Thursday, September 08, 2005

Repeat the similar sounds: "Nine-eleven"... "NewOrleans"...

No, I am not calling the events similar, beneath their underlying tragedy. In fact, I consider them to be bookends, illustrating opposite faces of the same trend.

In New York on 9/11 (as I have pointed out ad nauseam), a brief failure of anticipatory prevention by society’s professional protectors was immediately dealt with by a stunning series of ad hoc actions by a wide variety of resilient citizens, self-organizing and acting swiftly to limit the damage, palliate suffering, and fight back against our enemies. Indeed, the only fighting-back that took place, that day.

In New Orleans we have witnessed individual initiative and citizen self-organization stymied and thwarted at every turn. Indeed, THE common element of behavior practiced by FEMA, the NoLa police, neighboring constabularies, and other agencies, has been to assert authority and disperse self-organizing groups (calling them mobs), to block bridges and access points, to actively block self-organized evacuation efforts, to prevent unofficial deliveries of food and other aid... and so on.

Oh, many have striven to exhaustion, heroically doing their jobs as they saw best. But that best often meant telling citizens “sit put!” in the middle of pure hell. It is almost as if, having seen how well the People did on 9/11, the paid professional protective caste swore an oath - never again.

Now Please. I am not asserting this is true, as such. That dramatized vow. But I do think it is time to ask: what is it that we are really seeing here?

Above all....

What conditions are essential for civilized behavior - both in normality and in crisis?

I believe there are two fundamental ingredients.

1- accountability for those who would be predators

2- empowerment for those who would either compete fairly or cooperate vigorously for the common good.
(Especially the kind of empowerment that lets individuals hold others (including elites) accountable.)

Re #1 In a crisis, normal modes of accountability can dissolve. The disfunctionality of the NoLa police has become clear. The incredible behavior of suburban police and FEMA, at times actively preventing both evacuation and the delivery of aid, should be held accountable, The lack of readiness, especially in the form of a substantial civilian reserve, is something I will address below.

Even worse was the near absence of the LA national guard, frittered away as one small part of the utter betrayal of US readiness. (Reserves and the Guard are only supposed to be used by the President in emergencies. And while I am unusual in my anti-war attitudes (I supported ousting Saddam as a long needed measure to erase the Shame of 91), this intervention was NOT an "emergency room operation.” It was "elective surgery" and could have been planned carefully. We had time to come up with an efficient - and not a dismally stupid - war plan. Not one that yanked reservists away from their jobs, families and the states that could - at any moment - desperately need them.)

In summary, blithering incompetence might... perhaps... explain the lack of accountability...

It also could explain the failure of #2. Citizen empowerment. Still, I doubt very much that mere incompetence could explain the whole story. The diametrically opposite images of profoundly empowered NewYorkers and utterly hamstrung citizens of New Orleans.

Several interlocutors have pointed out that there used to be an entire apparatus of volunteer Civil Defense volunteers, nationwide and in every community. Yes, many were John Bircher freaks. But their zeal was channeled toward a useful activity. And neighborhood Dads knew where to go, in order to marshal in local, ad hoc brigades, providing manpower and backup for a city in trouble.

Today, we ask nothing of citizens, and so the majority who want to be effective in a crisis have no seed of an idea how to do so. A pity, since we are vastly better educated and technologically empowered than ever. No no less willing - inside - to stand up as citizens.

It could have been national policy to take the embryonic notion of "Smart Mobs" and enhance it, so that self organizing citizens might show what they can do, while the officials and professionals have their hands full ... or (even more urgently) while those officials are falling to pieces. In NoLa we saw citizen initiative relentlessly punished.

I could list - if challenged - at least forty small enabling projects that could make such a difference, ranging from Citizen Action Networks to shortening the ramp-up time for regenerating our forefathers’ citizen army, if ever again it were needed in a crisis.

Here’s just one example: Most of these people in NoLa had cell phones. The cell system collapsed, turning those phones into useless bricks. And yet, I have sketched a PEER-to-PEER concept that could overlay upon the existing cell network, that would continue working even when all the cell towers fail. (Three guesses; have I been able to get anybody interested?)

The fact is that almost anybody could come up with a similar list... IF they started thinking about citizen enablement, instead of turf protection for the paid professional protective caste.

And again... please! That way of saying it... the Paid Professional Protective Caste (PPPC) is meant to draw ATTENTION... not to denigrate the sincere skill and dedication of most members of that caste. We need them desperately. And they are suffering, now, from horrendous political interference that amount to outright purges.

Still, they need us as much as we need them. And they need to learn this fact. They need to face it now. Or they will prove that they do not deserve our trust.

I am increasingly convinced that the real, underlying problem in society today is a gut-level, almost instinctive fear of the coming Age of Amateurs. This civilization is the one that is engendering a new age of autonomous citizenship... and yet, many of our leaders and elites are drawing back from the change, almost as if in visceral fear.

26 comments:

Kevin Rooney said...

Thank you for articulating the fear of our protectors toward the coming Age of Amateurs.
My friends have gotten sick of hearing me say that turning the 99.9999% of us who detest terrorism into sheep can not possibly be the most effective way to make us safe.
And since they really are our protectors and we need each other, we can help them make the transition by identifying what are the rational elements within their current role that will naturally cause them to at first reject what is coming.
In other words, I believe (CITOKATE) their fear of competent amateurs is not just turf protection but rather comes from their doing their current jobs well.
One possible clue is what Ken Wilber calls the pre/post fallacy. From one level, the lower level before and the higher level beyond are easily confused. So Freud looks at the post-ego level of mysticism and sees the pre-ego level of childhood symbiosis. But Laing looks at the pre-ego level of schizophrenia and sees the post-ego level of mysticism.
Please pardon the scattered nature of this post - pent-up responses all pouring out at once, but not everyone wants a world in which we are all empowered. Many people, and with good reason based on their life experience, highly prefer a world in which we leave everything to leaders and experts. And those of us who do want the modernist culture that seems to be trying to emerge will need to understand those who prefer the old ways and find ways to integrate them into the new.

Jason McBrayer said...

Dr. Brin: Given your interest in transparency, I somewhat expected this post to have something about the secrecy that authorities have promoted in the wake of Katrina. Perhaps you're saving that for another post? If you're interested, I have a couple of examples with sources: Reporters Without Borders has reported violence against journalists by police. And FEMA is attempting to censor coverage of the search for bodies as the waters recede.

Jason McBrayer said...

Dr. Brin: Given your interest in transparency, I somewhat expected this post to have something about the secrecy that authorities have promoted in the wake of Katrina. Perhaps you're saving that for another post? If you're interested, I have a couple of examples with sources: Reporters Without Borders has reported violence against journalists by police. And FEMA is attempting to censor coverage of the search for bodies as the waters recede.

jason mcbrayer said...

Apologies for the double post. Proxy error and no way to delete it.

Anonymous said...

Dr Brin - DO go on www.fourthturning.com, where these issues are being relentlessly discussed in terms of "is another crisis era (e.g. WWII/Depression) upon us.

Pat Mathews

Tony Fisk said...

Comments about the civil defence network reminds me of the Country Fire Authority in Australia, which consists almost entirely of local volunteers, as opposed to the Metropolitan Fire Authority, which consists of professionals. Given the local population distribution, (a tenth that of the US in about the same area, mostly in coastal cities) this is likely to continue. Demographics, as DB puts it.

OTOH, the paramedical services are becoming increasingly professional. I did a First Aid course several years ago, and the instructor covered the issue of public indemnity with the comment 'no non-professional in Australia has been sued for rendering assistance'. I believe that, now, first aiders are basically told to 'wait for the ambulance'.

So, increasing insurance costs are another factor driving the dependency on a 'professional' caste.

Aside: I found the film 'Gattaca' particularly chilling because the path to the society it depicted was plausibly sketched as the insurance industry effectively trying to reduce genetic risk. (Being a southpaw might also have had something to do with it!)

reason said...

I find the Amateur/Professional divide interesting, but I have my doubts whether you are right in seeing a rising age of Amateurs (due to more easily available information I imagine).

You see the problem is that information and knowledge are two different things. I do see however the problem of professional turf protection and see it really as an aspect of economic insecurity. When people are totally dependent on acquired knowledge to live they automatically have a bias against both technological advance and amateur competition. We need to solve economic insecurity in order to combat turf protection.

(I could talk further about the need to somehow find a way to go back a world like the 50s and 60s with labour shortages but no inflation. Such a world really promotes REAL productivity growth because workers have an incentive to reduce workload without fearing for their livelihoods. Maybe demography will help - at least in Europe and East Asia.)

michael vassar said...

Professional turf protection in a permanent part of the economic landscape, but with the shift to an "information" and "service" economy it becomes a far more critical problem. This paper http://hanson.gmu.edu/expert.pdf points out some of the most serious problems an "information economy" faces, and demonstrates the difficulty of establishing and maintaining competent professional castes.

David Brin said...

Robin Hanson is one of the smartest young economists in the world. Read anything by him.

As for Gattaca, what I appreciated most is that it was for grownups. The dystopia it portrayed was NOT an evil place. Very clearly, citizens and society were grappling with the issues and arguing (mostly off screen) and trying to find a path between justice and practicality.

You root for the hero to succeed in his deception, of course. But in fact, he is a selfish SOB, only interested in his own success. At movie's end, there remains a chance that he has endangered an entire space mission and crewmates by concealing what he has concealed.

If he makes it back, he'll probably change the law and everybody's minds. But the risk is his choice, not entirely kosher.

Rob Perkins said...

David, I think you're incorrect on a couple of points, in that if we're going to level blame, we need to level blame as precisely and accurately as we can, in order to help us see our way clear of a knee-jerk which could make things worse.

First, you still lay a lot of blame on FEMA that I think belongs in the hands of the governor of LA. She's got to activate them, and she didn't. FEMA wasn't in charge for the first days of this mess.

Now, there were also reports, in an interview I saw with the President of the Red Cross, that they were ready to roll in with relief supplies for those stuck in the city, who were stopped by *The Louisiana Department of Homeland Security*, also not part of the Federal Bureaucracy, prohibited their relief effort, while at the same time making no use of local resources to get the indigent and infirm out of harm's way. That ain't FEMA's fault.

Now, there can be no doubt that FEMA is gutted, but it looks to me like they weren't unprepared to do what they appear to be able to do, that is, coordinate the hordes of private and non-profit volunteers who were already staged to go.

She didn't say "Go". It's a Southern cultural thing, I think, to resist Federal intervention. There's all that reparations resentment still very present, from all the way back in the Civil War.

So there's that.

There's also, though, the idea that the National Guard is what you say it is. Unfortunately for this disaster, according to the training information I got as an Air Force Cadet, years ago, it isn't. FEMA can *not* call them, unless on the order of the Governor, giving the Nat Guard over to them for disaster recovery. Otherwise they remain the governor's to dispatch. Posse Comitatas, or something like that.

So, what I see is a combination of:

-- Foremost, a disaster on a scale no one in authority expected, never you mind that they should have,

-- Before the hurricane made landfall, failures in jurisdictional trust, motivated both by longstanding Southern mistrust of Federal oversight, and also factional mistrust between Democrat governors and mayors, and a Republican-led Federal bureaucracy

-- bureaucratic (logistic) fumbling of aid resources, piled up at the outskirts of the disaster area, but not permitted to come in by *state* and *local* authorities, with FEMA either too gutless or powerless by law to say otherwise.

-- circular logistical decision-making: we can't send aid *in* because the people need to come *out* but they can't come *out* 'cause they're old and infirm but that doesn't matter because we can't send aid *in* because the people need to come *out*...

-- Racism and local mistrust by outlying law enforcement of the poor and minorities, highlighting an ugly problem which was permitted to fester quietly over the years between 1970 and now, and only manifest in human death when desperation set in and populations began to move.

Any other variables? Even without them, this looks to me to have been a problem in five dimensions, or more, stewarded to people who think to solve problems in only three or two. So laying responsibility is, likewise, going to be like tracing all the paths in a Gordian Knot.

Not that I really want another blue-ribbon commission looking into it all. What I *really* want is for the governor, the mayor, various members of the Congress, and other disaster recovery officials to *stop casting blame* and *start taking creative responsibility*, perhaps even connected to their voluntary resignations, when things have calmed down, as some sign that even if it was "nobody's fault" there were still lapses.

And I also heard (but I don't trust the source) that levy improvement funding is actually up over the last five years than during the previous eight. Can anyone confirm or deny that?

Rob Perkins said...

Oh, and I notice watching and reading that *Bill O'Reilley*, the populist that the leftist elite keeps mistaking for a right-winger, is doing deep analysis on "what went wrong" and modifying his conclusions as new data comes in. His stuff might be worth looking at on this topic; he hasn't much kind to say about any of the authorities, and if stories like the Kos posting were to reach his ears, he'd probably bird-dog it all the way to national prominence.

Anonymous said...

It's also a good idea to check MediaMatters occasionally. This site keeps tabs on news outlets, and calls bullshit on stories planted by the Administration and its friends:

http://mediamatters.org/

Of particular importance: Keeping tabs on the progress of Karl Rove's "Oh, but they didn't ask for help!" strategy.

Anonymous said...

Rob notes:

"First, you still lay a lot of blame on FEMA that I think belongs in the hands of the governor of LA. She's got to activate them, and she didn't. FEMA wasn't in charge for the first days of this mess."

The above claim is false:

From:

http://mediamatters.org/items/200509070003

On his guest appearances on The O'Reilly Factor and Connected: Coast to Coast, Williams claimed that Blanco was largely to blame for the slow government response to Katrina's devastation, because "the feds can't come in" to provide disaster relief unless requested by the governor. This is false; in fact, the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan clearly states that the federal government may take a "proactive" response to a catastrophe and bypass state requests for aid. Normally, it is a governor's responsibility to request federal aid in the event of an emergency. But under a "proactive" response, "[s]tandard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude." Moreover, Blanco requested federal aid three days before Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reprinted Blanco's August 27 request to Bush to declare a state of emergency in Louisiana and to provide "supplementary Federal assistance." Further, the White House had already authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist with the hurricane emergency. According to an August 26 White House statement, FEMA was authorized "to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."

The linked-to story has supporting links, plus background on Williams, who is a flak for a conservative think-tank.

Stefan

michael vassar said...

Gattaca was a very well made movie, but sf can be as unrealistic by virtue of low technology as by virtue of high technology. Here is a society which has embraced and fully adjusted to the existance of genetic science that might be 10 or 20 years away, a society where this tech is so old and entrenched that there doesn't appear to be any living memory of a time without genetic discrimination, yet in terms of other technologies and culture other than that directly related to genetic science it would be a stretch to say they have changed as much as we have changed since the 1970s. it reminds one of StarShip Troopers the movie in this regard.

Also, the movie tells us that this discrimination is bad because its based on information derived from genes, yet we wouldn't let someone with a heart condition man a space mission either. We don't even let people with genetic myopia fly fighter jets, even if it has been corrected, nor do we make that career option to people outside a very narrow height range. And that's not even getting into the question of all of the careers, most notably medicine and law, with entry legally restricted to people who score above a certain level on a particular IQ test.I actually find this far more questionable than the military use of IQ tests for officer qualification. After all, the military has done extensive studies which lead them to the conclusion that such tests reliably discriminate between better and worse officers on a statistical level. The legal and medical professions have, to the best of my knowledge, done no similar studies. They do have strong economic motivations for restricting entry in whatever manner they can get away with though, in order to maintain high income and prestige.

Brother Doug said...

I got a forwarded email from a friend of a friend who was a in the superdome in N.O. that seems to conflict with what I see on the news. I can’t be sure its not a hoax but doubt It is. Here is the most interesting part:

"
> Late Tuesday a few people were starting to break into vending
machines and
> even to concession stands to steal ice. It wasn't total anarchy but
> things were definitely sketchy. But the saving grace was that we
could
go
> outside for fresh air. The military seemed to be just as upset as
all of
> us were over us being abandoned and not knowing if we'd get out in 2
days
> or 2 weeks or would starve to death. Our intensity of anger towards
FEMA
> and the Administration understandably grew. We truly believed that
we
> might die because of inaction and lack of planning. Spoken and
unspoken,
> most of us knew that if our resources and soldiers were not in Iraq,
we
> would have had more than enough support for our troops.
>
> Fortunately a Staff Sergeant Ogden saved our group of 100. I am
thankful
> beyond belief for the work he did in arranging to get us out. I do
not
> know if he did this because he liked us or he knew we were in danger
or if
> it was racism or if he realized that if one of the International
students
> was raped or murdered that would be a huge embarrassment for
President
> Bush. I may never know the motivation but I was happy to find out
that we
> would be somewhat secretly escorted out by armed military to a
different
> location. My mind filled with so many different thoughts. What
right
did
> we have to leave when many of these people had families with them?
What
> right did we have to leave when we weren't even Orleanians? What
right
did
> we have to leave? We felt pain for the people left behind. We
knew
they
> were living in hell. We cried for them internally but were jubilant
that
> we were leaving. We were told not to talk to anyone, not to smile
and to
> just walk in a single line. I felt the Israeli army was saving us
after
> being held hostage. My vivid imagination said it was "Raid on
Entebbe"
all
> over again. We were told that a riot could break out once others
left
> behind caught wind of our "favoritism". We did make it out through
some
> stressful moments.
>
> We were escorted to the adjacent basketball arena next where we
helped
with
> the "emergency room" set up for patients brought there. Our work was
> incredibly sad, but we knew it was needed and brought us some peace.
The
> next day we were "smuggled" out to the Hyatt Hotel, where we
encountered
> more scary moments where we thought we might die. A woman rushed
into the
> hotel screaming, "They're here, they're here!" We ran in fear
practically
> creating a stampede. It was a false alarm and we were admonished for
> freaking out.
>
> It was there, at the Hyatt where about 25 members of the
International
> group, almost entirely white, stole beer from behind the bar with
crazed
> abandon. I heard a black woman from another group say in anger,
"Your
> group is filled with looters!" The words struck a chord and were
right
> on! And the full circle of the Lord of the Flies had come to pass.
Later
> two others of our group surreptitiously returned a tray of brownies
they
> had stolen from the Hyatt Hotel.
>
> Finally we made it out of the Hyatt under armed guard after more
false
> hopes. We wrote our thoughts on plywood inside the Lobby. Many of
these
> involved our thoughts towards the Federal Government and how their
inaction
> had almost lead to our deaths and positively led to the mental
illness and
> deaths of many others. There was zero question about this point.
>
> On the journey to Dallas the bus in front of us overturned and one
person
> died and 17 were injured. Our bus driver saved people from that bus
and
> was one of the many heroes in all of this. Would the nightmare ever
end?

>
> Please, treasure your loved ones. Be prepared for disaster. Know
> yourself. Know who you are capable of becoming.

Eric said...


Even worse was the near absence of the LA national guard....

It was "elective surgery" and could have been planned carefully. We had time to come up with an efficient - and not a dismally stupid - war plan.


Okay, I'm with you on the "We could have planned Iraq better" angle. But I think you're missing two important points:

One, you're committing the very error you decry when you lament the lack of NG participation. The National Guard helps out in emergencies *If they have nothing else to do*. They are not professional disaster-relief forces-- mostly, they end up helping because they have nothing better to do, as is the case with the Navy. I believe the Coast Guard has a different charter.

But if we're going to rely on them in a natural disaster like this, then we need to change their name from the National Guard to the National Disaster Response Group... or maybe just move them all under FEMA. Otherwise, we should include them as a nice-to-have in our planning, but plan as if they were off on other business.

The other point is that even if we had chosen, carefully, and thoughtfully, when to invade Iraq, and had a good plan for doing so-- we still don't know what would have happened. It's entirely possible even a good plan would have required the presence of Guardsmen in Iraq during a hurricane season. We just don't know enough to make that kind of a judgement.

Rob Perkins said...

I don't trust brother doug's thirdhand account. I saw similar unverifiable accounts of that sort from the 9/11 time, which simply turned out to be false.

She requested assistance, but FEMA wasn't in charge. FEMA was sent to "assist". And it can't execute a local-jurisdiction disaster recovery plan; there are only a few thousand of them. Fewer than the remaining Nat Guard troops at Gov. Blanco's disposal.

Does the absense of that change the (at least) five-dimensional complexity of this Perfect Storm?

David Brin said...

Michael, although I agree GATTACA is more complex than most viewers note... and that the society in fact had a right to keep high risk astronauts off expensive missions, I think you miss the point. A “genetic proclivity” toward heart failure was the fellow’s disqualifying feature and NOT a detectably flawed heart, per se. To the audience, this seems hypercautious to an unjust extreme.

Eric, the proof that we can plan a war better than Iraq is right next door in afghanistan.

I have repeatedly pointed out that The Balkans War and Afgh were planned by the same groups. By professional officers under overall policy guidance by Clinton Administration officials who used a light hand when interfering in operational details. Plans were set in place for aftermath and reconstruction, for gathering of alliances and for large scale use of local forces. Results. Both had very low US casualties. Both achieved desired goals swiftly, while leaving our nation, our alliances, economy and military readiness untouched.

Yes, Afgh happened under Bush. But he had time only to say GO!. It was Clinton-Clarke’s war plan that unrolled, with almost no Rumsfeldian interference.

In contrast, Iraq has been run in the opposite fashion on every level. EVERY level. Including the most intrusive political interference ever, far more than in Vietnam.

And please don’t obfuscate. The Guard has multiple purposes. If we had an “emergency room” war crisis, I agree, they’d need to go overseas as a higher priority than being ready to help their state and community in a natural disaster. (Augmenting my point that we should ALSO have a strong volunteer civil defense network, ready to help or step in when the Guard is gone.)

But Iraq was not an “emergency”... those were lies. Flat out lies.

I DID want to go get Saddam, eventually, in order to rescue the people these same morons betrayed in 1991. But as elective surgery. Carefully. Efficiently. Making well-planned use of local forces. Carefully preserving our alliances and readiness and economy and national unity all of which these guys have pissed into the wind.

Finally, Rob, I do not absolve the Guv of LA. While I am bitter toward the kleptocrats, whose tax-cuts for the rich reflected an utter and unpatriotic unwillingness to pay for their recreational war, I think this monstrous event offers blame enough for many, and even more lessons for us all.

I just find it ironic that “decadent” New York did so well, erupting in neighborliness and courage and competence... while this did not happen on the Gulf. We all need to ponder who has a right to lecture whom.

TC said...

Mr. Brin wrote:

Even worse was the near absence of the LA national guard, frittered away as one small part of the utter betrayal of US readiness.

This has been bugging me all day. I spent a little time looking through the news sources available to me, and I just don’t see the National Guard deployment to Iraq as having significantly contributed to the logistical problems after Katrina.

If I’m not mistaken, state governors can “share” their National Guard troops across state borders. LA could have called on TX for assistance, for example. From what I’m seeing, there were plenty of National Guard troops in the region; they were improperly deployed. Even if I grant that having the LA National Guard in state would have sped their deployment, it would have done little to solve the communications and organizational issues that have plagued the disaster response.

Now, I admit this is nit-picking, because I agree with the theory that having our National Guard troops deployed overseas could degrade our ability to respond to disasters at home. I think the troops were sufficient for Katrina, but if we get hit with another hurricane in another state or states, or if that bulge in Oregon turns out to be a super volcano just warming up, then I think we’re in for a bad spell. But in this case, I just don’t see it.

Regarding your statement:

I am increasingly convinced that the real, underlying problem in society today is a gut-level, almost instinctive fear of the coming Age of Amateurs... and yet, many of our leaders and elites are drawing back from the change, almost as if in visceral fear.

If you substitute “Age of Educated Voters” for “Age of Amateurs”, then I can certainly agree with your statement and see the fear radiating from those in power. The most terrifying thing to anyone in power with an agenda is an educated voter.

If I may so bold as to suggest a refinement, I think that visceral fear isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. I think the underlying problem in American society today is that we’ve let those in “power” get away with not embracing the changes we think are necessary. Changes to the emphasis in education (social studies instead of history; no world political education; etc.) have contributed to that problem, and so has the increasing level of comfort. But whatever the reasons, it still comes down to the fact that we the People allow this nonsense to continue.

We know how to fix that sort of thing – building political coalitions at a local, state, and federal level – but it’s hard, hard work. Meanwhile, there are still bills to pay, TVs pleasant, and there’s plenty of food.

So, how do we motivate people to drive for real change? Or will that super volcano do it for us?

David Brin said...

The following is a blurb from a Heritage Foundation "Conference on Conservative Social Justice" coming soon. (And yes, I am eclectic in what I scan. I am an equal opportunity contrarian!)

"The welfare state and other policies of the political left have not achieved the social justice they promised, in the United States or around the world. By contrast, conservatives have led the fight to free fellow human beings from some of the gravest injustices of our day – whether from corrupt governments that squander resources while their populations suffer or from modern-day enslavement through sex trafficking.

Conservative policy has focused on restoring human dignity where it has been eroded by government dependence. It has encouraged action by institutions of civil society – families, houses of worship, and civic organizations – as the best means of ensuring the welfare of individuals, particularly children, the elderly, and other vulnerable members of society. In short, conservatives have confronted economic, social, and foreign policy issues with moral clarity about the condition and ends of human nature – and that represents the best course to a just society."


Ah.

How glib the Heritage Foundation is. Dismissing the fact that public education and public universities
(for all their faults) resulted in an utter transformation of society's shape - from the feudal
pyramid of 4,000 years to the shape of a diamond.

Yes, markets did that, too. But the point is that liberalism did not thwart those markets. It enhanced
them by supplying a vastly more skilled workforce and vastly more perceptive consumer class. And yes,
regulations enhanced public confidence in the market.

All of which can be debated.

What cannot be is this.
A burden of proof lies before any grouches who say that this society, already spectacularly more
successful than any other, WOULD HAVE BEEN VASTLY BETTER if we hadn't done all the reforms that sparked
the modernist age.

Yes, that's conceivable. We might already have colonies on Mars and immortality. Many libertarian
science fiction novels claim this.

But since the core liberal modernist agenda coincided with the most spectacular success in human history, do not complainers bear some burden of proof when they
say that the liberal modernist agenda was all wrong?

Which parts? Eliminating the outrageous inefficiency and waste of human talent that were inherent in racial and gender stereotypes? These same guys fought tooth and nail to HOLD those stereotypes.

Now they say "who me? racist? sexist? Never!"

That hypocrisy does not mean they are ENTIRELY wrong, but it does add an odor of suspicion. A burden of proof.

Fact, the prime enemy of markets for 4,000 years has been entrenched aristocratic cliques, manipulating
government for their own benefit.

So which is a better working hypothesis? That liberalism is 100% vile? The truest enemy of freedom and markets ever seen?

Or that maybe a bunch of
aristos might be using all this blather to try to justify doing it again?

Hey, I believe in markets. I do not believe in fat cats subsidizing personal court intellectuals to
justify aristo raids on our grandchildren.

Rob Perkins said...

I submit to you that comparing NO to NY is not valid.

First there is the 16 acre vs bazillion-square-mile comparison; the number of people left alive who were displaced was simply negligible, in NY, in comparison. That difference in scale meant that refugees/evacuees who lost their homes were easily absorbed by the surrounding area.

In NO, the power and water died, city wide. Not the case in NY. The simple fact of the surrounding functioning megalopolis, not physically damaged by the attacks, meant that life could pretty much go on for everyone around the center of the disaster.

Second, once the second plane hit the Tower #1, and we had news reports of two others gone missing, and one burning at the Pentagon, we knew we had an act of deliberate malice on our hands. That provided an external focus that response to a natural disaster can't; It's much more difficult to do instant introspection than it is to carry the flag to a known enemy.

Even so, it's not unappalling that something we all saw coming for days in advance wasn't better handled. In that respect alone, a comparison is possible. But the aftermath is not comparable; the gulf coast devastation is simply orders of magnitude much, much larger.

Eric said...

Eric, the proof that we can plan a war better than Iraq is right next door in afghanistan.

For cryin' out loud-- I never said we *couldn't* plan a war better than Iraq. What I said was that we don't know that a better-planned war would necessarily have turned out any better. "No plan has ever survived contact with the enemy", remember? For all we know, the extra time taken to plan might have allowed for more terrorists to infiltrate Iraq, which could have negated the benefits of taking the extra time to plan.

I'm not saying I approve of the way Iraq was handled, nor am I claiming that the Bush administration even did the best job they could. I, for one, am sorely disappointed with their flawed execution of an even more inherently flawed plan to accomplish what I believe we agree to be a reasonable goal.

I'm simply saying that "We could have planned the war in Iraq better" is, while depressingly true, a moot point in this context, because there are innumerable factors that might still have left the LA National Guard unavailable. So it reads as if you're just tossing in an irrelevant (though justified) dig at Bush, distracting from your argument instead of enhancing it.

I support wholeheartedly, by the way, your suggestion that we need a strong, (self-)organized civilian defence corps, trained to respond to emergencies when the Guard is occupied, or otherwise unable to help. The American Red Cross would probably be a good organization to run this kind of an effort, as they already have plenty of experience.

There still are some trust issues, but nothing that can't be handled with a little transparency (and on the whole, I think the odds of that happening with the ARC are oh, 10e34 times higher than with our current executive branch).

-=Eric

michael vassar said...

It just isn't true that public education lead to a transformation of societys shape from a pyramid to a diamond. I would say that it has been at the forefront of maintaining and restoring the pyramid. Although John Taylor Gatto is something of a conspiracy theorist, his general points seem valid to me. Most importantly, public education has simply failed to accomplish ANY of its basic educational goals, such as establishing universal, or even 80% literacy, basic math skills, and basic scientific knowledge. These facts are unchallenged. I posted a link on the previous thread.
I will point out that if there was no US, Prussia would rightly claim to have been the most successful society ever by a huge margin. Would people who claimed that the Prussian modernist agenda was all wrong be mistaken? What of people who think that the Drug War is all wrong?
Is it more parsimonious to assume that each of the twenty or whatever items constituting the "liberal modernist agenda" is necessary to our current prosperity, or that our prosperity flows from a single basic source, the transition that Robin Hanson would call the switch to a new economic growth mode? Log economic growth was at least as rapid in 1890 as it is today, and most measures of quality of life were improving much more rapidly (life expectancy, labor hours, height, literacy, major new consumer devices or scientific theories per capita, social mobility), yet the beginnings of the liberal modernist agenda had yet to be implemented. Government is a monopoly on force, no more, no less. That has its benefits and uses, but GITOKATC (government is the only known antidote to criticism).

Tony Fisk said...

@Rob:
As disasters, NO and NY are clearly different. However, comparisons that can be made are how people go about trying to cope contrasted with how authorities respond.

Both in NY and NO (and London), the people affected spontaneously started developing coping mechanisms. (no data on the boxing day tsunami or the Bali bombings)

In NY, where authorities were overwhelmed, but structurally intact, these coping mechanisms were tolerated and accepted (In the London bombings, public participation was actively sought)

In NO, however, it appears that the professionals, as battered and bemused as those around them, actively sought to regain control by forcing their standard protocols on the public, disrupting those coping mechanisms (and, yes, quite a few cases of 'Stanford Prison syndrome' became evident).

I may be wrong but, from the accounts I've read, the outrages have been committed more by civil services (state police, FEMA) rather than the more military NG. I imagine that NG have more training for chaotic situations, where they have to rely on initiative, and natural resilience.

A professional is highly trained in correct procedures. Those procedures are well tuned, and generally provide for a much more efficient outcome. They also tend to displace natural reactions.

The problem then occurs when said professional can't recognise situations where the procedures in which they have been trained don't work, and when they nothing else to fall back on.

@Michael Vassar:
GITOKATC (government is the only known antidote to criticism)

Thou dour, erring cynic! Civil disobedience campaigns are quite capable of putting uppity government's in their place. (nice line, though!)

COKATIE: (Criticism's Only Known Antidote Is Engagement)

michael vassar said...

Civil disobedience? Some governments, some of the time, assuming such campaigns are not effectively repressed. OTOH, where to draw the line between civil disobedience movement, revolutionary movement (terrorist/freedom-figher) and civil war with a competing government. Non-violence? Lots of implicit potential violence in most civil disobedience movements. Also limited applicability to many governments.
I'm not wild about the "idealist" system, but I think Jane Jacobs' "commercial" vs "Guardian" dualism is more realistic than "government" vs "non-government".
see
http://www.nanotech-now.com/Chris-Phoenix/diverse-ethics.htm

Rob Perkins said...

@Tony, my point is that the disaster operations in NY and London were much more immediately successfull because the surrounding infrastructure was not ruined.

And there were not fearful lawmen closing off one of the few exits to the ruined areas. Although, actually, I think there were, in New York. Only bridges and tunnels away from the stricken area.

Supposing this had been a small nuclear device in either London's or New York's underground infrastructure? It wouldn't take much of one to shatter the granite underpinnings of all of Manhattan's downtown skyscrapers. Or render London City completely unlivable.

Say, maybe another objective comparison would be to measure the amount of energy let loose on the various regions, as part of the analysis of scale here. Can anyone quantify that?