Streams

Post-Disaster Communities

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rebeca Solnit, historian, activist, and author of several books including A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, discusses the history of how disasters create communities in the context of our post-Sandy reality-and what climate change activists should do now.

Guests:

Rebecca Solnit

The Morning Brief

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Comments [31]

Lee B from Tribeca

Steve the Latinist from Manhattan, do you know what "idiom" means in English? If not, how about "idiot"?

Nov. 21 2012 11:34 AM
James Kunen from Brooklyn

Disasters don't always change what we do, but they change how we feel about what we are doing. Consider this entry about Sept 11 in my book, Diary of a Company Man: Losing a Job, Finding a Life:

Prior to September 11th, my friends and I were schlepping along.
Now, we are doing exactly the same things we were doing before,
but it’s “carrying on.” We were ironically detached, and bored. Now
we are serious people, and determined. Presto. And just bringing
home the bacon and hugging the kids seems enough, more than
enough. Life is not absurd when someone’s trying to kill you.

Nov. 21 2012 11:09 AM
Steve the Latinist from Manhattan

Brian, you said "and et cetera"! Don't you know what "et" means in Latin?

Nov. 21 2012 11:02 AM
RJ from prospect hts.

I'd suggest that Leonard Lopate put Solnit's book on his list of reading club titles. It's hard to have the conversation suggested above based only on this brief interview; I'd suggest that people read the book and then consider the points raised above.

Nov. 21 2012 10:54 AM
Philip Nicholas from NJ

While Rebeca's optimism is admirable, there's a piece missing. The 70's NYC blackout was mentioned. What wasn't mentioned was happened in NYC between the 80's and now. Namely, that New Yorkers embraced a much more authoritarian city government with Mayor Giuliani. He wasn't a saint, and not very well liked by many, but I can't remember anyone saying they missed the windshield cleaning guys.
The subsequent disasters, attacks and blackouts took place in a city whose government never hesitate to deploy armies of law enforcement at a moment's notice.
Authoritarian cities always seem to enjoy a reputation of being calmer and less prone to crime.
I wonder if the problems come when people stop trusting in their government and their society. If you don't believe your community and your government is competent, the fear in a natural disaster could be overwhelming.
Who were the people who waved their guns in the gas lines? People who don't trust their larger community I would expect.

Nov. 21 2012 10:44 AM
Alex from Soho

Speaking of "Presence," I just have to note that the carefully considered and valuable insights and observations offered by this guest are being marred by a lack of coaching about the fundamentals of speaking on radio. Please seek some basic coaching--it can take as little as an hour--about how to avoid message-killing effects like slurping one's saliva and constantly, painfully audibly, swallowing. These features are distracting and distasteful, not least of all because they give the listener the illusion of being trapped inside the speaker's mouth. They are so easy to avoid, and your excellent work in other areas deserves a better mouthpiece.

Nov. 21 2012 10:39 AM
Lee from Manhattan

WHAT BRIAN!?!?! "9-11 had something to do with our presence in the Middle East for OIL"?!?! I think the blind support the U.S. government gives to Israel is more accurate. What happened on 9-11 was the fault of the U.S. government for its "unwavering support" to a very unpopular player in the Mid-East to the detriment of thousands of Americans and the others who were killed on 9-11. Boo on you Brian for using your position of influence to advance your own agenda.

Nov. 21 2012 10:37 AM
John A

Beware freedom from want. It can be argued that America 1970-2000 was fairly free of want and what rose up was a pretty self-centric society, where snarkiness, or schadenfreude as two examples, became goals. This I think shows a carefully balanced amount of want is the goal.

Nov. 21 2012 10:37 AM
Linda

During the fires this sumer in Colorado, individuals packed their cars with their most valuable possessions and drove to safety only to have those most valued possessions stolen from the hotel parking lot. My heart broke. I don't know if this reflects the state of things in Colorado Springs as Rebecca suggested was the case in 77 fire. Thoughts?

Nov. 21 2012 10:36 AM
Jf from Ny

Shows on syfy are propaganda to brainwash us into thinking we need a police state.this is the most dystoic dystopia because no one sees it as i choke constantly on toxic car fumes as i try to ride a bike.

Nov. 21 2012 10:32 AM
Ed from Bronx

Some years ago, at a cocktail party with a number of anthropologists, I asked what they thought was the best government. Most said that in a disaster, socialism, which people tended toward at that time, but that when things got better, they went toward every man for himself.

Nov. 21 2012 10:31 AM
James from Brookhaven

This reminds me of what happened in my community during the 2003 blackout. Disaster jolts people out of their houses, away from their screens, and out to interact with neighbors, to say hi to people on the streets, to get their news by word-of-mouth, to re-connect with their physical community once again

Nov. 21 2012 10:29 AM
Joshua from Brooklyn

"Here we may observe, and I hope it will not be amiss to take notice of it, that a near View of Death would soon reconcile Men of good Principles one to another, and that it is chiefly owing to our easy Scituation in Life, and our putting these Things far from us, that our Breaches are fomented, ill Blood continued, Prejudices, Breach of Charity and of Christian Union so much kept and so far carry'd on among us, as it is: Another Plague Year would reconcile all these Differences, a close conversing with Death, or with Diseases that threaten Death, would scum off the Gall from our Tempers, remove the Animosities among us, and bring us to see with differing Eyes, than those which we look'd on Things with before..." -- Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year, 1722

Nov. 21 2012 10:28 AM
Ed from Larchmont

'In Hell' is probably the wrong phrase, though I know what you mean. 'Hell' means without God, and God is very present at these times of disaster.

Nov. 21 2012 10:27 AM
mary beth early from Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

It's not just the feeling of extreme contentment and gratitude that needs naming. There is something else that might be termed "survivor guilt" but is really dismay at one's own good fortune in the context of the losses of others. I wish there were a long German word, a kind of opposite of schadenfreude. We do, as your guest remarks, lack language for many emotions.

Nov. 21 2012 10:27 AM
Burtnor from Manhattan

I disagree with Solnit's premise and argument, belied by her own book -- it's not that "human nature" is not combative or cooperative and therefore not in need of authoritarian rule to keep us in check. Rather, it's that all people have a wide continuum of behavior and potential for interaction; it is circumstance and culture (education) that determine what traits come to the fore at any given time. Disaster doesn't reveal human nature, it allows expression of some impulses and inhibits others.

The issue is how to encourage the cooperative, nurturing impulses in non-disaster times.

Nov. 21 2012 10:26 AM
Meredith from Milford CT

I think the word you're looking for is Presence.

Nov. 21 2012 10:25 AM
mick from Inwood

"Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you down."
Anton Chekhov
In other words, crisis has always brought out be best in people, even when there is precious little of it. For example, even Rudi Ghouliani dropped the sarcastic, enemy-baiting, divide and conquer rhetoric after 9/11.

Nov. 21 2012 10:25 AM
joan from brooklyn

I worry about what follows the disaster when power steps in and "redevelops" folks out of their homes and public schools. Love ins can't help with that.

Nov. 21 2012 10:25 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Yes, 1977 was a terrible time in New York. Not only crime, but on the verge of bankruptcy, all as a result of the crime of 1973. That's when the 'Big Apple' term was coined, to try to rescue it.

Nov. 21 2012 10:24 AM
Burtnor from Manhattan

I disagree with Solnit's premise and argument, belied by her own book -- it's not that "human nature" is not combative or cooperative and therefore not in need of authoritarian rule to keep us in check. Rather, it's that all people have a wide continuum of behavior and potential for interaction; it is circumstance and culture (education) that determine what traits come to the fore at any given time. Disaster doesn't reveal human nature, it allows expression of some impulses and inhibits others.

The issue is how to encourage the cooperative, nurturing impulses in non-disaster times.

Nov. 21 2012 10:24 AM
Jessie Henshaw from w

Oh,... that word, the satisfaction people feel in responding to disaster. Isn't it just simple ordinary "engagement", feeling a part of life.

Nov. 21 2012 10:23 AM
Eddy from Chicago, IL

Maybe the word is "ultra-present."

Nov. 21 2012 10:23 AM
Maggie from Harlem

I really appreciate this dialogue and believe that people can become the best versions of themselves during a crisis, but at the same time people can also become the worst versions. The ten days after Katrina were pretty lawless and frightening in NOLA, where police and citizens were behaving badly.

Nov. 21 2012 10:23 AM
brooklynmom78 from Park Slope

I'm not hearing a lot of hard scientific facts to back up all this conjecturing, and I think it's kind of wishful thinking. The reality is, that in a disaster, righteous people become more righteous, and wolves and pyrhanas become even more vicious. I heard about a clothing scam in Staten Ssland in which people who didn't need clothes would come and pick up truckloads. The worst offenders are often the people who are least suspected.

Nov. 21 2012 10:22 AM
Ed from Larchmont

'Happiness' understood properly (not pleasure) is a deep enough word, I think, but another one would be 'Blessed', 'Beata'.

Nov. 21 2012 10:21 AM
brooklynmom78 from Park Slope

I'm not hearing a lot of hard scientific facts to back up all this conjecturing, and I think it's kind of wishful thinking. The reality is, that in a disaster, righteous people become more righteous, and wolves and pyrhanas become even more viscious. I heard about a clothing scam in Staten Ssland in which people who didn't need clothes would come and pick up truckloads. The worst offenders are often the people who are least suspected.

Nov. 21 2012 10:21 AM
GW from Manhattan

Thank you Brian for pointing out the Hollywood and History channel right wing propaganda that depicts the society as a chaotic, selfish and uncivilized bomb waiting to burst, in order to justify their fetish for guns and selfishness.

Nov. 21 2012 10:15 AM
RJ from prospect hts

I'm *so* pleased that Rebecca Solnit's book is being referenced after H. Sandy. I first tried to get attention paid to it after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, when the word "looters" was glibly and routinely applied to people needing basic supplies.

I hope she has time to talk about the role of the ruling class in using disasters to appropriate others' property and land.

Nov. 21 2012 10:12 AM
Jessie Henshaw from Way Uptown

I hope the "common cause" Rebecca offers, for our "plague" of world crises, includes how our economic system (our whole business model) is designed to exploit the resilience of every natural system as final resource for growth...

Nov. 21 2012 10:07 AM
Amy

I'm very disappointed that, just like the mainstream media, WNYC and NPR have not reported on what's happening in the Bronx with regard to Superstorm Sandy. City Island is entirely Zone A; Throggs Neck and Schuylerville are on the ocean. Even the Public Advocate's Office and WNYC's volunteerism lists include no listings for the Bronx. Even though the Bronx over all fared better than other parts of the city, that doesn't mean that there aren't people here who are struggling.

Nov. 21 2012 10:05 AM

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