Fatalist Policy in Action

Fourcultures recently noted how Australia is a good example of a fatal nation – a country where policy is in danger of being dominated by fatalism, to the exclusion of other worldviews.

Now an article in the Sydney Morning Herald provides a clear opportunity to see how this works in practice.

According to  the article by Debra Jopson, NSW farmers have lost confidence in official weather forecasts because they do not perceive them to be reliable.

[Professor] Kevin Parton, of Charles Sturt University’s Institute of Land, Water and Society, said the most widely used forecasting system was the CSIRO’s Yield Prophet, and the bureau’s charts “are a vague guide but of little use to actual decisions”.

There are three moments in the construction of fatalist policy.

First there is the perception of control by fate, that life is a game of chance, that the world is capricious and there is little to be done to change this. With the Australian climate, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is largely to blame. This alters weather patterns every two to seven years, and is notoriously difficult to predict, making the weather even more fickle than elsewhere:

The [meteorology] bureau’s acting chief climatologist, Michael Coughlan, said the criticism was fair. The statistically based forecast system used for more than two decades was flawed because the influence of El Nino bringing predominantly dry weather and La Nina bringing rains was not understood well enough.

But this recognition of randomness is only the first step in the construction of fatalist policy.

The second crucial step is to act in ways that compound the randomness, as though to prove the point: life indeed is a game of chance and we will make it more so. Oxford  professor of government  Christopher Hood has termed this  ‘contrived randomness’ which can

‘turn public organization into something less like a predictable slot-machine than a gaming machine, making it difficult to predict in detail where the chips will fall at any one time’ (Hood et al 1999:16).

In this case the Bureau of Meteorology itself is engaging in fatalist activism by making the weather forecast mimic the elements of a game of chance:

THERE are “mixed odds” for rainfall across the nation being above the seasonal median in the three months until the end of April, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s latest long-range forecast.

Using its cautious approach of stating the odds, it says that in NSW the chance of exceeding median annual rainfall during February to April is 40 to 60 per cent. This means “above average falls are about as equally likely as below average falls”, it said.

The result of this active fatalism, the third moment,  is that with the situation of randomness having been compounded by policy,  the subjects of such policy now find it harder to operate in any mode other than fatalism:

Weather forecasts were as reliable as a Lotto draw, Coonamble Shire Council said in a submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into government drought support.

A vicious circle of fatalism is thus constructed, seeking to promote its own worldview and to exclude all others.

The Fatalist policy process can now be described thus:

  1. Perception of control by fate;
  2. Fatalist Activism produces contrived randomness;
  3. Vicious circle of Fatalism increases perception of control by fate.

As it happens, the other worldviews described by grid-group cultural theory – individualism, hierarchy and egalitarianism – also operate like this. They too seek to create vicious circles in which only their own perspectives have credibility. But it is important to recognise that Fatalism is no different from the others in this respect. In promoting itself Fatalism is no more passive than any of the other worldviews. Fatalism does not vacate the policy arena because it perceives it all to be a game of chance. Instead it seeks to make policy even more fatalist than it otherwise would be.  This can easily be overlooked because it operates in fatalist, not individualist, hierarchical or egalitarian, ways.

Hopefully, the case of the Australian weather forecasters makes it clear what this means in practice.

More at how to be a fatalist.

5 thoughts on “Fatalist Policy in Action

  1. I’ve been reading fourcultures for a week or so now, and while it may not be true, I find your posts come across as a little Formalist, I mean, I find your description quite correct as far as it goes, and I don’t disagree with it, but it does feel like a bit of a cartoon, such that one does find that Astrology is more attractive, for as at least there are 12 choices. I can accept the cartoon as a didactic tool.

    For example, consider the following realisation:
    While I find I would prefer the world to actually be of an Egalitarian nature, I have a deep suspicion that it is actually arbitrary, capricious and chaotic. (Though not because of the climate).

    I know Mary Douglas stated in Thought Styles that one can only belong to one of the four cultures, but I feel this is the preference of a Conservative Hierarchist. She would say that wouldn’t she. Perhaps it is true in England, certainly the subcultures and classes there have had much harder borders than they do in Australia. I do know personally that all biases informing each culture are available to me regardless of that one I can identify, or cheer along. Though usually not in the same place/context.

    So is this nascent coalition building? Or is it simply a more accurate description of the fourcultures at the individual level where they are more fuzzy. They only harden up emergently into cartoon-describable ways in the mass of culture, i.e built up the same way that arbitrary but passionate support is built for a football team or nation?

    Is this realization the result of an awareness of the fourcultures description on my own worldview? If someone becomes aware of the fourculures will their own identifications, once unconscious – now defined, become fuzzy and wondersome because of that definition?

    What would actually happen if we became are of the fourcultures at a mass level. Would it lead to greater oppression, or greater appreciation and less oppression? Would it destroy the moral fibre of society, or allows us to more easily identify pscyhopaths?

    Even our thoughts about the fourcultures can be influenced by our own biases. Even when they are fuzzy.

    If none of them are true then the world is meta-capricious. If one of them is true then why do we have all these vestigial others, the world is meta-inefficient. If each of them is true some of the time, then the world is capricious within limits, so lord, help me to know the difference.

  2. meika, welcome and thanks for your post.
    “While I find I would prefer the world to actually be of an Egalitarian nature, I have a deep suspicion that it is actually arbitrary, capricious and chaotic.”
    I think none of us really know what the world is like, so we make it up as we go along. We think we’re being original but we do it in a limited range of somewhat predictable ways. Yes, it is cartoon-like sometimes. See the work of ecologist Buzz Holling, especially on ‘panarchy’, for an explanation of why there are different things going on at different scales, each influencing the others. To answer the question of what the world is really like, then, we also have to ask, at what scale of organisation?

    “What would actually happen if we became aware of the fourcultures at a mass level. Would it lead to greater oppression, or greater appreciation and less oppression?”
    The aim of this website is to examine and promote consideration of the four cultures analysis, in the hope that it might lead to more inclusive policy making in a number of areas. See Verweij and Thompson, eds, 2006 for some examples of how this might take place in real life situations.

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