Making sense of the Bushfires

As predicted, the Australian Bush Fires have been the occasion of much meaning-making along the lines of the four cultures, as described by Grid-group cultural theory. This suggests we organise ourselves and one another according to four alternate viewpoints, or ‘cultural biases’: Individualist, Fatalist, Hierarchist and Egalitarian.

The Egalitarian verdict on the Bushfires came out early: they demonstrate the need for increased climate change action.

What came next was an extraordinarily vitriolic attack on environmentalists from Miranda Devine, a polemical Individualist, in the Sydney Morning Herald, and similar views in the Australian. She wrote:

“it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.”

Germaine Greer was also looking for someone to blame, and for her it was the authorities.

Meanwhile, Prof Ross Bradstock of the University of Wollongong pointed out (as if we didn’t already know) that the debate was:

“replete with predictable anecdotes, exaggeration, over-simplification, speculation and the language of fundamentalism”.

For his part, he was presenting the Hierarchist, ‘sober expert’ perspective, with an emphasis on weighing up the costs and benefits of alternative management regimes:

“On a scale of zero to 10, where 10 equates to the level of risk achieved by doing nothing and zero equates to [paving everything with] concrete, our efforts result in a ranking of 9½. If we were to double our effort, the rating might be reduced to nine. Doubling our effort would require doubling expenditure. Halving risk to a rating of five or less would require an increase of an order of magnitude or more in treatment, at a commensurate cost. Our ability to maintain such a level of spending in the long-term is questionable.”

Some might think it’s distasteful to impose our pre-existing views of the world on a situation as horrible as these fires, or indeed on any ‘natural’ disaster. But it seems we find it very hard not to. Indeed, what other views of the world have we got? We are sense-making creatures and we abhor a vacuum of meaning.

“Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning.” (Geertz 1973:5, quoted in Schultz 1995: 80)

2 thoughts on “Making sense of the Bushfires

  1. Yes, predictable.

    So then the question is how any of this, or any of these cultures, can actually lead to a practical outcome, i.e. in Tree-change and Urban-Rural Interface areas cultural building practices that accept the need for earth-covered or earth-sheltered housing designs in response to a fire-dominated ecology? In this way the house can be a bunker when needed, while the fires roll over the top according to their (hopefully) normal fire regime timeframes.

    Where is the leadership on this issue? Insurers perhaps? One doesn’t here it from anyone.

    The blame game is a type of pornography, all too fascinating for those watching, and lucrative for those selling it.

    Australian Earth-Covered Building by
    Baggs, Sydney A., Baggs, Joan C. & Baggs, David W., New South Wales University Press, NSW Aus, 1991 ISBN 0868400602

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