The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

A Natural Disaster Magnified by a Social System Based on Profit

Mar 21, 2011

No human being can remain indifferent to the images of death and destruction coming from Japan.

It was not as much the earthquake that directly caused the deaths, but rather the tsunami, the giant waves rolling forth from the sea. A number of buildings resisted the shocks of the earthquakes. There were some deaths at this point, but in Haiti last year, a much less violent earthquake caused 200,000 deaths. This proves that humanity has the technical means, not to avoid the earthquakes, but to limit the damage they cause. But earthquake-resistant buildings are expensive. The deaths in Haiti were due to its underdevelopment, its poverty. But, in Japan, even quake-resistant construction was insufficient to resist the onslaught of the waves provoked by the tsunami.

So, is it true that despite scientific and technological progress, humanity is weak when confronting the unleashed forces of nature? Not at all. Humanity has evolved precisely in the struggle to protect itself from nature, and to master it. It is an unending battle in which humanity can never be totally successful.

But, even with the tsunami, there were choices made that are not just technical, but social and even political. For example, where people are forced to live, how they are warned of danger, etc.

Whatever harm the earthquake and the tsunami did, the Japanese population today most fears the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe.

And in this arena, there’s no question of uncontrolled natural forces, but rather forces that humanity has put to its own use. It is not nuclear energy itself that is at fault! A human society that is conscious and responsible for its acts could develop this form of energy step by step as it mastered the knowledge and techniques involved. But the fear of the Japanese population is legitimate, since neither the economy nor society are consciously and responsibly directed.

Japan has already suffered a nuclear catastrophe, with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which produced far more victims than the earthquake and the tsunami of this year. The unleashing of nature had nothing to do with this. A social organization capable of engendering wars is what killed – just as it can kill today, by placing nuclear reactors in unsafe places, by eliminating necessary safety measures, and so forth.

Of course, the nuclear threat is on an entirely different scale than that in other industries. Yet how many deaths are there from work accidents that could have been prevented, if not for cost cutting?

And now another threat weighs on Japan: the collapse of its economy due to the unleashing of speculation!

The same capitalism responsible for speculation, work accidents, cost cutting, is the same system making decisions concerning nuclear issues. And therein lies the menace for humanity. By getting rid of an economic organization in which profit is the only driving force, humanity could finally make conscious choices including those concerning energy. That will not eliminate natural hazards, but it will limit the damage. This would enable humanity to stand together and to fight together when a natural disaster ravages any region of the planet.