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A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (2009)

af Rebecca Solnit

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8063327,506 (3.69)29
Why is it that in the aftermath of a disaster, people suddenly become altruistic, resourceful, and brave? Award-winning author Solnit explores this phenomena, looking at major calamities from the past 100 years.
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» Se også 29 omtaler

Viser 1-5 af 33 (næste | vis alle)
Someone at TEDWomen recommended this book as a great way to restore one's faith in humanity. We shall see...

Update: didn't work. : ) Not very well written and way too dry for such a potentially rich subject. ( )
  gonzocc | Mar 31, 2024 |
A powerful idea with a book that makes it's case exhaustively to make it inarguable.

The basic premise is that fundamentally, most people will help other people in a disaster, instead of turning on each other. She takes you through major disasters through history, including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, and it proves the point again and again. (And how in New Orleans, the apparent lawlessness was never as bad as it was pictured.)

Those times where things do actually go bad, it's usually because folks who are scared of losing power or privilege are responding out of fear and then creating a bad situation. (Gathering troops to protect businesses instead of helping rescue people from debris, for example. And when citizens are taking first aid supplies to help the wounded, they get shot.)

She makes the point that disasters create an opportunity for us to be better with each other, and that sometimes, that can persist past the disaster in question.

This book validated my overall optimism in human nature!

My only question, especially in some of the bigger disasters of today, such as COVID-19 and climate change... how can we capitalize on this same social good? The problem with these disasters is that there is too large a gap between the beginning of the problem and it's impact upon us, which makes it harder for us to come together against the problem the same way we would against a fire, an earthquake, or a flood... ( )
  JasonMehmel | Feb 9, 2024 |
I wondered, while reading through Solnit's use of five great case studies between 1906-2006, how the author would have seen two later developments, the responses Hurricane Harvey and Maria where extraordinary citizens such as the Cajun Navy or World Kitchens performed heroic acts in the face of government and large agency failures. Or with the pandemic where average citizens began to make each other masks, or take in their neighbors during the financial crises in some cases while others, fed with news of shortages, horded toilet paper and other essentials – creating shortages.
,
Her narrative shows examples where, often the people closest to the crisis often respond in the most positive ways, cutting through the bureaucracy and finding ways to help each other, responses that seem at odds with the fears of lawmakers that civilization has a thin veneer and will breakdown in a crisis.

Solnit offers a fairly balanced look where people concerned with each other’s safety will often cut through the prejudice and find ways to assist each other while others, fed a steady stream of fear and images of looting from the media will give into panic, and the idea of societal collapse will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Her look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which featured some of the best (rescuing, sharing, murual aid) and worst behavior (racist shootings of persons of color fueled by false narratives of looting) by citizens. I appreciate the fact that Solnit resists the easy or one-size-fits-all answer while delivering a sobering assessment that flawed theories about human nature, scarcity, the depiction of a people one crisis away from descending into chaos and the need for protection – have their weaknesses revealed during catastrophe and hierarchies we cling to in better times find themselves reversed in crisis.

While there are commendable acts of heroism that take place it is clear that often heroism is necessitated by failures to act by those who have the most resources to act, or failures to report accurately by those with the resources to reach the wider public. Solnit's writing shows a public behaviors that, without the steady diet of fear, leave room for hope -- but because that diet of fear isn't going anywere soon, shows that there is much work to be done in the communities starting with the hyper-individualistic ways of living and the narrative of a distrusted, easily panicked public that is often exacerbated by racial and class disparities.


( )
  DAGray08 | Jan 1, 2024 |
A Paradise Built in Hell is a book about specific disasters and the communities that arose there. It's also a book about human nature, the human capacity for spontaneous generosity, and the wonderful connection and lack of hierarchy in disaster communities. It's a book about the incorrect assumptions people—especially elites with more to lose in a disrupted society—make about how people will behave without government authority and established social structure. And it's a book about transformation, people whose lives changed from being in a disaster or by coming to help people out of one.

Full review at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/405872.html ( )
  flwyd | Feb 11, 2023 |
Solnit's thesis is that the ordinary folk tend to not act like animals when the poop starts flying. Well and good. She has gathered a mountain of research on the subject, which I love to see. My own inclinations (and personal experiences) tend to support her thesis.

What makes this book tough is that the writing is profoundly uncritical of the primary sources and while the examples chosen were chosen well, it is hard not to feel like confirmation bias had crept into the writing of the book. Even so, the historical accounts of the San Francisco Earthquake and the Mexico City earthquake were gripping and interesting to compare, as were the historical accounts of the World War I era explosion in Nova Scotia contrasted to New York City on 9/11.

That being said, the more cerebral and theoretical aspects of the book do nicely explain the incredibly inhuman events that took place during Hurricane Katrina and did so with much more internal consistency than official accounts. If you enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, you will loathe this book. You should read it anyway, because while it is not the most critical treatment of the subject, its at least based in some form of reality.

On a personal note, Solnit's thoughts helped to clarify my own personal disdain for general food charities, while being an enthusiastic supporter of Heifer International. ( )
  BrentN | Jan 7, 2023 |
Viser 1-5 af 33 (næste | vis alle)
Highly recommended. ***All levels/libraries.
tilføjet af Christa_Josh | RedigerChoice, M. Mukahy (Jan 1, 2010)
 
Emergency planning, such as securing levees, can help protect the vulnerable. Yet state-sponsored projects don't fit into Solnit's picture of spontaneous, anarchic recovery, so they get little attention here. Nonetheless, this is a bracing, timely book.
tilføjet af Shortride | RedigerMother Jones, Eric Klinenberg (Sep 1, 2009)
 
The West Coast essayist and social critic Rebecca Solnit is the kind of rugged, off-road public intellectual America doesn’t produce often enough. It’s been fascinating to watch her zigzagging career unfold.
 

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Who are you? Who are we? In times of crisis, these are life-and-death questions.
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The utilitarian argument against fiestas, parades, carnivals, and general public merriment is that they produce nothing. But they do: they produce society. They renew the reasons why we might want to belong and the feeling that we do. p 173
For the past 20 years, U.S. radicals have been speaking of ‘the politics of prefiguration’: of the idea that you can and must embody whatever liberty, justice, democracy you aspire to, and in doing so in your self, your community, or your movement you achieve a degree of victory, whatever you do beyond that. Thus political demonstrations around the country have become less like complaints and more like celebrations. p 177
But disaster doesn’t sort us out by preferences; it drags us into emergencies that require we act, and act altruistically, bravely, and with initiative in order to survive or save the neighbors, no matter how we vote or what we do for a living. The positive emotions that rise in those unpromising circumstances demonstrate that social ties and meaningful work are deeply desired, readily improvised, and intensely rewarding. The very structure of our economy and society prevents these goals from being achieved. The structure is also ideological, a philosophy that best serves the wealthy and powerful but shapes all of our lives, reinforced as the conventional wisdom disseminated by the media, from news hours to disaster movies. The facets of that ideology have been called individualism, capitalism, and Social Darwinism and have appeared in the political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Malthus, as well as the work of most conventional contemporary economists who presume we seek personal gain for rational reasons and refrain from looking at the ways a system skewed to that end damages what else we need for our survival and desire for our well-being. Disaster demonstrates this, since among the factors determining whether you will live or die are the health of your immediate community and the justness of your society. We need ties, but they along with purposefulness, immediacy, and agency also give us joy – the startling, sharp joy I found in accounts of disaster survivors. These account demonstrate that the citizens any paradise would need – the people who are brave enough, resourceful enough, and generous enough – already exist. The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise now arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way. p 7
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Why is it that in the aftermath of a disaster, people suddenly become altruistic, resourceful, and brave? Award-winning author Solnit explores this phenomena, looking at major calamities from the past 100 years.

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