Monday, August 01, 2005

The disaster trick

A dutch activist, raising conciousness about the famine in Niger, was irritated at me for posting about subsistence economies, and how modern development is designed to screw farmers. In Niger, the natural resources are getting privatized at a fast pace, like everywhere else.

So why was this dutch activist angry? At first, I thought it must be because I brought up 'unnecessary issues'. The dutch have a long history of individuals travelling to directly help crisis-stricken areas. But it wasn't that ... I couldn't figure it out. Finally -- sitting in a hot Moscow apartment on the bad side of town, watching a Russian dubbed version of 'The Day After Tomorrow', vegetating while recovering from a stomach flu -- I realized what was going on.

Publicity people know, that there's only one way to spin a natural calamity, if you're in power. "We're all in this together", you must say, appealing to natural human tendancies to help each other. Then you go on and take whatever advantage of the calamity you can. I think this is standard operating procedure among those in power ... I'd like to hear exceptions.

Anyway, in every disaster movie, the president, and people in power, turn out to be 'regular people', even if they started out bad. Yikes. This never happens in the real world! Those in power are constantly calculating and positioning during a disaster. They couldn't care less about the people -- they are quite hardened to such things. They may not do much, or they may do much harm, in the wake of calamities. But they will make a tremendous show of sympathy, and they will talk about supporting victims etc. These movies basically do their PR for them.

Reality helps their PR too. If you go on the ground during a diasaster, you mostly run into very sympathetic, driven, helpful people. It's those in power who don't care. It's very hard to remember that, when you've see how normal people cooperate in the face of adversity.

So I think I was being admonished for bringing up an ugly fact, which distracted from the sense of comraderie. But still, if you want those in power to help, you have to pressure them, by pulling down their curtain of disception.


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