HOT SPOTS - Harootunian
Harry Harootunian, Duke University
A recent editorial in the French daily Liberation (June 25, 2011) reminded its readers of how the mercurial collapse of the House of Lehman Brothers spread so rapidly through the world’s financial centers, recalling the figure of falling dominoes, that it threatened to bring down the whole system in its wake. The Greek crisis has put back into play the same forces, which, a few years earlier, had undermined the world’s economies to its most perilous level since the Great Depression of the 1930s. (Some have now proposed that it was even worse.) In this repetitive cycle of crises, the writer suggests that the catastrophe in Fukushima constitutes an appropriate analogy. The Euro resembles the generation of nuclear energy and thus offers the promise of free electricity and endless growth. But the markets and the rating agencies have played their role as the tsunami, whereby Greece (and all indebted national economies) resemble the disaster that has befallen Fukushima: the economies have overheated, like the doomed nuclear reactors after the earthquake and tsunami, and desperate attempts must be made to cool it down by flooding it with large outlays of cash, even as the threshold remains stubbornly elevated. Now there are demands for national austerity and sacrifice. The real necessity is to “avoid a nuclear financial explosion.”
Like all analogies, this one skims the surface of resemblance and omits more than it includes. Yet the linking of a new round of financial crises that will affect large numbers of people beyond Greece’s borders recalls for us the traumatic events at Fukushima and how the massive human displacements, hardship and unwanted insistence for sacrifice, spoliation of air, water and soil and disruption of industrial and agricultural production and distribution makes a persuasive case for classifying the different events as part of the same, immanent global configuration. What Fukushima and the repetitive instance of financial melt-down share is global integration, despite the different nature of the events, and an interlocking that can no longer be ignored. Where the analogy fails to identify the fundamental condition binding different events by choosing to appeal to superficial (and strained) resemblances, it succeeds in symptomizing a shared conjuncture. Events like Fukushima and regular rounds of financial crises are not independent and isolated events swirling in a world of chance but global happenings and must be seen as different moments in a global culture in which political structure, class leadership of the Neo-Liberal state, namely the fusion of the political and financial elites have “captured the state.”
The effects of this “capture” are everywhere, as evidenced in the American federal government’s fumbling efforts after Katrina, British Petroleum’s massively arrogant incompetence to prepare for the contingency of oil spills in the Gulf and with policy decisions favoring the rescue of delinquent banks at the expense of saving the economy (with no subsequent accountability), fighting pointless and unauthorized wars etc; with Fukushima we learn that power companies, with the constant support and encouragement of the state bureaucracy, encouraged the development of nuclear energy as a prop in making Japan energy independent for economic growth but spent more money on public relations aimed to persuade a wary population of its safety rather than make preparations for addressing the possibility of such a disaster when it occurs. The continuing incapacity of state and power companies to both own up to the truth that they had no plan other than staging useless performances for foreign consumption (i.e. dropping water from helicopters) that they actually didn’t know what they were doing and the ongoing disorganization in surveying exactly what soils, water and air and have been affected tragically testifies to the failed consequences of the Neo-Liberal state.
Just as there seems no end to America’s unauthorized wars or even the hint of a plan to energize the economy for job creation, which combine to enhance widespread distrust of state and political classes, and already manifest in the beginning of genuine protests calling for disidentification from the state in Spain, Greece and the UK (often resembling the “people of the squares” in Egypt and Tunisia ) against demands for austerity and self-sacrifice, three months after Fukushima reveals only profound mistrust in the population for anything the state says about the safety levels of water and food supply. In fact, there is still no complete and expansive program to actually test food, water and air and foreign officials estimate that it will take at least two years to harness the ruined reactors.
What this suggests, and what the ongoing crisis of the Euro reinforces, is simply what Gramsci once called a “conjunctural inventory,” wherein different orders of contemporary events must be counted as different instants pointing to and overdetermining the same, basic contradictions. If the conjuncture itself is a coming together of different, contingent events, the sad history of capitalism shows time and again that even though capital has prepared the conditions for such contingent configurations, it has never learned to prepare for the events that gain entry into its inventory.