Thursday, May 30, 2013

Elite panic and catastrophe

The typical apocalyptic story often has a panic-mode to the collapse of society.  Society's underclass goes crazy when the restraints vanish.  The bedlam caused by riots, and looting and general lawlessness, give the coup de grace to society.
But how realistic is it that the lower classes, which if you are in the 1% elite means most of the general populace, are going to be rioting.
Which is not to say that there are never riots, because there are, but how often are their riots of circumstances, versus riots of anger where the follow on lawless-opportunistic component is used to tarnish the initial cause of anger.  The 1977 New York City Blackout looting comes to mind, but it is actually rather unusual because in most other blackouts that have occurred, New York City has had very limited problems.
Many feel that the lawless populace is more an outgrowth of elite fear, than an actual reality.  Two resent posts, one focusing on Japan, and the other on Haiti, illustrate the point.

Elites and Panic: More to Fear than Fear Itself (pdf)
Lee Clarke and Caron Chess, Rutgers University, Social Forces, vol. 87, No.2, Dec 2008
Attributions of panic are almost exclusively directed at members of the general public. Here, we inquire into the relationships between elites and panic. We review current research and theorizing about panic, including problems of identifying when it has occurred. We propose three relationships: elites fearing panic, elites causing panic and elites panicking. We use numerous examples, including our own research on the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, to illustrate how these relationships operate. The argument is evocative, not definitive. However, the conceptual utility of explicitly theorizing the relationships between elites and panic shows, among other things, how power works in disasters.
Since the major media outlets are labeled as being the elite, there disaster spouting pushes are labeled, and the political response to this publicity, are the primary agents of elite panic.  I strong secondary contributor is when government agencies get hold of some "issue", usually an issue that will make them more important, or at least expand their scope of powers, pushes hard on some issue. 

My problem with calling this elite-panic is that too much of the "panic" component serves the general interests of those panicking.  It is also debatable how "elite" some of the people making these decisions.  Mostly it is at the mid- to low level types pandering to some perceived audience, although allowances should be made for the low level of functional education -thought processing displayed by these types.

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