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:
- Perception of control by fate;
- Fatalist Activism produces contrived randomness;
- 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.