By Hidetaka Ishida (The University of Tokyo)
My talk today is about “Catastrophe Risk and Democracy”.
One year and a half ago, last year in Seoul at an annual conference held here at this university, I told about “Catastrophe and Media”: I told how media reported catastrophic events -- the Earthquake of 3/11 2011, the Tsunami which devastated the East Cost of Japan and the Nuclear Power Plant Accident of Fukushima.
Today I will try to ask what is the implication of the catastrophe for the human society.
I will deliver a “second elaboration” of my reflection on catastrophe and society.
If I take a Japanese case, this is not to speak only about a particular japanese case. My intention is to reflect on the catastrophe and the risk in general, because I think our world is more than more concerned by this problem of catastrophe. At this regard, it is not at all important to make too much importance to a particular Japanese case.
My conviction is that we could try to open a vast interdisciplinary study field on catastrophe, naming it “Catastrophe Studies” for example.
In the events of 3/11 in Japan, with a gigantesque Earthquake of 9.0 on Richter scale, a Tsunami which caused near 20,000 casualties and Nuclear Disaster, we discovered so many agenda for such studies: what is the catastrophe? How one can formulate the question of civilization vis-à-vis the catastrophe (we remarked a possibility for a geo-history of civilization)? We began to see possible studies on the imaginary of catastrophe: we could for example envisage an approach of “Popular culture and Catastrophe”. For example, the animation genre in the Post-War Japan develops on axis of the thematic of Catastrophe: it is not by chance that the genre had a nuclear problem in the birth of Testuwan Atom, that many works have a post-apocalypse world as setting. We can observe geo-historical theme and ecological interrogation or thematic of risk, as in the animation works of Miyazaki.
In the communication in disasters and in behaviors of people we remark that communications are made not only for living persons but communications with dead spirits are also important for population in disasters. So in the Tsunami disaster of 3/11, people sought to join kinship by portable phones(keitai) but also ihai(ancestral tablet) to reestablish communication with ancestors.
And it was discovered that religious monuments likes Shinto sanctuaries are monuments for remembering the disasters, and the names of places are also inscriptions of tsunami. So there are so many strata of collective memory that are inscribed on the geological levels, etc. The question of memory is very important one, so that we wonder whether we have a appropriate concept of history which make possible to think catastrophe, I think personally that we must envisage a sort of new conception of history which is more geological or even physic: namely geo-history or physics of history.
So the stratification of media, the collective memories and the geo-history are linked by very complex relationship.
That is why it will be important to continue in interdisciplinary way the interrogation on the catastrophe problematique.
Today I introduce the theme “Catastrophe, Risk and Democracy”
Firstly I would like to develop on the structure of the catastrophe:
1. Structure of the “catastrophe”
A. The “Power Law” :
Indeed, our world seems increasingly traversed by various types of disasters. You can remind that our century began with the 9/11, we knew many many cases of Earthquake, Hurricane, Typhoon, Tsunami, Nuclear Catastrophe, but also Financial Clash, Biological, etc.
We are more than more in the Era of Catastrophe.
1 ecological, climatic and biological disasters
2 technological and human disasters
3 financial and speculative disasters, etc.
We are more than more approaching the critical phase of civilization that is properly crisis of civilization. And the problematique of criticality comes to the foreground.
All these catastrophes have a quite common structure, i.e. their distribution is structured by the “Power Law”.
The Power Law is a mathematical distribution law discovered in many physical phenomena and often formulated in terms of Complexity Theory:
“In statistics, a power law is a functional relationship between two quantities, where a relative change in one quantity results in a proportional relative change in the other quantity, independent of the initial size of those quantities: one quantity varies as a power of another. For instance, considering the area of a square in terms of the length of its side, if the length is doubled, the area is multiplied by a factor of four.” (Wikipedia “Power Law”)
B. Self-Organized Criticality(SOC)
The earthquake obeys to the Power Law: the “law of Gutenberg-Richter” is one of types of the Power Law.
The reason why there are so many phenomena following the Power Law is that they are results of the so called “Self-Organized Criticality”(SOC).
“In physics, self-organized criticality (SOC) is a property of (classes of) dynamical systems that have a critical point as an attractor. Their macroscopic behavior thus displays the spatial and/or temporal scale-invariance characteristic of the critical point of a phase transition, but without the need to tune control parameters to precise values.” (Wikipedia “Self-organized criticality”)
One illustrates this “self-organized criticality” by the example of “the sandpile or ricepile model”. The catastrophe (the slide) occurs necessarily but one cannot predict when and where: a catastrophe is necessary but properly unpredictable.
C Fractal patterns
The reason why they obey to the Power Law is that the universe reduplicates a similar pattern at every level producing the multiplication
Physics names patterns of this type, “fractal patterns”:
“A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. It is also known as expanding symmetry or evolving symmetry. If the replication is exactly the same at every scale, it is called a self-similar pattern. An example of this is the Menger Sponge. Fractals can also be nearly the same at different levels. This latter pattern is illustrated in the magnifications of the Mandelbrot set. Fractals also include the idea of a detailed pattern that repeats itself.”((Wikipedia “Fractal”)
2. Risk Society
We face a series of different phenomena of catastrophe which would be explained by the unified theory of SOC with the probability of Power Law.
My question is what implication this problematic of catastrophe entails for our conception of social and individual life.
One element of response could be found in the approach of social theory of the “Risk Society” formulated by U. Beck and A. Giddens.
“According to British sociologist Anthony Giddens, a risk society is "a society increasingly preoccupied with the future (and also with safety), which generates the notion of risk," whilst the German sociologist Ulrich Beck defines it as "a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernisation itself (Beck 1992:21)". (Wikipedia “Risk society”)
Actually we live in Risk Society:
We live in a society where the ontological security is threatened.
We face chronic financial catastrophe.
We face natural climatic or seismologic catastrophes.
We face human-and-technological catastrophe.
We face ecological or biological catastrophe, etc. etc.
3. Information Society
There is a third order of question in our age: the information order which is also and properly self-organizing system. The same logic of self-organized criticality with Power Law distribution works in organization of information order of our society.
The consequence of this is that we immediately have a masse of information in the moment of catastrophe. So that in our age, a catastrophe – natural, human, nuclear, financial or other - is also and immediately a catastrophe of information.
As we saw in the days of 3/11, that the information order with development of social media, is more than more self-organizing: never such gigantesque archives of imag
es weren’t constituted automatically; we hadn’t see in real time so many images of real catastrophic events.
The contemporary catastrophe is always and already an informational catastrophe. The financial catastrophe is an exemplary example of this information catastrophe.
The information is ubiquitous but not distributed in equilibrium in space and time. Ubiquitous means simply universally connected. And this universal interconnections make develop the self organizing process with its fractal patters and SOC.
The information in web connection typically follows the power law distribution.
4 Memory Troubles in Social and Psychological Individuation
Forgetting or social amnesia of the catastrophe is a strange phenomenon.
It is strange that people seem to have “forgotten” the catastrophe of 3/11.
Our memory is traversed by the “Power Law” of information
The Perception or the “sensibility” relies on Short Term Memory in terms of cognitive psychology. That is a working memory which constitutes the perception-consciousness of present time i.e. the “primary retention” in husserlien vocabulary.
And nowadays not only our perception but also our long memory is exteriorized in form of technological recording. And we have difficulty to adapt these prosthetic memories to our proper human memories. Then there are so many memory troubles. It is very difficult to have a appropriate temporal perspective in our memory. Just as we have the Power Law distribution exactly in events, in the same manner we have the non-linear distribution of quantities of memories of theses events.
Especially face to complex non linear phenomena, it is difficult to keep the mapping of the events on linear representation of human memories in the fluctuations of huge information flows.
The perception-consciousness, “primary retention” （Husserl-Stiegler）（or “the short term memory” or “working memory”） is prosthetized by television or Internet. The archive or third memory(“third retention”) come short-cut the second retention (faculty of remembering) (the human memory in proper sense). This informational amnesia phenomenon makes difficult to establish a social and psychological synthesis of recent past. This is a phenomenon that I call a “memory trouble” of the society. Our memory is short-cut in the flow of information in real time and by infinity of technological prosthetic memory (here we find again the famous question of Pharmakon in Plato’s Phaedrus).
We know the catastrophe happened but we are not sure of the understanding of it due to the lack of temporal perspective.
We don't think the events due to a failure of synthesis for “Apperception”（Kant） of our cognitive faculties.
5. Politics of Stupidity
In this general situation of cognitive failure, we discover a strong stupidity win the intellectually week part of the political and economic world. The temptation is strong to adopt a strategy of the ostrich policy. Decision makers decide not to think. Here comes the age of domination of the idiocy.
Actually the Japanese government adopted this very policy of idiocy: politic of laisser faire the stupidity. The neo-liberalism of state (so called “Abenomics”) is policy of reflation, augmenting a monetary masse to boost the speculative cycle of finance and to remake the infernal financial capitalism cycle. They adopt also the dogma of economic growth, etc. They decided to restart Nuclear Power Plants, while the consequences of Fukushima Daiichi are not yet at all resolved. The list of idiocy is too long to waste time in this lecture.
The informational idiocy is not the privilege of the government. There are so many grass roots fascisms self-organized via internet: xenophobia, racism of different kinds, and so on. The fascism self-organizing by bottom-Up process -- with echo-chamber and cyber-cascade effects (C. Sunstein) -- of informational interconnections joins the national fascism of the state – top-down process of state fascism. This is a fundamental scheme of the “conservative revolution” going on in the shift towards the right of the national politics.
6. Reflex of Civil Society
Longtime, the Japan has been a strange society that did not see any significant political movement in direct democracy during three or four decades. Before 1975, there were very active and violent social movements especially student movements. After that period, total absence of significant political civil movements.
After 1970’s, since the Japanese society entered in the age of so called “Consumption Society” or “Postmodernity”, almost total evacuation of political issues was effective and in this sense the domination of consumerist capitalism was total.
But recently, this is not the case anymore. After 3/11 and the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, commenced a new political impulsion. The direct democracy movements began to renovate their method utilizing the social media, there was a certain innovation of demonstration culture inspired by street culture. Influences of “Occupy Wall street” movement, and more recently the Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan(march 2014), Umbrella Revolution (sept. 2014) in Hong Kong could be also found in these phenomena.
Sine two three years, young people invented different style of demonstration and a new design of political events, new design culture, new expression inspired by hip hop music, new message out of routine , etc.（http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34581340）
This summer, I personally was quite actively committed in movement against the bills for military legislation and so I collaborated very closely with a new wave of student movement. With other intellectuals and professors colleagues, we constituted the Association of Scholars against 2015 Japanese military legislation with 14000 signatures and more. The Students movement SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy http://www.sealds.com ) is in the heart of this movement.
Mon aim here is not to introduce the student movement. But to deliver my reflection on these worldwide tendencies of youth to resist domination of the neoliberalism order and challenge the shift to the right of political world.
7. Democratic ethos in Risk society
Longtime, the student movement was dominated by Marxist or pro-Marxist and leftwing movement model. I characterize it as a manifestation of political romanticism(Carl Schmitt). Ideal of another world, liberation and utopia, etc.
This model of social action is obsolete.
In the Quarrel of Postmodern in 1980’s, Lyotard diagnosed the “End of grand narrative”. The Marxist narrative was one of these grand narratives which plot the evolution of history by mapping the political mutations on the linear temporal axis of the History.
In 1980’s, the grand narrative of social reformation was supplanted by the mini individualist narrative of the consumption society. So, the postmodernism was an ideology of the consumption society.
Nowadays, neither the scenario of grand narrative of becoming of the history nor the mini narrative of individual consumption are not credible.
In the society in which risks are ubiquitous and natural resources limited tied by boomerang effect, in the age that the economic growth is not evident and the population diminishes, sudden crystallization of political consciousness happens on the themes of defense of the “individual dignity”, of “ontological security” or simply for youth on the theme of the defense of their “future”.
I think it is quite common to all people who recently commenced to organize their political consciousness notably in young generations.
Not to be a silent consumer, not to be a-political individual, to be responsible of the future, etc. we remarks numerous new political issues crystallized in their movement.
I have the feeling that there emerges a new political attitude which would be a political ethos (Max Weber) of the age of Risk society.
The students of SEALDs underline the devise of the article 12 of the Japanese Constitution: “The freedoms and rights guaranteed to the people by this Constitution shall be maintained by the constant endeavor of the people…”. This seems to be a ethics of meta- tability in this changing world with nonlinear catastrophic age.
I think there would be a possibility of new civilian ethos as new type of individuation in risk society. This is not a revolt for utopia, this is not a movement for classes, but a claim for a more just society, for a sustainability and resilience, a claim for respect of dignity. At each point of their claims, you can find the critical points of problems of complexity, as I explained in my talk today. These young students defend this very real world, so we can say they are somehow “conservative” in a very specific sense, I would say “partisan of sustainability”, they try to defend in short their “future” in this age when our “future” is surely not “sure”.
I’m now quite confident of this younger generation, because nobody until now never had formulated so well the very problematique of our world. And despite despairing political situation of our country we might count on the lucidity of young generations who are renovating now the principle of democracy in our world.
Thank you for your friendly attention. H.I.
・ Ulrich Beck (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. New Delhi: Sage. (Translated from the German Risikogesellschaft) 1986.
・ Beck, Ulrich, Giddens, Anthony, Lash, Scott (1994) Reflexive Modernization. Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order. Stanford University Press
・ Buchanan, Mark(2000), Ubiquity: The Science of History… or Why the World is Simpler Than We Think , Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London
・ Husserl, Edmund(1990 ), On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893–1917),. Brough, J.B., trans. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
・ Lyotard, Jean-François (1984), The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, [La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir. Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1979]
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・ Sunstein, Cass R. (2002). Republic.com 2.0. Princeton: Princeton University Press
・ Weber, Max（2002）, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: and Other Writings, trans. (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) (Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus 1904-1905)