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What is the moral equivalent of war Solnit s book is in many ways an extended argument with examples on William James essay on his famous question What is the moral equivalent of war Based on the premise that war is an ennobling bringing together of humans and that the experience is uplifting and necessary and an equivalent would be a wonderful thing to find.Everyone from Hobbes to Hollywood filmmakers has assumed and showcased that when disaster strikes, society crumbles They show this Law of the Jungle as pure and dangerous chaos Solnit wants to show that what in fact takes place is another kind of anarchy, where the citizenry by and large organize and care for themselves and rises above the disaster News Media to most the only media that exists loves spectacle and spectacle is gore they highlight the worst stories and that is what you remember That is why this book is important Because Beliefs matter.Especially when we move into an age where disasters are going to be and a part of our lives, it is important to learn to maintain continuity and a sense of societal organization through such periods.Solnit tells numerous stories to illustrate that in the wake of an earthquake, a bombing, or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbors as well as friends and loved ones The image of the selfish, panicky, or regressively savage human being in times of disaster has little truth to it Solnit asserts But belief lags behind, and often the worst behavior in the wake of a calamity is on the part of those who believe that others will behave savagely and that they themselves are taking defensive measures against barbarism This is the power of self fulfilling prophesies any belief that is acted on makes the world in its image Beliefs matter And so do the facts behind them The astonishing gap between common beliefs and actualities about disaster behavior limits the possibilities, and changing beliefs could fundamentally change much.Of course it is dangerous to subscribe fully to this optimism and the case can easily be made that Solnit got carried away in this book Her descriptions of disasters are so ennobling it begins to test the limits of belief.Then Solnit starts talking of how disaster is almost nostalgic to its survivors It reminded me of how many of us in the San Francisco Bay Area had loved the Loma Prieta earthquake that took place three weeks before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 Or loved not the earthquake but the way communities had responded to it.Especially when you hear phrases like enjoying immensely the disaster , it is natural to feel skeptical but we also have to keep in mind that this might only be a limitation of language if enjoyment is the right word for that sense of immersion in the moment and solidarity with others caused by the rupture in everyday life, an emotion graver than happiness but deeply positive We don t even have a language for this emotion, in which the wonderful comes wrapped in the terrible, joy in sorrow, courage in fear We cannot welcome disaster, but we can value the responses, both practical and psychological.In addition, a few major drawbacks too have to be pointed out 1 By and large Solnit avoids turning her gaze to the disasters in the developing world where chances of solidarity might or might not be be less I am not implying that the people would be less noble, but with less infrastructure and with total anarchy, it might disappear The study is not complete without exploring that aspect.2 Solnit paints a particularly dangerous picture of the administration and the authorities in this book This is dangerous since if the purpose of the book is to influence beliefs, painting such a caricatured version would make it harder for order to be established post disaster trust in the authorities would surely be necessary at some point.This near parody portrayal of the authorities is extreme and should probably be ignored That is the problem with anecdotal books a book could easily be written too about how the supposed monsters of bureaucracy becomes angels of deliverance in a disaster This is not to use that as a hammer against this book, but only to suggest that such a book too should probably be written.3 Another parody portrayal is that of the elites painting them as the defenders of some order who completely lose it when utopian anarchy descends in the wake of a disaster Being blind to goodness, they then embark on a path of distraction that brings a bad name to all disaster victims Elite Panic she calls this phenomena This section of the book is written with some heavily shaded blinkers and deserves at best a derisive laugh from the unbiased reader.4 In addition to these wild approximations, Solnit in her quest for legitimacy for the ideas presented opts for wildly reaching speculations into various fields for example, comparing disaster to carnivals and thus as a necessary celebration of life Or comparing to revolutions, or to freedom struggles to show that disasters are a break with the past, mini utopias of a sort That is surely than just stretching an argument In these aspects the book is an overkill Even lunacy, at times Indeed, as Richard says in his review, this is the Oprah version But, in spite of all the criticisms above, it is still an important book Sometimes the best way to convey to people that the horrid hell of a disaster aftermath is still a path to possible escape is to draw upon real stories, and present them in as empathetic a manner as possible Disaster is never terribly far away Knowing how people behave in disasters is fundamental to knowing how to prepare for them And what can be learned about resilience, social and psychological response, and possibility from sudden disasters is relevant as well for the slower disasters of poverty, economic upheaval, and incremental environmental degradation as well as the abiding questions about social possibilities.The purpose of the book is not to inform, it is to affect in a visceral fashion you might not remember facts when the next super cyclone hits, but you might remember a story and if that stops you from going for an axe for a second longer enough to see the pain in another eye the book might have served its purpose Beliefs matter.P.S Of course, this review is also the Oprah version, but I was moved and I will stand by the author on this one, at least in essence, if not in full. not solnit s best book, but still pretty remarkable it s tough not to think of naomi klein s the shock doctrine while reading it in a sense, it s a correction to some of klein s assumptions about community response in the face of catastrophes both writers are extremely skeptical about neoliberal relief efforts as well as state power in general but solnit s perspective is optimistic about grassroots organization as well as directly simpathetic to anarchism than her earlier work might imply the books are also, frankly, similar in their tendency to cherry pick info in support of an argument some of the digressions in paradise lack the context necessary to really resonate there s a bit about the sandanistas, for example, that feels uncharacteristically thin part of the problem is that solnit has set up a conventional, journalistic narrative here than in books like a field guide to getting lost digressions are typically her strong suit does any living writer digress as well as solnit , but this book requires a conventional approach to evidence at its best, it s a fascinating look at collective action under dire circumstances there s a section devoted to william james that ranks among my favorite solnit passages by the end, i wasn t entirely sold on the transformative power of ordinary people, but i look to solnit on account of her belief in others, rather than in spite of it.and frankly, who else writes so beautifully about political action solnit indulges none of the miserable fatalism of most on the radical left, and avoids most breeds of may of 68 nostalgia in the process as far as i m concerned, we need voices like hers and books like this one. Before reading this book I was not a fan of Rebecca Solnit Upon the insistent recommendation of several friends who rarely steer me wrong, a few years ago I bought a copy of her earlier book about Eadweard Muybridge River of Shadows and found it completely unreadable I could sense that Solnit was smart, but it was as if she were speaking in tongues wading through her prose was sheer torment So I ditched it.About a month ago I heard her speak about this latest book on a local radio program and she was so incredibly smart and passionate and articulate, and her thesis was so appealing, that I felt compelled to give her another chance A Paradise Built in Hell was well worth it It s an extraordinary book fascinating, thought provoking, and ultimately persuasive in supporting Solnit s thesis And although her style is still somewhat undisciplined, and the material could have been tightly organized, I found these aspects less annoying than in the previous book, probably because they seemed to be primarily a manifestation of her infectious enthusiasm for the material.Viewers of The History Channel will be familiar with its habit of broadcasting a regularly scheduled Apocalypse Week , during which they attempt to goose the ratings by scaring the bejasus out of their viewing audience A typical day s programming during Apocalypse Week takes one possible way in which the world might end megavolcano explosion, meteor impact, nuclear holocaust, deadly plague, climatic catastrophe, the Rapture, Armageddon as prophesied in the Book of Revelations, insert your own favorite apocalyptic nightmare here and develops it in depth The cynicism and idiocy with which these scenarios are fleshed out cannot be overstated e.g alleged experts pontificate on whether emergency services are likely to be overextended, or whether planes will fall out of the skies, in the immediate aftermath of the Rapture or the apocalypse is linked to the prophecies of Nostradamus, or the Mayan calendar boundless idiocy runs rampant Certain themes are common to all apocalyptic scenarios, however in particular, a complete breakdown of the social order, with people reverting overnight to atavistic stereotypes, resorting to looting and hoarding as they fight tooth and claw for limited resources This projected behavioral model is also popular with government and law enforcement agencies, e.g to justify the aggressive intervention by armed law enforcement personnel with broad powers and orders to shoot to kill think of the official response to Hurricane Katrina It s based on a depressing and frightening view of human nature.In A Paradise Built in Hell Solnit mounts a spirited argument that this pessimistic view of how people respond to catastrophe is fundamentally wrong Instead, she argues, disasters are far likely to bring out the best in people there is a natural desire to help one another, which is actually easier to put into action, given the relaxation of social barriers that often prevails in the wake of a disaster You might go for years just nodding at that neighbor across the street, but after the earthquake fire blackout the two of you may just end up having a real conversation Solnit grounds her argument in five specific case studies the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 the 1917 explosion of the munitions ship Mont Blanc in Halifax, Nova Scotia Mexico City s 1985 earthquake the World Trade Center attacks of 2001 Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath There were instances where a bad situation was made worse when those in power, through fear or panic, resorted to extreme and unwarranted measures General Funston s imposition of de facto martial law following the SF quake, where soldiers were given license to shoot to kill anyone who did not cooperate satisfactorily FEMA s and law enforcement s response after Katrina, where citizens were treated as likely criminals rather than people who needed to be helped The fear mongering narrative of barely contained pandemonium often finds traction with the media, but is rarely accurate By detailed examination of the five case studies, Solnit makes an extremely convincing argument that the natural response to disaster is increased cooperation, a sense of solidarity and future possibility, indeed a degree of exhilaration among most survivors All five examples are interesting, but her discussion of the WTC attacks and Hurricane Katrina stand out as exceptionally measured, thoughtful and thought provoking This is an extraordinary, wonderful book, which I recommend to everyone. Many folks might enjoy this book, but I m not one of em.There are two principle reasons for this, one of which is forgivable, the other is not.The first is that this is a very personal book No, it isn t TMI about the author, but her opinions and biases are evident throughout the story When I see a title like this, I m expecting something like what Simon Winchester has done numerous times for example, this or this or especially this, or this one that turns out wasn t by him Even this topic has been or less done the way I expected See, for example, The Unthinkable Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why Those are pretty straightforward examples of the genre I thought Solnit was diving into.But she delivered the Oprah version That s okay, I guess Some folks want the human side of things to get time in the spotlight And Solnit is strongest in the portions of this book where she is describing the actions and reactions of the folks involved in these disasters Those segments were very absorbing, even if I had been hoping for of the cognitive psychology and sociology about why living in the midst of a disaster is so invigorating and uplifting I remember this phenomena from living through the 89 San Francisco earthquake.Where Solnit s effort here loses my respect is when she blithely tosses in her political and ideological biases into the mix Although her political affiliations aren t made explicit, her attitude reminds me of some friends that call themselves socio anarchists Not exactly uncommon in San Francisco.For example, Apparently in her view, the police and the military are the tools of the bourgeoisie Except for when one or two is portrayed as a member of a family as seen in the stories of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake early in the book There s a lot to be said regarding the ties between wealth and power and the degree to which the state s authority might be used too often and too casually in the service of private property Actually, there s not just a lot to be said, there are volumes nay, oceans to be said A wise author would refrain from scattering opinions based on their own simplistic viewpoint in a book where it adds little or nothing Solnit isn t that wise, so her ideology leaves a taint here that is likely to be unpleasant to anyone with nuanced or different beliefs.Of course, it could be said that an artist should be true to themselves, and she certainly has the right to create her book as she desires But she might suffer for her integrity, cutting down the size of her readership.Want a much better book written in a similar vein Try Zeitoun by Dave Eggers portrayal of one man s horror story during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina San Francisco Public Library Announcement SF Library Announces 2012 Citywide Book Club PickOn Wednesday morning, city officials and other early risers attended a 5 a.m ceremony at Lotta s Fountain to commemorate the 106th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake The earthquake struck on April 18th at 5 12 in the morning The Market Street landmark served as a meeting point for citizens in the aftermath of the massive quake As part of the ceremony, the San Francisco Public Library also announced this year s choice for the citywide book club, One City, One Book Rebecca Solnit s A Paradise Built in Hell The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster In the book, Solnit, who lives in San Francisco, documents the sometimes positive outcomes that arise from disastrous situations that force communities to unite in the face of hardship In addition to other manmade and natural disasters, she discusses the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake This is the 8th annual One City, One Book event, and this year the library is partnering with California Reads, an initiative started by the nonprofit Cal Humanities, which is hosting a series of reading and discussion programs around the theme of democracy in 2012 The library will also offer films, preparedness workshops, and an author talk in October. ( Download Book ) ⚇ A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster ⚖ A Startling Investigation Of What People Do In Disasters And Why It Matters Why Is It That In The Aftermath Of A Disaster Whether Manmade Or Natural People Suddenly Become Altruistic, Resourceful, And Brave What Makes The Newfound Communities And Purpose Many Find In The Ruins And Crises After Disaster So Joyous And What Does This Joy Reveal About Ordinarily Unmet Social Desires And Possibilities In A Paradise Built In Hell, Award Winning Author Rebecca Solnit Explores These Phenomena, Looking At Major Calamities From The Earthquake In San Francisco Through The Explosion That Tore Up Halifax, Nova Scotia, The Mexico City Earthquake And Hurricane Katrina In New Orleans She Examines How Disaster Throws People Into A Temporary Utopia Of Changed States Of Mind And Social Possibilities, As Well As Looking At The Cost Of The Widespread Myths And Rarer Real Cases Of Social Deterioration During Crisis This Is A Timely And Important Book From An Acclaimed Author Whose Work Consistently Locates Unseen Patterns And Meanings In Broad Cultural Histories Surprisingly disappointing A Paradise Built in Hell is a political ramble poorly disguised as research into disasters and people s responses.From the outset, Solnit s convictions are pretty clear emergency services and government are bad, organic community of the pseudo anarchistic persuasion are great, and any exceptions to those rules are barely worth mentioning This leads to a tremendously haphazard investigation into various disasters, wherein Solnit mistakes anecdote for research.It s a worthy read if you re looking for Chicken Soup for the Survivor s Soul type stories that never escape a singular political focus, but not if you care about research methods, open minded inquiry, or complex and nuanced stories of disasters and response. The Good 5 5 for accessibility and the topic reviving social imagination, especially for Western default liberal spectators To justify itself, authoritarianism relies on myths regarding human nature further, Capitalism has so degraded our expectations of each other that we are left with Thatcher s proclamation There is no alternative how can there be change if we cannot even imagine it Disasters are momentary disruptions to the status quo, which provide insight to how people can act in an altered society Do communities devolve into mobs or ruthless competitive individualists, or do people step up and respond to social needs even so than during status quo control This book provides case studies that challenge status quo assumptions Could this be the same fervor that war brings, the unleashing of a united noble cause minus the arbitrary mass murder part, of course Just as provocative, what are the beliefs of the authorities towards the masses during such crises How do these beliefs affect the elite s responses to regain control, and how does this affect disaster relief and community healing We are truly getting to the root of violence with these questions, and this book provides an accessible reflection to something that is too often siloed in academia As this is an intro, the following are favorites for reviving and expanding social imagination 1 David Graeber challenging the morality of debt, the morality of work ethic, is democracy really just periodic voting for distant politicians 2 Silvia Federici, Nancy Folbre re imagining society to value care work The Bad Missing Once we move beyond elitist human nature myths and agree on utopian ideals, a constant debate between utopian anarchism and pragmatic forms of socialism is on immediate tactics how do we defend against violent repression without reproducing violent structures I tend to assume utopian anarchism is readily applicable in rich countries where there is space to practice dissent than poor countries under siege Rich countries have nuanced means of repression Necessary Illusions Thought Control in Democratic Societies , although violence is still readily available In any case, the next step requires a clear identification of and plan against reactionary repression To prevent a skewed outlook, the global political economy should be the context, and imperialism classism are crucial frameworks Michael Parenti Nonviolence that does not actually challenge the status quo s violent structures is just as guilty at reproducing violent structures Minor the writing style can be meandering at times I found the best case study was saved for last Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans The Ugly Authoritarian beliefs bringing out the worst in people and the vicious spiral that ensues Civil disobedience is not our problem Our problem is civil obedience Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders and millions have been killed because of this obedience Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty, and starvation, and stupidity, and war, and cruelty Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves and the grand thieves are running the country That s our problem Howard Zinn Some of my favorite Solnit yet David Graeber says there are two general axioms of small a anarchism 1 almost always, left to their own devices, humans are basically good 2 almost always, power corrupts human goodness and leads to cruelty This book felt like the historical research capable of supporting this set of beliefs In the aftermath of destruction, despite what the movies show us, people tend to engage in heroic acts to help people they ve never met, and rapidly organize to create communal support systems And authority figures tend to militarize and cause violence chaos out of an elite panic that private property is in danger.Solnit engages two of my favorite thinkers, William James and Dorothy Day, centering their thought on the disaster they both lived through, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake This is a long book, and was slow reading for me But James moral equivalent of war and Day s other loves were good thoughts to be stewing over for some weeks.I loved Solnit s critique of the fight or flight rhetoric around crisis She shows the research finding that many people, especially women, actually have a tend and befriend response to emergencies, building networks and making sure everyone is cared for I found myself caught up in Solnit s hopefulness perhaps the pending Utah disasters of heatwave and megadrought will be met with this kind of community building I also sometimes lost heart and grew skeptical The 9 11 disaster only lead to endless war the barrage of hurricanes lead to and worse land grabs and development Solnit offers an interesting critique of Naomi Klein s Shock Doctrine, but doesn t convince me entirely I feel suspended between the optimism and pessimism of the two.But I do believe in those moments of recentering that disaster brings Solnit quotes one resident of New York following the Trade Center attack No one went to work and everyone talked to strangers May it ever be so, amen. A fascinating exploration of how people actually behave in the aftermath of disasters and why some disasters lead to an upsurge of community while others lead to social chaos Solnit shows through sociological research and numerous anecdotes how the belief that the masses naturally panic during disasters is a myth created in large part by social forces trying to stay in power and fueled by media hype If given the chance, Solnit suggests, strangers will go to extraordinary lengths to help one another, finding a redemptive and even euphoric sense of camaraderie and community in the immediate aftermath of disaster, when social barriers are broken down This spirit of community is ruined, however, when government and law enforcement treat the public as if they were dangerous than the disaster itself, as happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, when officials deemed it important to protect property from looters than save stranded evacuees Solnit suggests that if government and law enforcement officials trust the people they are sworn to protect, the public can be a powerful ally in rebuilding and recovering in the aftermath of disaster. So, yeah, by the time I dragged myself across the finish line I was so oversaturated with Solnit s passion for community that I wanted to hole up in some remote mountain cabin with guns and ammunition and food and books as far away from human contact as possible I didn t want to hug or look with warmth upon another human being ever again I m glad she presents examples of people acting with compassion and resilience under disastrous conditions, and is such an incorrigible optimist, but I couldn t help think that this book was WAY too enad of its premise And it was so clogged with cliched activist speak it approached unreadability at times But let s face it, my own misanthropy was close to terminal long before Rebecca Solnit and I ever crossed paths and no amount of Rainbow Family soup kitchen food will probably ever change that I sure hope she s right when the shit goes down.