Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Dangers of Place and the Failure of Modernity

Most people who inhabit America's middle-classes and upper-middle-class (and lower upper-class) have a strong, but rarely explicated faith that in the event of a crisis situation the US federal and state governments will conduct evacuation and rescue plans and procedures.

The idea that it is possible to create contingency plans for emergency situations derives from the modern assumption that society is a space that can be governed, engineered, and controlled.

During the cold war period, this faith in government was quite strong. All manner of contingency plans were created to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear bomb explosion, including evacuation strategies and plans for citizens sheltering in place.

I really don't know for sure, but my impression is that the people who created these documents actually believed that they would, and could, be implemented.

Faith in government reason, power, and good will infuse these modernist documents.

And so nuclear power plants were built in the midst of highly populated areas, such as San Onofre near LA and San Diego and Palo Verde, near Phoenix.

Such was the faith in engineering, that it was presumed that no evacuation plans would ever need implementing for no nuclear plant could be conceived as failing.

However, driven by the modernist impulse to envision and plan for contingencies, evacuation plans and shelter in place strategies were developed and shelved.

The populace rest easy knowing plans were in place to protect their welfare in the event of some disaster because policy makers and public health officials were credited with the capacities to envision and plan for all possible scenarios.

When Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans and thousands were abandoned at hospitals, retirement homes and evacuation centers, the middle-class reasoned that this failure of government was a measure of the inadequacy of the poor to follow evacuation orders and procedures.

The contradictions specific to this interpretation--especially the abandonment of thousands of citizens at evacuation centers--was studiously ignored by citizens not affected directly by the disaster.

The middle-classes were confident that their value as citizens would necessarily cause government to ensure their safe passage in the event of a major crisis, despite growing evidence that this faith was/is misplaced.

The fact of the matter is that evacuating a large city is nearly an impossible task, particularly within a narrow time frame.

Furthermore, there are great economic and social costs associated with efforts to move large populations quickly.

Finally, governments may not be inclined to protect the health and welfare of their populations when efforts toward these ends produce economic costs and threaten social order.

Those modernist documents that presume government willingness and capacities to respond to crises are, in fact, works of fiction.

The truth is that we will be left to our own devices should disaster strike a heavily populated area. There will be no mass evacuation, no massive response.

The BP oil spill response demonstrated this truth.

Rich residents living in coastal areas were chemically victimized by the millions of gallons of corexit used to hide the oil; class offered little protection when it came to the public policy response.

Invisible threats like radiation fallout are convenient for government officials tasked with, but unable to implement, emergency response procedures.

Threats can be managed by denying their existence.

Middle-class populations are endangered by their naivete. 

Unlike working class people who are more likely to understand the game, middle-class groups are deluded by their faith in modernity and their faith in the goodwill of their governments.

Fukushima has laid bare the complicity of governments with a corporate order that attaches little to no value to human life or the vitality of the biosphere.

Yet, the invisibility of the threat has enabled a web of denial to be woven across nations. 

The corporate media have largely been complicit in accommodating deception.

And so each one of us, irrespective of our income or occupation, is essentially equally vulnerable to the risk quotients of our place of residence.

No gated neighborhood or elevated zipcode can guarantee security unless inhabitants are the actual decision makers.

Modernity--its rationality, faith in engineering, and cybernetic decision models--is a lie and every protection it promises is a seductive fiction.

We are on our own and we are naked, vulnerable against the very modernist technologies that promised us security....

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