Fear is key to irresponsibility
Frank Furedi From: The Australian October 09, 2010 12:00AM
In a world rife with conspiracy theories, there’s little scope for human agency
WHO decides our individual fate? How much of our future is influenced by the exercise of free will?
Humanity’s destiny has been a subject of controversy since the beginning of history. So it is not surprising that, back in ancient times, different gods were endowed with the capacity to thwart our ambition or bless us with good fortune.
The Romans worshipped the goddess Fortuna (sometimes depicted with the blindfold of disinterest and a cornucopia) and conceded her great power over human affairs. But they still believed her influence could be contained and even overcome by men of true virtue. As the saying goes, “fortune favours the brave”…
…Today, conspiracy theory has become mainstream and many of its most vociferous supporters are to be found in radical protest movements and among the cultural Left. Increasingly, important events are interpreted as the outcome of a cover-up; the search for the hidden hand manipulating an unwitting public, or the story behind the story, dominates public life.
Conspiracy theory constructs worlds where everything important is manipulated behind our backs and where we simply do not know who is responsible for our predicament. In such circumstances we have no choice but to defer to our fate.
It is through conspiracy theories that fortuna reappears, but it does so in a form that is far more degraded than in Roman times. To their credit, the Romans were able to counterpose virtus to fortuna. However, in a precautionary culture fortune favours the risk-averse and not the brave. The deification of fear instructs us to bow to fate. In such circumstances there is not much room left for freedom or the exercise of free will. Yet if we have to defer to fate, how can we be held to account?
In the absence of freedom to influence the future, how can there be human responsibility? That is why one of the principal accomplishment of precautionary culture is the normalisation of irresponsibility. That is a perspective that we need to reject for a mighty dose of humanist courage.
Edited extract from a speech, The Precautionary Principle and the Crisis of Causality, by Frank Furedi at the Philosophy Festival in Modena, Italy, on September 18. Furedi is professor of sociology at the University of Kent. His latest book is Wasted: Why Education isn’t Educating