I remember the national guard after the Ruskin Tornado--how they made those of us who had been struck by this feel like aliens... name tags around our necks -- in the name of protecting 'property' ... that which had been destroyed and lay strewn about us in an 80 mile long field of ruins.
Those in power, on the other hand, often run amok. They did in San Francisco in 1906, when an obsessive fear that private property would be misappropriated led to the mayor's shoot-to-kill proclamation; a massive military and national guard on the streets; and the death of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of civilians. Much like New Orleans ninety-nine years later, those who claimed to be protecting society were themselves the ones who were terrorizing and shooting. Earlier this year, Haitians were subjected to a similar rampage of what the disaster sociologists Lee Clarke and Caron Chess call "elite panic." For example, 15-year-old Fabienne Cherisma was shot to death in late January in Port-au-Prince for taking some small paintings from a shop in ruins, one of many casualties of the institutional obsession with protecting property instead of rescuing the trapped, the suffering and the needy.
Surviving the new era, in which climate change is already causing more, and more intense, disasters, means being prepared—with the truth. The truth is that in a disaster, ordinary people behave well overall; your chances of surviving a major disaster depend in part on the health and strength of your society going into it. Even so, countless individuals under corrupt governments, in New Orleans, in Mexico City, in Port-au-Prince, often rise to the occasion with deeply altruistic, creative and brave responses. These are the norm. The savagery of elite panic is the exception, but one that costs lives.(....)
A disaster unfolds a little like a revolution. No one is in charge, and anything is possible. The efforts of elites, often portrayed as rescue or protection, are often geared more toward preserving the status quo or seizing power. Sometimes they win; sometimes they don't.
Beware those who assert power in the name of preventing chaos (the Chinese and Russian thug elite come immediately to mind).
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