Heroes of retreat and path dependence

April 5, 2011

In Saturday’s Groan there was an interesting interview – Javier Cercas interview – with the writer Javier Cercas. He was talking about his latest book which focuses on the attempted 1982 Army coup in Spain, not long after Franco had died. This was still a dangerous time for the emerging Spanish democracy and its success was dependent on the support of people who had been senior supporters of Franco’s regime:

For Cercas, “real Spanish democracy began at that moment, when a Falangist, Franco’s general and a Communist leader decided to stay there, risking their lives.” In an “ethics of treason”, all three men are modern “heroes of retreat” who have betrayed old allegiances.

In slightly less dramatic terms i think George Monbiot could be described as a bit of a hero in retreat for today’s denunciation of anti-nuclear power campaigners Anti nuclear campaigners have misled us all. Now, i’m still not sure that building nuclear power stations in earthquake is a good idea. But it’s clear that we have to find answers that don’t rely on the burning of fossil fuels (and which kill people quite happily but which don’t suffer from quite the same PR as nuclear power) and the consequences of not doing anything to change our power sources will be fatal for millions.

It would also seem, at some point, that the arguments against nuclear power became lumped in with those against nuclear bombs and seen as interchangeable. This might be to do with something called path dependence (the reference for which i came across in this other post on Big Bad GM and the anti-nuclear campaigners):

Path dependence refers to the fact that often, something that seems normal or inevitable today began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of the justification for that choice, because once established, external factors discouraged going into reverse to try other alternatives.

To avoid going too far down the path dependence route it would seem heroes of retreat are essential.


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