Contempt From the Contemptible

Monday, September 11, 2017

In his discussion about why Houston didn't evacuate, J.P. Miller notes in passing an increasingly common attitude that I find curious and disturbing:

Image courtesy of Pixabay.
I've watched a lot of coverage of Hurricane Harvey on both the local and the national level. I am struck by the incredulity of the national newscasters that the people of Houston didn't just leave. They almost sound like we are deserving of criminal punishment for endangering our lives.

First and foremost, each individual has the right and a responsibility to himself if he wishes to survive to make the best decision he can regarding evacuation.
This contemptuous attitude towards people making their own decisions reminds me of many experiences as a parent of young children, a stage of life of which I once observed, offers more than ample "'opportunities' to receive unwanted (and often presumptuous) advice from complete strangers."

It is interesting to contemplate where this attitude might be coming from in light of an example of when Those Who Imagine They Know Better Than You did get their wishes: the massive air flight ban years ago, after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. I noted of that at the time:
Given the life-sustaining necessity of production and trade, this is at once unnecessary hyperbole and a gross understatement of the damage. Millions of lives are in fact being harmed by this barring-by-government-fiat of individuals from evaluating risks for themselves and then deciding whether to board -- or fly -- airplanes. Even if the body count is zero after this fiasco ends, it has cost millions of people irreplaceable fractions of their lives in the forms of time and money.
Likewise with the consequences of evacuating on essentially zero notice Miller describes. The proponents of precautionary thinking are quite happy to pronounce from afar what others should do in the name of "safety," as if knowledge of what is safest (or of anything) can exist in a vacuum or be applied in a vacuum. They clearly didn't consider the many things Miller lays out about evacuating Houston (or banning flights), the possibility that their prescribed action might be wrong, or the costs of carrying it out. How much mental effort did they put into this? And if they didn't put any real effort into formulating or evaluating their pronouncements, how dare they sit in judgement of others whose decisions had major consequences for their own lives?

My best general guess about those who feel the need to alternately hector others with questionable advice "for their own good" and sneer at them when they don't obey it without question is this: Both are defensive reactions to a deep level of a fear of independence. Crises confront us with how little we really know. How does one react? By considering all the available alternatives and choosing the most feasible -- or by sitting around and waiting to be told what to do (or be rescued, as some did after Katrina)? The answer to that will often be similar to how one approaches everything else in life, and the reaction to how others respond to crises will reflect that. The former group will take solace in the fact that those in danger have minds of their own, and will be highly motivated to learn and evaluate relevant facts quickly. The latter, being mentally lazy, will let fear of the unknown (which is a lot of territory for them) override what really ought to be considered and dealt with: They will react badly to those who question the wisdom received from their usual media and government oracles, thereby causing them to question, for a brief, terrifying moment, their choice to "live" without Thinking Too Much. They just gave stupid advice to people in the crosshairs of catastrophe: Their basic choice is to backtrack and apologize -- or find a way to double down. A form of the latter is to project self-contempt onto the victims.

That's about as far as I care to speculate about the legions of sneering busybodies out there. Whatever my level of understanding of this phenomenon, my curiosity is far overmatched by how disturbed about it I am: Many of these same people put a great degree of effort into making sure the government can force others to do as they imagine best.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

'How much mental effort did they put into this?'

The lack of metal effort is breathtaking.

What makes this worse is that these guys are not just random people passing by and passing judgment but national newscasters whose job is supposed to be understanding these situations and passing their knowledge on to others.

Gus Van Horn said...

I'd settle for them simply reporting the news (although what they choose to present still leaves room for bias) and leaving their personal opinions out of it.