ASA: Access All Accidents

Short article on the "Association for Strategic Accidents," by Ed van Megen, published in "The Art of the Accident," 1998.

In 1990, the Association for Strategic Accidents (ASA) was founded by its current president William E. Kurtz. Shortly after the breakdown of the communist systems in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, people from western societies showed a dramatic change in life-style. People showed a new hunger for adventure and an increasing tendency towards risk-taking behavior. Especially the hype of extreme sports such as bunge-jumping were supporting this trend. Science however (confirmed by the publications of the Society of Risk Analysis) ignored this phenomenon and kept focusing on modernization risks, those risks that individuals undergo on an involuntary basis and that are mainly caused by industry.

The foundation of the ASA was an attempt to popularise the concept of "voluntarily sought risk". The motivation to proclaim this was, and still is, very simple. If risk-taking behavior is an essential part of human conduct, then we have to shift it away from exploiting nature and transpose it into the cultural domain.

The ASA claims that if we want to be progressive in a social as well as technological sense, we have to deal with the construction of risk. In our so called free market economy the social production of wealth is inevitably bound to the social production of risk. The accident is the manifestation of this axiom. The accident reveals the true identity of an object. Therefore we have to stop negating the concept of "the accident" and start dealing with it in a much more productive way.

The paradox we struggle with is that security can only be gained from experiencing risky situations or accidents. In order to progress, seeking the experience of risky situations and accidents would represent a more sincere attitude than the existing hypocritical desire to "gain security". We have to realize that if we choose for technological progress, the accident is a constructive rather than a destructive force in the process of gradual improvement. The accident is truly creative the moment it shatters expectations. Moreover, it would only be fair to expose the consumer to those possibilities which are, until now, the stowaways of technological development. If the accident is already coproduced when a new technology prospers then we have to proclaim access to all accidents.

Paul Virilio wrote 1979, that the foundation of a "Museum of Accidents" was long overdue. In this museum, "every technology and every scientific discipline should choose their own specific accident and show it as a product. Not in a moral way, out of prevention (as a security measure), no, as a product that should be questioned epistemo-technically." This thought of Virilo stood at the cradle of the Association for Strategic Accidents.

In the beginning, ASA projects dealt with such topics as advertisement, the non-helping-bystander effect and risk tourism. In recent years, the focus of interest within the ASA has developed from exploring the role "fear" plays in the construction of risk, towards the close encounter of the physical and electronic accident. A special research issue in the last years has been the phenomenon of the "Diamond Experience". People who voluntarily took a risk and people who were involved in an accident, talk about their experiences in similar ways. The recall seems to cause a kind of euphoria or victorious feeling. In the "Fear Edition" (http://www.icf.de/asa) William E. Kurtz called these paradoxical states of emotions, "Diamond Experience".

© 1998 Ed van Megen / V2_

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