Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Elite panic

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I have observed, as perhaps you have as well, that wealth seems to make people fearful, and as wealth increases more and more stringent forms of security are embraced. Rebecca Solnit has an interesting Facebook post on this pathology. She writes:

The marauding hordes of the underclass is a topic of constant fantasy among elites, so much so two of the sociologists I cited in A Paradise Built in Hell labeled this delusion “elite panic.” It often justifies what you could call marauding hordes of the overclass — suppressing the people they assume are bestial but also at some level they acknowledge are legitimately resentful of social inequality, which they [the overclass] are willing to use violence to perpetuate.

In a way the premise of white supremacy is “your imaginary violence is the justification for my real violence,” and here’s Graham trotting that out as “the violence I imagine could happen in extreme situations is my justification for pushing instruments of extreme violence into everyday life.”

Those sociologists also demonstrate that most people are altruistic, generous, resourceful, and helpful in disasters. Note the alignment of racist fantasies here — gangs, cops, white people with weapons of war. But what that violence from elites and authorities is really used for is to maintain the status quo, and there’s a way mass shootings do so, as attacks on women, immigrants, people of color, perceived enemies to be punished by people who have allocated the right to punish unto death.

From the book Disasters: A Sociological Approach, sociologist Kathleen Tierney, who directs the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Center, gave a riveting talk at the University of California, Berkeley, for the centennial of the 1906 earthquake. In the talk she stated, “Elites fear disruption of the social order, challenges to their legitimacy.” She reversed the image of a panicking public and a heroic minority to describe what she called “elite panic.” She itemized its ingredients as “fear of social disorder; fear of poor, minorities and immigrants; obsession with looting and property crime; willingness to resort to deadly force; and actions taken on the basis of rumor.”

In other words, it is the few who behave badly and the many who rise to the occasion. And those few behave badly not because of facts but of beliefs: they believe the rest of us are about to panic or become a mob or upend property relations, and in their fear they act out to prevent something that may have only existed in their imaginations. Thus the myth of malevolent disaster behavior becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Elsewhere she adds, “The media emphasis on lawlessness and the need for strict social control both reflects and reinforces political discourse calling for a greater role for the military in disaster management. Such policy positions are indicators of the strength of militarism as an ideology in the United States.”

From their decades of meticulous research, most of the disaster sociologists have delineated a worldview in which civil society triumphs and existing institutions often fail during disaster. They quietly endorse much of what anarchists like Kropotkin have long claimed, though they do so from a studiously neutral position buttressed by quantities of statistics and carefully avoid prescriptions and conclusions about the larger social order. And yet, they are clear enough that in disaster we need an open society based on trust in which people are free to exercise their capacities for improvisation, altruism, and solidarity. In fact, we need it all the time, only most urgently in disaster.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 10:57 am

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