The modern study of disasters confirms that even in natural catastrophes the corrupted bureaucrats’ lack of conscience play a destructive role.

by Stefania Cerruti*

*A paper presented at the webinar “A Good Environment for Tai Ji Men,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on June 5, 2022, World Environment Day.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on June 15th, 2022.

MEDIS’ logo.
MEDIS’ logo.

I am the External Relations Manager of MEDIS, the Major Emergencies and Disasters International School. MEDIS operates in cooperation with the Council of Europe and the World Health Organization to promote research and education in the field of major disasters.  

There is no shortage of disasters in the world today. Traditionally, disasters were distinguished between natural and human-made. An earthquake is a natural disaster. A war is a human-made disaster.

Today, however, the scientific study of disasters believes that the distinction is not clear-cut. Most disasters have both a human and a natural component. It may seem strange to look for natural components in a war. However, scholars know for example how important is water, and how shortages of water have played a role in several recent wars.

It is also clear that natural disasters have a human component. Bad governments do not cause earthquakes or tsunamis—except in some movies where dictators employ mad scientists to cause artificial earthquakes. But this is fiction. In real life, however, while governments do not cause earthquakes, they may be responsible for an increased death toll. Perhaps they failed to adopt the needed anti-earthquake preventive measures or were slow in reacting after the disaster.

The single most studied catastrophe in the modern science of disasters is the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia and the subsequent tsunami. It happened in different waves between May 20 and October 21, 1883. More than 35,000 died. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in history, with waves of the tsunami (happily no longer dangerous) reaching as far as Britain.

An 1888 litograph of the 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa.
An 1888 litograph of the 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa. Credits.

Yet, the colonial Dutch government was blamed for the poor management of the crisis. The Krakatoa disaster became a powerful tool for those who wanted to stimulate an anti-colonial consciousness. It even played a role in the genesis of Islamic radicalism, as extremist preachers interpreted it as God’s punishment against the infidels’ colonization of Muslim lands. It was one of the clearest examples of how in disasters human and natural factors interact in complicated ways.

In May 2019, I met in Turin Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men. I was very impressed by Dr. Hong’s call for recovering conscience as the moral compass of all humanity. Indeed, Dr. Hong identified the lack of conscience as a key component in the genesis of disasters.

The author (left) with Dr. Hong, Turin, May 13, 2019. Partially covered are Massimo Introvigne and Francesco Curto; on the right, Marco Respinti.
The author (left) with Dr. Hong, Turin, May 13, 2019. Partially covered are Massimo Introvigne and Francesco Curto; on the right, Marco Respinti.

In his message for the International Day of Conscience 2022, Dr. Hong said that, “Currently, the world situation is precarious, with the pandemic, war, and many unforeseeable natural and man-made disasters claiming countless lives and destroying homes, plunging the whole world into fear and anxiety.” He indicated that, “The key to crisis resolution lies in conscience.”

For those immersed in our materialistic word, these claims may at first sight look strange. Clearly, conscience can help preventing wars. But how can conscience prevent and resolve natural disasters?

I believe that the discipline of the scientific study of disasters, which we study and teach and MEDIS, ultimately agrees with Dr. Hong. As I mentioned earlier, when considered in its consequences and its human lives toll, no disaster is purely natural. Even when they do not create disasters, government officers and other human beings who act without conscience may make them much worse.

It is for this reason that Dr. Hong is right. Recovering conscience would prevent many disasters, and would greatly lessen the catastrophic consequences of others.

In following the Tai Ji Men webinars, I understood that Dr. Hong does not only speak based on a millenarian traditional Chinese wisdom. He also calls to recover conscience based on his own experience and suffering.

In fact, Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men had a direct encounter with the lack of conscience of rogue government bureaucrats. Tax disasters may seem less dramatic than mismanaging epidemics or the consequences of an earthquake. However, tax injustice can also cause suffering, economic ruin, and even suicides, as several cases reported in these webinars have indicated.

The root cause of the tax disaster that hit both Tai Ji Men and other Taiwanese taxpayers was the lack of conscience. And the solution for these problems is a return to conscience. This is the lesson we learned from Dr. Hong, a lesson we should now apply to our campaign of solidarity with Tai Ji Men.