A Letter from Rebecca Solnit


Dear brothers and sisters in northeastern Japan and beyond,
So many of us here in the West watched and read about and listened to the news of your disaster with deep concern and empathy, with solidarity and tears. You are not alone. One beautiful editorial in New Orleans remembered what Japan did for the people of the Gulf after Hurricane Katrina and vowed to help in return. Those of us who know something about disaster know that the full story is not yet clear and may never be, and that the disaster is not over and in many ways will never be even after the reactors are shut down and sealed.
After all, Hurricane Katrina and the big BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico are not over, and neither are Chernobyl or the Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska or the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and I am not sure that Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Auschwitz and Treblinka are over yet either. Disasters begin suddenly and end slowly. They are terrible, first of all—and then what else they are is open-ended. Many things come from them, and some of the changes are permanent.
Every disaster has both natural and social components. The earth shakes and the sea invades, but how and where we build, who we are, how we perceive ourselves and our situation and what we do afterward shapes the disaster and its aftermath too. The world is never the same again, but how it changes is partly up to us.
I studied five major disasters in North America closely and learned so much about this strange interim era of upheaval and uncertainty. Sometimes a disaster is almost like a revolution, in that the old order seems over, people no longer trust the institutions they took for granted, they feel deeply connected to each other and sometimes find a new sense of power and possibility. In the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, the disaster was as terrible as your tsunami in terms of number dead, I think—ten thousand are known to have died, but it might have been twenty thousand. The government revealed itself to be callous, incompetent, and out of touch as it focused on protecting property rather than human life—in one case, police protected factory owners as they rescued their equipment and left the dead and dying inside the collapsed factories. But the seamstresses organized an independent union, and the nation and the world stood with them (until globalization weakened the power of all such workers in Mexico). The poor organized a housing movement that made permanent gains in housing security, and Super Barrio was born—an activist dressed up as a superhero who confronted politicians and landlords in defense of the poor who still appears. The one-party system cracked, and Mexico became (slightly) more democratic. But most of all a civil society, a new sense of the collective self fiercely independent of the government, was born.
At times disasters unfold like revolutions: there is the same sense of solidarity, of possibility, and of the suspension of everyday divides, rules, and expectations. Disasters are moments when the authorities have failed, and much of their effort will be to regain power and credibility. This is always couched as appropriate response, but often they are taking care of themselves at our expense. Sometimes, as Naomi Klein points out in her book The Shock Doctrine, they make great gains. Sometimes they suffer great losses. It was an earthquake that launched the beginning of the end of the Somoza dictatorships in Nicaragua. It always seemed to me that Latin Americans were better able to make something out of the rupture that is a disaster because they name the spirit of solidarity and build on the distrust of institutions, because of a romantic idealism and sense of open possibilities. Even after 9/11 the neighborhoods not so far from Wall Street had deeply anticapitalist moments of mutual aid, spontaneous self-organization, and the irrelevance of capital in certain matters of life and death, but few there could name and cherish and keep alive what flourished then, and so the old world came back as though it had not failed and vanished when everything was most desperate. For most New Yorkers, not for all.
Toxic disasters can be very different, because people often must isolate themselves, because they don’t know what is transpiring, because the disaster may never end. You can rebuild after an earthquake more easily than you can clean up after an oil spill or a radioactive leak. But this huge disaster has already changed the dialogue about nuclear power and weapons around the world and prompted Germany to speed up its evolution beyond nuclear energy. What else it will do remains to be seen. And as I said, it’s partly up to us.





結局、暴風カトリーナもメキシコ湾の BP大オイル漏れも終わってはいません。同様に、チェルノブイリ、アラスカのエクソンーヴァルデス、2004年のインド洋津波も終わっていません。さらにわたしには、広島と長崎、アウシュビッツ、そしてトレブリンカも終わっているかどうか定かではありません。災害は,突然始まり、そしてゆっくりと終わるのです。まずそれらは悲痛なものです。だが、それらがそれ以外何であるかは未定なのです。多くのものがそれらから到来し、それらがもたらす変化のあるものは永続していくでしょう。



災害はしばしば革命のように展開します。そこには団結、可能性、日常的な分断と支配と予測の一時停止、といった同感覚が介在するのです。災害においては、諸権威が破綻するので、それらの多大な努力が、権力と信用性を再獲得することに向けられます。これは常に適切な措置として表明されますが、多くの場合、それらはわれわれを蔑ろにし自己を保身していきます。場合よっては、ナオミ•クラインが『ショック•ドクトリン』で指摘したように、それらが大きな利点を獲得します。また場合によっては、それらは大きな損失を味わいます。ニカラグアのサモサ独裁の終焉の引き金を引いたのは、一つの地震でした。ラテン•アメリカの人々が、災害という断絶から何かをつくり出すのがうまいのは、人々が連帯の精神を命名し、諸制度への不信の上に構築を行うからであり、ロマン主義的な理想主義と開かれた可能性の感覚を持っているからだと思われます。9/11の後、ウォール街からさほど離れていない界隈では、相互扶助 、自発的自己組織化、生と死のある事象にまつわる資本主義の不適切性という根本的な反資本主義的契機が生まれていたのです。しかしそこで栄えたものを命名し、大切にし、生きのびさせた者はあまりなく、旧来の世界が、あらゆるものが絶望に面した時、自らが破綻し消失したことなどなかったかのように回帰したのです。全てではありませんでしたが、ほとんどのニューヨーカーにとってはそうなったのです。


2 thoughts on “A Letter from Rebecca Solnit”

  1. Dear Rebecca the trajedy of this coverup of the actual radiation is concerns for all all the world, there must be transparency and remediations that will give the planet hope. Call for women physicists and scientists as well as moralists.

    sincerely, Kathy

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