Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Mighty and the Dispossessed

What does it mean to be dispossessed?

To be dispossessed means to lose rights to full citizenship. Dispossessed means to be outside of, or on the fringes of, economic and political systems structuring society.

In the US, a growing class of permanently dispossessed people is symptomatic of contradictions and structural failings that problematize dominant narratives of liberty and equality of opportunity (see here).

The nature of dispossession, the symptomology of structural failure, varies across time and space, but the dispossessed are everywhere and they are growing in number and outrage.

Although dispossession varies by country, there are some characteristic drivers of contemporary systems that produce dispossession in accelerating fashion.

One characteristic driver of dispossession is a corrupted legal system that fails to hold the world's most powerful entities - nation states and corporations - responsible for good governance. Legal scholar Rena Steinzor, author of Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance and Government Action, argues that contemporary deregulatory governance coupled with modest fines, rather than criminal settlements, enable and encourage reckless daily operations that pose catastrophic risks.[i]

Steinzor attributes deregulation to “hollow government,” defined as governance with weak legal authority, funding shortfalls that preclude appropriate regulatory implementation, and de-valuation of the civil services.

Hollow, or even predatory (as described by Galbraith here), governments fail to hold the world's most powerful agents fully accountable for conduct that destroys livelihoods and lives far too often. Today, The Asahi Shimbun argues this point, albeit indirectly, in on op-ed condemning failures in relief and learning in the wake of the Fukushima disaster:
EDITORIAL: Rulings show Fukushima relief falls short of reality of victims (October 12, 2017). The Asahi Shmbun,
Perhaps one of the most obvious failures in justice is the decision to end subsidies for people who are reluctant to return to environments contaminated with radioncuclides up to 19 times higher than before the accident. In April 2017, the LDP cut housing subsidies for “voluntary evacuees,” with Masahiro Imamura, who heads recovery for the Tohoku region, stating radiation refugees should assume “self-responsibility for their own decisions.”[ii]

This move to force people to return to areas measuring up to 20 millisiverts a year has been officially called into question by Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. His report voiced concerns regarding new elevated radiation exposure laws and inadequate oversight of health issues.[iii] In particular, Grover challenged the Japanese government’s decision to allow habitation in areas with up to 19 millisieverts a year of external radiation exposure and challenged the adequacy of health surveillance and treatment.

TEPCO returns to profitability having socialized its losses while General Electric walks away completely unscathed by a disaster predicted by engineering failures in its Mark I reactors.

Powerful corporations are not subject to the disciplining power of the markets they so adulate in public rhetoric.

Moreover, mighty, reified organizational entities, such as governments and corporations, are allowed to operate according to logics that are immune to the needs and welfare of the people and physical environments that sustain them.

In The Next Catastrophe, sociologist Charles Perrow describes how infrastructural risk is amplified by concentrations of energy (i.e., concentration of hazardous activities and facilities: e.g., Concentrations of dangerous substances in single locations), concentrations of populations, and concentrations of political and economic power, which concentrate energy and decision-making, encouraging “over-reach.”[i] Concentrated power tends to self-replicate, seeking to expand its resources and influence, although the means of replication are always shaped by historical, cultural, and economic particularities.

How can the mighty be made more responsive to the needs of others, rather than more insulated from them?

This question seems even more relevant now as disaster shock after disaster shock threaten to accelerate the production of dispossession at an unprecedented rate.

In the absence of state re-investment, disaster of every form produces more dispossessed. We will see this occur in Texas, Florida, and California in the wake of environmental catastrophes exacerbated by human disregard for the "natural."

Puerto Rico - where residents are still without power and where US citizens are represented by the media as filling water bottles at streams - illustrates how those on the outer circles of power can be thrust almost overnight into abject poverty.

But the flooding and fires also produce dispossession among the former middle-class as their limited insurance and job losses due to economic disruption preclude "recovery."

The world's mighty - its corporations and nation-states - have little time left to reverse course and heed the plight of their dispossessed, to become responsive to the needs of the systems they exploit for their operations.

To ignore the dispossessed is to fuel the fire that will ultimately extinguish the mighty, probably taking all of humanity down in the process.

[i] Rena Steinzor, Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance and Government Action (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[ii] Grover Anand (2012) UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health. Mr. Anand Grover: Country Visit to Japan, 15 to 26 November 2012. Available at (accessed 26 November 2012).

[iii] O'Connor Tom (5 April 2017). Japan's Fukushima Cleanup Minister Says Refugees from Nuclear Radiation Are on their Own. Newsweek. Available at (accessed 7 April 2017).

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Majia's Blog: Neofeudal Lords and the Dispossessed


  1. Most peopke in the developed world, have no idea how badly they have been screwed by nuclear reactors and nuclear arms development. That is, until it is too late.

  2. This is the kind of bullshit the trump asses at enenews defend. All of enenews has been captured by trump and bannon asses and their chatbots. Rick perry blatantly using your tax money to subsidize nuclear and coal. Screw the lying, racist, pro-nuclear dicks on enenews and their phoney brietbart subsidized chat bots with their puppetmasters



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