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Past perfect - public demands flawless execution

By Mark Christensen - posted Wednesday, 21 March 2012


As far as I can tell, no one of note, including the head of the Commission of Inquiry, has said that the SEQ Water engineers at the helm during last year’s Queensland floods dropped the ball. Indeed, the final report states their mitigation efforts were “very close” to the best possible, given the trying circumstances.

Why, then, are the three men in question being hounded and now sent before the state’s Crime and Misconduct Commission? 

What does it say about us as a society that our political and legal processes allow, in fact encourage, persecution for doing your job?

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In February 2010, Elmaz Qyra of Brooklyn, was strolling along the picturesque Literary Walk section of Central Park when a large tree branch, weighed down by snow, snapped off and struck him. He died at the scene.

“It was obviously a direct hit to his head,” said a witness, a man from the Upper West side. “There was this big pool of blood spreading through the snow. It was horrifying.”

Shit Happens. Always has, always will. While the Western mind may be able to temper many severe environment risks, it will never eliminate them. 

The proper role of government is to identify the line between what can and can’t be managed. Though not practicable to de-snow all suspect trees in New York city parks, optimising the release of dam water during flood conditions is something we should have a stab at, all the while remembering a perfect result cannot be assured.

Ironically, this point of equilibrium can only been seen if one first accepts, unequivocally, the impossibility of complete control. If the community can’t cope with the innately precarious nature of existence, the lurking fears will eventually manifest a dangerous idealism that diverts scarce time and resources away from more worthwhile causes.

Democracy does no deal well with this quirk of fate. Few political platforms succeed on the basis of a heart-felt admission that life is, in the end, without guarantees. The mob demand certainty, while politicians find it hard to tell us what we need to hear.

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Recall Tony Abbott’s frozen fury from last year when asked on camera to confirm Shit Happens has the edge on us mortals. He so wanted to ram home the matter-of-factness, but knew it would be used by his enemies as purported evidence of him being out of touch, unmoved by the ordeals of the common person.

Absent the truth about our limitations, we’ve become so disillusioned and over-sensitive that we’ll believe anything feasible in preference to dealing with reality.

Modernity is a victim of its own lofty expectations. Having flown to the moon and invented the internet, surely we can save people from dying in a flood? Despite the sophistications of government and technological advancements, we are, in a sense, no closer than previous generations to defanging nature.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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