The Collective Fallacy & Hurricane Harvey

by L. Reichard White

Which of the following politicians was right about Hurricane Harvey?
I think it would be a good idea to take a few days off, get out of the Houston area.
—Texas Governor Abbott
Getting a bit more serious — so your body can be identified if you don’t evacuate
We’re suggesting if people are going to stay here, mark their arm with a Sharpie pen with their name and Social Security number …We hate to talk about things like that … It’s not something we like to do but it’s the reality, people don’t listen.
—Rockport Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios
On the other hand,
Please think twice before trying to leave Houston en masse. No evacuation orders have been issued for the city.
—Houston mayor Sylvester Turner

ANSWER: None of them were.
Do you know why?
If so, you’re well ahead of the pack!
Here’s the first clue —

Three days before landfall, [Hurricane] Rita bloomed into a Category 5 and tracked toward the city. City and Harris County officials told Houstonians to hit the road, even while the population of Galveston Island was still clogging the freeways. The evacuation itself wound up far more dangerous than the storm: 110 people died during the effort, while the eventual Category 4 storm killed nine. Ike whips up waves as it steams toward Texas, Sep 12, 2008, AP

And the second clue: However, despite the dangers of evacuation, if you’re in, say, a low-lying area of South Houston — perhaps within sight of Trinity Bay — with a predicted storm surge of 9 to 13 feet and maybe 40 inches of rain, you might want to consider Guv. Abbott’s advice “to take a few days off, get out of the Houston area.

And the third clue: If you’re elsewhere in Houston — a central Houston high-rise for example — mayor Turner’s advice to “Please think twice before trying to leave Houston en masse” makes a lot more sense. Especially in light of previous history. Hurricane Rita, as above for example.

In fact just in general, listening to the experts and following orders can kill you —

For more than four years … civil engineers have been studying the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. … The report confirms a chilling fact … After both buildings were burning, many calls to 911 resulted in advice to stay put and wait for rescue. … Fortunately, this advice was mostly ignored. According to the engineers, use of elevators in the early phase of the evacuation, along with the decision to not stay put, saved roughly 2,500 lives. …In a connected world, ordinary people often have access to better information than officials do. Question Authorities: Why it’s smart to disobey officials in emergencies,, Issue 13.06 – June 2005

You can see, however, that from another perspective, both “Governor” Abbott and Mayor Turner were correct. As was anyone giving similar advice. That is, both leaving and staying in Houston during Hurricane Harvey made good sense. Depending on your individual circumstances.

Fortunately, despite the delusions of control still harbored by most politicians, bureaucrats and others who think we’re stupid and they must homogenize us — and always be in charge — no evacuation orders were issued. As mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios noted, “…people don’t listen ” anyway —

When a Spec’s liquor store opened in Houston on Friday morning, it did not have to wait long for customers: About 125 of them had lined up outside in the rain. By early afternoon, the store’s manager, Ryan Holder, estimated that about 3,000 people had passed through, filling the parking lot and then their cars with wine and not a few kegs of beer. —Hurricane Harvey Makes Landfall Near Corpus Christi, Tex. – The New York Times

The chronic problem is non-conscious application of the Collective Fallacy to inherently unequal things — and to attempt this disaster despite the Law of Universal Inequality. In this case, the unequal things are humans in the path of Hurricane Harvey and in all sorts of different locations and in unequal circumstances.

Non-consciously committing the Collective Fallacy is particularly egregious in the case of “governments” since they do it for a living and are apt to get frustrated and violent in their attempts to homogenize unequal things. Us humans in particular.

Luckily, it seems some of them are gradually learning —

… [Governor] Abbott, though, deferred to local officials when it came to a mandatory evacuation order. ” Although Houston has a deep history of devastating floods, Abbott said he would stop short of demanding evacuations, saying those decisions should be made by local officials there,”… Francisco Sanchez, the spokesman for the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, tweeted that residents should follow local officials advice. “LOCAL LEADERS KNOW BEST, ” he tweeted. Why Wasn’t Houston Evacuated Before Hurricane Harvey?

A step in the right direction, but it sure would be refreshing for a mayor, governor, POTUS, bureaucrat, etc., realizing their obvious Collective Fallacy limitations — especially since they’re public SERVANTS — to get appropriately humble and confess, “I don’t know what you should do. That depends on your particular circumstances. You’ll have to think for yourself.
Don’t hold your breath. And always think for yourself.

For updates, additions, comments, and corrections, see What You Mean “WE” Pale-face? The Back Story.
AND, “Like,” “Tweet, ” and otherwise, pass this along!

L. Reichard White [send him mail] taught physics, designed and built a house, ran for Nevada State Senate, served two terms on the Libertarian National Committee, managed a theater company, etc. For the next few decades, he supported his writing habit by beating casinos at their own games. His hobby, though, is explaining things he wishes someone had explained to him . You can find a few of his other explanations listed here.


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