poverty, human fear, and social redistribution


“The protection of humanity against the blind caprices of nature was an integral part of the modern promise. The modern implementation of that project, however, has not made nature less blind and capricious, while focusing instead on the selective distribution of immunity against its effects. The modern struggle to disempower natural calamities follows the pattern of order-building and economic progress: whether by design or default, it divides humanity into those categories worthy of care and the unwertes Leben – the lives unworthy of living. As a consequence, it also specializes in an uneven distribution of fears – whatever the specific cause of the fear in question might be.
Hurricanes, earthquakes and floods are not special cases. We have managed to render selective even that most unchoosy, truly universal of natural ills: the biological limitation of human life.
As Max Hastings commented, [“]modern wealth offers its possessors every chance of living to a ripe old age. Until the twentieth century, disease was no respecter of purses. The wife of a Victorian financial colossus was almost as vulnerable to the perils of childbirth as a maid in his household. The tombstones of the great reveal how many died long before their natural spans were exhausted.
Today medical science can do extraordinary things for people able to pay. There has never been a wider gulf between the remedies available to the rich and those on offer to most of the poor, even in societies with advanced healthcare systems.[“] Whether it is aimed at disasters of natural or artificial origin, the outcome of the modern war on human fears seems to be their social redistribution rather than any reduction in volume.” (pp.80-81)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK

The crisis of trust


“Most of the time, except for brief carnivals of ‘targeted solidarity’ in response to particularly horrifying disasters, ‘targeted mournings’ caused by the sudden death of an idol, or equally brief though particularly explosive and rowdy outbursts of ‘targeted patriotism’ during world cups, cricket tournaments and similar occasions for focused emotional release, the ‘others’ (others as strangers, anonymous, faceless others met daily in passing, or milling around the densely populated cities) are sources of a vague, diffuse threat rather than giving a feeling of security and [-p.69] insurance against danger. No solidarity is expected from them and none is aroused by seeing them – and there is even a fear of routinely breaching the thin protective veneer of Erving Goffman’s ‘civil inattention’. Keeping your distance seems the only reasonable way to proceed.” (pp.68-69) “As Eduardo Mendietta observes,” Bauman continues, “‘cities which historically and conceptually used to be the metonym of security and safety have turned into sources of threat and violence.’ The various specimens of ‘bunker architecture’, as the preferred choice of city residence for those who can afford it, are monuments to the suspected threats and embodiments of fear that cities arouse. The ‘modern architectural bunker’ has no visible entry and no balconies or terraces. These buildings do not open out onto the street, nor face the public square, nor monumentalize the political and economic power of a city. Instead, these buildings are linked to other similar buildings by covered bridges suspended over the streets, while they face away from the centre of the city, and more often than not are sheathed in a dark glass that reflects the sky, mountains and landscape rather than the face of the city itself. Their monumentality gestures contempt for the urban… For human bonds, the crisis of trust is bad news. From well-protected and secluded clearings, places where one had hoped to take off (at last!) the heavy armour and stiff mask having to be worn in the harsh, competitive world out there, in the wilderness, the ‘networks’ of human bonds turn into frontier territories where interminable reconnaissance skirmishes need to be engaged in day in, day out.” (p.69)

“All in all, human relations are no longer sites of certainty, tranquillity and spiritual comfort. They become instead a prolific source of anxiety.” (p.69)

Ref: (my italics – used to indicate quotation; emphases in bold blue mine, too) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK

Deconstructing death – Bauman


Zygmunt Bauman points out that: “What is hidden from view when deconstruction is applied to the issue of death is the hard and intractable fact of the biologically determined mortality of human beings. One hears seldom, if at all, about humans dying of mortality… Even the notion of ‘death by natural causes’ – already a sanitized, euphemistic verbal substitute for ‘mortality’ – has fallen out of the vernacular. Medics will hardly ever record ‘natural causes’ when filling in the death certificate; if they lack an alternative, more specific explanation, they will certainly recommend a post-mortem to establish the ‘genuine’ (that is, immediate) cause of death. Their inability to locate such a cause would be decried as testimony of professional ineptitude. A specific cause of every single death must be pinpointed and spelled out, and only such a reason to die may be accepted as a legitimate cause, which either is preventable or with due effort (that is, further research and development of medicines and procedures) can be made preventable – in principle at least, if not in every practical case. Neither the kin nor the friends of the deceased would take ‘natural causes’ as an explanation of why the death had occurred.” (p.40)

“…as alarms about newly discovered but heretofore unknown pathogenic substances and regimes follow one another in rapid succession, every act and every setting of action, including acts and settings thus far believed to be innocuous and harmless or not thought of at all as ‘death relevant’, become suspected of causing irreparable harm and bearing terminal consequences. From the threat of death there is now not a moment of rest. The fight against death starts from birth and fills the whole of life.” (p.41)

Bauman describes “three essential strategies aimed at making liveable a living-with-the-knowledge-of-the-imminence-of-death. The first consists of building bridges between mortal life and eternity – recasting death as a new beginning (this time of an immortal life), rather than the end of ends. The second strategy consists of shifting attention (and worry!) from death itself, as a universal and inescapable event, to the specific ’causes’ of death, which are to be neutralized or resisted. And the third consists of a daily ‘metaphorical rehearsal’ of death in its gruesome truth of the ‘absolute’, ‘ultimate’, ‘irreparable’ and ‘irreversible’ end – so that such an ‘end’, as in the case of ‘retro’ fads and fashions, can come to be viewed as considerably less than absolute; as revocable and reversible, just one more banal event among so many others.
I am not suggesting that any of these strategies, or even all of them applied together, are fully effective (they can’t be, they are but subterfuges and palliatives after all), or that they are free from undesirable, and sometimes quite noxious, side-effects. But they [-p.50] go some way towards taking the poison out of the sting and so allowing the unendurable to be endured by taming, and domesticating in the lived world-of-being, the ‘absolute alterity’ of non-being.” (pp.49-50)

“And so on all three fronts the non-relenting human war on deadly threats is waged. And from all three sources infinite supplies of fear may be drawn for (profitable) recycling.” (p.53)

The primal fear of death is perhaps the prototype or archetype of all fears; the ultimate fear from which all other fears borrow their meanings. Dangers are conceived as ‘threats’ and derive their frightening power from the meta-danger of death – though they differ from the original by being avoidable and perhaps able to be prevented or even postponed indefinitely.” (p.52)

I couldn’t help thinking of the CSI franchise when I read this – and of Body of Proof and a few other TV programmes… in what ways do Bauman’s thoughts help us make sense of those TV dramas, I wonder…

I also wonder how these ideas connect with certain treatments of death, mortality and immortality in popular and Young Adult fiction…

Also… what of ghosts in popular fiction… how do these fit with such thoughts?

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK

bureacracy and emotion – Bauman


“…the wholly unanticipated but ominous reshaping of social/moral catastrophes in the likeness of unmanageable natural disasters was, paradoxically, an  unintended yet in all probability unavoidable product of the modern struggle to render the world transparent, predictable, regular, continuous and manageable.” (p.86)

“…modern bureacracy […] strove to place the office off-limits to human emotions, to spiritual bonds stretching beyond the office walls, to loyalties to purposes other than those officially authorized, and to rules of conduct recommended by authorities other than the office statute books. Loyalty to the esprit de corps was to be enough to ground the ethical code regulating the totality of bureaucratic procedure; as with all other ethical codes claiming endorsement from on high, it neither tolerated competition nor allowed renegotiation. Bureaucracy required conformity to the rule, not a moral judgement. […] Bureaucracy was a contraption serving the task of ethical deskilling.
The performance of an organization managing to come close to the ideal type of bureaucracy would be independent of whatever might still remain of the moral conscience of its officers. And since bureaucracy stood for the supreme embodiments of rationality and order, it also targeted morally inspired behaviour as opposed to, or even incompatible with, the idea of order and the precepts of reason.
Bureaucracy […] effectively replace ‘responsibility for‘ with ‘responsibility to‘….” (p.87)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK

contemporary terrorism and negative globalisation


True to its name, the paramount weapon of terrorism is sowing terror. And given the current state of the planet, rich crops are assured however inferior the quality of the seed.

Given the nature of contemporary terrorism, and above all the ‘negatively globalized’ setting in which it operates, the very notion of the ‘war on terrorism’ is all but a contradiction in terms.
Modern weapons, conceived and developed in the era of territorial invasions and conquests, are singularly unfit for locating, striking and destroying the extraterritorial, endemically elusive and eminently mobile targets, minute squads or just single men or women travelling light, armed with weapons that are easy to hide: they are difficult to pick out when they are on the way to another atrocity, and may perish in the place of the outrage or disappear from it as rapidly and inconspicuously as they arrived, leaving behind few if any clues of who they are. To deploy Paul Virilio’s apt terms, we have now passed (an event only belatedly noted and grudgingly admitted by the military) from the times of ‘siege warfare’ to those of ‘wars of movement’. Given the nature of the modern weapons at the disposal of the military, responses to such terrorist acts are bound to appear awkward, clumsy and fuzzy, spilling over a much wider area than that affected by the terrorist outrage, and causing ever more numerous ‘collateral casualties’, and an ever greater volume of ‘collateral damage’, and so also more terror, disruption and destabilization than the terrorists could possibly have produced on their own – as well as provoking a further leap in the volume of accumulated grievance, hatred and pent-up fury and stretching still further the ranks of potential recruits to the terrorist cause. We may surmise that this circumstance is an integral part of the terrorists’ design and the principal source of their strength, which exceeds many times the power of their numbers and arms.” (p.107)

“Thus far, ours is a wholly negative globalization: unchecked, unsupplemented and uncompensated for by a ‘positive’ counterpart which is still a distant prospect at best, though according to some prognoses already a forlorn chance. Allowed a free run, ‘negative’ globalization specializes in breaking those boundaries too weak to withstand the pressure, and in drilling numerous, huge and unplugable holes through those boundaries that successfully resist the forces bent on dismantling them.

The ‘openness’ of our open society has acquired a new gloss these days, one undreamt of by Karl Popper, who coined that phrase. No longer a precious yet frail product of brave, though stressful, self-assertive efforts, it has become instead an irresistible fate brought about by the pressures of formidable extraneous forces a; a side-effect of ‘negative globalization’ – that is, the highly selective globalization of trade and capital, surveillance and information, coercion and weapons, crime and terrorism, all now disdaining territorial sovereignty and respecting no state boundary.
If the idea of an ‘open society’ originally stood for the self-determination of a free society proud of its openness, it now brings to most minds the terrifying experience of heteronomous, vulnerable populations overwhelmed by forces they neither control nor truly understand, horrified by their own undefendability and obsessed with the security of their borders and of the population inside them – since it is precisely that security inside borders and [-p.97] of borders that eludes their grasp and seems bound to stay beyond their reach forever (or at least as long as the planet is subjected to solely negative globalization, which all too often seems to be the same thing). On a globalized planet, populated by the forcibly ‘opened’ societies, security cannot be gained, let alone reliably assured, in one country or in a selected group of countries: not by their own means, and not independently of the state of affairs in the rest of the world.” (p.96)

“Neither can justice, that preliminary condition of lasting peace. The perverted ‘openness’ of societies enforced by negative globalization is itself the prime cause of injustice and so, obliquely, of conflict and violence.” (p.97)

“‘Market without boundaries’ is a recipe for injustice, and ultimately for a new world disorder in which (contrary to Clausewitz) it is the politics that becomes a continuation of war by other means. Global lawlessness and armed violence feed each other, mutually reinforce and reinvigorate; as the ancient wisdom warns – inter arma silent leges (when arms speak, laws keep silent). The globalization of harm and damage rebounds in the globalization of resentment and vengeance.” (p.97)

“The spectre of vulnerability hovers over the ‘negatively globalized’ planet. We are all in danger, and we are all dangers to each other. There are only three roles to play – perpetrators, victims, and ‘collateral casualties’ – and for the first role there is no shortage of bidders, while the ranks of those case as the second and the third grow unstoppably. Those of us already on the receiving end of negative globalization frantically seek escape and breathe vengeance. Those as yet spared are frightened that their turn to do the same may – and will -come.” (p.98)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK