The recent appearance of Hurricane Matthew prompted some harsh memories of hurricanes past. I went through Hurricane Andrew. I was living in Ft. Lauderdale with my youngest daughter, Lydia, and I will never forget going three weeks without electricity. The storm was bad enough – having two days of wind and rain shaking the walls of your home was scary, but surviving for three weeks with no electricity was a life-changing experience.
In the handling of Hurricane Matthew, Governor Rick Scott of Florida earned a special place in history for making the most dramatic evacuation plea ever heard. He announced, a day before the storm hit, that everyone must leave, evacuate, and do it now. He actually added “Unfortunately, this is going to kill people.” You can rest assured that any parents looking after their children were traumatized at that moment. It seems like you either had to evacuate or take your chances. This is an excerpt from the message Gov. Scott delivered:
"If you're watching and you're in an evacuation area, get out," Scott said. "Don't take a chance. Time is running out. This is clearly going to either have a direct hit or come right along our coast and we're going to have hurricane-force winds. There are no excuses. You need to leave. Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate."
Scott stressed that it could be a matter of life and death.
"Are you willing to take a chance to risk your life? Are you willing to take a gamble?" he said. "That's what you're doing. If you're reluctant to evacuate, just think of all the people the storm has already killed. You and your family could be among these numbers if you don't take this seriously."
"Anything more you can do to get people to know the severity of this, please do so," Scott said. "Unfortunately, this is going to kill people."
Yet, consider this: the predicted storm was so big that it covered the entire state from east to west. Effectively no one was immune or safe anywhere from the coming storm. Therefore, everyone had to evacuate by going north as soon and as fast as possible. That means that for all practical purposes, everyone along the entire coast of the state had to evacuate immediately – and that is logistically impossible, and the governor knew that.
The question becomes:
“Why did he say everyone has to leave now, this storm is going to kill people,
when he knew everyone in all evacuation areas could not leave the state
immediately?” The first reason is because the worst thing he could was to say
nothing. In that case, he would have been excoriated forever for having done
nothing to protect the people of the state of Florida. Therefore, he erred on
the side of caution, as did the entire media coverage. To hear it from the
press and the governor, this was a storm of apocalyptic proportions that was
headed our way, screaming like a bat out of hell and headed straight up the
Florida coast, and from there all the way up the eastern seaboard to New York
In the end, the storm was not as dreadful as had been predicted. Yes, it was bad, but it was not nearly as bad as predicted. The people who suffered most were inundated by floods in the Carolinas a week after the storm had gone.
From the standpoint of the custodians of society, it is better to err on the side of caution. It is good to predict the storm will be 10 times worse than it will be in reality. It is better to be too careful, right? Who can argue with that when people’s lives are at stake, right? The problem is that the state’s over-control of disaster guaranteed two things and not just one: it did guarantee the maximum amount of safety would be exercised, but it also guaranteed the maximum amount of trauma and anxiety would be realized as well. Isn’t that always the way?
Believe it or not, the social psychology of anxiety was a prime motivator of the fledgling science of sociology. In the 19th century, the people who started
sociology were explicitly concerned about the anxiety factor as part of the control factor built into modern society. Marx
called it alienation, Durkheim called it anomie, and Weber said that
bureaucracy was the iron cage of society and that it worked by hiking up people’s
anxiety to the point of not being able to think straight, and just managing
symptoms to get through the day. They were each adamant about the anxiety
factor built into modern society as the most pernicious part of modern society.
Anxiety becomes the invisible form of social control. It is the most powerful form of social control because it does not attack from the outside, but rather it grows on the inside. Since it grows inside of you it is only natural to identify with it. You do not see your anxiety as the result of the frenetic, modern, technocratic society you live in, you see it as your own weakness and inability to cope competently in this best-of-all-worlds society that you inhabit. That is the pernicious and the insidious nature of it – it eats you up from the inside out, and over-controls your every move, but you blame yourself and hide it as a sign of your own weakness.
Back to the hurricane, nobody was really going to win. You cannot come out of an experience like that and feel like you won. For the wealthy people of Florida, it is well-known they have exit strategies in place allowing them to fly out at a moment’s notice – no big deal. But, they are on the edge of their seats the whole time they are away because they fear their mansions will be looted when they get back home.
And all the little people? Well, there is no way everybody could get on I-95 and high-tail it out of Florida the moment the governor told them to. People have enough sense to figure that out for themselves, but it did not minimize the anxiety. It just made the anxiety official. Now they really had something to be anxious about. What if the whole world, or their families or friends, blamed them for not evacuating if something happened? After all, you cannot blame the good governor, he was thinking ahead of everyone else. But, if you had been stuck in Florida, then you were riddled with guilt and anxiety deep down inside.
~End Part 1 -> Part 2 coming Thursday~
Featured image credit: Shutterstock