3:1 — Post-Crisis (and back again) — 3 of 3

The notion of “post-crisis” that I opened-up this week with was meant to be a hard press against the post-crisis that I have often heard in discussions about “post-crisis economic planning” — that is, “after a crisis and now things are better” (which likely makes the likes of Naomi Klein retch, as Stef notes in her post). The notion that we are in a semi-permanent state of crisis raised to me the obvious question: does “crisis” really capture anything out of the ordinary? (and so have we exhausted the utility of such a concept?)

Our guest blogger this week, Peter Bratsis, offered a useful alternative to my question (or implied position). Crisis, he tell us, is not only some exceptional state of affairs; its original meaning implies, instead, that we have encountered a situation wherein a choice is required. It is a nice “intellectual chess move” (if you’ll permit the metaphor) because as Peter states in a comment “in both cases [my post-crisis or his original meaning of crisis] we need to intervene, some new activity from us is needed,” hence his dichotomy-laced subtitle “Repetition or Exception?”

Similarly, Stef offered another dichotomy, but in response to large-scale ecological crisis, namely, do we respond with “deep anger or a dull edge”? And so, yet another alternative read to the “semi-perpetual state of crisis” meaning of post-crisis is offered to readers (a rich week semantically, no doubt). Do we get into the sandbox with dark ecologists or muster Idle No More and sound the battle-cry?

Here is where I want to return to my original formula because while it does not capture the original meaning of crisis that Peter mentions and while it does not have near the elegant and immediate impact of Stef’s starving sea lions off of the shore of California, it does have at least one appreciable impact (as it might commonly be understood):

apathy--deadliest tool of mass destruction.preview

Living in a state of semi-permanent crisis can be construed as a license to do nothing. Fatigue sets-in. Apathy ensues. Inaction seems plausible. Not quite the economic or environmental equivalent of “compassion fatigue” or the obsolete term “battle fatigue.” Probably closer to “disaster fatigue;” the opening lines of the linked piece, which are telling, read: “The numbers are almost too large to fathom, so many stop trying.” Post-crisis, as a concept, might capture this sense of “crisis fatigue,” a kind of post-modern annoyance that I think many people would just prefer somehow go away. In so far as that is the case the term itself has become fatigued, possibly from overuse in the media (even though when it comes to looming economic and ecological crisis, I’m not sure how one could underscore “crisis” too much?).

This is just one example of crisis fatigue: contemporary events in Syria. Consider this from Aljazeera on Syria: John Kerry “we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.” The piece shows how media attention over time reduces even as the body count does not. The perhaps adequate definition of “crisis fatigue” is “Crisis or compassion fatigue is the belief that that the public has become resistant to people who are suffering.” Cannot the same be said about Stef’s sea lions suffering on the shores of CaliforniaCannot the same be said of concerns over “global warming”Cannot the same be said, as Peter has, about Detroit or Greece?

These may be signs that no matter the definition of crisis being used — new or old — perhaps the public is growing fatigued, so that when presented with a time to “make a judgment” they have learned to take this cue as a moment to stall, perhaps reflect, but ultimately scroll to the next post on their Facebook feed…


10 thoughts on “3:1 — Post-Crisis (and back again) — 3 of 3

  1. I wonder about the “fatigue’ of our country around war (let alone environmental issues) as so few of us had any direct connection to the military and even the politics/money. I think that issues like drought and all are more like issues with bridges, we have been told that there is a dangerous state of emergency but we just carry on as if all was well, full-speed ahead texting as we drive (despite the well publicized warnings of being a danger to self and others). Tired not of the crises but of the doom and gloomy ‘elites’…


    • That combination of “dangerous state of emergency” and “carry on as if all was well” is precisely what is in need of explanation. I don’t have a scientific answer, but personally I see the explanation being obviously multi-form, but ever since the Homeland Security Advisory System embedded “orange” between “yellow” and “red,” orange being defined roughly as “stay on alert for anything out of the ordinary,” I have sensed the post-crisis sense of crisis that I was discussing in the post (http://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/01/26/threat.level.system.change/).
      Regarding average Americans’ fatigue with elites rather than the crises at hand is an interesting point. Surely, I routinely question the division of labor and division of rewards in the US. There is definitely evidence that the average American is growing more resentful of the “haves” (http://www.npr.org/2012/01/14/145213421/the-income-gap-unfair-or-are-we-just-jealous). However, there seems to be another couple of things at work, namely, that Americans also tend to resent the poor and tend to misperceive the actual distribution of wealth in America. So long as those two factors continue to co-operate, then resentment of the wealthy (or fatigue in their wake) seems to lead to very little.


      • sounds good, my sense is that on many of these matters
        (wallstreet-led-collapse, global-warming, etc) the public by and large has never really had a strong/lived sense of being in a crisis, and so to borrow from the good Latour there is need for some assembling to be done if there is to be any changes worth noting to business as usual (see how alltoofamiliar the plans of our emerging presidential candidates are).


  2. Pingback: Anti-Crisis and Post-Crisis | Installing (Social) Order

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