This introductory chapter begins with a brief discussion of people's responses to peril, and the need to understand both the literature — the editorials and essays, fiction, poetry, personal accounts, and reports — that has been generated to make sense of peril and the organizations that produce them. It identifies four crises that humanity currently faces or has faced in recent years: the threat of a nuclear holocaust, weapons of mass destruction, concern about a global pandemic, and the threat of global climate change. The prevailing narratives about these perils concern themselves with defining the problem, discussing possible solutions, and then calling on citizens to live up to their moral obligations to help protect the common well-being and to be good stewards of the earth. Nothing, it appears, evokes discussion of moral responsibility quite as clearly as the prospect of impending doom. The picture of humanity that emerges in this literature is one of can-do problem solvers. Doing something, almost anything, affirms our humanity.
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