online: 28 december 2004
modified: 29 december 2004 4 january 2005

28 december 2004 the earthquake wave disaster

12:32 Listening for several days to the slowly emerging news ... of the earthquake-wave (seismic wave, or tsunami) in the Indian Ocean, and the growing estimate of how many people died (at first 2 - 3 k but now already 40 or 50k and likely to be far more) i have the impression that no one, in or out of the news media or government, has an effective grasp of what is happening or of what to do about it...

...i feel that everyone involved is perceiving only parts of the disaster ... and that a listener to the bits and pieces that emerge can infer a more coherent picture than can any expert, local authority, government worker or news worker... [because each of those is paid to take a less than total view of what is happening]...

...yes, what i hear and think of what's happening supports my conviction that it's 'everyone', not those nominally 'in charge', who is most capable and able to perceive and to do what needs doing in disasters of any kind, including the 'continuous disaster' of industrial living (by which i mean the collective experiment or accident that has been shaping human life and increasing human population since the 18th century or earlier - without much perception of consequences).

But there is another side to this thought:

without far better use of electronic media, and without the widened sharing of public access and responsibility (that i call creative democracy) the human response to our collective predicament will i fear remain pathetic and inadequate...

But to return to the seismic wave disaster: what specific things can any or all of us do that could make a difference?

[at which my mind switches to 'abstract' - seeking the right perceptual scale at which to tackle this question:]

...first thought: set up a citizen's newswatch, a collective online think tank which seeks and demands access to all global and local data sources and (automatically?) generates well-informed proposals, and even commands, for the direction of this and other such emergencies in collective life.

[and now back to 'specific':]
In the case of future earthquakes, on land or under water, the citizen's newswatch would not only coordinate and direct warnings from seismographs - it would continuously explore (via simulations, future scenarios and public experiments, etc) the future actions of everyone concerned in disasters anticipated... and this vast and i hope invigorating effort would go beyond, and eventually replace, the present reliance on professionalised governments and emergency services.

Later: there was an interview with local people who were spontaneously bringing food, water, clothes etc for the survivors of the disaster - as well as frequent reports of the UN, the national governments, the NGOs, and other agencies taking days to survey, identify needs, organise shipments, etc... The reporter herself suggested that it was the unorganised local people, with their limited but well-informed and immediate actions, who can deal with things best - if only, i thought, they are trusted to direct resources from far away as well as near... we await the collective courage to throw away the 'willingness to be led' that i suspect got us into the situation as it is.

Perhaps it is only in disasters that we can bring forth a new enlightenment.

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