September 9, 2017

Emergency Solidarity

I have been watching footage from hurricane Harvey, starting in real time when the storm made land fall. In spite of the horror of the storm and ensuing fallout for the people of Houston, I saw more good news stories than I have in a long time. Emergency solidarity was everywhere.

I didn't have time to recover from my "bystander PTSD" from Harvey before Irma cranked up to a Category 5 storm. Now we are seeing emergency solidarity arising in Florida, and the Caribbean, and who knows where next. Such beauty in the face of overwhelming struggle and hardship.

Rebecca Solnit calls them "disaster communities" in her book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. They are groups of people that spontaneously come together in mutual aid and support in hard times.

“The map of utopias is cluttered nowadays with experiments by other names, and the very idea is expanding. It needs to open up a little more to contain disaster communities. These remarkable societies suggest that, just as many machines reset themselves to their original settings after a power outage, human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful and imaginative after a disaster, that we revert to something we already know how to do. The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting.”  

- Rebecca Solnit

Emergencies wipe away all the artificial ways that we get separated from each other - there is no time for silliness like that. We are forced to face the simple facts of survival, and the outcome is cooperation and solidarity. Our true nature is revealed, and it looks much different than our selfishness-based economic system.

Emergencies blow away all considerations of race, gender, wealth, orientation, class, and religious or political affiliation, and we realize that we are all members of the same community. We are all part of the human community. 

Because we have been trained to think in self-serving, competitive ways in order to fulfill our role as cogs in the consumer machine, we are amazed at the outpouring of help from total strangers. All of a sudden people become much less materialistic. Who cares about stuff when you are thrilled just to be alive and feeling connected to something bigger than yourself?

Profit as a driving concept simply does not exist when we come together in a common cause, like a disaster. Quite the opposite - abundance rules the day. Just look at the tons of donations, the money that is donated, and the volunteerism that follows adversity. I didn't see any rescuers charging people to be rescued. Why not?

It seems that capitalism does have limits, and it dares not enter into disaster communities. If it did, it would seem exactly as it is - crass, self-serving, and opposite to our natural desire to work together with our neighbours for the betterment of our communities. For free.

What if every day life was as altruistic and cooperative as what occurs every time we are met with extraordinary, life-threatening circumstances? What if we were satisfied with the magic of being alive, and saw our stuff for what it really it - piles of distracting crap?

The way we come together in isolated emergencies the world over, is the way humanity needs to come together on a grand scale to ensure our collective survival on this planet. That is the big emergency that should unify us all.

When I see the resilience, love and hard work of helpers after disasters, I feel I am seeing the true nature of humanity. We can do this thing. We can make everything better. Together. It is our default setting.


  1. Anonymous9/09/2017

    I so agree with you! And i especially love this segment:
    "What if every day life was as altruistic and cooperative as what occurs every time we are met with extraordinary, life-threatening circumstances? What if we were satisfied with the magic of being alive, and saw our stuff for what it really it - piles of distracting crap?"
    Living relatively close to Houston, my husband and I have been talking a lot about the devastation that has happened/is happening and wonder when the conversation about not rebuilding these begins. We know quite a few people who have lost everyTHING. And we ask: Why spend billions to rebuild when it will surely occur again? Why anyone would knowingly place themselves in harm's way is beyond me. I understand loving your home and community, but there are loving homes and communities everywhere. As you know, relocation brings new relationships and beautiful beginnings.
    It saddens us to know that our fellow-Texans will get back to business as normal (mass consumption on a grand scale) very soon. Human's capacity for denial is strong, I know. But how can Texas/America move forward without having the hard conversations with those that live in coastal areas? How can any Earthling living in flood-prone zones keep up business as usual? And how is re-buying and rebuilding all that STUFF helping Mother Earth? Will we wait for permanent aquatic submersion to wake up? -Erin

    1. Erin,

      You and your husband are on the same page as we are, as we wonder the same things. It seems that denial and wishful thinking prevail. Rebuilding will be as wasteful and fruitless an endeavour as fighting any war.

      Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson recently released a book called "New York 2150", in which sea levels have risen to engulf many of the streets permanently.

      No one really did anything to avoid the "permanent aquatic submersion". They just adapted and carried on.

  2. Anonymous9/10/2017

    I wish everyone well who is effected, especially the poor. You may have read this article in The Guardian about Client Earth.

    1. Alex,

      As usual, the poor will be disproportionally affected in very serious ways. Look at the seniors in Florida residing in for-profit care homes with few regulations, like back-up generators to keep life-saving air conditioning running.

      I love the idea of an "ecological civilization". That's a great link. Thank you.


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