Thinking in an Emergency

Friday, April 15, 2011

Elaine Scarry, author of Thinking in an Emergency, discusses her new book about how only a powerful few in the world are in charge if disaster strikes - and what everybody else can do about it.


Elaine Scarry

Comments [11]

Mike from NJ

As a Firefighter/EMT, Ms. Scarry raises a lot of interesting points..
One of which comes to mind is the mutual aid agreements with towns..
I had to take many hours of training about ICS (Incident Command System) & NIMS.
I've argued for years that it is not effective in states like NY&NJ..
Too many chiefs, not enough Indians..
The ICS was designed in and by states that have large areas to cover.
I look forward to reading her book.
Great interview..

Apr. 15 2011 09:32 PM
Steve from Bronx

Brian, thank you for asking my question. In response, Ms. Scarry says that citizens should have the right to determine when we go to war, neglecting to note that our legislators were elected to deliberate on these very matters for us as proxies. She would prefer that we deliberate more directly, ourselves, on the issue. In any event, her belief in the role of deliberation is fair enough here.

In the same response, however, she says that the Second Amendment does not mean everyday citizens should be armed. Yes, her well-know, prior analysis of 9/11 credits everyday citizens for deliberating about, then planning and undertaking an act of violence in order to save others from an impending act of terror. She thinks this is an example of communitarian deliberative democracy at its best.

In this case, how can she possibly be against the NRA's cause of arming everyday Americans with rifles and handguns? It seems instrumental to her communitarian project of decentralizing the means of emergency response away from governments.

This strikes me as a fantastical response. Deliberation is nothing unless there is a means to act on the outcomes of the deliberate process.

Apr. 15 2011 11:53 AM

There's a big difference between emergency response (i.e.: situations that call for CPR or the Civil Defense plans) and crisis response (i.e.: things that "no one could have predicted").

It's the response to crises, where the "we don't have time for rational solutions" or "never let a crisis go to waste" mentalities reign supreme, that causes the greatest lasting damage.

(Yes, I'm thinking of the knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 that made the PATRIOT Act possible *and* the "redesign" of New Orleans after the non-response to hurricane Katrina.)

Apr. 15 2011 11:45 AM
Edward from NJ

The guest is using "heart attack" as if it's synonymous with "cardiac arrest". You don't need CPR for a heart attack. You need it when your hear stops, aka cardiac arrest. A heart attack can cause cardiac arrest but not all heart attacks do.

Apr. 15 2011 11:42 AM
"Left of Dems" from Bronx

The weak point in Madison's "Federalist Papers" is where he talks about the benefits of the "extended Republic" as preventing undue influence of "factions" due to geographic dispersal. It seems that what the geographic dispersal has made the citizens too remote from the government to be able to participate in deliberation.

Apr. 15 2011 11:42 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

From Wikipedia:

In 1998, Elaine Scarry authored an article The Fall of TWA 800: The Possibility of Electromagnetic Interference which appeared in The New York Review of Books. The article's basic theory - which does not enjoy support from most scientists or engineers - is that electromagnetic interference from a P-3 Orion aircraft may have been responsible for the center fuel tank explosion. Scarry subsequently published another article hypothesizing that another infamous plane crash, that of EgyptAir 990, was caused by electromagnetic interference of the type that could result from transmission from a military source in the vicinity of the crash. This article, entitled "The Fall of EgyptAir 990," was also published in The New York Review of Books, October 5, 2000. In a critique of Professor Scarry's hypothesis, Professor Didier de Fontaine, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, discusses what he views as the less than scientific basis of Scarry's "unfriendly skies" scenarios, and concludes that she has engaged in "voodoo science.".

Sounds about right...

Apr. 15 2011 11:40 AM

I remember hearing about an incident during the Nazi era called the Rosenstrasse uprising in which Jewish women, upon realizing that there husbands and sons had been detained, gathered and forced the local government to release the men. I had heard of this as an example of how citizen action was able to intervene against that regime.

Apr. 15 2011 11:39 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

This guest lives in a fantasy world. The magic of the people doing the right only if only left alone. Bunk.

Apr. 15 2011 11:38 AM

This is a great conversation. So is Scarry suggesting that more of our national crisis prevention efforts be focused on preparing citizens to react and deal with crises?

This can extend on down from terrorist acts to individual acts --- I'm thinking of that guy who got attacked in the subway (in DC I think?) and all onlookers did was videotape it! I imagine at least some of them rationalized that this was "helping" in some way, since they felt powerless to actually intervene.

Apr. 15 2011 11:38 AM
Steve from Bronx

Brian, please ask Ms. Scarry how her notions of the efficacy of citizens acting spontaneously during crises bears on her opinion about whether not these citizens should have the prerogative to be armed with handguns and rifles. It seems to be that she is making a good case for the cause of the NRA.

Apr. 15 2011 11:34 AM

Is Elaine Scarry familiar with Naomi Kleins book The Shock Doctrine and what are her thoughts about the spread of NeoLiberalism at times of crisis?

Apr. 15 2011 11:33 AM

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