I’d like to write more solarpunk & hopepunk stories: tales that envision a positive future for humanity--despite the looming climate crisis.
With this in mind, I borrowed A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster from my local library. It did not disappoint.
The author says “... the prevalent human nature in disasters is resilient, resourceful, generous, empathetic, and brave.” She provides extensive evidence of this consistent heroism, from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, through 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
Despite these facts, the myth persists that human nature is barbaric and cruel when freed of social constraints (think Lord of the Flies). This type of “society imagined by Hobbes and then the social Darwinists…appears to consist entirely of unaffiliated men. The relationships between lovers, spouses, parents and children, siblings, kinfolk, friends, colleagues, and compatriots are absent.”
The author details how “elite panic”--government officials trying to re-establish control--often compounds disasters.
…the elite often believe that if they themselves are not in control, the situation is out of control, and in their fear take repressive measures that become secondary disasters.”
- They are driven by “fear of social disorder; fear of poor, minorities, and immigrants; obsession with looting and property crime; willingness to resort to deadly force.”
- And, “since human beings at large are bestial and dangerous, [elites must] act with savagery to ensure individual safety or the safety of their interests.”
- This “…elite panic comes from powerful people who see all humanity in their own image.”
The most poignant part of the book covered the Hurricane Katrina disaster, when countless people were abandoned and denied aid by their government.
“The version the media was all too ready to write in the days after the city flooded and the system failed was about out-of-control homicidal rampaging African Americans. They turned out to be largely mythological, and the hundreds of corpses rumored to be in the Superdome…dwindled into small numbers of people who mostly died of natural causes.”
The documented vigilante violence of white men, who shot and killed black refugees trying to escape the flood waters, went largely unnoticed and never prosecuted.
Actual Human Nature
The scientific evidence demonstrates that “…human beings are gregarious, cooperative animals who need no authority to make them so; it is their nature.” We “are social animals, hungry for connection as well as for purpose and meaning. …community exists among people who...believe that we are connected, that change is possible, and who hope for a better earth and act on their beliefs.”
This heroic vision is a future worth working towards.