Last night a lively group gathered at the Ukiah Library for a discussion of Rebecca Solnit‘s book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Led by Anne Shirako, this was the second of three events focused on the democracy of community.
One of the main topics discussed was that of chaos vs. cooperation during times of disaster. When the term “anarchy” was mentioned, the group began to consider the true meaning of the word and its origins. Branch Librarian, Eliza Wingate, promptly solved this query with the ideal source: a dictionary!
According to the Random House College Dictionary (Revised Edition): anarchy can mean either:
- A state of society without government or law.
- Lawlessness or political and social disorder due to the absence of Government control.
After discussing the definitions, many felt that “anarchy’ did not need to be synonymous with chaos, but rather with a non-hierarchical, cooperative, organizational structure. Anne Shirako concluded the thought-provoking discussion with the following quote from A Paradise Built in Hell:
We speak of self-fulfilling prophesies, but any belief that is acted on makes the world in its image. Beliefs matter. And so do the facts behind them. The astonishing gap between common beliefs and actualities about disaster behavior limits the possibilities, and changing beliefs could fundamentally change much more. (p. 3)
I left the discussion not only contemplating how I hoped I would act following a natural disaster, but also with a reminder to consider the origins of words when deep in debate. Don’t have a dictionary at home and can’t make it to the library? Dictionary.com is a great, free online resource that also has apps for multiple smart phones, e-readers, and tablets (http://dictionary.reference.com/).
If you couldn’t attend last night’s event, or wish to continue the dialogue, please feel welcome to do so in the comments section. The next discussion on this topic shall be August 14th at the Ukiah Library at 7:00pm.