Thursday, September 08, 2005

Zeitgeist: Seeking Justice, of Gods or the Politicians

A great article in the NY Times that gives some historical perspective on our reactions to natural disasters. Excerpts:
Recently, the philosopher Susan Neiman argued in "Evil in Modern Thought" that the Lisbon earthquake also destroyed an ancient idea that nature could itself be evil. After Lisbon, she argued, moral evil was distinguished from natural disaster. Earthquakes and floods could no longer be fitted into traditional religious theodicies.But this did not mean, of course, that theodicies faded away.
Ms. Neiman argued that for philosophers theology had been replaced by history. The fates of peoples and nations reflected other forces, and disruptions were given other forms of explanation. Hegel saw history as an evolutionary series of transformations in which destruction was as inevitable as birth. Marx believed other kinds of economic and human laws accounted for destruction and evolution. This mostly left natural disasters for the growing realm of science: if they couldn't be prevented, at least their origins could be understood.
Now though, with the prospect of thousands of dead becoming plausible with reports from New Orleans, other forms of theodicy also taking shape. Much debate is taking place about the scale of human tragedy, about procedures and planning and responsibility. And none of that should be ignored. But it is remarkable how this natural disaster has almost imperceptibly come to seem the result of human agency, as if failures in planning were almost evidence of cause, as if forces of nature were subject to human oversight. The hurricane has been humanized.
Full article