Paul Kingsnorth on our Inability to See the World Clearly

Paul Kingsnorth has a brilliant article on what underlies the disproportion in attention between flooding in the Global South and Global North, and what it says about how we see the world:

This imperial narrative morphed, after the death of the Western empires, into the narrative of 'development' that we still cleave to today (I recommend this explanation of the process). Now, the world is divided up into 'developed' countries and 'developing' countries. Developed countries are largely white. Developing countries are largely brown. The latter are assumed to be on an inevitable trajectory that will lead them to converge with the former. When this happens, it will be known as 'global justice.' It will mean that everyone finally has access to suburban houses, laptops, antibiotics, cars, Nike shoes and representative democracy.

Those assumptions, I think, are what we are seeing played out in this reportage. When a 'developing' country is devastated by a natural disaster, it's to be expected. When a 'developed' country is hit, it's counter-intuitive; it automatically becomes a crisis. This is the playing out of the Myth of Progress on the world's front pages. Progress means never having to get flooded. Progress means being insulated from nature. When Progress fails, it's big news. When the poor die, it's business as usual. Except that business is starting to look very unusual indeed, more and more of the time. When the media finally, eventually, wakes up to that, what does the world start to look like through its lens?

Well, we shall find out.

The corollary of this is that when the media wakes up the fact that the Global North was never really insulated from nature at all it will be at least as interesting.


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When a 'developing' country is devastated by a natural disaster, it's to be expected. When a 'developed' country is hit, it's counter-intuitive; it automatically becomes a crisis.

When a suicide bomber blows up a mosque in Iraq or an airport in Russia or a bus in Manila, it's just be be expected. So what? Happens all the time. When someone shoots up a crowd at a US school or army base or suburban strip mall it discombobulates us. Unlike those people, we're supposed to be civilized, aren't we?

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 25 Jan 2011 #permalink

"Progress means never having to get flooded. Progress means being insulated from nature. When Progress fails, it's big news."

I recall reading elsewhere many years ago that the impact the sinking of the Titanic had on society at the time was immense for just this reason.

If the worlds most advanced ship could not only sink but take 1,500 lives with her then what chance did anyone else have? What use was all the 'progress' that had been made?

By NoAstronomer (not verified) on 25 Jan 2011 #permalink

Progress failing is not big news in America anymore, it seems. I was hoping to go to Florida by train from Colorado, and when the very nice Amtrak man was fishing for the fares, he also told me I had to go through Chicago and D.C. because, well, the train doesn't go through New Orleans any more. I inquired if there were plans to reopen that part of the track, and he said he has not heard of any. Way to go, 21st century! Jim Kunstler keeps agitatin' for new tracks... heh, they can't even fix the old ones...

In order to perceive anything, you must have neuroanatomy that can do pattern recognition to recognize what ever it is that you are trying to perceive. If you don't have the neuroanatomy that can recognize something, you are unable to perceive it, and unable to perceive that you are not perceiving it.

This is where the arrogance of ignorance comes from. If you are unable to perceive something you are also unable to notice that you are missing it.

Similarly, the horrible Lisbon earthquake of 1755 did something to reinforce the Enlightenment, for two reasons; not just because it made geology a more interesting study, but because it seemed so clearly to be a god-scale event that hurt the innocent equally with the sinful.

Be grateful that you can even get on a train from Florida. Here in Columbus our new governor killed a proposal for a passenger rail link from our city to others in Ohio, and thus linking us to the Amtrak network. So I can't go anywhere by rail without driving to another city first. We're supposedly the largest city in the western world without a passenger rail connection, and it appears that we will remain that way.

I'd like us to just fix the old tracks, too. I think Kunstler would be pleased with that as well.

Don, same in Colorado. Amtrak sneakily lists a number of cities here as having an Amtrak connection, but if you ask, it means buses to Denver. Florida is better... but taking 3 days to go north then south and paying more than a flight ticket? I am betting even Rumania does far better than that.

And forget about taking a roomette. The price would get you half way around the world on a plane. And back.