Friday, July 22, 2016

Notes on Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell

_A Paradise Built in Hell:  The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster_ by Rebecca Solnit
NY:  Viking, 2009
ISBN 978-0-670-02107-9

(17)  Just as her [Amelia Holshouser's Mizpah Café after SF 1906 quake] kitchen was one of many spontaneously launched community centers and relief projects, so her resilient resourcefulness represents the ordinary response in many disasters.  In them, strangers become friends and collaborators, goods are shared freely, people improvise new roles for themselves.  Imagine a society where money plays little or no role, where people rescue each other and then care for each other, where food is given away, where life is mostly out of doors in public, where the old divides between people seem to have fallen away, and the fate that faces them, no matter how grim, is far less so for being shared, where much once considered impossible, both good and bad, is now possible or present, and where the moment is so pressing that old complaints and worries fall away, where people feel important, purposeful, at the center of the world.  It is by its very nature unsustainable and evanescent, but like a lightning flash it illuminates ordinary life, and like lightning it sometimes shatters the old forms.  It is utopia itself for many people, though it is only a brief moment during terrible times.  And at the time they manage to hold both irreconcilable experiences, the joy and the grief.

(18)  The map of utopias is cluttered nowadays with experiments by other names, and the very idea is expanding.  It needs to open up a little more to contain disaster communities.  These remarkable societies suggest that, just as many machines reset themselves to their original settings after a power outage, so human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful, and imaginative after a disaster, that we revert to something we already know how to do.  The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting.

The two most basic goals of social utopias are to eliminate deprivation - hunger, ignorance, homelessness - and to forge a society in which no one is an outsider, no one is alienated.  By this standard, Holshouser's free food and warm social atmosphere achieved both, on however tiny a scale, and versions of the Mizpah Café sprung up all over the ruined city.
NB:  Popular(ist) Compassion and Elite Panic:  Big Carnival of Disaster (Ace in the Hole) (Billy Wilder film)

(37)  Many would not consider property crimes significant when lives are at stake - and the term _looting_ conflates the emergency requisitioning of supplies in a crisis without a cash economy with opportunistic stealing.  Disaster scholars now call this fear-driven overreaction elite panic.

(56)  [William] James's investigation [after the SF earthquake] concluded that human beings respond with initiative, orderliness, and helpfulness;  they remain calm, and suffering and loss are transformed when they are shared experiences.
NB:  Just as post traumatic stress is lessened with more open family and community support.

(60)  "While the crisis lasted, people loved each other."  Dorothy Day, remembering the SF earthquake that happened when she was 8 years old, living in Oakland
NB:  use of crisis

(64-65)  It was moving to see this idealistic joy on so many thousands of faces [2003 anti-war marches] , disconcerting to realize how uncommon the experience seemed to be - this experience, which was essentially that of citizenship itself, of playing a role in public life, of being connected to strangers around you and thereby to that abstraction we call society.  An even more powerful and pervasive form of it came during the election of Barack Obama, when people around the nation and the world wept, suddenly able to feel the pain of centuries as it was in some way lifted and a hope that seemed out of reach before.  The global wave of emotion was about a deep and too often dormant passion for justice, for meaning, for the well-being of others, and the fate of nations.  We should feel like that regularly, routinely, in a democracy, but the experience is rare in too many societies and nations.
NB:  Marches, petitions, and electoral politics can't maintain that charge because both the need and the action are not immediate and direct enough.  Community gardening, food coops, and local food systems can supply some of it.  Weatherization and solar barnraisings can supply some more.

(86-87)  Mutual aid means that every participant is both giver and recipient in acts of care that bind them together, as distinct from the one-way street of charity.  In this sense it is reciprocity, a network of people cooperating to meet each others' wants and shared each others' wealth.  When the Mission District residents in earthquake-torn San Francisco refused to let institutional kitchens replace their community kitchens, they were refusing to let mutual aid give way to charity, which would define them as the needy with nothing to give rather than the community with everything to give each other.  When Dorothy Day established the Catholic Worker, she endeavored to make the aid mutual by making the people they served active participants in the work projects.  In flood-ravaged New Orleans, the radical group Common Ground Relief's slogan is "Solidarity, Not Charity."  In Halifax, [Samuel Henry] Prince noted, "the preference upon the part of the refugee for plural leadership and decision" and "the resentment which succeeds the intrusion of strangers in relief leadership."  People preferred to care for each other rather than to be cared for by strangers or governed by others.
NB:  Kropotkin's voluntary association

(90)  It is often the few in power rather than the many without who behave viciously in disaster, and those few do so oftern exactly because they subscribe to the fearful beliefs of Huxley, Le Bon, and others.
NB:  No mention of Canetti's _Crowds and Power_ nor _Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds_

(91)  This is why what happens in disasters matters for political philosophy:  the hierarchies, administrations, and institutions - the social structure - tend to fall apart, but what results tends to be anarchy in Kropotkin's sense of people coming together in freely chosen cooperation rather than the media's sense of disorderly savagery.
NB:  Default state?

(92)  Three hundred and fifty years after Hobbes, the biobehavioral scientists Shelley E. Taylor and Laura Cousino Klein concluded that contrary tot he longtime assumption about how human beings respond to danger, women in particular often gather together to share concerns and abilities.  They concludes that "this 'tend-and-befriend' pattern is a sharp contrast to the 'fight-or-flight' behavior pattern that has long been considered the principal responses to stress by both men and women.  For women, that didn't quite make any sense from an evolutionary standpoint.  It's a rare female of any species that would leave her baby to fend for itself while she physically takes on an aggressor.  Females are more likely to protect their children and bond with other females who can help provide protection in the process."  In other words, crises and stresses often strengthen social bonds rather than breed competition and isolation...

Gerald Winstanley, Digger spokesperson
Gerald Winstanley et al, True Leveller's Standard Advanced:  or, The State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men at    

(94)  The radical economists J. K. Gibson-Graham (two women writing under one name) portray our society as an iceberg, with competitive capitalist practices visible above the waterline and below all kinds of relations of aid and cooperation by families, friends, neighbors, churches, cooperatives, volunteers, and voluntary organizations from softball leagues to labor unions, along with activities outside the market, under the table, bartered labor and goods, and more, a bustling network of uncommercial enterprise.
NB:  Time Banking and Skills Exchanges, Maker culture, barnraising

(96-97)  [Viktor] Frankl concluded that it is "a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, 'homeostasis,' i. e., a tensionless state.  What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.  What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him...  If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together."

(100)  [Mark] Connelly says, "The people's role in their own defense and destiny was downplayed in order to stress an old-fashioned division of leaders and led." [London Blitz]  [Mark Connelly _We can Take It!:  Britain and the Memory of the Second World War_ (Harlow, England:  Pearson, Longman, 2004)

(107-108)  [Charles] Fritz's first radical premise is that everyday life is already a disaster of sorts, one from which actual disaster liberates us.  He points out that people suffer and die daily, though in ordinary times, they do so privately, separately.  And he writes, "The traditional contrast between 'normal' and 'disaster' almost always ignores or minimizes these recurrent stresses of everyday life and their personal and social effects.  It also ignores a historically consistent and continually growing body of political and social analyses that points to the failure of modern societies to fulfill an individual's basic human needs for community identity."  

Later he describes more specifically how this community identity is fed during disaster:  "The widespread sharing of danger, loss, and deprivation produces an intimate, primarily group solidarity among the survivors, which overcomes social isolation, provides a channel for intimate communication and expression, and provides a major source of physical and emotional support and reassurance...  The 'outsider' becomes an 'insider,' the 'marginal man' a 'central man.'  People are thus able to perceive, with a clarity never before possible, a set of underlying basic values to which all people subscribe.  They realize that collective action is necessary for these values to be maintained and that individual and group goals are inextricably merged.  This merging of individual and societal needs provides a feeling of belonging and a sense of unity rarely achieved under normal circumstances."

(108)  Disasters, unlike everyday troubles but quite a bit like wars, pose straightforward problems to which solutions can be taken in the form of straightforward actions:  "An essential failure of disaster is that the threats and dangers to the society come from outside the system and their causes can usually be clearly perceived and specified.  This contrasts with many other crises where the threats arise within the system and it is difficult to isolate and identify a widely agreed-upon cause."
NB:  Contradictions become obvious.

(116)  Forest fire around Tassjara Zen Center:  "What was most compelling during these hours, and which in reflection remains the most satisfying, is the constant vigilance and effort that the fire required.  It was... a demanding schedule of pure presence in which one utterly let go of a known outcome.  There were undeniable moments of fear and anxiety, especially when we understood the reality that the fire was descending into Tassajara fast and from all sides, rather than creeping down one slope at a time as had initially been suggested by several professional firefighters.  But there was little time to entertain fear, so fear quickly gave way to our effort to fully meet our belated guest and the tasks at hand."  Dave Zimmerman, the center's director, concluded a few days alter, "And finally, deep bows to the fire, whose undeniable dharma teaching of impermanence has earned our awed respect and attention."  The abbot, Stephen Stucky, later said in a lecture that this encounter with the fire gave force to the idea of "being prepared to meet whatever arises."  Tassajara survived as an island of green in an ocean of blackened mountainsides and burned forests.

(117)  The language of religion might best explain that sudden joy in disaster.  It's anarchic, a joy that the ordinary arrangements have fallen to pieces - but anarchic in that the ordinary arrangements structure and contain our lives and minds;  when they cease to do so we are free to improvise, discover, change, evolve.
NB:  Life and death concentrate the mind, with raised stakes come raised attention.

(123)  Charles Fritz's colleague Enrico Quarantelli recalls that in 1954, "I wrote a master's thesis on panic, expecting to find a lot of it, and after a while I said, 'My God, I'm trying to write a thesis about panic and I can't find any instances of it.'  That's an overstatement but... it took a little while to learn that, wait a second, the situation is much better here" than anyone had thought.  He defines panic as extreme and unreasonable fear and flight behavior.  Flight behavior, however, is not necessarily panic:  He points out that what can look chaotic from outside - people moving as fast as they can in all directions - is often the most reasonable response to an urgent threat.  The thesis was another landmark in the study of human reaction to disaster, another piece of the news that chipped away at the old myths.

(125)  [Enrico] Quarantelli remarks that the organizations rather than individuals are most prone to create problems during a natural disaster.  "Bureaucracy depends on routine and schedules and paperwork and etc.  If done right - in fact, the modern world could not exist without bureaucracy.  The only trouble with that is that the bureaucratic framework is one of the worst things to have at the time of disasters when you need innovations and doing things differently.  In fact the better they operate during nondisaster times, the less likely they are to operate well.  They can't maneuver, they can't integrate, etc.  On the other hand, human beings, and this cuts across all societies... rise to the occasion.  Again, not everyone does, just like not all organizations react badly.  But in terms of human beings they rise to the occasion whereas organizations, in a sense, fall down.
NB:  Resilience and flexibility [note the difference]

(127)  Kathleen Tierney:  "Elites fear disruption of the social order, challenges to their legitimacy."  She reversed the image of a panicking public and a heroic minority to describe what she called "elite panic."  She itemized its ingredients as "fear of social disorder, fear of poor, minorities and immigrants;  obsession with looting and property crime;  willingness to resort to deadly force;  and actions taken on the basis of rumor."  In other words, it is the few who behave badly and many who rise to the occasion.  And those few behave badly not because of facts but of beliefs:  they believe the rest of us are about to panic or become a mob or upend property relations, and in their fear they act out to prevent something that may have only existed in their imaginations.  Thus the myth of malevolent disaster behavior becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Elsewhere she adds, "The media emphasis on lawlessness and the need for strict social control both reflects and reinforces political discourse calling for a greater role for the military in disaster management.  Such policy positions are indicators of the strength of militarism as an ideology in the United States."

(130)  Praising [Kathleen] Tierney's work, [Lee] Clarke wrote, "Disaster myths are not politically neutral, but rather work systematically to the advantage of elites.  Elites cling to the panic myth because to acknowledge the truth of the situation would lead to very different policy prescriptions than the ones currently in vogue.  The chief prescription is, she notes, that the best way to prepare for disasters is by following the command and control model, the embodiment of which is the federal Department of Homeland Security.  Thus do panic myths reinforce particular institutional interests.  But it is not bureaucrats who will be the first-responders when the next disaster, whether brought by terrorists or some other agent, comes.  It won't even be the police of firefighters.  It will be our neighbors, it will be the strangers in the next car, it will be our family members.  The effectiveness of disaster response is thus diminished to the degree that we overrely on command and control.  This is another case where political ideology trumps good scientific knowledge about how the world works."

(145-146)  Former playwright, political prisoner, and then president Václav Havel, who was instrumental in the 1989 liberation of Czechoslovakia by a carefully cultivated independent civil society, defines _civil society_ as "a society in which citizens participate - in many parallel, mutually complementary ways - in public life, in the administration of public goods, and in public decisions...  The functions of the state and of the structures in such a society are limited only to that which cannot be performed by anyone else, such as legislation, national defense and security, the enforcement of justice, etc."  You could say that civil society is what unimpaired mutual aid creates;  or that civil society is the condition and mutual aid the activity that produces it.  In Mexico City in 1985, mutual aid is what people first set out to provide as they rescued and aided each other;  as the tasks became less urgent and more politically engaged, civil society is what they built up.
NB:  "You could say that civil society is what unimpaired mutual aid creates;  or that civil society is the condition and mutual aid the activity that produces it."

(149-150) [Chicago heat wave]   ...The adjoining Latino neighborhood with low death rates had "busy streets, heavy commercial activity, residential concentration... and relatively low crime."

He [Eric Klinenberg] concluded that these factors "promote social contact, collective life, and public engagement in general and provide particular benefits for the elderly, who are more likely to leave home when they are drawn out by nearby amenities."  Those who left their overheated homes for open space or air-conditioned shops, diners, or fast food restaurants or who sought and received help from neighbors were more likely to survive.  That is, heat was only one factor in determining who died.  Fear and isolations were others, keeping people in their homes even when there homes were unbearable.  This too was far from a natural disaster.  People lived or died because of the level of social amenities and social space in their neighborhoods - by whether or not the neighborhood itself was also home.  "Residents of the most impoverished, abandoned, and dangerous places in Chicago died alone because they lived in social environments that discouraged departures from the safe houses where they had burrowed, and created obstacles to social protection that are absent from more tranquil and prosperous areas."
NB:  Pattern language of disaster survival is the pattern language of conviviality (Ivan Ilich)

(159)  In 2006, the man who had been head of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, reflected, "The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl twenty years ago this month, even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse fo the Soviet Union five years later.  Indeed, the Chernobyl catastrophe was a historic turning point:  there was the era before the disaster, and there is the very different era that has followed.

(161)  On December 19, 20, and 21 of 2001, Argentines launched an unprecedented uprising in response to that country's financial crisis and growing political disgust.  In the election that October of 2001, citizens were so disgusted that nearly half did not show up or cast blank or spoiled ballots - putting pictures of Osama bin Laden in the ballot envelopes was one popular response.
NB:  _Seeing_ by José Saramago

(163)  The 2001 meltdown created something akin to disaster's sense of community.  It was a revolution in spirit as well as in practical things  In fifty years of bad government, including a few murderous military regimes, Argentines had become deeply distrustful of politicians and state power, and most had abandoned public life.  This time, they sought to withdraw from and reduce government's sphere, turning not to left-wing movements but to each other, relaunching a vital civil society.  What they created was so new it required new worlds - _horizontalidad_, or horizontalism, to describe the nonhierarchical way many communities made decisions;  _protagonism_ to describe the new agency many found;  _politica afectiva_ to describe the politics of affection.  The examples of Argentina in the earthquake of 1944 and the financial crash of 2001 demonstrate again that disasters are ultimately enigmas:  it is not the disaster but the struggle to give it meaning and to take the opportunity to redirect the society that matters, and these are always struggles with competing interests.

These moments in which revolution resemble disaster utopias are strange.  On the one hand, the revolution seems to have already, instantly, fulfilled its promise:  all men are brothers, everything is possible, anyone can speak, hearts are full, solidarity is strong.  The formation of a new government historically reallocates much of this potency to the state rather than civil society.  On the other hand, much of this moment's glory is often regarded as a side effect, an incidental, and the revolution moves on to set up better education or economies but loses this fellowship and openness.  Something trickles away.

The real revolution may be the period between regimes, not the new regime (and Jonathan Schell points out that, contrary to what we usually believe, the French and Russian revolutions terminated the old regimes without significant bloodshed;  it was establishing the new one that was so violent.

(172)  Disaster's message that anything could happen is not so far away from revolution's exhortation that everything is possible.
NB:  Situationist slogan of 1968:  Be reasonable, demand the impossible.

(173)  The jubilee described in Leviticus is supposed to happen every fifty years and "proclaim liberty throughout all the land," free the slaves, cancel debts, return the land to the original owner (who might be God or no one), let the fields lie fallow, and bring about a long reprieve from work.  Slaves sang of jubilee;  early-nineteenth-century revolutionaries embraced it as a great redistribution of wealth, a starting over even;  and the British group Jubilee Research (formerly Jubilee 2000) seeks the cancellation of third-world debt as jubilee's contemporary equivalent.  The idea of jubilee is a revolution that recurs as a festival.

(175)  Mexico:  When politicians cut ribbons or staged other public events they hoped would reflect well on them, Super Barrio would show up and pressure them to do better by the poor.  He confronted landlords;  showed up at evictions, meetings, and demonstrations;  inspired the strugglers to feel more powerful and confident.  He became famous as a sort of latter-day Robin Hood of the urban poor, and he lives on more than two decades after he first appeared.  He is credited with stopping ten thousand evictions, and when he appeared on camera in a recent documentary he spoke about his politics in such phrases as, "We have asserted that the city belongs to everyone" and "The credit goes to the people.  Who is behind the mask matters least" and "Super Barrio is all of us."  Though the only one in costume, he placed everyone around him in carnival mode and opened up the possibilities.
NB:  the mask and Guy Fawkes

(177)  For the past twenty years, U. S. radicals have been speaking of "the politics of prefiguration":  of the idea that you can and must embody whatever liberty, justice, democracy you aspire to, and in doing so in your self, your community, or your movement you achieve a degree of victory, whatever you do beyond that.

(180)  If the Zapatistas arose from many long disasters, the society they created in their autonomous regions of Chiapas and that they propose in their globally circulated slogans and writings greatly resembles disaster communities.  There is an emphasis on improvisation.  "Caminando preguntamos," they say, or "We walk asking questions."  Rather than dogma, they have inquiry as a core principle.  There is an intense critique of hierarchy and mandar obediencia, or "govern by obeying," is also a recurrent theme, imperfectly realized.  At the entrance to one of their communities is a sign that could be at any of them:  "Here the people govern and the government obeys."  It is in many ways the society of mutual aid and self-government Kropotkin, among many others, dreamed of.  It attempts to render permanent what disaster fleetingly provides:  a realm in which people care for each other in the absence of entrenched and alienated authority and the presence of mutual aid, altruism, and love.
NB:  V for Vendetta:  The people shouldn't be afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of the people. (It is.  That's usually one of the uses of a police force.)

(188-189)  New Yorkers were well served by their everyday practices of walking the city, mingling with strangers, and feeling at home in public.  It is hard to imagine many of the more suburbanized and privatized American cities responding with such resilience, resourcefulness, and public-spiritedness, and so the everyday qualities of true urbanism may too be survival skills in crisis.  The denizens of many other cities may have even had difficulty imagining that a mass evacuation could be conducted on foot, that the human body that seemed so frail under attack could nevertheless cover several miles or more to safety and to home.

(189)  Adam Mayblum email:  "They failed in terrorizing us.  We were calm.  If you want to kill us, leave us alone because we will do it by ourselves.  If you want to make us stronger, attack and we unite.  This is the ultimate failure of terrorism against the United States.  The very moment the first plane was hijacked, democracy won."
NB:  Same reaction to bombing of civilians - in England, in Germany, in Vietnam...

(194)  Astra Taylor:  "There was camaraderie, no hysterics, no panic, you felt that people would come together.  That's obviously what happened in the towers, there was a lot of heroism that day.  But then suddenly you're back in your apartment and you're isolated and you're watching the news and it's this hysterical... they were so overwrought and they're just showing the image again and again of the plane hitting the tower and the tower collapsing.  The experience on television was so different than the experience on the street."

(195)  Charles Fritz had identified the phenomenon of convergence in 1957, writing, "Movement toward the disaster area usually is both quantitatively and qualitatively more significant than flight or evacuation from the scene of destruction.  Within minutes following most domestic disasters, thousands of people begin to converge on the disaster area and on first-aid stations, hospitals, relief, and communications centers in the disaster environs.  Shortly following, tons of unsolicited equipment and supplies of clothing, food, bedding, and other materials begin arriving in the disaster area."

(197)  In her book on altruism and democracy, _The Samaritan's Dilemma_, Deborah Stone writes, "From the voice of altruists, a more remarkable paradox emerges:  Most people don't experience altruism as self-sacrifice.  They experience it as a two-way street, as giving and receiving at the same time.  When they help others, they gain a sense of connection with other people.  Giving and helping make them feel a part of something larger than themselves.  Helping others makes them feel needed and valuable and that their time on earth is well spent.  Helping others gives them a sense of purpose."
NB:  research on buying happiness by giving money away

(207)  Tricia Wachtendorf, a disaster sociologist who spent considerable time in New York during the aftermath of September 11 comments that convergent volunteers often irk officials because "the appearance of these groups suggests the inadequacy of official response efforts."  She describes how goods managed by groups like Mueller's and Smith's were called "rebel food" and "renegade supplies."  The improvisational skills of volunteers and emergent groups often outstrips that of institutions, she notes, and so they almost always function well first and are then eclipsed by the official relief agencies and established volunteer groups. which have resources and continuity on their side.  The initially guerrilla effort became increasingly managed and professionalized as time went on, though a number of volunteers stayed on in their original roles or in salaried positions developed later.

(220)  A less well known psychological concept is "post-traumatic growth," a phenomenon that applies to personal as well as collective experience.  One of the major books on the subject explains, "Inherent in these traumatic experiences are losses such as the loss of loved ones, of cherished roles or capabilities, or of fundamental, accepted ways of understanding life.  In the face of these losses and the confusion they cause, some people rebuild a way of life that they experience as superior to their old one in important ways.  For them, the devastation of loss provides an opportunity to build a new, superior life structure almost from scratch.  They establish new psychological constructs that incorporate the possibility of such traumas, and better ways to to cope with them.  They appreciate their newly found strength and the strength of their neighbors and their community.  And because of their efforts, individuals may value both what they now have, and the process of creating it although the process involved loss and distress.  Groups and societies may go through a similar transformation, producing new norms for behavior and better ways to care for individuals within the group."  Trauma is real.  It isn't ubiquitous.  And what people do with trauma varies.  As Viktor Frankl remarked, "often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself."
NB:  _Posttraumatic Growth:  Positive Changes in the Aftermath of Crisis_ by Richard Tedeschi, Crystal Park, and Lawrence Calhoun, eds (Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998)

(235)  When Tierney was speaking about elite panic - "fear of social disorder;  fear of poor, minorities, and immigrants;  obsession with looting and property crime;  willingness to resort to deadly force;  and actions taken on the basis of rumor" - she was talking shortly after Katrina, perhaps the worst case of elite panic in the history of the United States.  New Orleans had long been a high-crime city, but the mythic city of monsters the media and authorities invented in the wake of Katrina never existed, except in their imagination.  That belief ravaged the lives of tens of thousands of the most vulnerable.

(259)  LIke elites when they panic, racists imagine again and again that without them utter savagery would break out, so that their own homicidal violence is in defense of civilization and the preservation of order. 

(265)  A Jamaican writing about the devastating Caribbean hurricanes of 2008 commented:  "Cuba is organised as a mutual aid society in which every citizen has his repsonsibilities, his duties and his place.  When hurricanes threaten Cuba, people move out of the way guided by the neighbourhood Committees for the Defence of the Revolution - CDR.  They move the old and the young, the sick and the healthy and their cats, dogs, parrots, their goats, donkeys and cows, to safe places.  Here is a truly incredible fact.  Last week the Cubans moved 2,615,000 people - a number nearly equivalent to the entire population of Jamaica - to safety.  Four people died in the storm, the first fatalities for years.  It is a remarkable statistic.  Three years ago when Texas tried to evacuate a million or so ahead of hurricane Rita, more than 100 people died in the evacuation."

(279)  The most optimistic of all disaster scholars, Charles Fritz, had ascribed his positive disaster experiences only to those who are "permitted to interact freely and to make an unimpeded social adjustment."

(283)  I stopped by Camp Casey the day that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf and found a big camp and an extraordinary community akin in many ways to disaster communities.

(285)  Every activist movement begins by uniting its participants in important ways, giving them a sense of purpose drawn from the wrongs they seek to right and the shared vision of a better world.  In 1957, King wrote that the ultimate aim of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a key player in the movement, was "to foster and create the 'beloved community' in American where brotherhood is a reality...  Our ultimate goal is genuine intergroup and interpersonal living - integration."  Integration was no longer merely a practical matter of buses, schools, lunch counters, and workplaces.  It was a metaphysic of solidarity and affinity, a condition of hearts rather than laws and facilities.  The same year he declared that the nonviolent activist in this movement "realizes that noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves...  The end is redemption and reconciliation.  The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community."

...What begins as opposition coalesces again and again into social invention, a revolution of everyday life rather than a revolt against the system.
NB:  Gandhian economics, commercial trusteeship and citizenship

(286)  The affinities with disaster communities are obvious:  activist communities come into being in response to what is perceived as a disaster - discrimination, destruction, deprivation - and sometimes generate a moment or fragment of a better world.  As Temma Kaplan, a New Yorker who had been part of that movement in the American South, said, "For a short time, during the first few days after 9/11 I felt that Beloved Community that we talked about in the Civil Rights Movement."

(291)  The year of its founding, 1966, the [Black Panther] Party had come up with a "ten-point program" whose last point was, "We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace, and people's community control of modern technology."

(293)  Common Ground of New Orleans' Malik Rahim:  "We work with solidarity.  That means that if you work here, you going to have to stay here.  You going to have to keep your presence in the community, and it breached those gaps.  We was the first organization to reach out to the Native American community in Houma, we was the first organization to reach out to the Vietnamese community here."  Common Ground's motto is Solidarity, Not Charity, an emphasis on working with rather than for that sets it apart from many national relief groups, however messy its realization of its goals.  Project begat projects.

(295)  Aislyn Colgan, New Orleans:  "I was a never a person who cried about happy things, but I find that I cry more often.  I feel like I have a much stronger sense of the harshness of life and also the beauty.  It's like they're one and the same."

[Tent cities after the 1906 SF earthquake]  It resembles the campouts that have become a major part of counterculture gathering since the 1960s, notably the biggest and longest-lived of them all, the Rainbow Gatherings held annually since the early 1970s.

(296)  Rainbow Gatherings, which now bring together about thirty thousand people to a different national forest location each year, build a functioning temporary society quite literally from the ground up.  Each site is chosen for access to potable water, and an often elaborate piping system brings waters from source to camp.  A group arrives early to set up, laying out the grounds and digging latrines, hugely important in  preventing disease from spreading and fulfilling the commitment to leave behind an undamaged landscape.  Another group stays behind to do cleanup.  There is no formal structure or hierarchy, but a great deal of informal organizing - all decisions are by consensus, anyone may participate, and volunteer groups perform all tasks.  (Those who have been around a long time and done a lot of the work accrue power, but it is hard to call this hierarchy.)  In addition to the national gathering in the United States each July (with a day of prayer and meditation on the Fourth), regional gatherings, a worldwide gathering, and gatherings in Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia are now established.  I have been to a regional Rainbow Gathering, and my response was mixed - I'm not big on clouds of pot smoke, hugs from strangers, hybridized religious appropriations, and grubby personal style - but I saw the desire and partial realization of a goal of creating a mutual-aid gift-economy society and an impressive and moving atmosphere of sweetness, openness, and generosity.

A crucial aspect of Rainbow Gatherings that was not true of Woodstock in 1969 or Burning Man now is that it truly exists as far outside the monetary economy as possible.  Burning Man, the huge annual desert gathering charges a steep admission, patrols to keep the nonpaying out, hires a company to supply and maintain hundreds of chemical toilets, contracts a local hospital to set up a clinic on-site, and leaves all major decisions to the staff of the limited-liability corporation it has become.
NB:  This year's tickets, whose sale just closed in the first week of February 2012, was controversial.

(297)  When Katrina hit the Gulf region, the 2005 national gathering in West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest had been over for more than a month.  But many participants kept in touch and some converged on the disaster zone.  One named Jawker wrote on September 22 of that year, "As the magnitude of the disaster began to sink in I started receiving phone calls from around the country from my Rainbow friends suggesting we go down and feed folks.  What a great idea I thought,  If anyone knew about keeping people healthy in a primitive setting and dealing with creating refugee camps it was Rainbow.  Add to that that we knew each other already and we seemed like a natural."  His group settled in Waveland, Mississippi.

(300)  So in December of 2005, Weiner created a registered nonprofit called Emergency Communities.  The name "was our third choice, and the other two were taken by bands.  It has various meanings, it could be a noun in the sense that we are building an emergency community, each site is an emergency community.  Or it can be the creation of a community from an emergency.  But the idea is to blur the lines between those that are helping and those that need help into a single community."

(303)  But there was a more dramatic conflict between those who believe in civil society and the possibility of a beloved community and those who, along with Hobbes, Le Bon, and a lot of elites who panic, believed that their own selfishness was justified by a selfish world.

(305)  One reason that disasters are threatening to elites is that power devolves to the people on the ground in many ways:  it is the neighbors who are the first responders and who assemble the impromptu kitchens and networks to rebuild.  And it demonstrates the viability of a dispersed, decentralized system of decision making.  Citizens themselves in these moments constitute the government - the acting decision-making body - as democracy has always promise and rarely delivered.  Thus disasters often unfold as though a revolution has already taken place.

(306)  After 9/11, New Yorker Marshall Berman cited Nietszche:  "Man, the bravest animal and the one most inured to trouble, does not deny suffering per se:  he wants it, he even seeks it out, provided it can be given a meaning."  Frankl quotes another version of Nietzsche's pronouncement:  "He who has a _why_ to live for can bear almost any _how_."  When Dorothy Day gave up her lover, she gave up an intensely tangible private affection for another, broader love, of God, but also of purposefulness, meaning, involvement, and community, without which she had been miserable even in her ménage.  She gave up her _how_ for a _why_.  The joy in disaster comes, when it comes, from that purposefulness, the immersion in service and survival, and from an affection that is not private and personal but civic:  the love of strangers for each other, of a citizen for his or her city, of belonging to a greater whole, of doing the work that matters.

These loves remain largely dormant and unacknowledged in contemporary postindustrial society:  this is the way in which everyday life is a disaster.  For acted upon, given a role, this is a love that builds society, resilience, community, purpose, and meaning.
NB:  Charles Olson's polis

(309)  Surviving and maybe even turning back the tide of this pervasive ongoing disaster [climate change] will require more ability to improvise together, stronger societies, more confidence in each other. It will require a world in which we are each other's wealth and have each other's trust...

But not everyone behaves well.  Elite panic in disaster, as identified by contemporary disaster scholars, is shaped by belief, belief that since human beings at large are bestial and dangerous, the believer must himself or herself act with savagery to ensure individual safety or the safety of his or her interests.  The elites that panic are, in times of crisis, the minority, and understanding that could marginalize or even disarm them, literally and psychologically, as well as the media that magnify their message.  This would help open the way to create a world more like the brief utopias that flash up in disaster.

(310)  Lee Clarke, the coauthor of the definitive essay on elite panic, told me that after 9/11 he found himself at a lot of conferences sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.  There he tried to tell the bureaucrats what actually works in disasters.  "In a chaotic situation command and control is bound to fail," he'd say of the top-down management system many organizations deploy in crisis.  He told the disaster administrators who wanted to know what message to give people in disaster that it is the people who might have some messages to give them on what's actually going on and what's actually needed.  Clarke concluded, "they don't have a way to fold civil society into their official conceptions."

(311)  SF:  In the aftermath, the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) program was created to train volunteers to take care of their neighborhoods and city in disaster.  The fire department runs the program, which has trained more than seventeen thousand citizens.  The city used the centennial of the 1906 quake to urge, via bus placards, billboards, and more, disaster preparedness in every home - not only the stockpiling of supplies but also the creation of emergency plans....

The firefighters amazed me by saying, "In a disaster, property no longer matters.  Only people matter.  We had come a long way from San Francisco in 1906.

(323)  Gladys Hansen and Emmet Condon, _Denial of Disaster_ (SF:  Cameron and Co, 1989)

(325)  William James' "The Moral Equivalent of War at  

(328)  Samuel Henry Prince, _Catastrophe and Social Change:  Based Upon a Sociological Study of the Halifax Disaster_

(329)  Gerald Winstanley et al, True Leveller's Standard Advanced:  or, The State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men at    

(333)  Lee Clarke, _Introduction to Terrorism and Disaster, Vol 11:  New Threats, New Ideas_ (JAI Press, 2003)  "Disaster myths are not politically neutral"

(334)  _Resilient Cities:  How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster_ by Lawrence Vale and Thomas Campanella (Oxford Univ Press, 2005)

(336)  _T. A. Z.:  The Temporary Autonomous Zone_ by Hakim Bey (Autonomedia, 2003)

(341)  Eaine Scarry, "Citizenship in Emergency:  Can Democracy Protect Us Against Terrorism?" at

Charles Fritz, _Disasters and Mental Health:  Therapeutic Principles Drawn from Disaster Studies_ (Univ of DE, 1996)

(344)  Oxfam America 2004 Report Cuba:  Weathering the Storm, Lessons in Risk Reduction from Cuba at           

1 comment:

  1. The article is good, but I think people must discuss more ideas from this blogs.
    Daniel Imperato
    Dr. Daniel Imperato