Posted by: Martin Scherer | 14/03/2011

The Devil’s Work: From Japan to Libya via California?

The Devil’s Work: from Japan to Lybia, via California

Tsunamis roll around the world. Their effects are not only physical, they are also cultural.

It will be surprising, and a testimony to Japan, if the death toll does not rise to tens of thousands. All we can do is watch but watching alone will be a voyeuristic intrusion into a nation’s grief, unless we learn and do something.

Charity on each side of the pond

The Americans and British are amazingly charitable towards international disasters. Inheritances from our Puritan and Jewish forbears. It allows us to feel we did our bit and that is an important catharsis to the horror of the disaster. Such charity pervades through our culture in charity shops and tax incentive toward donations. However through Goodwill and Habitat employment and housing schemes, the US encourages and a far wider range of charitable acts. Through socialism, the UK has used the state to take over many charitable acts. State provision divorces the individual from both the performance and benefits of being charitable. For that reason I prefer the US system and support the new UK government in its attempt to emulate the US through ‘Big Society’ where citizens retake charity from the state.

Where Next? California?

Journalists are now asking this question because they will be travelling to those locations. A respected BBC journalist expressed his concern about California. We all know a big one is due. Is that a valid concern? There have been more earthquakes in the last year that many years past.

Look at the direction of recent earthquakes from the Caribbean to Chile, New Zealand, and Japan. That direction is away from California, not towards it. If we follow that direction then the next earthquakes will be somewhere in China, Pakistan, or Turkey. Constantinople sits on a fault line waiting to give.

Why do earthquakes happen?

That depends on which God you believe.

The God of Gaia

Imagine the earth as something alive. Step back and see it as a ball in front of your. It has hot fluid guts with in interlocking scales that cover its surface. Earthquake scientists call these plates. If one moves away from another, then on the opposite rim it must be hitting another.

The plates are made in part of rock formed from billions of shells and mountains of forests. The carboniferous rocks. During their lives, these shellfish and plants took carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere and locked it into rock. If that process continues forever then all vegetation and consequently all life will die. When one plate slides under another, into the molten interior. The heat releases CO2 through vents we call volcanoes. The tragedies of Chile, New Zealand, Japan, are the price humanity pays for life. Perhaps we should stand back in awe at Gaia’s majestic recycling. Without the carbon cycle, the earth would be as The Moon and Mars.

The problem with these scientific explanations is that they can tell us the sequence of events, from Big bang to earthquakes but they cannot tell us why. Its just the way it is.

The God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims

When mankind perceives an unseen threat, mankind tends to personify that threat. Things that go bang in the night become ghosts or demons. Something with such awesome power to shake the ground must be mightier than a household ghost. Something that is all-powerful, all knowing. The one God. If that God created all this, why does God destroy its own creations?

The monotheist God has recently come under severe attack from atheists who claim God is a dead delusion. Their attack has stirred the muddy waters of people’s contented beliefs. All those agnostics, most of the UK, and lapsed believers (half of the US) are now asking the big questions again. What are we? Why are we? What happens next?

Many scientists are using romantic notions to reassure us that at least part of us will enjoy immortality – the atoms of which we are made and which were in stars. We are stardust.

We are, but that does not reassure when facing our deaths – the earthquake of our lives. The attack by strident atheists has lead to a resurgence of religiosity. The UK has a growing religious schools established by Muslim and Christian fundamentalists. The people who have reached towards God for an answer have just had that answer dashed. If man can be charitable towards those in disaster, then any real God would have been charitable in the first place and spared their lives. To the fundamentalists, earthquakes are the Devil’s handiwork.

Who are the beneficiaries?

That seems a perverse question but we have seen society and life itself are beneficiaries. Who else? The second beneficiary of Japan’s earthquake is secularism. History shows societies prosper under secularism, so society is another beneficiary.

Today’s news is driven by the need to capture an audience, by reporting disaster, war, sex, politics or, during the silly season, anything stupid. How stupid to send banks of TV reporters into an active earthquake zone, when Japan is very capable of reporting its own pain. Sooner or later, the audience tires of one story, driving journalists to find the next. The Japanese tsunami swept Libya from our newspapers and TV screens.

Politicians are also beneficiaries. They can wipe the sweat form their brows and say, “Thank God voters have something else to occupy their tiny minds.” Meanwhile Gadhafi continues to bomb the houses and hospitals of his people. And thanks his god he can do so without appearing on the worlds TV screen.

More people may die in Libya, than Japan.

That is the Devil’s hand at work.



  1. That is what is so sad about the human condition, when we are “plugged in” watching a disaster unfold, addicted to ever increasing degrees of human suffering. Whole swathes of news reporters can get around, have food, water and shelter provided in the midst of each disater, just to feed our voracious appetites for voyerism.

  2. People love to watch- take Charlie Sheen as an example. I’m not comparing his situation to the carnage abroad but the guy is clearly mentally ill, he’s barely lucid in a lot of his clips. He is a renowned drinker and cocaine user who has started talking a load of delusional crap. He’s also wasting away before our eyes. Yes, the things he says are ‘quirky’ and funny but he’s on his way to his death- I don’t think people will be laughing then- they’ll be hypocritical.

  3. A US reader sent me a link to Ed West, writing in today’s UK Telegraph, WHY IS THERE NO LOOTING OR PROFITEERING IN JAPAN

    Solidarity seems especially strong in Japan itself. Perhaps even more impressive than Japan’s technological power is its social strength, with supermarkets cutting prices and vending machine owners giving out free drinks as people work together to survive. Most noticeably of all, there has been no looting, and I’m not the only one curious about this.

    This is quite unusual among human cultures, and it’s unlikely it would be the case in Britain. During the 2007 floods in the West Country abandoned cars were broken into and free packs of bottled water were stolen. There was looting in Chile after the earthquake last year – so much so that troops were sent in; in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina saw looting on a shocking scale.

    Why do some cultures react to disaster by reverting to everyone for himself, but others – especially the Japanese – display altruism even in adversity?

    I haven’t a clue!

  4. I have signed up for regular correspondence. It’s interesting to hear your views and how the whole world is going nuts. joan marie

  5. Regarding charity, oft solicited on the shows Pam [responses, above] notes we are plugged into:

    With respect to moral hazard and personal social contact, the American systems for provision do enjoy some advantages. Important to recall is that private charities frequently obtain much, or even most, of their revenue from the taxpayer.

    It is curious that the principle of less eligibility, 400 years earlier articulated in England [An Act for the Relief of the Poor. (1601). 43 Elizabeth I, Chapter 2, § 1.], is today more alive in the USA than in the mother country. The flip side of this societal rule is assistance when sickness or natural calamity strike.

    Fortunate indeed are we who get to live in the United States. For me, that was true even when I was sleeping rough. But a lot of the extra margins of safety we enjoy are due to the fact the USA has some social programming by government, rather than essentially none as in Africa. That is something those having a Libertarian bent might find discomfiting.

    Americans are generous and optimistic folks. Hence I shall withhold judgment of my country on this score. It certainly does not belong in the category of ugly societies that deserve extinction. I would love things to stay that way. Yet the trend line points in the wrong direction, accelerating as the latest versions of hard-nosed, right wing operating philosophies gain expression in our new Tea Party bloc.

    Unlike those fellows, I simply do not believe private charity can replace the public social welfare system. And I am hardly a Marxist, or even a socialist, preferring the mixed economy.

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