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In fear and trembling they govern

“Governments fear their people. They fear we will exercise our power to change them, and they fear we will panic. The first is a realistic if undemocratic fear, since changing them is our right; the second is a self-aggrandising fantasy in which attempts to alter the status quo are seen as madness, hysteria, mob rule. They often assume that we can’t handle the data in a crisis, and so prefer to withhold crucial information, as the Pennsylvania government did in 1979 at the time of the Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, and the Soviet government did during the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986. Panic is what you see in disaster movies, where people run about doing foolish things, impeding evacuation and rescue, behaving like sheep. But governments and officials are not very good shepherds. During the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, the university authorities locked down the administrative offices and warned their own families, while withholding information from the campus community. The Bush administration lied about the toxicity of the air near Ground Zero in New York after 9/11, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk for the sake of a good PR front and a brisk return to business as usual. Disasters often crack open fissures between government and civil society.” — Rebecca Solnit, “Diary: In Fukushima”

Published inEconomicsPolitics & Law

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