. All of them have underlined the loss of critical conscience as main consequence of a situation dominated by strong emotions.
More recently, sociologists such as Anthony Giddens, Zygmunt Bauman, and Ulrik Beck have analyzed the deep transformation of contemporary society and all of them agree that one of the necessary requirements for survival is trust and a strong subjectivity. Giddens even speaks of ontological trust as the condition that would allow the individual to face the risk and the uncertainties of late modernity (Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford, 1991).
On the ground of the contributions made by the mentioned authors, I will reflect on the emotional problems that the individual has to face in a society dominated by risk, how such emotional problems influence the personality, in particular the formation of a weak ego that put a risk freedom as main value of modern contemporary society.