I attended last evening TVA/Anderson County Commissioners meeting. I am a Claxton Home Owner. I just have a few comments. When the TVA VP stated in reply to a commissioners question regarding eminent domain, that ” No we will not use eminent domain”. I thought ” of course he can state that”. Why? because they KNOW that once they had the contract in hand to purchase the key property they had in their plans [which they do]– that the other bordering properties would become ” less desirerable, lower in the sale market, loose value on the housing market etc…and the owners would have to come to TVA and play the domino game with TVA and sell their lands. Hence, eminent domain isn’t needed. This very same market decrease, health risk etc comes into play with every land owner within a 3-5 mile radius. But their not going to feel responcible nor deal with the rest of those negatively effected. I am already effected value wise due to drug dealers the country just ignores, the national economical situation– and now this issue that IS COMING no matter what. When the rep stated the enormous number of trucks that will be using Edgmore Road and New Henderson Road— commissioners eyes twinkled with tax revenue expectations. The Commissioners can change nothing nor do anything ‘for the landowners’. All they can do is offer a forum to allow them to ‘voice’ their opinions. The rep all but stated TVA is doing-the-do as far as following process; which includes attending meeting like this. He did say that TVA was looking at two other sites, but could not publically state which two. But it was obvious that a few commissioners must not be considered ‘public’ because they knew. And they knew those sites were also in Anderson County. My favorite part was after the meeting when an un-named commissioner came downstairs to some of the residents an whispered ” ya’ll need to go outside of this county, get someone big to get involved, this is all wrong”. Now wasn’t that a confidence booster! lol. My home is all I have as an investment. And between the drug sellers, drug fencers, that national economic situation and now this ‘forced’ upon us issue– my tomorrows are not secure at all. Who is going to pay my health bills for breathing this mess, who addresses the countless within the sir-pollution flow? Aw, politics and power ego people— always bedfellows, always. SO TVA, don’t say anyone WANTS to sell to you. You play a nastier game than these good folks can bear. Your resources and game plan is far past their reach– and you and the state have had this plan for years. By the way…. Bull Run Steam Plant is the number three polluter in our country of all the plants– now we surely should pop up to number 1.
Then as now— it all echoes back , for me, to hearing Dwight David Eisenhower’s Presidential Departure speech “Beware of the Industrial/Military Complex”.
Currently trying to wrap my weary brain around the fact that our government is going to intentionally flood miles of farmland, homes and businesses to supposedly save miles of farmland, homes and businesses that WHAT???— are more important? more valuable? AND pay nothing to these people that THEY are doing this too??? I am SO like Carlin right now. And I shouldn’t be… really I just shouldn’t be. There actually still should be a voice in me that does and says more than Fuck It, I give up.
I miss you B’man… love to all!
Knoxville News Sentinel Editorial March 3 2011: regarding the article about the upcoming legislation regarding No Muslims allowed in Tennessee
A bill in the Tennessee Legislature that would basically outlaw Islam in Tennessee is obviously unconstitutional and an embarrassment to the entire state.
State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, the legislation’s sponsor, should withdraw the odious bill and issue an apology to all state residents, Muslims in particular.
The bill ostensibly addresses terrorism but in reality outlaws a religion. That’s unacceptable, unsupportable and unconscionable. It’s also unconstitutional on a variety of fronts.
Ketron’s bill would require the state attorney general to label any organization that advocates adherence to Shariah, the Muslim religious and legal proscriptions, as a terrorist group. The organization’s finances would be frozen immediately and members could face felony charges that could result in as many as 15 years in prison. Employees, presumably including school teachers and administrative assistants, are specifically targeted for possible prosecution.
A disclaimer that the law doesn’t apply to peaceful followers of Islam is laughable.
Based on the Quran, examples drawn from the life of Muhammad and a long history of scholarly thought, Shariah is more than a set of laws. It also instructs Muslims how to practice their faith.
All Muslims follow Shariah – which, like Christian and Jewish traditions, has conservative, moderate, liberal and fundamentalist interpretations – to some degree. Every Muslim organization can be construed as a Shariah organization, so the bill simply would outlaw Islam.
The bill also would set up the state attorney general as a grand inquisitor, giving the office sole authority to designate an outlaw organization using secret evidence out of the scrutiny of the public. Organizations wouldn’t be able to appeal the designation for two years.
Jailing Tennessee residents for practicing a religion is terrible to contemplate. The bill is repugnant and runs counter to America’s tolerance of all religious faiths. The Constitution forbids the enactment of a law that would interfere with the free exercise of religion, and Islam is one of the world’s oldest faiths.
The bill didn’t originate in Tennessee. According to the Associated Press, the Tennessee Eagle Forum gave the bill’s text to Ketron and House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma. Eagle Forum state President Bobbie Patray told the AP it was drafted by David Yerushalmi, an Arizona-based attorney who runs the Society of Americans for National Existence, a nonprofit that claims following Shariahh is treasonous.
If the bill does become law, a court challenge is all but certain. Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was quoted in the Tennessean as saying at an interfaith protest rally in Nashville on Tuesday that his organization would file a lawsuit the instant the governor signs the bill.
Christians, Jews and followers of other religious faiths, plus those who follow no religion, should join in denouncing this bill. Legislators should condemn it, too. Gov. Bill Haslam should announce plans to veto the legislation should lawmakers pass it.
Religious liberty is at the core of American values. Ketron’s bill poses a threat to those values and must be defeated.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
All posts are opinions meant to foster comment, reporting, teaching & study under the “fair use doctrine” in Sec. 107 of U.S. Code Title 17. No statement of fact is made or should be implied. Ads appearing on this blog are solely the product of the advertiser and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BuehlahMan’s Revolt or WordPress.com
“Mary, give me one of your Kleenexes,” my mother told my aunt one morning long ago when we were entering Holy Cross Church. She held a bobby pin in her lips, reached up to part her hair, and fixed the Kleenex on top of her head. My Aunt Mary already had her handkerchief in place.
“Why do you have to do that?” I asked.
“Because we are going into the house of the Lord,” my mother explained, “and we have to spare him from the sight of us.”
“It’s because we’re women, honey,” Aunt Mary said.
It must have been a Holy Day of Obligation. That would explain why we’d gone across town to attend Holy Cross with Mary instead of going to our own church, St. Patrick’s. I can speculate that it was a day off, and after Mass they were going to a sale at Robeson’s.
The world of a small child is closely confined in church. I could barely see over the back of the pew without standing on a kneeler. There was nothing for me to do. My mother and aunt were standing and kneeling and sitting down according to no rhythm I could comprehend. I owned a ball point pen that had three points you could slide down–red, green, and blue–and sitting down backwards on the kneeler I used our pew as a desk and began to color the cross on the cover of the church bulletin.
After Mass was over and we were in the car and my mother and Mary lit up their cigarettes, I asked, “Why doesn’t God want to look at you?”
“Because he wants to keep an eye on you,” my mother said. I hated answers like that. My Uncle Bob had an infuriating response for every question: “It’s to make little boys like you ask questions.”
One might gather God has never wanted to look at women. They are an offense to his eyes. He doesn’t want to see them on the altars of his churches. He doesn’t want them fooling with his sacraments. His son never married one. For the mother of his son, he provided a virgin who had never employed her womanly organs for the purpose of procreation. We know Mary grew large with child and presumably gave birth in the usual way, although whether giving birth to the son of God was easy or difficult for her is not recorded by the Evangelists, who were all men, as were all twelve of the Apostles.
One woman Jesus seems to have been close to, apart from his mother, was Mary Magdalene. As we all know, she was a prostitute, and Jesus cleansed her of her sin. She washed and dried his feet with her hair before or after the cleansing. She accompanied Jesus on his travels, and was accorded the honor of being the first to see him after his Resurrection. As a follower she was therefore a disciple, but not one of the Twelve Apostles.
The fact is, there’s not one word in Scripture to support the notion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. We are told that Jesus cleansed her of seven demons. One of the demons was possibly assumed to be prostitution by men who later interpreted the gospels, because her sexuality itself stirred unease in them. Patriarchal logic at work: If Magdalene was possessed by demons, one of them must have been sexual, and since she was not married she must have been a prostitute.
Yet after the other Disciples fled in fear from the foot of the cross, only Magdalene, Mary and John the Beloved loyally remained. In a disputed translation of the apocryphal Gospel of Philip, found on a Nag Hammadi scroll in 1945, we may read: And the companion of the Saviour was Mary Magdalene. Christ loved Mary more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her?”
The Catholic Church expresses grave reservations about the Dead Sea Scrolls and other early manuscripts, perhaps because they may not entirely corresponded to the patriarchal party line. Some tweaking of the Gospels has been going on since the beginning. For example, most of us know that John was “the most beloved disciple,” but a great many modern Biblical scholars believe that his name was substituted somewhere along the line for Magdalene’s.
I am not concerned so much with Church teachings, but with the way men’s minds work. To put it bluntly, I believe the world is patriarchal because men are bigger and stronger than women, and can beat them up. The earliest archeological evidence we have for human family development indicates patriarchies preceded written language. Indeed, if we study other primates we see that their cultures are also male-dominant, and presumably they’ve not arrived at this state after careful discussion.
Once primates got started on this track, it seems to have been fixed in our nature. I know evolutionary and biological theories have been advanced to explain it. I can think of a theological reason: Eve was required to tempt Adam so that Man would be stained with Original Sin, and then Jesus could die to redeem us. Two sexes were required. Parthenogenesis provided few opportunities for sin.
Today such reasons are less compelling. A lot of it comes down to: Men like it this way, it suits their nature, and they have the power to enforce it. There must be something abhorrent to some men in the ideas of female rights and equality. Does it threaten them? Does it diminish them?
In doing some research for my review of “Made in Deganham,” the movie about the women strikers against Ford UK, I wanted to find out when equal pay for equal work first became the law in the United States. I didn’t discover what I expected. Only two weeks ago, a Republican filibuster in the U. S. Senate prevented passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have added teeth to measures for equal pay. The Republicans presumably feel they have some support from women on this subject, especially those following religions which preach that a woman must submit to the will of her husband: Either her actual husband, or her legislatorial surrogate.
Some religions are more outspoken about female subservience than others, some less, and a few preach against it. The Catholic Church, in the midst of trying to clarify its teachings on women, dropped a spanner into the works last summer by describing the ordination of women as a “grave crime” like pedophilia. The Vatican had also described pedophilia as a “grave crime,” and many news reports quickly made an equation.The Pope might have been prudent to give as an example a grave crime like genocide that didn’t make you think of priests.
There was a moment in the 2008 Presidential debates when candidates were asked if they agreed with Creationism. Many did. Catholics are encouraged to accept the Theory of Evolution. What if you asked Catholic candidates if they agreed that ordaining women and pedophilia are comparable crimes?
You could ask questions along parallel lines of Muslims and Orthodox Jews. Their women in some branches are not even allowed to attend worship services in the same spaces as men. Members of some kinds of Islam require women to shield themselves from everybody’s eyes. To be an uncovered woman is to be an affront to a man–a possible temptation. (That reminds me of grade school, when we were warned that entertaining thoughts about a woman’s body was a possible Occasion of Sin.) One of a husband’s duties is to breed with his wife to produce sons who will follow this tradition, and daughters who will submit to it. Another duty is to prevent any other men from getting ideas into their heads.
I watched the debate last week between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair. Their subject was: “Be it resolved, that religion is a force for good in the world.” The most stimulating thing about the debate was that it was held at all. How often do we ever hear fundamental questions debated in a civil manner between intelligent speakers? Would there be an audience on cable for weekly debates between college teams? In America, debating was the leading intercollegiate sport before the introduction of football.
Blair and Hitchens made points one might agree with, and points one might not. At one point, Hitchens asked Blair a question that hung in the air for a second and went unanswered, because Blair must have had no answer. This was the question:
“Is it good for the world to consider women as an inferior form, as all religions do?”
R. Ebert “An afront to the Eyes of God” Chicago Suntimes Dec 1 2010
Israel’s proposed new Terrorism Law significantly extends definition of terrorism
A new version of Israel’s Terrorism Law recently proposed by the Israeli government introduces a very broad definition of terrorism and terrorist organizations. Legal experts believe it is liable to endanger organizations and activities that are currently defined as legal in Israel.
Source: Israel Ministry of Justice, IDI, @ygurvitz
A new Terrorism Law was recently drafted by Israel’s Attorney General, the State Attorney and senior officials from the shabac (Israel’s secret police, also called the Israel Security Agency), and approved by the Minister of Justice. It is scheduled to be introduced to the Knesset for a vote shortly, but has received little coverage in Israeli media so far.
The Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) has criticized the proposed new law in a recent publication. According to the IDI, “the basic problem with the draft memorandum bill lies in its overly broad definitions …. As a result of the breadth of these definitions, legal tools that raise the level of punishment, compromise due process, and violate rights of suspects and defendants are deployed in far too many cases, causing serious violations of rights.”
The proposed law seeks to replace other pieces of legislation including the current Israeli law for prevention of terrorism and the law prohibiting funding of terrorism, as well as modifying various existing laws such as the Public Defense Law and extending the provisions of others.
The proposed law significantly extends the definitions of terrorist acts and organisations, for example by introducing the concept of “envelope organisations.” According to Israeli authorities these are groups that provide socio-economic services to the public but are also linked to or support terrorist organisations and should therefore also be defined as “terrorist organisations.”
The explanatory notes to the new version specify explicitly that the new definition of “terrorist acts” does not distinguish between crimes committed against soldiers and those committed against civilians, because “terrorism is an illegitimate method of attaining political, ideological or religious ends irrespective of the identity of its victims.”
The proposed version permits a suspect to be held for up to 96 hours before being brought before a judge, and revises the period of detention of terrorist suspects without charge up to 30 days.
It also enables court hearings to be held in the absence of the suspect and denial of legal counsel for prolonged periods.
The proposed law details three different methods of seizure of property and freezing of assets of suspected organizations and individuals without recourse to fair process. To this end, secret evidence and “inadmissible evidence” may be presented to the court in order to demonstrate connection between the assets and the perpetrator of the act, even if the organization involved is not a declared “terrorist organisation.” The law also grants the authorities extensive search and confiscation rights for purposes of seizure, and the right to close premises.
As an example of the possible impact of these extensive seizure authorities, the IDI cites a situation in which an Israeli medical charity donates money or medical services to another medical charity that provides free health services to Palestinian civilians, but is partly linked to or recognized by the Hamas de-facto Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip. Under the new law, that Israeli charity can be immediately closed down, its property seized and its assets frozen under the new law, all without the possibility of due process, due to “links to a terrorist organization.”
On 3 October the IDI initiated a round-table discussion of the proposed law, seeking to arouse public debate on the subject.
IDI experts warn that “when legislation of this nature is enacted with regard to terrorism, there is the danger of radiation to other areas. Practices for dealing with terrorism that become routine are liable to spill over to other areas…. Israel must be careful not to overstep the boundaries of criminal law, both in terms of substantive criminal law and criminal procedure.”
In the opinion of the IDI, the law “relies too heavily on pre-existing local legislation that is archaic in nature, as well as on new legislation from other countries, which was adopted in the post 9/11 hysteria.”
Below is a non-exhaustive summary outlining selected aspects of the 105-page proposed law, as published in a memorandum by the Israeli Justice Ministry.
Definition of “terrorism”:
A “terrorist act” means the use or threat of action where-
(a) the use or threat is made from political, ideological or religious motives or out of hostility to the public,
(b) the use or threat is designed to intimidate the public or to persuade a government or governmental organization, including international governmental organizations or public organizations, to act or to refrain from acting in a certain way; in this paragraph, a prior reasonable assumption that the use or threat of such an action will intimidate the public shall be the same as design to intimidate the public,
(c) the use or threat involves one of the following, or poses an actual risk of one of the following:
(1) actual damage to the body or liberty of a person, or danger to a person’s life or risk of serious injury to a person
(2) serious damage to state security or to the health or safety of the public
(3) serious damage to property or damage to property that involves or may involve damage to government institutions or symbols
(4) damage or serious interference with essential infrastructure, systems or services, or serious damage to the state economy or the environment, or damage to the environment that could cause serious financial damage.
Definition of “terrorist organizations”:
The proposed law extends the definition of a “terrorist organization” to include so-called “envelope organizations” – organizations promoting, encouraging, supporting, cooperating or enabling the activities of “terrorist organizations.” Its explanatory notes specify that terrorist organizations are accompanied by support organizations engaged in socio-economic activities, as well as sympathizing organizations, without which they could not function.
The law also extends the definition of a member of a “terrorist organization” to persons participating in meetings or other activities of organizations defined as terrorist, or agreeing in principle to join a “terrorist organization,” even without acting on its behalf. Membership is assumed to remain in place until proven otherwise, and the burden of proof is on the alleged member.
Under the new law, if any crime is committed by a “terrorist organization” or by a member of one, it is assumed that this crime was committed with the intentions of a terrorist act. Crimes by a member of a “terrorist organization” are therefore assumed to be terrorist acts unless proven otherwise.
The Minister of Defense shall be authorized to declare an organization as a “terrorist organization,” but suspects and organizations can be convicted of terrorism or of membership even if the organizations involved have not been officially declared “terrorist organisations.”
The law grants the Minister of Defense the authority to declare organizations or individuals as terrorist, based on similar declarations by authorities overseas.
Suspects’ and detainees’ rights:
The proposed law permits a suspect to be held for up to 96 hours before being brought before a judge, and revises the period of detention of terrorist suspects without charge up to 30 days.
It also enables court hearings to be held in the absence of the suspect and denial of counsel for prolonged periods.
The law extends scope of the law permitting Administrative Detention (internment without trial), enabling the Minister of Defense to also impose “control orders” prohibiting the suspect from leaving a place or area, to impose exit bans from the country, and to ban suspects’ access to certain places, for a period of up to one year. It also enables police and army extensive authority to search persons and premises or carry out “any reasonable act” for the enforcement of these limitations.
Penalties are significantly stricter than in current anti-terrorist legislation. Those convicted of terrorism will serve 40-year minimum prison sentences, instead of 30.
According to the proposed law, criminal offenses should be punished more strictly if by intention, aim and circumstances they fulfill the definition of terrorist acts. Criminal offenses made with the intention of terrorism shall receive a double prison sentence, or 30 years.
In addition the law includes newly defined terrorism-related crimes with severe penalties, such as:
Directing a terrorist organization (25 years); employment by a terrorist organization (15 years); membership in an organization, whether it is an officially declared terrorist organization or not, and without proven participation in its activities (5 years); public expression of sympathy with a terrorist organization (3 years); Incitement to terrorism, including publicly encouraging, lauding or supporting terrorist acts or organizations; holding forbidden publications for dissemination or providing services for preparation, dissemination or publication or forbidden publications (minimum 3 years); providing means or services that can assist terrorist acts (2 years); harboring after terrorist acts (3 years); non-prevention of terrorism (3 years); threatening terrorism (half the sentence of the threatened act or 5 years); training for terrorist acts, for prevention of their discovery or for disruption of their investigation, or for the use or manufacture of weapons (7 years); receiving such training (5 years); trading in arms for terrorism (20-25 years); trading or holding goods belonging to a terrorist organization in order to pre-empt freezing of assets or confiscation (3 years); failing to report assets (1 year); vandalism to property for terrorist ends (7 years); or violation of control orders (2 years).
Freezing of assets:
The proposed law includes a comprehensive chapter detailing extensive authority for three different methods of seizure of property and freezing of assets of suspected organizations and individuals without recourse to fair process. To this end, secret evidence and inadmissible evidence may be presented to the court in order to demonstrate connection between the assets and the perpetrator of the act, even if the organization involved is not a declared “terrorist organisation.” The law also grants the authorities extensive search and confiscation rights for purposes of seizure, and the right to close premises.
Cached version of the public memorandum issued by the Israeli Justice Ministry on the proposed law (Hebrew): http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:h…
Israeli Democracy Institute overview and summary of its critique of the law (English):
This article may be reproduced on condition that JNews is cited as its source
Image from http://toppun.com
All posts are opinions meant to foster comment, reporting, teaching & study under the “fair use doctrine” in Sec. 107 of U.S. Code Title 17. No statement of fact is made or should be implied. Ads appearing on this blog are solely the product of the advertiser and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BuehlahMan’s Revolt or WordPress.com
Inviting us to bow down before the
god of fortune by Frank Furedi
Today’s deification of fear encourages us to succumb to fate. But we should learn from the Romans and seek to subdue Fortuna.
Who decides our individual fates? How much of our future is influenced by our exercise of free will? Humanity’s destiny has been the subject of controversy since the beginning of history.
Back in ancient times, different gods were endowed with the ability to thwart our ambitions or to bless us with good fortune. The Romans worshipped the goddess Fortuna, giving her great power over human affairs. Nevertheless, they still believed that her influence could be contained and even overcome by men of true virtue. As the saying goes: ‘Fortune favours the brave.’ This belief that the power of fortune could be limited through human effort and will is one of the most important legacies of humanism.
The belief in people’s capacity to exercise their will and shape their future flourished during the Renaissance, creating a world in which people could dream about struggling against the tide of fortune. A new refusal to defer to fate was expressed through affirming the human potential. Later, during the period of Enlightenment, this sensibility developed further, giving rise to a belief that, in certain circumstances, mankind could gain the freedom necessary to influence its future.
In the twenty-first century, however, the optimistic belief in humanity’s ability to subdue the unknown and become the master of its fate has given way to a belief that we are powerless to deal with the perils that confront us. Today, the problems associated with risk and uncertainty are constantly being amplified and, courtesy of our own imaginations, are turned into existential threats. Consequently, it is rare for unexpected natural events to be treated as just that; rather, they are swiftly dramatised and transformed into a threat to human survival.
The clearest expression of this tendency can be found in the dramatisation of weather forecasting. Once upon a time, TV weather forecasts were just those boring moments when you got up to make a snack. But with the invention of concepts like ‘extreme weather’, routine events such as storms, smog or unexpected snowfall have been turned into compelling entertainment. Also these days, a relatively ordinary technical IT problem, such as the so-called Millennium Bug, can be interpreted as a threat of apocalyptic proportions; and officialdom’s reaction to a flu epidemic can look like it was taken from the plotline of a Hollywood disaster movie. Recently, when the World Health Organisation warned that the human species was threatened by swine flu, it became clear that cultural prejudice rather than sober risk assessment influences much of current official thinking.
In recent times, European culture has become confused about the meaning of uncertainty and risk. As a result, it finds it difficult to live with the notion of Fortuna. Contemporary Western cultural attitudes towards uncertainty, chance and risk are far more pessimistic and confused than they were during most of the modern era. Only rarely is uncertainty about something looked upon as an opportunity to take responsibility for our destiny. Invariably, uncertainty is presented as a marker for danger, and change is often regarded with dread.
Frequently, worst-case thinking displaces any genuine risk-assessment process. Risk assessment is based on an attempt to calculate the probability of different outcomes. Worst-case thinking – these days known as precautionary thinking – is based on an act of imagination. It imagines the worst-case scenario and demands that we take action on that basis. For example, earlier this year, the fear that particles in the ash cloud from the volcanic eruption in Iceland could cause aeroplane engines to shut down automatically mutated into the conclusion that they would. It was the fantasy of the worst case, rather than risk assessment, which led to the panicky official ban on air travel.
Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, advocates of worst-case thinking argue that society should stop looking at risk in terms of a balance of probabilities. These critics of probabilistic thinking are calling for a radical break with past practices, on the grounds that today we simply lack the information to calculate probabilities effectively. Their rejection of the practice of calculating probabilities is motivated by a belief that the dangers we face are so overwhelming and catastrophic – the Millennium Bug, international terrorism, swine flu, climate change – that we cannot wait until we have all the information before we calculate their destructive effects. ‘Shut it down!’ is the default response. One of the many regrettable consequences of this outlook is that policies designed to deal with threats are increasingly based on feelings and intuition rather than on evidence or facts.
Worst-case thinking encourages the adoption of fear as one of the dominant principles around which the public, and its government and institutions, should organise their lives. It institutionalises insecurity and fosters a mood of confusion and powerlessness. By popularising the belief that worst cases are normal, it incites people to feel defenceless and vulnerable in the face of a wide range of threats. In all but name, it is an invitation for us to defer to Fortuna.
Crisis of causalityThe tendency to engage with uncertainty through the prism of fear, and always to anticipate destructive outcomes, can be understood as a crisis of causality. Increasingly, policymakers are demanding precaution in relation to various different problems. When events appear to have little meaning, and when society finds it difficult to account for the origins and the possible future trajectory of those events, then it is tempting to rely on caution rather than on reasoning. Human beings have always exercised caution when dealing with uncertainty. Today, however, caution has become politicised and has been turned into a dominant cultural norm.
The clearest manifestation of this is the rise of the idea of sustainability. The doctrine of sustainability demands that we don’t take any risks with our future. Taking decisive action to promote progress is seen as far more dangerous than simply staying still. That is why, these days, the ideals of development, progress and economic growth enjoy little cultural valuation. In contrast, just to ‘sustain’ a future of more of the same is represented as a worthwhile objective.
Today’s precautionary culture answers the age-old question about where fate ends and free will begins by insisting that our fate is to sustain. In Roman times, and during the Renaissance, it was argued that virtus could overcome the power of Fortuna. The ideals of virtue upheld courage, prudence, intelligence, a dedication to the public good, and a willingness to take risks. Petrarch’s remarkable The Remedies of Both Kinds of Fortune (1366) proposed the very modern and radical idea that mankind had the potential to control his destiny. In the context of the Renaissance, the conviction that people had the power to transform the physical world began to gain ground. In the current climate, however, when Western culture is so apprehensive about dealing with uncertainty, our aspiration to transform, develop and progress has been overwhelmed by the ethos of caution and sustainability.
The crisis of causality expresses a profound sense of unease towards people’s capacity to know. This has a significant influence on the way that communities interpret the world around them. Once the authority of knowledge is undermined, people lose confidence in their ability to interpret new events. Without the guidance of knowledge, world events can appear as random and arbitrary acts that are beyond comprehension. This crisis of causality does not simply deprive society of an ability to grasp the chain of events that led to a particular outcome; it also diminishes the ability to find meaning in what sometimes appears as a series of arbitrary events.
Frequently, the dangers faced by humans are represented as problems that we can’t really understand. In contrast to the Enlightenment’s conviction that knowledge could eventually solve all problems, the intellectual temper today tends to focus on the impossibility of knowing. This pessimistic view of our capacity to understand has important implications for how society views its future. If the impact of our actions on the future is not knowable, then our anxieties towards change become amplified. The scepticism about our ability to anticipate outcomes is often based on the idea that we simply don’t have the time to catch up with the fast and far-reaching consequences of modern technological development. Many experts claim that since technological innovations have such rapid consequences, there is simply no time to understand their likely effects.
In a roundabout way, the devaluation of knowledge expresses a diminishing of belief in the power and influence of human subjectivity. That is why it is now commonplace to hear the Enlightenment project described as naive, or to see scientists castigated for ‘playing God’. The idea of diminished subjectivity, as communicated through the precautionary culture, inexorably leads to a reconciliation with – if not a deference to – fate.
One of the most important ways in which today’s sense of diminished subjectivity is experienced is through the feeling that individuals are being manipulated and influenced by hidden powerful forces. Not just spindoctors, subliminal advertising and the media, but also powers that have no name. That is why we frequently attribute unexplained physical and psychological symptoms to unspecific forces, such as the food we eat, the water we drink, an extending variety of pollutants and substances transmitted by new technologies and other invisible processes.
The American academic, Timothy Melley, has characterised this response as agency panic. ‘Agency panic is intense anxiety about an apparent loss of autonomy, the conviction that one’s actions are being controlled by someone else or that one has been “constructed” by powerful, external agents’, writes Melley. The perception that one’s behaviour and action are controlled by external agents is symptomatic of a heightened sense of fatalism, which springs from today’s sense of diminished subjectivity. The feeling of being subject to manipulation and external control – the very stuff of conspiracy theory – is consistent with the perception of being vulnerable or ‘at risk’. As Melley observes, this reaction ‘stems largely from a sense of diminished human agency, a feeling that individuals cannot effect meaningful social action and, in extreme cases, may not be able to control their own behaviour’.
The re-emergence of pre-modern anxieties about hidden forces is testimony to the weakening of the humanist sensibility that emerged as part of the Enlightenment. The loss of a sense of human agency has not only undermined the public’s engagement with politics – it has also altered the way in which people make sense of the world around them. The crisis of causality means that the most important events are now seen as being shaped and determined by a hidden agenda. We seem to be living in a shadowy world akin to The Matrix movies, where the issue at stake is the reality that we inhabit and who is being manipulated by whom.
In previous times, that kind of attitude was mainly held by right-wing populist movements, which saw the hand of a Jewish or a Masonic or a Communist conspiracy behind all major world events. Today, conspiracy theory has gone mainstream, and many of its most vociferous promoters can be found in radical protest movements and amongst the cultural left. Increasingly, important events are viewed as the products of a cover-up, as the search for the ‘hidden hand’ manipulating a particular story comes to dominate public life. Conspiracy theory constructs worlds where everything important is manipulated behind our backs and where we simply do not know who is responsible for our predicament. In such circumstances, we have no choice but to defer to our fate.
It is through conspiracy theories that Fortuna reappears – but it does so in a form that is far more degraded than in Roman times. To their credit, the Romans were able to counterpose virtus to Fortuna. In a precautionary culture, however, fortune favours the risk-averse, not the brave. The current deification of fear instructs us to bow to fate. In such circumstances, there is not much room left for freedom or the exercise of free will. Yet if we have to defer to fate, how can we be held to account? In the absence of the freedom to influence the future, how can there be human responsibility? One of the principal accomplishments of the precautionary culture has been to normalise irresponsibility. We should reject this perspective, in favour of a mighty dose of humanist courage.
The above is a speech given at the Philosophy Festival in Modena, Italy, on 18 September 2010. An edited version was published in theAustralian on 9 October 2010.
Of course the 2000 election was f’ed with. Then to have such a Senate Committee [more money]… and then do nothing… geeece. Same ole shit.