Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sociologists Question the New Orleans Gone Wild Meme --
From my diary at DailyKos:

"I don't think I've ever seen such an egregious example of victim blaming as I have in this disaster." - Kathleen Tierney, sociologist and director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder

This story shows how academics feel that news coverage on Hurricane Katrina is probably misleading.

For those uninclined to read the full article, the gist is that disasters tend to be followed by misinformation and rumor-mongering and that people tend to interpret crowd behavior as worse than it actually is.

Tierney says that it would be extraordinarily counterproductive if officials, inspired by what they think of as the New Orleans example, militarized disaster operations--focusing more on restoring "order" via the National Guard than on getting food and water to needy residents and organizing residents, who know the area, into rescue parties. The dawn-to-dusk curfew imposed in New Orleans, she said, was exactly the wrong idea. "By putting them in lockdown, [federal officials] are preventing the people in New Orleans from helping each other," she says.

My own personal theory of human behavior posits that there are both formal and informal layers to society. A rules-oriented prioritization of order and security tends to over-concentrate on formal society and tends to ignore informal society that actually governs much of daily life. Which this seems to confirm. The boogeyman of the nanny state which conservatives bring out to scare people would be wrong, but so too is the minimal state because both extremes fail to recognize and support society in both its formal and informal natures.
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