Special Issue Cassandra’s Curse: The Law and Foreseeable Future Disasters: Volume 68
Table of contents(15 chapters)
List of Contributors
Two meanings of the word myth informed the origins of this volume and its constituent chapters: myth as an archetypical narrative that societies and cultures use to embody value-laden lessons about both the natural world and human nature (myths to live by); and myth as a nefarious fabrication that imperils those who believe it (myths to die by). Throughout this volume, we use the Greek myth of Cassandra – the heroine of Troy who unsuccessfully forewarned her community of avoidable future disaster – as an archetype for the often heroic efforts of those in our day who seek to forewarn us of altogether foreseeable future disasters associated with both natural forces and human contrivance. We also explore the deadly myths of delusion – those which weave an illusory cocoon of invincibility around those who increasingly inhabit increasingly disaster-prone landscapes. Each chapter in this volume tells stories about what happens when these two meanings of myth collide, and of how better heeding the message of present-day Cassandras might help us to dispel the myths of delusion.
The Cassandra Zone is that time period – and the events that occur within it – from the voicing of the first credible warnings of foreseeable future disaster until society either awakens to the threat and proactively mitigates against it, or chooses to ignore such warnings and subsequently suffers the consequences when the foretold disaster comes to pass. Whether or not that society manages to learn from its own history of disaster and use the power of state to mitigate against foretold future ones is one of the definitive criteria for determining whether, in social theorist Phillip Selznick’s terms, such a society can be deemed to constitute a moral community.
This chapter identifies and analyzes three systemic obstacles to American public policy addressing natural disasters: symbolic obstacles, cognitive obstacles, and structural obstacles. The way we talk about natural disaster, the way we think about the risks of building in hazardous places, and structural aspects of American political institutions all favor development over restraint. These forces have such strength that in the wake of most disasters society automatically and thoughtlessly responds by rebuilding what was damaged or destroyed, even if reconstruction perpetuates disaster vulnerability. Only by addressing each of the obstacles identified are reform efforts likely to succeed.
The intensifying effects of climate change and the growing concentration of population in hazardous locations mean that, for many communities, disasters are increasingly becoming not only foreseeable, but inevitable. While much attention is, and should be, focused on what these foreseeable disasters require in terms of disaster planning and mitigation, attention should also be focused on a related and equally pressing phenomena: mismanagement of disaster response, particularly as climate proves an increasing stressor. Like disasters themselves, disaster mismanagement – while not entirely predictable – may exhibit some predictable patterns. This chapter explores past disaster management failures, considers how climate change may alter or exacerbate certain response pathologies, and evaluates some potential remedies that might mitigate these challenges.
Extreme events are the occasion for many people’s encounters with climate change. Though causation is complex and no one event is directly attributable to climate change, when we consider Cassandra, we can consider what people encounter in assistance after an extreme event. This chapter takes the case of assistance to displaced people after Katrina to explore how care and surveillance were intertwined. Methods include analysis of government documents as well as interviews. When we consider assistance people receive, we often focus on the intended assistance and how it worked or did not. Evaluation is difficult, not least because criteria for determining what it means to work are uncertain. However, if we include the process of gaining assistance as part of the experience, we broaden concerns from the instrumental outcomes to the mixed messages people get in assistance. Assistance appears in a context, where the most vulnerable people have reasons to mistrust government and nonprofits, and where in the United States assistance has come intertwined with supervisory rules, a focus on getting people to work, and a need to manage criminal histories. Trust in government may be limited, emergency care can operate outside ordinary legal frameworks when providers are new, and legal accountability for assistance may be experienced as confining, despite caregivers’ intent.
Myth is a story of archetypical personas who behave in ways and with motives that we recognize in ourselves. We use myth as a way of reminding ourselves of the relationship between motives, actions, and consequences. Myths can serve either as inspirational or cautionary tales, and sometimes as both. But “myth” can also mean a fabricated story intended to create a false impression, and to achieve storytellers’ ends when they have decided the truth will not suffice. We apply the myth of Cassandra to the millennium-long recorded history of giant tsunamis in Japan. After each of these catastrophes, survivors sought to warn future generations of their recurrences. But, each time, their progeny eventually lost the memory of these lessons, and lost their lives when the next monster wave overwhelmed them. Only when they kept the lessons as living knowledge in everyday life, could they manage to escape from monster tsunamis. In this chapter, we use the myth of Cassandra in conjunction with the myth of Prometheus, the bringer of fire to humankind, as a metaphor for Japan’s growing reliance on nuclear power. Government and utility companies built powerful but inherently dangerous cauldrons in the nation’s disaster-prone landscapes, assuring the public they could control the fire’s fury and defend it against nature’s. As images of atomic bomb victims were still vivid and widely shared in Japan, they had to overcome the public fear of radioactivity by fabricating a “myth of safety.” The nuclear disaster made the public distrust the government and utility companies, which lingers in the process of reconstruction from the disaster. Myths can either reveal hidden truths or mask hidden lies. The Japanese people must now learn to distinguish one from the other.
Modern emergency management policy is built around the concepts of shared responsibility and the development of resilient communities. Drawing on the Australian context, this chapter argues that giving effect to these policy directions will require negotiation between stakeholders and an inevitable trade in values, interests, and resources. The chapter identifies an apparent contradiction at the heart of modern disaster management: that improvements in establishing professional emergency and risk management services may have reduced the capacity of individuals and local communities to take responsibility for disaster preparation and response.
The law of catastrophic wildfire prevention and response in the Mediterranean member states of the European Union stands in stark contrast to that of common law nation states such as Australia and the United States. This is due primarily to the higher levels of reciprocal moral and legal obligations between governments and citizens established in various sources of European law. Focusing on the relationship between the EU, Spain, and the Autonomous Community of Catalonia within Spain, this chapter describes these three legal frameworks as they are nested within each other, followed by some case law examples of these laws in action. We compare and contrast the philosophical assumptions underlying the utilitarian cost–benefit approach to regulatory justification used in the United States with the precautionary principle model emblematic of the European Union, the member state of Spain, and its Autonomous Community of Catalonia. Regardless of approach, protection of the public health, safety, and welfare will only be as robust and effective as the government agencies that have that responsibility, and the degree of cooperation with those agencies of the citizens they serve.
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- Studies in Law, Politics, and Society
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- Emerald Publishing Limited
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