Zygmunt Bauman: Well, let’s imag­ine our­selves sit­ting on a plane, up there in the sky. And sit­ting very com­fort­ably. Some of us are read­ing, some of us are drink­ing, some hav­ing a nap. Some play the com­put­er games. Some sim­ply antic­i­pate the plea­sures of the [indis­tinct] which will meet them after landing. 

But sud­den­ly, the news comes in that the very pleas­ant infor­ma­tion com­ing on through the loud­speak­ers inside the cab­in had been record­ed quite a long time ago, so it is that there’s no one actu­al­ly speak­ing to you. And then you dis­cov­er that the pilot cab­in is emp­ty. And that the auto­mat­ic pilot, prob­a­bly leads you to some air­port, but you learn as well that the air­port in ques­tion is still in the plan­ning stage, or rather on the draw­ing board, because the appli­ca­tion has­n’t been sub­mit­ted yet to the prop­er authorities. 

It’s a fright­en­ing image, real­ly. But it is rough­ly, in a nut­shell, what our con­tem­po­rary fears are like. They are fears of noth­ing being in con­trol. Or first of all being igno­rant of what is expect­ing us. Not real­ly know­ing what will hap­pen next moment. And sec­ond­ly, even if we do, we sus­pect that there’s very lit­tle we can do about it to stop the dan­ger and to get out of the trouble. 

No one is in con­trol. That is the major source of con­tem­po­rary fear. The fears are scat­tered. The fears are dif­fused. We can’t pin­point the sources where­from they are com­ing. They seem to be ubiq­ui­tous. They seem to apply as much over pri­vate life as the life in com­mon, the social life, all sorts of things may hap­pen. It could be a tsuna­mi. It could be Hurricane Katrina. It could be anoth­er earth­quake. It could be sud­den clos­ing up of the fac­to­ry in which you worked for twen­ty years. Or a hos­tile merg­er between two offices and you are los­ing your job. It may be col­lapse of the stock exchange and you’re los­ing your old-age pen­sion and the sav­ings you made for many many years. It could be anoth­er ter­ror­ist attack. It could be sud­den street riots and [indis­tinct] and your shop is destroyed and burned. Your car is stolen or burned. And so on. 

In oth­er words, it seems that we are liv­ing on quick­sand. Every move­ment which you want to make to sta­bi­lize our posi­tion may have quite the oppo­site con­se­quences, like in quick­sand. You may sink even deep­er than before. And [it is] pre­cise­ly because this fear, this con­tem­po­rary fear, is so poor­ly locat­ed, I would say unpin­pointable, that it is so frightening. 

The ques­tion is why it is so. Wherefrom this feel­ing of absence of con­trol? We are not in con­trol, but not just that we are not in con­trol. No one seems to be in con­trol. Things seem to be hap­pen­ing at ran­dom, sur­pris­ing, tak­ing you unpre­pared. The ques­tion is where­from it comes. 

Well I sug­gest to you that there is one essen­tial rea­son from which oth­er rea­sons are deriv­a­tive. This one rea­son is what I would call the sep­a­ra­tion, com­ing very close to divorce, between pow­er and pol­i­tics. Power is the abil­i­ty to have things done. And pol­i­tics is the abil­i­ty to decide which things are to be done. 

Now, both abilities—the pow­er and the politics—were until quite recent­ly, until less than half a cen­tu­ry ago, unit­ed in one place. That place was called nation-states. State gov­ern­ment has both. It has pow­er to do things, and the polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions to decide which things are to be done. There were of course polit­i­cal right, polit­i­cal left, as always, but both sides of the polit­i­cal spec­trum agreed on one point. That if we win, if our con­cept of what is to be done, is on the top, then we know who will do it. Because the state has pow­er to do it. 

It was nev­er a full truth, but in a way it was a rea­son­able expec­ta­tion, that if pol­i­tics is decid­ed then pow­er is able to put it in oper­a­tion. It’s no longer the case, because pow­er has evap­o­rat­ed from the lev­el of the nation-state up there into the cyber­space, or as Manuel Castells calls it, the space of flows.” But the pol­i­tics remained where it was for a num­ber of cen­turies already. Namely, on the local lev­el. It is still as local as before. There is noth­ing to con­trol the pow­er which lib­er­at­ed itself from polit­i­cal con­trol and emi­grat­ed into the space of flows. 

Finances, cap­i­tals, the trade, infor­ma­tion, ter­ror­ism, crim­i­nal­i­ty, weapon trade, the drug traf­fic. Everything which ignores the bound­aries of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty, which ignores and is free to ignore and be unpun­ished for doing that. Ignores the local cus­toms, local pref­er­ences, the will of [indis­tinct] and so on, that is already glob­al. But the pow­ers which could even­tu­al­ly con­trol them are still local. And there­fore there’s a big gap, grow­ing hia­tus, between the abil­i­ty to do things and the abil­i­ty to decide, to coerce, the pow­er­ful agen­cies to do what needs to be done.


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