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People Behave More Cooperatively During Disasters

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I’ve been wanting to write something about this for a few weeks now, so I was glad to find this short but meaty Twitter thread by Dan Gardner about how people react in a crisis: they get more cooperative, not less.

Please remember: The idea that when disaster strikes people panic and social order collapses is very popular. It is also a myth. A huge research literature shows disaster makes people *more* pro-social. They cooperate. They support each other. They’re better than ever.

But the myth matters because it can lead people to take counterproductive actions and adopt policies. The simple truth is we are a fantastically social species and threats only fuel our instinct to pro-social behaviour.

Incidentally, this point is made, and is forgotten, after every disaster. Remember 9/11? Everyone was astonished that snarling, greedy, individualistic New Yorkers were suddenly behaving like selfless saints. No need for surprise. That’s humanity. That’s how we roll.

A reader suggested I check out Rebecca Solnit’s writing on the topic, and indeed she wrote an entire book in 2010 about this: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Solnit recently spoke to CBC Radio about her research.

I had learned by reading the oral histories of the 1906 earthquake, and by reading the wonderful disaster sociologists in a field that begins in part with Samuel Prince, looking at the Halifax Explosion in 1917 … that actually in disasters, most people are altruistic, brave, communitarian, generous and deeply creative in rescuing each other, creating the conditions for success of survival and often creating these little disaster utopias where everyone feels equal. Everyone feels like a participant.

It’s like a reset, when you turn the machine on and off and on again, that our basic default setting is generous and communitarian and altruistic. But what’s shocking is the incredible joy people often seem to have, when they describe that sense of purpose, connection, community agency they found. It speaks to how deeply we desire something we mostly don’t have in everyday life. That’s a kind of social, public love and power, above and beyond the private life.

I’ve put this 2016 episode of On Being with Solnit on my to-listen list.

The amazing thing about the 1989 earthquake — it was an earthquake as big as the kind that killed thousands of people in places like Turkey and Mexico City, and things like that. But partly, because we have good infrastructure, about 50 people died, a number of people lost their homes, everybody was shaken up. But what was so interesting for me was that people seemed to kind of love what was going on.

That same year in the aftermath of the election, she wrote an essay called How to Survive a Disaster.

I landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, shortly after a big hurricane tore up the city in October of 2003. The man in charge of taking me around told me about the hurricane-not the winds at more than a hundred miles an hour that tore up trees, roofs, telephone poles, not the seas that rose nearly ten feet, but the neighbors. He spoke of the few days when everything was disrupted and lit up with happiness as he did so. In his neighborhood all the people had come out of their houses to speak with each other, aid each other, to improvise a community kitchen, make sure the elders were okay, and spend time together, no longer strangers. “Everybody woke up the next morning and everything was different,” he mused. “There was no electricity, all the stores were closed, no one had access to media. The consequence was that everyone poured out into the street to bear witness. Not quite a street party, but everyone out at once-it was a sense of happiness to see everybody even though we didn’t know each other.” His joy struck me powerfully.

More reading material on this, via Gardner: Disaster Mythology and Fact: Hurricane Katrina and Social Attachment, Psychological disaster myths in the perception and management of mass emergencies, There Goes Hurricane Florence; Here Come the Disaster Myths, and 5 Most Common (and Most Dangerous) Disaster Myths.

Note: A version of this post first appeared in Noticing, the kottke.org newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Tags: A Paradise Built in Hell   books   COVID-19   Dan Gardner   Rebecca Solnit
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angelchrys
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iridesce
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cjheinz
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Yes. Most people are not sociopaths - just CEOs.

This Is Not the Apocalypse You Were Looking For | WIRED

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The shock itself is shocking. Shouldn’t we have been more prepared? Hasn’t culture been drenched in catastrophe porn for decades? The bomb. The breakdown. The fallout. The senseless armies of shambling corpses, all the nightmares of dead generations sliding out of our screens. For more than a decade, young and young-ish people have been living in anticipatory grief for everything we know. But somehow, this is different.

The idea of imminent annihilating catastrophe has been part of the collective unconscious for as long as we've had one. From the end date of the Mayan calendar to the Epic of Gilgamesh, from the Genesis flood to the Book of Revelation, humans have been haunted by the idea of the end of everything for a very, very long time. Lately, it’s been our default popular entertainment. Raised with the threat of global warming in the teeth of a financial crisis, we sat stunned and exhausted, watching our civilization die onscreen again and again. More postapocalyptic entertainment has come out in the beginning of this century than in the entirety of the last one. The Day After Tomorrow. Zombieland. The Walking Dead. The Road. Children of Men. The Last of Us. The same story again and again, somewhere between wish fulfillment and trauma rehearsal, getting us used to the idea that the future was canceled, that someday soon everything would collapse, and there would be nothing left and nothing we could do about it.

Writer Garrett Graff is seeking stories from a wide range of US residents to compile a portrait of a nation in the grip of Covid-19. Send us yours.

Ever since I was a twitchy, morbid child, I have kept a private tally of the things I thought I might miss most when the world ended, so that I could be sure to enjoy them as much as possible. Hot showers. Pottering around the shops. Bananas—I didn’t anticipate being a survivor in any country where bananas grow. In fact, I didn’t anticipate being a survivor at all. I am a puny, sensitive creature, and my best hope was that my tall and intimidating sister would sling me over one shoulder while blowing up the baddies one-handed. I just assumed that we’d be together, not stuck on different continents. Funny how things turn out.

Covid-19 changed everything. Suddenly, the immense and frightening upheaval, the cataclysm that means nothing can go back to normal, is here, and it’s so different from what we imagined. I was expecting Half-Life. I was expecting World War Z. I’ve been dressing like I’m in The Matrix since 2003. I was not expecting to be facing this sort of thing in snuggly socks and a dressing gown, thousands of miles from home, trying not to panic and craving a proper cup of tea. This apocalypse is less Danny Boyle and more Douglas Adams.

There’s an important difference between apocalypse and a catastrophe. A catastrophe is total devastation, with nothing left and nothing learned. “Apocalypse”—especially in the biblical sense—means a time of crisis and change, of hidden truths revealed. A time, quite literally, of revelation. When we talked about the end of every certainty, we were not expecting any revelation. We were not expecting it to be so silly, so sweet, and so sad.

“‘It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” That’s the slogan that swarmed around the world 10 years ago, during the Occupy movements. Attributed variously to Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, I first had it explained to me by overexcited, underslept young activists who, like the rest of us, had spent their lives watching New York and London and Washington and Tokyo blow up and burn down onscreen but had never had space to imagine a future that did not include decades of striving to service lifelong debts. Capitalism requires this of us. Capitalism cannot imagine a future beyond itself that isn’t utter butchery.

This is because late capitalism has always been a death cult. The tiny-minded incompetents in charge cannot handle a problem that can’t be fixed simply by sacrificing poor, vulnerable, and otherwise expendable individuals. Faced with a crisis they can’t solve with violence, they dithered and whined and wasted time that can and will be counted in corpses. There has been no vision, because these men never imagined the future beyond the image of themselves on top of the human heap, cast in gold. For weeks, the speeches from podiums have suggested that a certain amount of brutal death is a reasonable price for other people to pay to protect the current financial system. The airwaves have been full of spineless right-wing zealots so focused on putting the win in social Darwinism that they keep accidentally saying the quiet bit out loud.

The quiet bit is this: To the rich and stupid, many of the economic measures necessary to stop this virus are so unthinkable that it would be preferable for millions to die. This is extravagantly wrong on more than just a moral level—forcing sick and contagious people back to work to save Wall Street puts all of us at risk. It is not only easier for these overpromoted imbeciles to imagine the end of the world than a single restriction on capitalism—they would actively prefer it.

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angelchrys
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General Electric Workers Walk Off the Job, Demand to Make Ventilators

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On Monday, General Electric factory workers walked off the job and demanded that the company convert its jet engine factories to make ventilators. Workers protested at GE's Lynn, Massachusetts aviation facility held a silent protest, standing six feet apart. Union members at the company’s Boston headquarters also marched six feet apart, calling on the company to use its factories to help the country close its ventilator shortage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

These protests come just after General Electric announced it would be laying off 10 percent of its domestic aviation workforce, firing nearly 2,600 workers, along with a “temporary” layoff of 50 percent of its maintenance workers in a bid to save the company "$500 million to $1 billion.” This news came as Congress stood ready to pass a multi-trillion dollar corporate bailout that would include at least $50 billion in federal assistance and $25 billion in loans and temporary tax relief for the aviation industry, as well as a further $17 billion for federal assistance to companies deemed "crucial to national security" (e.g. defense contractors like Boeing or General Electric).

In a press conference, members of the Industrial Division of Communication Workers of America (IUE-CWA) explained how General Electric’s current layoffs and closures would undermine future efforts to increase ventilator production. Without experienced workers to operate now empty and idle factories, production will likely be slowed down.

IUE-CWA Local 86004 President Jake Aguanaga offered his plant, located in Arkansas City, Kansas, as an example of how much manufacturing capacity could be converted: more than 52 percent of his workforce has been laid off, and several football fields worth of factory space are currently sitting idle. “If GE trusts us to build, maintain, and test engines which go on a variety of aircraft where millions of lives are at stake, why wouldn’t they trust us to build ventilators?” he said.

GE’s Healthcare Division is already one of the country’s largest manufacturers of ventilators, so union members believe that other factories could be converted to produce the life-saving devices. Hospitals around the country say that there is a critical shortage of ventilators, and many experts have implored President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to require companies to produce them. Trump finally decided to make General Motors produce ventilators over the weekend, the first in a series of deals that may eventually call on General Electric to increase ventilator supply.

“Ventilators are desperately needed at hospitals in New York, California, Washington State, and Florida. They soon will be in short supply from the East Coast to the West Coast, from Puerto Rico to Hawaii, from Alaska and Illinois to Texas,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “Most Americans are not aware that the best ventilators are already made by General Electric within the company’s healthcare division.”

“Our country depends on these highly skilled workers and now they’re wondering why they are facing layoffs instead of having the opportunity to use their unbelievable skills to help save lives,” said Shelton.

GE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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iridesce
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angelchrys
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acdha
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Washington, DC
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mareino
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An Injury to One is an Injury to All
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You Probably Should Be Wearing a Face Mask if You Can

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Have you been wearing a face mask when going out in public recently? There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether they are effective in keeping people safe from COVID-19 infection, and it’s been really challenging to find good information. After reading several things over the past few days, I have concluded that wearing a mask in public is a helpful step I can take to help keep myself and others safe. In particular, I found this extensive review of the medical and scientific literature on mask & respirator use helpful, including why research on mask efficacy is so hard to do and speculation on why the CDC and WHO generally don’t recommend wearing them.

I was able to find one study like this outside of the health care setting. Some people with swine flu travelled on a plane from New York to China, and many fellow passengers got infected. Some researchers looked at whether passengers who wore masks throughout the flight stayed healthier. The answer was very much yes. They were able to track down 9 people who got sick on the flight and 32 who didn’t. 0% of the sick passengers wore masks, compared to 47% of the healthy passengers. Another way to look at that is that 0% of mask-wearers got sick, but 35% of non-wearers did. This was a significant difference, and of obvious applicability to the current question.

See also this review of relevant scientific literature, this NY Times piece, this Washington Post opinion piece by Jeremy Howard (who is on a Twitter mission to get everyone to wear masks):

When historians tally up the many missteps policymakers have made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the senseless and unscientific push for the general public to avoid wearing masks should be near the top.

The evidence not only fails to support the push, it also contradicts it. It can take a while for official recommendations to catch up with scientific thinking. In this case, such delays might be deadly and economically disastrous. It’s time to make masks a key part of our fight to contain, then defeat, this pandemic. Masks effective at “flattening the curve” can be made at home with nothing more than a T-shirt and a pair of scissors. We should all wear masks — store-bought or homemade — whenever we’re out in public.

At the height of the HIV crisis, authorities did not tell people to put away condoms. As fatalities from car crashes mounted, no one recommended avoiding seat belts. Yet in a global respiratory pandemic, people who should know better are discouraging Americans from using respiratory protection.

I have to admit that I have not been wearing a mask out in public — I’ve been to the grocery store only three times in the past two weeks, I go at off-hours, and it’s rural Vermont, so there’s not actually that many people about (e.g. compared to Manhattan). But I’m going to start wearing one in crowded places (like the grocery store) because doing so could a) safeguard others against my possible infection (because asymptomatic people can still be contagious), b) make it less likely for me to get infected, and c) provide a visible signal to others in my community to normalize mask wearing. As we’ve seen in epidemic simulations, relatively small measures can have outsize effects in limiting later infections & deaths, and face masks, even if a tiny bit effective, can have a real impact.

Crucially, the available research and mask advocates stress the importance of wearing masks properly and responsibly. Here are some guidelines I compiled about responsible mask usage:

  • Don’t buy masks (or use new masks you might have at home) while there is a shortage for healthcare workers, especially not N95 respirators (which are difficult to use properly anyway). Make a mask at home. Skiers & snowboarders, wear your buffs or ski masks. Donate any unused masks or respirators you may have to healthcare workers.

  • Make sure your mask fits properly — limit any gaps between the mask and your face as much as you can. (Facial hair can limit mask effectiveness.)

  • While wearing your mask in public, don’t fuss with it — touching your face is bad, remember? Wear it at home for a few hours to get used to the sensation. Then when you’re ready to go out, put it on properly and don’t touch it again until you’re back home (or in the car or whatever). Part of the point of the mask is for you to touch your face less.

  • Limit reuse of potentially contaminated masks. Discard or, if possible, wash or disinfect masks after public usage or at the end of the day.

  • Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you can safely go do a bunch of things without fear of getting infected. The idea here is to protect yourself while engaging in necessary activities in public. Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you can visit grandma safely or discard the six-feet-away rule.

  • Don’t do anything stupid like spraying your mask with a household cleaner that contains bleach and put it on. Come on.

So that’s what I’ve personally concluded from all my reading. I hope wearing masks can help keep us a little safer during all of this.

Tags: COVID-19   fashion   Jeremy Howard   medicine   science
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Groups

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
Once again, in case you missed it, you can get pretty much every book of mine to which I own the rights, for free, here: https://www.smbc-comics.com/covid/


Today's News:
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iridesce
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We May Be In This for the Long Haul…

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Note: I feel the need to add a disclaimer to this post. This was a really hard thing to read for me and it might be for you too. It is a single paper from a scientific team dedicated to the study of infectious diseases — it has not been peer reviewed, the available data is changing every day (for things like death rates, transmission rates, and potential immunity), and there might be differing opinions & assumptions by other infectious disease experts that would result in a different analysis. Even so, this seems like a possibility to take seriously and I hope I’m being responsible in sharing it.

This is an excellent but extremely sobering read: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand, a 20-page paper by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team (and a few other organizations, including the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling).

The paper is technical in nature but mostly written in plain English so it’s pretty readable, but here is an article that summarizes the paper. It discusses the two main strategies for dealing with this epidemic (mitigation & suppression), the strengths and weaknesses of each one, and how they both may be necessary in some measure to best address the crisis. For instance, here’s a graph showing the effects of three different suppression scenarios for the US compared to critical care bed capacity:

Suppression Graph US

Two fundamental strategies are possible: (a) mitigation, which focuses on slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread — reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection, and (b) suppression, which aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely. Each policy has major challenges. We find that that optimal mitigation policies (combining home isolation of suspect cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspect cases, and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of severe disease) might reduce peak healthcare demand by 2/3 and deaths by half. However, the resulting mitigated epidemic would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over. For countries able to achieve it, this leaves suppression as the preferred policy option.

We show that in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members. This may need to be supplemented by school and university closures, though it should be recognised that such closures may have negative impacts on health systems due to increased absenteeism. The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package — or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission — will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) — given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed. We show that intermittent social distancing — triggered by trends in disease surveillance — may allow interventions to be relaxed temporarily in relative short time windows, but measures will need to be reintroduced if or when case numbers rebound. Last, while experience in China and now South Korea show that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced.

If you missed the scale on the graph (it extends until March 2021) and the bit in there about closures, quarantine, and self-distancing measures needing to remain in place for months and months, the authors repeat that assertion throughout the paper. From the discussion section of the paper:

Overall, our results suggest that population-wide social distancing applied to the population as a whole would have the largest impact; and in combination with other interventions — notably home isolation of cases and school and university closure — has the potential to suppress transmission below the threshold of R=1 required to rapidly reduce case incidence. A minimum policy for effective suppression is therefore population-wide social distancing combined with home isolation of cases and school and university closure.

To avoid a rebound in transmission, these policies will need to be maintained until large stocks of vaccine are available to immunise the population — which could be 18 months or more. Adaptive hospital surveillance-based triggers for switching on and off population-wide social distancing and school closure offer greater robustness to uncertainty than fixed duration interventions and can be adapted for regional use (e.g. at the state level in the US). Given local epidemics are not perfectly synchronised, local policies are also more efficient and can achieve comparable levels of suppression to national policies while being in force for a slightly smaller proportion of the time. However, we estimate that for a national GB policy, social distancing would need to be in force for at least 2/3 of the time (for R0=2.4, see Table 4) until a vaccine was available.

I absolutely do not want to seem alarmist here, but if this analysis is anywhere close to being in the ballpark, it seems at least feasible that this whole thing is going to last far longer than the few weeks that people are thinking about. The concluding sentence:

However, we emphasise that is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear.

The paper is available in several languages here.

Tags: COVID-19   medicine   science
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sarcozona
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iridesce
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ScottInPDX
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I tend to think along the same lines as this paper - we're going to be in some form of restricted society at least through the summer, and very possibly for a year or more.

We humans are going to have to figure out how to change some fundamental bits of our society to make it through this crisis. It's not going to be painless or bloodless either. Time for us all to buckle up...
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth
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