Learning to Look for Resilience
June 2, 2013 9:10 PM   Subscribe

 
It's true. During Hurricane Ike none of this happened, and things were pretty bad. People were sharing food, money, gas, electricity, water, everything.

Now, this is short term disasters. Long term ones might be different when stress, hunger, etc. gets to people.
posted by Malice at 9:24 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't have thought that hurricanes or even earthquakes would make people panic and go all anarchy. The first one's drawn out and temporary. The second one is mostly over before you know it. BUT-- I've heard that a quick-sinking ship can be quite different. Look up the story of that ferry in Finland.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 9:41 PM on June 2, 2013


The "clear" consensus? Somebody doth emphasize too much.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 9:44 PM on June 2, 2013


Among groups of people (as opposed to people alone), panic is the exception and not the rule during disasters. In fact, it's common for groups of people to overcompensate against panic and to minimize the danger they're in and to be inactive when they should be active. This is more likely to happen in groups because there's a reinforcing group dynamic — no one wants to be seen as irrational and overreacting and groups of people tend to defer to authority for signals on how to react.

This is all pretty much exactly the opposite of common wisdom about crowds in emergencies.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:45 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, this isn't completely accurate. During the financial crisis of 2008, for example, there was widespread looting and theft. People were turned out of their homes and the government was extorted into providing billions of dollars to the very people who had caused the crisis in the first place. But, then again, those were white guys in suits doing their looting from boardrooms and trading floors.

Is it any surprise that they and their ilk would assume that poor folks in times of crisis would act as they have done? In fact, maybe it's the eagerness to exploit crisis for personal gain that helps to separate the rich from the poor in the first place. I mean, someone was gassing up all those troop transports to Haiti and outfitting the soldiers with guns and ammo, weren't they?
posted by R. Schlock at 9:45 PM on June 2, 2013 [24 favorites]




again, Dee Xtrovert:

What was missing was: fat, protein, flavor and variety.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:14 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks, that was a really interesting article; the specific examples from Haiti and NY nicely support the thesis that the common post-disaster myths of violence, rampant disease and panic aren't usually true at all, and that the press overplays those myths in absurd and harmful ways, in part out of "elite panic."

The whole thing's convincingly written. This part stuck with me:

“Even when looting is not actually observed, that fact is often attributed to the extraordinary security measures that have been taken rather than the fact that such behavior is inherently uncommon.”
posted by mediareport at 10:23 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find that this is generally true, except for when the sand people attack.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:27 PM on June 2, 2013


the lynching was a sign of continuing order.

Um.
posted by dersins at 10:56 PM on June 2, 2013


I find that this is generally true, except for when the sand people attack.

"You've GOT to stop calling them Sand People in public!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:06 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised no one has mentioned Rebecca Solnit's book A Paradise Built in Hell. It's a really excellent treatment of how cooperatively and generously people (for the most part) actually behave in post-disaster scenarios, and how overblown the reports are of mass panic and social breakdown.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 12:17 AM on June 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Twenty thousand American troops sent to Haiti to keep lawlessness in check? I remember reading that the immediate official US contribution was in the form of armed security, but that number seems rather high.

And I remember thinking at that time that whenever I saw footage of Chinese disasters where Chinese military were involved in the aftermath, that it was virtually always unarmed soldiers clearing rubble, moving supplies, rescuing the wounded. Apparently not every culture anticipates a general return to savagery after disaster.
posted by fredludd at 12:54 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


People won't turn on each other, but they will steal each other's stuff and that is reason enough to reassert authority as soon as possible after a disaster.
posted by three blind mice at 2:21 AM on June 3, 2013


Thank you for the share. The media will always be the first to claim that their influence is limited to the scope of their reporting, however, this is clearly not the case. We need more responsible journalism. With news networks spending less money on in-depth reporting and spending more (but less overall) on talking heads, it's easy to see how misinformation will spread. Can't fact check opinion. But dwindling newsroom budgets is for another day...

I have worked in hospitality and over the years have dealt with many "emergencies". Most commonly false alarms.

I have to agree with Ivan Fyodorovich's comment. It never fails that when the fire alarm sounds people start calling the desk to either A: Complain and ask that the alarm be silenced or B. Ask is it real?

I find it baffling that there is a consistent group of people that would rather sit on the phone then try to protect themselves. I'd understand if it was a common occurrence but mostly these alarms are far and few between.
posted by wearejustalkin at 3:16 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It never fails that when the fire alarm sounds..."

I was in a large supermarket last year when the fire alarm went off. It was painfully loud and yet no one, including me, reacted to it and we all just kept shopping. Or, rather, what I did and others did was look around (briefly) to see how others were reacting and, because no one was taking it seriously and people kept shopping, we all just kept shopping. And the alarm continued for at least three-to-five minutes.

What we were really waiting for was supermarket personnel to come around and tell us to evacuate, proving that this was an actual emergency. Which sort of defeats much of the purpose of the fire alarm.

It was fascinating, both as an opportunity to observe others' reactions, but also my own.

And — here's a really interesting point — this happened to me within maybe a year or so of reading Amanda Ripley's The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why where I learned about how often people are killed in disasters because they are passive. Indeed, the most memorable part of the book for me was the chapter about the huge Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, that killed 165 people, where patrons just stood around until it was too late. But there I was in that crowded supermarket thinking, well, this is surely a false alarm and it would be stupid for me to react because I need to finish my shopping.

There are similar harrowing stories from the WTC on 9/11. Over and over the difference between who lived and who died was the presence of someone who took the initiative to tell (and organize) people in an office/floor that they should evacuate now and not wait for an authority to tell them to do so. Whole groups of offices of people started trooping down the stairs, and in other cases, they didn't. Because of the way that people gauge their own responses and actions relative to the people around them.

Clearly, this can work in both good and bad directions. My examples are those where it ends up encouraging passivity and rationalization that there's no real danger.

But in the context of this linked piece, disasters and such where many people wrongly assume that inevitably human beings revert to being red in tooth and claw, turning on each other in a The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street fashion, it actually very often works in the other direction, toward peace and cooperation.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:07 AM on June 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


I've been in charge of safety in a hospital unit and, more than once, was dumbfounded when medical professionals looked a little startled and more than a little resentful when I'd go around during a fire alarm and told them that, yes, they had to leave. I kept thinking, good lord, have these people not done a rotation on the burn unit yet?
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:27 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


People won't turn on each other, but they will steal each other's stuff and that is reason enough to reassert authority as soon as possible after a disaster.

Interestingly, the notion of property (and theft) is artificial in that the context of "ownership" only has meaning when authority exists. Perhaps when a disaster leaves groups of people without authority or laws, people rate sharing (theft being, in a way, an extreme form of sharing) over maintaining social rituals that are perhaps less useful to survival.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:49 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


People won't turn on each other, but they will steal each other's stuff and that is reason enough to reassert authority as soon as possible after a disaster.

I take it you did not read the article. Your assertion is an example of the myth that the article addresses.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:28 AM on June 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


Someone on MeFi recently recommended the Ripley book that Ivan Fyodorovich mentions, and I just finished a few weeks ago. It's a really good read.

Some of her points about how all the security beefing-up that happens is all "let's get new high tech toys!" and not "let's spend more money educating people and making them do fire drills" reminds me of some things Atul Gawande pointed out in The Checklist Manifesto, which was that hospitals had more of a tendency to spend money on high tech surgical robots rather than put the time and effort into pushing for behavioral changes (eg checklists) that are more likely to have a better improvement bang for the buck.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:36 AM on June 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


the notion of property (and theft) is artificial in that the context of "ownership" only has meaning when authority exists

I'll try explaining that to my dog the next time he growls at one of the kids for playing with one of his toys. But he's an old dog, so it might be too late to convince him his views on property are artificial.

Most people are basically decent and are not out there just waiting for opportunities to steal other people's things, despite what some who secretly suspect (probably rightly) that they've got more than they deserve might think in the throes of their night terrors.

This is a great post. We need more reminders of how basically decent most people are when they aren't given perverse incentives to be nasty.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:17 AM on June 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wondered about this after seeing The Road. It seemed kind of plausible when I watched it but then I can't remember seeing any news coverage from the dry, barren North African famine zones that featured roving gangs of cannibals, or stories of victims being corralled and kept as a food source.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:22 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was just about to mention the Road. There's a lot to be said about it, it's an interesting film/book, but my main feeling about it was: "Nah, not gonna happen."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:29 AM on June 3, 2013


People are a lot more fucked up to each-other when times are good imo. Unless there's already ethnic or social hatred in place, in which case, yeah, bad times.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:31 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been in charge of safety in a hospital unit and, more than once, was dumbfounded when medical professionals looked a little startled and more than a little resentful when I'd go around during a fire alarm and told them that, yes, they had to leave. I kept thinking, good lord, have these people not done a rotation on the burn unit yet?


I think this is because we have fires under such control that a relative few number of people have seen a house fire or a building fire in person. Most of our exposure to fire alarms isn't "Oh god everyone get out of the building", it's the guy in the dorms that pulls it every night for a week forcing us to truck outside in our underpants or it's the smoke alarm going off because we were cooking something and won't shut up or it's the endless fire drills and building tests and this and that. And that's to say nothing of the endless parades of alarms that are usually nothing. Like, car alarms don't exactly send people running into the streets to catch the hooligan, you know?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:34 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does your dog have more chew toys than he could ever chew on? Is toy allocation made by a method that ensures that the easiest way to get more toys is to start with a ton of them? Can your dog trade chew toys for sexual favors from other dogs? Or, if your dog has a more developed sexual ethics than that (or maybe your dog is just neutered, who knows?) can your dog trade chew toys for labor from other dogs? (I'm not sure what a dog would use another dog's labor for, but...)

Does your dog starve if he can't hold on to enough toys to trade them for alpo?

Would your dog take two new shiny chew toys over his old one, or would he consider that a bad deal?

If so, your dog's protective behavior toward these highly sentimental personal objects shows that our ideas of property aren't socially constructed but are instead natural to living creatures on earth. However, making the leap from "we have objects that we are sentimental about and would prefer other people not mess with" to property, when property is chiefly defined in terms of the trade of interchangeable objects like dollars instead of unique objects like "that specific toy I've been chewing on all year and no other" seems significantly more difficult than you make it out to be.

I guess the reason why I get so het up here is because property as we understand it is often a tool for taking people's private sentimental objects away, rather than a tool for helping them keep them. If the toys become the property of the children (maybe you, as the true legal owner of the toys, sell them to the kids), your dog can growl and snarl all he wants, but he's not getting them back. Due to your sale of the toys they are not his property anymore, no matter what his natural doggy feelings may tell him.

Sorry if this sounds flamey or over the top or whatever. I do believe it is important to note that property doesn't have much to do with the sorts of personal objects we (for an inclusive definition of "we" that includes both humans and your dog) value, and it's certainly not rooted in that sort of sentimentality over specific objects. We are basically decent people, but I don't think property is a tool that helps us be decent. And it's certainly not natural.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:55 AM on June 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


We are basically decent people, but I don't think property is a tool that helps us be decent. And it's certainly not natural.

Hey--I didn't say my dog couldn't be persuaded to see the validity in some of the critiques of property as a social/political construct. Just that I doubt he'd ever be persuaded to believe he's got no right to brandish his teeth at the kids over his nasty, chewed-up old dog toy. One area I think Marxism goes off the rails a bit is where its claims about the absolute artificiality of the idea of property and ownership are concerned. It's true that societies can and do take the idea of property too far and in the wrong directions, but I don't think it's accurate that the very idea of property in the abstract is purely culturally/socially constructed. Animals seem to have some very rudimentary notions about property and ownership, too, so I don't think it's correct to view property and ownership as purely Capitalist in origin. Even animals fight over territory. There are reasons for that that transcend economic analysis and pure rational argument. And it's not hard to imagine that in some cases, properly formulated laws that protect property rights fairly can work to the benefit of the socially weak. Granted that's not how it works now, but I think Marxists are being overly idealistic (in the logical sense) in thinking the problems with misapplication and abuse of property rights could simply be solved by eliminating the entire concept of property. It seems to make sense when looking at economics as a purely logical problem, but the reality doesn't fit the model, and the proposed solution is impractically abstract.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:22 AM on June 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, certainly - just because it's a social construct doesn't mean it's not real / material / extraordinarily difficult to change without wrecking absolutely everything...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:36 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick: We are basically decent people, but I don't think property is a tool that helps us be decent. And it's certainly not natural.
Citation needed... that overturns the examples of burrows, nests, bower bird and crow object collections, and the favorite toys of every pet ever.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:05 AM on June 3, 2013


Property doesn't have anything to do with the "favorite toy" relationship. If it did, it would be better at protecting peoples' favorite toys (hominid people or canine ones). Instead, it's a handy tool for regulating trade, with only coincidental relation to your dog snarling when someone takes its toy or me getting bummed when someone takes my iPhone.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:30 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess my point is, property is about something much more abstract than "this is my bower, I built it" or "this is my toy, I chew it." I assert this specifically because it is very bad at protecting bowers or toys or homes or other objects of personal concrete value. My fiancée and I have built a lovely little bower in our apartment, but it's not our property, and our landlord can kick us out at will, no matter how much work and love we've invested in the space.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:35 AM on June 3, 2013


I'm really not sure why we're all so happy to glibly assume that these animal analogies map neatly, or even at all, onto human notions of property.
posted by invitapriore at 10:31 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I take it you did not read the article. Your assertion is an example of the myth that the article addresses.

He does not read the comments or respond to people. He is too busy.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:54 AM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


A friend of mine was working on a dissertation about this, basically spontaneous responses to large disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. She said that if people felt the local governing authority was basically legitimate, they self-organize quite nicely and there's very little looting, violence, etc., and in fact people are generally extra-cooperative and virtuous to fill the gap until traditional authorities return. (She said the effect was stronger in places where government was generally effective -- in first world nations, people are pretty sure the government is working on ways to re-open transit networks to get supplies in or people, so they work on what they can (clearing debris, checking on neighbors, organizing water distribution) while waiting for the government to come in from the outside with the big supplies or rescue workers.)

I mean, basically, if people aren't CURRENTLY running around looting things constantly (and they have ample opportunity!), it's partly because of fear of punishment, yes, but it's also largely because they generally accept the legitimacy of the political system they live in and its systems for disputing property ownership or changing rules. My neighbors are away RIGHT NOW and I'm not going to go steal their lawn furniture and pawn it not because I have any fear I'd get caught, but because I agree with the concept that it's THEIR LAWN FURNITURE. A natural disaster is not going to suddenly convince me that this concept is false, or that theft is the proper way to enforce my new understanding of ownership!

I mean, it's the time of year when I go to local supermarkets and they all have massive quantities of unattended dirt and flowers and pots sitting out in front of the store, because there's too much of it to put inside. Some people put them in their cart and go inside to buy them; other people tell the cashier, "I want six sacks of dirt" and pick them up after checking out. There is literally no way to know who's wandering off without paying for them, because there's no system and there's no oversight, but there's hardly any theft. People just don't do that. In the winter, they stock firewood in front of the store, which people do need for fuel (maybe you'd argue flowers aren't necessary enough to steal). People accept the miniature social contract of "We provide this convenient extra service of bulky seasonal items that you can load right into the car, you don't steal our stuff."

If you start to think about it you'll see how much of American life revolves around people being basically trustworthy -- you can take most things off the shelf in a store without having to get a clerk to fetch things from behind a counter, people go to the courthouse voluntarily to do paperwork sorts of things without any fear they'll be arrested or disappeared, most people file their taxes accurately in good faith, you can wander around libraries at will touching books ... we notice when people AREN'T treating us as trustworthy (stupid shopping-cart-blocking-stanchions!) but we don't tend to notice how much of life revolves around people following the rules in ways large and small. A natural disaster doesn't make people suddenly think, "Hey! I've been waiting to violate that social contract all my life and NOW'S MY CHANCE!" People who want to violate the social contract don't wait for disasters, they just do it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:40 AM on June 3, 2013 [20 favorites]


Flagged as fantastic. Also, I really want to read that dissertation....
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:00 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm really not sure why we're all so happy to glibly assume that these animal analogies map neatly, or even at all, onto human notions of property.

I don't think (and never said) they map neatly onto them, but I do think the animal analogies give useful hints about the nature and origin of human ideas of property and ownership.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:08 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Me, I think the animal analogies are sort of a red herring, specifically because property rights don't protect the things that animals like us actually care about. Consider, for example, how we're much less insulted when a bank takes a lawn chair's worth of dollars in fees than we are when someone takes one of our actual lawn chairs, even though as property the dollars are in almost every case more useful and meaningful than the chair. We think in doggish terms about our belongings, when strictly speaking property rights reward us for thinking in undoglike ways.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:19 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was working in a large chemistry lab building when the fire alarm went off, and people hauled ass out of there. So someone has some sense left, and it turns out to be grad students.
posted by thelonius at 2:53 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was working in a large chemistry lab building when the fire alarm went off, and people hauled ass out of there.

Yeah, following up on my previous remark, hospitals are in a way large chemistry labs. Most importantly WRT fires, they have large quantities of pure bottled oxygen.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:58 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick: Me, I think the animal analogies are sort of a red herring, specifically because property rights don't protect the things that animals like us actually care about. Consider, for example, how we're much less insulted when a bank takes a lawn chair's worth of dollars in fees than we are when someone takes one of our actual lawn chairs, even though as property the dollars are in almost every case more useful and meaningful than the chair. We think in doggish terms about our belongings, when strictly speaking property rights reward us for thinking in undoglike ways.
Wait... animal analogies are a red herring, because we think in doggish terms? And your example is utterly confused: property rights laws DO protect you against the theft of a lawn chair, but DO NOT protect you against bank fees.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:29 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I worded that terribly. I was trying to leverage the old chestnut about how people tend to value the things that they keep in their homes or on their persons over the equivalent monetary value of those things, which is totally irrational behavior given how property as currently configured rewards people for privileging the abstract interchangeable forms of property over the concrete stuff we use everyday.

This is the opposite of our doggish tendencies to want to protect our stuff because we use it, or built it, or otherwise have good reason to feel like it's a part of us. Basically, I'm arguing that property rights are less a tool to allow a dog to keep its chew toy, and more a tool that allows the actual legal owner of the toy to, in a formally regulated manner, take it away from the dog that loves it regardless of what the dog wants.

In human terms, swap out "chew toy" for house or apartment, and "actual legal owner of the toy" for bank or landlord.

I think the doggish sense of "my toy" can be understood in the terms that Locke starts with - one establishes ownership by mixing one's labor with the ground, by farming, building, mining, chewing, or whatever. This is almost entirely different from the models of ownership and property that exist in our actual legal systems, which are relatively unconcerned with the sorts of emotional feelings about "our stuff" that we share with dogs.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:26 AM on June 4, 2013


So basically I guess the tl;dr version is that the ideas of ownership we share with animals are very different from how property actually behaves, and it's a sloppy move to treat the two as somehow inherently connected.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:28 AM on June 4, 2013


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