Elite Panic In The Aftermath Of Disasters

Relevant in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a conversation between BOMB Magazine and Rebecca Solnit about this hazardous, even deadly, phenomenon:

The term “elite panic” was coined by [sociologists] Caron Chess and Lee Clarke of Rutgers. Elite panic [is] the way that elites, during disasters and their aftermath, imagine that the public is not only in danger but also a source of danger. In case after case how elites respond in destructive ways, from withholding essential information, to blocking citizen relief efforts, to protecting property instead of people.

[Elites] believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface—that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn’t actually happen; it’s tragic.

But there’s also an elite fear—going back to the 19th century—that there will be urban insurrection. It’s a valid fear. I see these moments of crisis as moments of popular power and positive social change. The major example in my book is Mexico City, where the ’85 earthquake prompted public disaffection with the one-party system and, therefore, the rebirth of civil society.

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  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    Don’t folks know, when they see people are preparing for the “Zombie Apocalypse”, who the “Zombies” represent?

  • http://twitter.com/h0stilew1tness h0stile w1tness

    Eat the rich. Keep ‘em scared.

  • Anarchy Pony

    The aftermath of disasters is also a great opportunity for actions of mutual aid and Anarchism to shine. Assuming people don’t let their fears get the better of them.

    • alizardx

      That’s what “Occupy Sandy” is doing in NYC right niow, getting aid to people who need it while large parts of the NYC bureaurcracy are standing around with thumbs up their asses.

      Google on “Occupy Sandy” and “Far Rockaway”.

      • Matt Staggs

        After Katrina hit here, most people worked together and shared stuff. The people who were dicks normally were dicks after Katrina. Cooperation and mutual interest really ruled the day, despite what the national news wanted people to think. And believe me, our coast was NUKED, but New Orleans got all the coverage. The media really warped the entire story.

  • rtb61

    Perhaps in this case the elite are just relearning the lesson of why it was that only poor fishermen lived on the shore front for millenia, whilst the rich lived in more protected areas.
    When water front becomes underwater front, property values and exclusivity are starting to look pretty stupid.
    The biggest kick in the arse about all of this for the rich, they are now stuck with it and it will take decades to fix. This is just the start, more and more millionaire coastal communities are going to get hit upon a more regular basis.