We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Paradise Built in Hell

by Rebecca Solnit from Yes! website.

The author has observed a phenomenon that I also experienced--that disasters can bring out the best in people. 
Emergencies require we act, and act altruistically, bravely, and with initiative in order to survive or save the neighbors, no matter how we vote or what we do for a living.

The very structure of our economy and society prevents these goals from being achieved. The structure is also ideological, a philosophy that best serves the wealthy and powerful but shapes all of our lives, reinforced as the conventional wisdom disseminated by the media, from news hours to disaster movies. The facets of that ideology have been called individualism, capitalism, and Social Darwinism....
I was living in San Francisco when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck in 1989 knocking out some bridges, highway structures, power, and causing widespread damage to buildings near the waterfront. Chaos reigned for a few days. But what immediately struck me was how people were coming to each others aid. I noticed people going out into the streets directing traffic because all traffic lights were out, and people followed their directions which helped the flow of traffic immensely. I learned of other stories about people bringing immediate assistance to injured or trapped people, about people helping people with food supplies and information. Indeed, disasters can bring out the best in people. 

So, what happened in New Orleans? To be sure there were similar stories, but there were many more that illustrated the worst behaviors that humans can exhibit. They all seemed to stem from the actions of government--a local corrupt police force, inept State of Louisiana authorities, and Federal authorities that brought in armed Blackwater troops that acted like an invading force.