The other day Bert Dreyfus emailed and asked how the Second Life discussion group was going. I replied that I had missed the last one, but the report from others was good. He wrote simply: "You really seem to have launched it. As soon as I catch up on my work, I'll drop back in." I take it he means all of us, no matter how lightly you have brushed up against the project, we have all managed to launch it.
And that brings me to Risk. I have been thinking a lot about Risk lately. It is not easy to lure intelligent people into risky undertakings, even by risking oneself. Ours is an inherently risk-averse communication culture - the more controversial the subject, the less likely we are to risk our opinions as our own, the more we seek safety in detached and nameless monitoring.
Risk, I think, is a Dreyfus usage. If you have come across his writings on learning, the Risk comes in, necessarily, at the transition from competence to expert skill acquisition:
"In general, if one seeks to follow rules one will not get beyond competence. There is no substitute for taking risks... With enough experience and willingness to take risks, the learner becomes an expert who immediately sees what sort of situation he is in and what to do."
- HL Dreyfus "Can There Be a Better Source of Meaning than Everyday Practices?" 2000
It also seems to tie into Kierkegaard's Faith and Heidegger's Anxiety. It makes us feel uncomfortable, and care about the outcome. It puts us in touch with inifinite possibility within finite situations. It reminds us of our ungroundedness, and our culture's. Dreyfus strongly criticizes the web for removing Risk from encounters in his 2001 book "On the Internet".
But I have never felt as much at Risk on the internet as I do here. Professor Dreyfus could as easily have written "You really don't have a viable discussion group. I wasn't sure it would work from the start." He may yet. Whatever possibilities are here, are risky ones. And that's good. Just when we are learning in Division II that anxiety is good, this is an opportunity to embrace Risk.
What is this Risk? Risk is starting a discussion without knowing what will come of it (like this one - talk about experiencing "anxiety towards guilt"!). Risk is disclosing your true identity (saying "I am me" in a world of "guess who I am"). Risk is being open to new technologies and new ways of organized learning (floating, bumping, crashing your way into Second Life gatherings without a clue how to drive an avatar). Risk is participating when you just can't (overcoming my natural hesitation to act, rather than observe and reflect). Risk is a real philosopher reaching out to amateurs (I can't understand why an eminent sachem would do so, unless addicted to risk). Risk is amateur philosophers daring to take themselves seriously (and being labelled "fans" by professional philosophers like Nigel). Risk is giving over authorship of your blog to every interested dasein you can sense about you in the darkness of the electronic ether, and finding that only a very few will risk posting an article of any kind, then commenting about that fact, here, now, whilst navigating the delicate balancing act of individual and group dynamics that will make or break the project, and picking each word as if it really matters.
Ultimately, Risk is failing in ways that later whoosh up as success:
"A few people, however, at least in areas important to them, are never satisfied that they have done the right thing, even if public opinion assures them it was right. They sense that there is no one right thing to do and that they can always improve... Such continually anxious experts are never complacent. But, happily, if they brood over their successes and failures, replaying them over and over in their mind, they will reach a new level of skillful coping beyond expertise."
- HL Dreyfus "Can There Be a Better Source of Meaning than Everyday Practices?"
The paper quoted is available in the Phil 189 Course Handouts link on the right side of the blog. Here I have followed Risk out to the level of the Phronesis - Practical Wisdom. But that is only half way past expertise, and Dreyfus takes the Risk beyond that. Please read it through yourself - I would not give away the ending.