Friday, September 05, 2008

Organized Anarchists

I'm no big fan of Obama or Christian lefty Jim Wallis. I'm more a fan of Karl Hess. Hess is remembered as Barry Goldwater's speechwriter, who turned that nifty phrase, "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice...moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Hess and Obama were both "community organizers." Funny how words can have nearly opposite meanings when applied to two different people. Obama's brand of "Community Organizing" seems to make the community more ungrateful ("agitated") and more dependent on the State. Hess' organizing had the exact opposite effect, as Hess had a completely different view of "community" (and America).

In her famous RNC speech, Sarah Palin said that her experience as "a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." Jim Wallis comments:

The convention crowd in St. Paul thought that was very funny. But it wasn't. It was actually quite insulting to the army of community organizers who work in the most challenging places across the country and have such a tremendous impact on the everyday lives of millions of people.

Indeed, it's like FEMA turning away the WalMart trucks voluntarily filled with bottles of desperately needed water, ready to be passed out by an organized community of volunteers, because only the State can be given credit for bringing order and organization to communities.

Alexis de Tocqueville noted that one of the strengths of America in the early 1800's was an army of community organizers who had organized voluntary associations that met human needs. Libertarians prefer such order and organization over that imposed by distant bureaucrats.

HT: The Point

P.S. After the Storm: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Public Policy. Excellent report by Reason Magazine on spontaneous voluntary organization during major crises. Excerpts:

• "More than a half-century of investigation has established a fairly firm pattern: After the cataclysm, volunteerism will explode . . . ."
• "Although volunteerism isn't nearly as widespread in Japan as it is in the United States, [after the Kobe quake of 1995] "most search and rescue was undertaken by community residents; officially-designated rescue agencies such as fire departments and the Self Defense Forces were responsible for recovering at most one quarter of those trapped in collapsed structures. Spontaneous volunteering and emergent group activity were very widespread throughout the emergency period; community residents provided a wide range of goods and services to their fellow earthquake victims, and large numbers of people traveled from other parts of the country to offer aid."
• After the San Francisco quake of 1989, Stewart Brand wrote in Whole Earth Review that "volunteer rescuers in San Francisco's Marina District...outnumbered professionals three-to-one during the critical first few hours." "These volunteers, coming from residences and businesses in the neighborhood or passing by on the street and freeway, performed some of the first rescues of trapped motorists," the Oakland Fire Department acknowledged in its earthquake report.
• Looting is exacerbated when "the police department was 'ineffective, corrupt, and full of nepotism,' and many officers joined in the larceny themselves."
• In St. Croix [in the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Hugo in 1989], residents rescued their neighbors, gave shelter to the homeless, and shared their supplies; even the looting itself was often a matter of desperate but nonviolent citizens taking survival necessities, not gangs seizing luxury goods. (It's not even clear that it's properly theft to take, say, food that's bound to spoil before its owner can return to reclaim it.) Rumors of murders, armed robbery, and the like generally turned out to be unverified, exaggerated, or simply inaccurate. In New Orleans there were some genuine firsthand accounts of violent assaults, but the rumor mill worked overtime as well.
• Meanwhile, we also heard stories of spontaneous cooperation on the ground--notably the heroic tales of Deamonte Love, the 6-year-old boy who led five toddlers and a baby out of the flood zone, and Jabbar Gibson, the young man who commandeered an abandoned school bus, drove it to Houston with around 70 people aboard, and arrived there well in advance of the official convoy. The Baltimore Sun described a group of about 40 people who turned the Samuel J. Green Charter School into a well-supplied, well-fed, well-protected little republic. The New Orleans Times-Picayune recounted how a neighborhood association in Algiers Point formed a "makeshift militia" to protect the area. Rolling Stone talked to civilians in motorboats who spent days ferrying flood victims to dry land, rescuing far more people than the authorities did during the first week that followed the storm. Neighbors saved neighbors from the rising waters, volunteers patrolled their communities, and evacuees who owned vehicles gave lifts to people who didn't. Quarantelli is almost certain we'll learn that such cooperation and initiative greatly outnumbered the widely reported crimes.

Finally, this:

• There was one additional factor in Katrina that wasn't present in the other cases: what Quarantelli calls "the worst mishandled disaster I've ever seen in my life, and I've been studying disasters since 1949." The full story of what went wrong has yet to be fully uncovered, but it seems more and more clear that, far from working closely with volunteers and rival authorities, the Department of Homeland Security--the giant new bureaucracy that absorbed the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2003--adopted a command-and-control approach that at times worked actively against the other responses. Anecdotes abound not just of well-qualified civilians being turned away from the disaster zone but of public employees being poorly deployed, such as the 1,400 firefighters who were assigned to do community relations work. Worst of all were the squalid holding camps at the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center, where authority was omnipresent but order was absent.

The problem with Katrina was not a failure of the federal government, but too much federal government. Too many "archists," and not enough "anarchy." Government is always more concerned with protecting its own authority and control than in maintaining order and organization. Often, genuine efforts to assist community organization is only a means to the end of buttressing government authority.

Cafe Hayek: Who You Gonna Call?

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