Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam:
“I hold at your neck the gom jabbar,” she said. “The gom jabbar, the high-handed enemy. It’s a needle with a drop of poison on its tip. Ah-ah! Don’t pull away or you’ll feel that poison. […] This one kills only animals.”
“Are you suggesting the Duke’s son is an animal?”
“Let us say I suggest you may be human. Your awareness may be powerful enough to control your instincts. Your instinct would be to remove your hand from the box. If you do so, you die. You will feel… an itching… there! Now, the itching becomes burning. Heat upon heat upon heat.”
The Ohio State team produced a number of reports and helped influence the nascent study of humans and disaster. But the lessons of the Alaska quake tend to be forgotten when the world turns scary. In case after case, officials have reverted to the traditional view: that the civilian populace is not to be trusted in an emergency. Not surprisingly, this tendency towards elite panic is itself one of the key stumbling blocks to coping with disasters.
We certainly see it in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. From the first appearance of the virus in the United States, officials at the federal level, including the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, tried to maintain tight control over the fight against the new disease. Undoubtedly, individual staffers at those institutions are deeply committed to public health. But those agencies’ policies implied that independent medical organizations shouldn’t be allowed to make major decisions about the coming pandemic.