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  • New order in New Orleans

    New order in New Orleans
    What Katrina can tell us about the rise of an age of 'spontaneous order'

    By Declan McCullagh

    As disaster unfolded in New Orleans, the authorities were left disorganised and flat-footed but bloggers were propelled to the fore of the relief effort - a perfect example of the internet's power to channel bottom-up 'spontaneous order'. Declan McCullagh provides the US perspective from our sister site CNET News.com.

    As floodwaters were leaching the life from New Orleans last Tuesday, President Bush delivered an impassioned speech calling for the continued occupation of Iraq.

    "We will defeat the terrorists," Bush informed a crowd of World War II veterans. Then he played a guitar backstage with country singer Mark Wills.

    The internet is a modern day example of spontaneous order - not centrally planned but arising impulsively, effectively built site-by-site, protocol-by-protocol by its own users.
    Other federal agencies were equally oblivious. The Department of Homeland Security was sending out press releases that day about slapping Americans with passport requirements to travel to Canada, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or Fema, was announcing "disaster preparedness" seminars at a Home Depot in Florida scheduled for the next day.

    But bloggers were paying attention to the actual catastrophe. By 12:40(PDT) on Tuesday, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com was already reporting on what would become the Great Flood of 2005.

    By the end of the day, an online aid network was forming. Craigslist.org's lost and found forum for New Orleans was adopted to find missing people, a "Katrina Help" wiki had launched, and other ad hoc forums emerged.

    Bloggers were not alone. Ham radio operators quickly organised and began to pass along messages from stranded flood victims. One led to the rescue of 81-year-old Helen Elzy who was stuck on a roof in New Orleans, according to the American Radio Relay League. Many others were rescued thanks to ham radio operators' rapid response, which by Wednesday even included a speedily created database of volunteers.

    In some New Orleans neighbourhoods, residents abandoned by police organised themselves and stood guard against looters. USA Today reported that on Thursday, "residents prepared to continue their stand in a beloved neighbourhood of stately old homes near the Tulane and Loyola university campuses".

    All of these efforts have something in common: they were quick, voluntarily organised and reasonably effective. That is, sadly, almost exactly the opposite of the government efforts which were slow, disorganised and ineffective - or at least seemed to be until political pressure mounted and National Guard troops finally entered the waterlogged city in force on Friday. No wonder New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin was telling the Feds to "get off your asses".

    The point is not to slam President Bush. (Others, including The New York Times' editorial page will devote years to lambasting his administration.)

    Rather, it's to recognise the inefficiency of top-down systems such as the federal government compared with the rapid, efficient and effective organising that individuals can accomplish on their own.

    This is what the late Austrian economist FA Hayek called "spontaneous order", referring to the marvel that happens every day when people work together and agree on transactions, voluntarily, without a central authority dictating what happens.

    If this mechanism were created intentionally by human design, it "would have been acclaimed as one of the greatest triumphs of the human mind", Hayek wrote in a 1943 book called The Use of Knowledge in Society.

    The internet is a modern day example of spontaneous order - not centrally planned but arising impulsively, effectively built site-by-site, protocol-by-protocol by its own users.

    And it was the internet, ham radio networks and other forums that let individuals spontaneously join together in the last week to help flood victims.

    By Thursday evening, bloggers had compiled an exhaustive list of charitable organisations accepting donations, and members of the "interdictor" Internet Relay Chat channel were planning to help one internet service provider which had been posting from a New Orleans office building and was running low on generator fuel.

    Spontaneous order? Definitely. President Bush and other top officials, who were busy sending out press releases about passports and Iraq last week, should take note.
    Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist

  • #2
    It is remarkable that we hear time and again that access to NO was restricted due to damage.

    Yet, one of the NO bloggers who stayed to maintain a network wrote several times about his ability to find people willing and able to deliver barrels of diesel to his building in the central business district.

    He used the internet to send out pleas ($10 per gallon), and people arrived so quickly he wasn't prepared to accept the gasoline.

    I just don't get it. Maybe it is relatad to the story in this article. Bureaucratic ineptitude vs. capitalistic individual effort.
    No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true
    President George W. Bush, March 21, 2006

    I'm a war president
    President George W. Bush, February 8, 2004

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    • #3
      ?
      Are you on the list?

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      • #4
        I thought you meant the band. Anyway..I liked Joy Division better...something about the melancholy prose of Ian Curtis.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Indu WangZi@Sep 8 2005, 08:22 PM
          I thought you meant the band. Anyway..I liked Joy Division better...something about the melancholy prose of Ian Curtis.
          Age of Consent is as good as anything on Substance.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by fountain16+Sep 8 2005, 08:24 PM-->
            QUOTE(fountain16 @ Sep 8 2005, 08:24 PM)
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