Friday, September 02, 2005

Same as it ever was

Paste this bit from Jay Jardine on your fridge, since you're unlikely to hear it from anyone in authority as of, now-ish:
Count On The System To Fail

Always seemed a pretty good operational assumption to me -- now confirmed by the post-Katrina horrors.

I don't know how exactly that will improve my survival response when The Big One shakes the Lower Mainland to pieces one day, but this much is clear: no government, army or police force-- no matter how well funded or adequately stuffed with bureaubots these things are -- have any magical powers to bail your ass out when things really take a turn for the worse.

It's up to you -- same as it ever was.

I'd say this is half of the lesson of post-Katrina New Orleans. The other half is that citizens can not allow our governments to claim that this isn't true. The solution is not better and more expensive planning, ceding more responsibility to the powers-that-be to deal to protect us from every possible horror. We need to insist on more freedom, both as individuals and in voluntary associations, to protect ourselves and rescue our neighbours when the worst happens.

On a related note (and this may be a classic test for confirmation bias): Toronto Mayor David Miller mused a couple of weeks ago that law-abiding gun owners should be forced to store their firearms in a central depot. I wonder if Torontonians are more, or less, enthusiastic about this idea after watching TV the past few days?


At 1:04 p.m., Blogger sacamano said...

I agree with the first half of the lesson: that we need to expect to be more self-reliant during emergencies.

But I don't see how this leads to your suggestion that better planning by the powers-that-be are unnecessary, and that we lack the freedom to protect ourselves and our neighbours.

Which individual freedoms, exactly, do you believe were limited by the various Governments that prevented folks in New Orleans from protecting themselves and rescuing their neighbours? I don't remember anyone from any level of Government telling the people of New Orleans that they shouldn't help themselves without official help.

It seems to me that we have all the freedoms we need. What is missing is an explicit acknowledgement that individual actions must be an important component of a society's response to an emergency.

That is, I don't believe that folks in N.O. lacked the freedom or ability to help themselves or their neighbours, I believe that they lacked the information on what individual actions they should have expected might be necessary.

As Selley points out, about the best "advice" offered by officials was to take an axe into the attic with you in case the water gets too high. Are you telling me that better planning would not have helped?

In this sense, better planning by the powers-that-be is crucial, especially with respect to letting everyone know just what the hell the plan actually involves. We should all have some idea about what problems the Government is likely to be able to address in the case of an major emergency and what problems it is unlikely to be able to address. That way, at least I know the sorts of things I should be thinking about before I leave my home.

I wonder how many lives would have been saved if, for example, the Mayor of N.O. had said:

"We as a Government will do the best that we can about [A], [B], [C], we may be able to do something about [D], [E], [F], but we will unlikely be able to do anything about [G], [H], [I]. Given this, we would ask that you consider your options and do the best that you can to address these issues. In particular, we are asking for your help with [J], [K], [L].

Of course, this is ridiculously easy to say in hindsight from a safe perch.

At 1:42 p.m., Blogger Matt said...

I suppose this is half clarification and half argument, but:

I look at the scene outside the convention centre yesterday and believe that civil society could have dealt with the crisis better than the managed "effort" by the govt. When I speak of voluntary associations, I'm not talking about you and I cooperating from within the crisis when the shit hits the fan, I'm talking about the Ford/Walmart Action Team, South Division, getting in there and helping.

Brendan Loy reported on Tuesday (I think, can't find the link) that FEMA was instructing: "Do not self-dispatch". The authorities were also prohibiting entry of vehicles into New Orleans. This is what I mean, I guess. In this instance, No, there wasn't a massive private convoy ready and able to deal with 50,000 thirsty people in N.O. But as long as the govt insists on sole responsibility for dealing with these crises, there never will be.

Put another way: let's say you and I wanted to gather a whack of humanitarian and/or self-interested organizations to deal with a catastrophic ice storm in Calgary. Mayor Dave asks us what we're doing, we tell him to sod off - we're just planning on looking after our neighbours if disaster strikes. How do you think that would go over?

And finally, I appreciate your example about the Mayor of N.O., and agree that lives would have been saved and harm would have been reduced. Just note that for him to do so would not have required one iota of extra planning, merely an acknowledgement that the govt is not perfect, and has both limitations and priorities.

At 3:15 p.m., Blogger sacamano said...


The Government does not, in any way, assume sole responsibility for dealing with these crises. In every instance they rely on (and expect) help from all kinds of NGO's including the Red Cross, the Mennonite Central Committee, volunteer police, firefighters, doctors, etc.

The is absolutely nothing preventing Ford/Walmart from putting together a kick-ass disaster relief team except for the will of their shareholders. As evidence I point to the fact that lots of private citizens have already put together such teams (e.g., Red Cross, Mennonite Disaster Service, Salvation Army, etc.), and far from cutting them out of the action, the government relies on them heavily.

As such, I believe that if you and I put together a humanitarian team to deal with the impending Calgary Ice Storm, Mayor Dave would welcome it with open arms.

I will note, however, that such individual initiatives have the potential to create as many problems as they solve.

For example, presumably lots of folks in N.O. did tell the Mayor to sod off when he ordered everyone to abandon the city. As a result, enormous quantities of resources that could have been better spent elsewhere are being wasted on rescuing or recovering these "self-reliant" heros.

I suppose we could just tell those guys "tough luck, we warned you not to stay in town"; but, that doesn't seem very practical.

At 3:41 p.m., Blogger sacamano said...

Put another way, the reason Ford/Walmart doesn't have their own D.A.R.T, isn't because the Government prevents them from doing so, but because that isn't the agreement that we, as voters, have previously made with our government.

In the wake of a disaster such as this, perhaps we, as a society, will reevaluate and decide that we don't want the Goverment to have as much responsibility during major emergencies; but, there is no doubt that up until this point we were all happy enough with the arrangement that we didn't do anything about it.

At 6:05 p.m., Blogger Kateland, aka TZH said...

The bottomline is when you consign your fate to the government you become a bystander in your own life.

At 6:28 p.m., Blogger MapMaster said...

I suppose we could just tell those guys "tough luck, we warned you not to stay in town"; but, that doesn't seem very practical.

Practical? I think that's a difficult desciptor to use when thousands of people are willing to spend their time, money or energy helping victims of their own misfortune. Even when avoiding consigning your fate to the government doesn't avail one, the state can never compel this kind of interested and effective compassion on the behalf of others.


Post a Comment

<< Home