The Dangers of Place and the Failure of Modernity
Most people who inhabit America's middle-classes and and lower, upper-class have a strong, but rarely explicated, faith that
in the event of a crisis situation the US federal and state governments
will conduct evacuation and rescue plans and procedures.
The idea that it is possible to create contingency plans for emergency
situations derives from the modern assumption that society is a space
that can be governed, engineered, and controlled.
During the cold war period, this faith in government was quite strong.
All manner of contingency plans were created to deal with the aftermath
of a nuclear bomb explosion, including evacuation strategies and plans
for citizens sheltering in place.
I really don't know for sure, but my impression is that the people who
created these documents actually believed that they would, and could, be
Faith in government reason, power, and good will infuse these modernist documents.
And so nuclear power plants were built in the midst of highly populated
areas, such as San Onofre near LA and San Diego and Palo Verde, near
Such was the faith in engineering, that it was presumed that no
evacuation plans would ever need implementing for no nuclear plant could
be conceived as failing.
However, driven by the modernist impulse to envision and plan for
contingencies, evacuation plans and shelter in place strategies were
developed and shelved.
The populace rest easy knowing plans were in place to protect their
welfare in the event of some disaster because policy makers and public
health officials were credited with the capacities to envision and plan
for all possible scenarios.
When Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans and thousands were
abandoned at hospitals, retirement homes and evacuation centers, the
middle-class reasoned that this failure of government was a measure of
the inadequacy of the poor to follow evacuation orders and procedures.
The contradictions specific to this interpretation--especially the
abandonment of thousands of citizens at evacuation centers--was
studiously ignored by citizens not affected directly by the disaster.
The middle-classes were confident that their value as citizens would
necessarily cause government to ensure their safe passage in the event
of a major crisis, despite growing evidence that this faith was/is
The fact of the matter is that evacuating a large city is nearly an impossible task, particularly within a narrow time frame.
Furthermore, there are great economic and social costs associated with efforts to move large populations quickly.
Finally, governments may not be inclined to protect the health and
welfare of their populations when efforts toward these ends produce
economic costs and threaten social order.
Those modernist documents that presume government willingness and capacities to respond to crises are, in fact, works of fiction.
The truth is that we will be left to our own devices should disaster
strike a heavily populated area. There will be no mass evacuation, no
The BP oil spill response demonstrated this truth.
Rich residents living in coastal areas were chemically victimized by the
millions of gallons of corexit used to hide the oil; class offered
little protection when it came to the public policy response.
Invisible threats like radiation fallout are convenient for government
officials tasked with, but unable to implement, emergency response
Threats can be managed by denying their existence.
Middle-class populations are endangered by their naivete.
Unlike working class people who are more likely to understand the game,
middle-class groups are deluded by their faith in modernity and their
faith in the goodwill of their governments.
Fukushima has laid bare the complicity of governments with a corporate
order that attaches little to no value to human life or the vitality of
Yet, the invisibility of the threat has enabled a web of denial to be woven across nations.
The corporate media have largely been complicit in accommodating deception.
And so each one of us, irrespective of our income or occupation, is
essentially equally vulnerable to the risk quotients of our place of
No gated neighborhood or elevated zipcode can guarantee security unless inhabitants are the actual decision makers.
Modernity--its rationality, faith in engineering, and cybernetic
decision models--is a lie and every protection it promises is a
We are on our own and we are naked, vulnerable against the very modernist technologies that promised us security ....
Professor at a large public university. I study political economy and biopolitics.