Insouciance, indifference and any inspiration in the face of emergent global crises?

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Recognition has grown over the past two generations of risks of an escalating multi-faceted global crisis in which various subsidiary crises—environmental, financial, economic, social, national-political, nationalist, cyber, epidemiological—will feed each other. This awareness is not matched by corresponding global precaution. The veiled and contestable nature of many of the processes that contribute to the multiple crises and of their interactions, combined with the growth imperatives of capitalism, techno-optimism and market theology, plus nationalist loyalties, ambitions and rivalries, mean that denial, inattention and non-preparation prevail. Further, the risks and eventual harms are disproportionately imposed on the poor and marginal, both inter- and intra-nationally. -response practices and long-term results of ‘eruptions’ such as hurricanes. This allocation of risks and harms means that ruling elites typically largely carry on regardless. This chapter first explores some of the mechanisms at work, including with special reference to climate change. One family of mechanisms, the ruling myths of techno-optimism, embrace ‘Fear No Evil’. They deny danger, thanks to a belief that technological transformations mean crisis will never arrive or that it will always trigger rapid solutions. Unending economic growth will be assured through capitalist-driven innovation. A second family of issues concerns endemic underestimation and indifference towards dangers—‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil’—typically based on a tacit expectation that nearly all eventual costs can be imposed on weaker groups with the rich escaping relatively unharmed. Further, the costs and risks to weaker groups are systematically downgraded and excluded. Relevant techniques include: requiring types of quantitative data that have never been collected for poor groups (for example, on diseases particular to the poor), and inverting the precautionary principle to prioritize avoiding any risk of damaging the interests of the wealthy; and so on. Given a dominant ‘No Worries’ culture, crisis becomes an inevitable stage before any eventual response and change. The second half of the chapter considers some possible lines of response and evolutionary paths. I focus most on the complex theory of global crisis developed since 1990 by Paul Raskin and his Tellus Institute associates. Their Great Transition Initiative (GTI) series anticipates several themes considered in the present volume. It refines the characterization of crises as both threat and opportunity and shows the need for powerful alternative visions, values, proposals and networks. It presents a set of scenarios that vary according to the relation between the intensity of crisis and the relevance and effectiveness of the preparations and capacities for response. While crisis may be a necessary step in bringing about change, it is not a sufficient basis for desirable change. It can easily provoke fear, hate and increased selfishness. Other elements are necessary for an effective progressive response. Networks must not only be formed and motivated but in addition, in order to be ready when crisis erupts, they must have produced practicable ideas and formed links to potentially sympathetic decision-makers. Otherwise crises will be used to enforce retrogressive change. With reference to such requirements for effective crisis anticipation, preparation and response, suggested by Murphy and the GTI work, I evaluate the Rio+20 process, through the 2012 global summit on sustainable development, and the subsequent 2015 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2012, 2015) that includes the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by all governments. Are there some promising signs?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Pedagogy of Economic, Political and Social Crises : Dynamics, Construals and Lessons
EditorsB. Jessop, K. Knio
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9781138062504
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

SeriesRoutledge Frontiers of Political Economy

Bibliographical note

Published November 2018, ebook 2019


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