Rupert N. Urquhart 1961? 

Published in:

  • Technocracy Digest, probably early 1961
  • Technocracy Digest, 3rd quarter 1996, No. 321

A major threat to our industrial society lies in the uncertainty of how North Americans will react to the growing problem of unemployment within the Price System. Panic must be averted if human life and civilization are to continue on this Continent.

A prankster loosened a light bulb. To see what had happened, someone lighted a match. Fire from the match ignited a palm frond, then spread quickly to some highly inflammable decorations. Thus started Boston’s disastrous Cocoanut Grove dance hall fire which in 1942 claimed 491 lives and injured scores more.

After the blaze had been brought under control and it was possible to determine the reasons for the extremely high casualty rate, firemen who entered the ruins found bodies piled four and five deep in front of doorways. Not all had died from the flames. Some had been trampled to death in the frenzied stampede to reach exits, while others were simply smothered by those above them. Investigations showed that most casualties were entirely unnecessary — having resulted from sheer panic.

Panic has been responsible for countless deaths and injuries throughout human history. This overpowering, often groundless, fear occurs in instances when some incident so disturbs the established routine of life that temporary mental blocks disrupt the thinking processes of those affected. Their first response, then, is to the inborn instinct for survival rather than to intelligence — frequently with tragic results. The causes of panic seem to have been endless.

On a Sunday evening in 1938, many radios in United States and Canada were tuned to a certain network as a `newscaster’ was reporting the landing of mysterious spacecraft on a New Jersey farm. Soon, as the report of the landing unfolded, more and more listeners became convinced this planet had been invaded by superior beings from outer space. Many fled their homes with such few belongings as they could quickly muster, some committed suicide, while still others indulged in a variety of irrational acts which clearly showed the effects of panic. Had they simply taken the trouble to check other stations they would have learned that what they had heard was a play. It was, in fact, a radio dramatization of H. G. Wells’ book `The War of the Worlds.’ Such behavior, however, is a characteristic manifestation of panic patterns.

The 1929 stock market crash produced numerous examples of panicky behavior. Only a few days before the bottom dropped out of an exceptionally successful Price System era, a prominent citizen proclaimed that the United States had `reached a permanently high level of prosperity.’ Since he confirmed the general feelings of the day, most people were totally unprepared when stock prices took their October nose-dive. Suddenly aware of the threat to their security, they reverted to primeval instincts rather than to intelligent appraisal of the situation. Panic overwhelmed them.

We are more interested here in the human reactions to the market crash than in its economic causes. Bedlam reigned during the week from October 23rd to 29th (Black Tuesday – described as the biggest and blackest day in Wall Street history) as stockholders tried desperately to dispose of their shares. In hundreds of brokerage offices, men clustered around ticker tape machines watching their fortunes being wiped out. Many jumped out of skyscraper windows; others shot themselves. More significant, perhaps, than these personal tragedies was the decision of millions of citizens across the Continent to withdraw their cash holdings from bank accounts. The resulting heavy run forced closure of numerous banks, doubtlessly thus intensifying the immediate effects of the crash.

Panic has seldom affected large areas or populations because stimuli are rarely severe enough to have so general an effect. The cited cases, however, clearly show that they can and do occur. This possibility holds a considerable danger for the people of this land area. Should something happen to precipitate panic on a major Continental basis, it could completely disrupt those physical operations upon which depends the lives of most North Americans. The social peril of widespread panic therefore has the most serious implications.

Our Price System economy presents the greatest threat of a major panic-arousing stimulus. Proving progressively more incapable of distributing the abundance being thrust upon it, this scarcity-control mechanism is showing advanced signs of deterioration. What will happen as ever-growing numbers of citizens can no longer sell their man hours in return for the dollars which represent their sole present means of livelihood? As layoffs steadily increase in industry, the question of possible public reaction must be soberly considered.

North America’s industrial mechanism is the most complex in the world, and therefore also the most tenuous. All parts are so interrelated and interdependent — even within the Price System — that damage to, or shutdown of, any part has a chain reaction effect upon the others. The physical equipment which produces, transports, distributes, communicates and otherwise provides vital services is an entity quite separate from the dispensable financial superstructure overriding it. Much of the peril of panic rests in the possible failure of those so stricken to recognize this important distinction.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that North Americans’ welfare is inextricably linked to the continuous operation of the installed technology. By chance more than by plan, a vast array of technology has developed on this Continent — especially north of the Rio Grande. Because it was devised primarily to serve business rather than the needs of society, this technology, which receives its energy usually from far distant sources, `growed like Topsy’ from innumerable starting points. Consequently, it is far short of the possible and desirable; but inevitably, because of the growing needs of business which were generously abetted by the land area’s resource riches, the separate entities grew together to become welded into a unit. North Americans have become increasingly dependent upon that technology in direct proportion to its growth.

We have described the North American industrial mechanism as the world’s most tenuous. In other words, it is the most vulnerable to crippling damage because of the long flow-lines of energy and supply between points of origin and use. Probably the most familiar are the high-voltage transmission lines carrying the electrical energy that activates most types of industrial technology, performs countless other jobs, and provides virtually the only type of illumination used on this continent today.

Electricity has become so much a part of our lives that, even though many have lived in unserviced areas, it is difficult to imagine being without it. We flick a light switch, shave, turn on a radio or television set, toast bread, cook meals, refrigerate foods, and use numerous other appliances with full confidence that the necessary electrical power will be forthcoming. But sometimes the service is unexpectedly interrupted. A high wind may uproot a tree and throw it across the transmission lines causing one or more breaks. The interruption is usually brief, but while it lasts our vaunted modern conveniences are just so much junk causing varying degrees of human frustration. Because the source of power is far removed from our homes, we have no personal control over it. This all-important energy supply is temporarily cancelled out by the chance falling of a tree, thus exemplifying the essentially tenuous character of our entire industrial mechanism.

Past experience indicates that where prior training is given on how to meet specific emergencies, panic can be prevented. Fire drill in schools, for instance, has often proved its merit. This is strikingly shown in the contrasting behavior of pupils caught in a December, 1958, blaze in a Chicago parochial school. Of the ninety children who perished, most were found jammed near windows or doors in the familiar escape-attempt pattern of the panicstricken. Those who remembered their fire drill survived. First of all, thanks to the coolheaded direction of a 12-year-old boy who remembered and applied his training, they lay on the floor to avoid the enveloping smoke. When help arrived, they were led to safety while forming a line by holding onto each other’s belts.

Was there ever an occasion when wide-spread panic might have been expected, it was in

1940 when London and other British cities were bombed interminably by the German Luftwaffe. There was, however, no such general wave of fear. On the contrary, the air raids almost reached the point of being considered routine by the civilian populations, who proceeded to shelters as soon as the warning sirens were sounded. Despite the heavy loss of life, panic never became a major problem during the Battle of Britain because the people became conditioned to the raids and knew how to meet them.

This is largely explained by psychiatrist Joost A. M. Merloo in his book `Patterns of Panic.’ In part, he observes: `The tension of a mysterious danger is even more unbearable than danger itself. People hate the vacuum of an unknown situation. They want security. They even prefer war to the insecure expectation of a war with its threat of enemy surprise. This vague fearful expectation acts on their fantasies. They anticipate all kinds of mysterious dangers; they begin to provoke them. It is the evocation of fear and danger in order to escape the tension of insecurity.’

Fear of the unknown prompts irrational behavior.

Here is contained the essence of the causes and expressions of panic. Fear of the unknown prompts irrational behavior. Thus defined, panic becomes a predictable trait subject to preventive therapy involving the reduction or removal of the causal fears. The most satisfactory means of achieving this end is through education which explains the reasons of such fears.

It has been learned further that frightened people respond to the direction of `emergent leaders.’ The boy who saved many of his classmates in the Chicago school fire was such a person. Psychiatrist James Tyhurst describes the emergent leader as a person who is not ordinarily interested in community affairs, but during disaster is moved to action by the unusual events, and takes over direction of resource or relief work coolly and sensibly. It is during a disaster’s initial impact, says Dr. Tyhurst, that people are most influenced by others. In this comparatively brief interval, if anyone exhibits fear, those around him are instantly infected. Conversely, it is equally true that a strong leader can exert a steadying influence on persons bewildered by events.

While the emergent leader undoubtedly has an important role in any crisis, and while it has been observed that one usually comes forward, no prior dependence should be placed upon such occurrence. Personnel should be trained ahead of time to handle emergencies. For this reason we have police forces, fire departments, inhalator squads, ambulance operators, communications and transportation trouble shooters, and other groups of specially trained emergency personnel. They, however, are specialists in handling a situation AFTER it occurs.

Their training does not, for the most part, equip them to anticipate and prevent a danger. Training of this type requires a somewhat different approach.

The threat of panic resulting from growing deterioration of the Price System is the most serious ever to confront North Americans. Stemming from the uncompromising conflict between an economy of scarcity and an environment of technology-produced abundance, panic threatens to disrupt completely that installed equipment which must operate constantly to sustain the citizens of this land area. Were the equipment to grind to a halt it could not be restarted because of the utter dependence of all parts upon the continued operation of all others. This would automatically ring down the curtain on the lives of most North Americans.

Should it be doubted that any such large-scale disruption might occur, one need only observe a few things which have happened, in the absence of panic, that support the threat warning.

In the fall of 1960, Canada’s two major railroads were almost stopped by an impending strike of certain personnel groups who demanded pay increases which the railroad companies were not prepared to meet. This typical Price System dispute failed at that time to halt a major utility only because of last-minute political legislation enacted to defer the stoppage to a later date. While such a stoppage would have seriously impeded the flow of food and other materials, this consideration alone would not have stopped the strike which legal action stopped for the time being. Action of this type can be effective only as long as existing or emergently-passed laws continue to be recognized and obeyed — a factor that is strongly modified by the degree of existing economic stability.

Vancouver had an example in April 1995 of mass behavior which clearly illustrated how people under emotional stress can exceed the possibility of being controlled. Each year some Canadian city plays host to the winners of the hockey playoffs which brings together the eastern and western pennant holders in the game that decides the national winner. In vexation of the loss by the Vancouver team, the crowd demonstrated, noisily and boisterously, following the game. Windows were smashed, furniture was broken, people were assaulted, and traffic was immobilized. In a few square blocks of downtown Vancouver, occurred far too many illegal incidents for the police to handle. Fortunately, most participants were in a good mood, and, however inane and stupid their actions, were not maliciously inclined. But given the appropriate stimuli, their exuberance could have turned toward any of several directions, including panic.

The potentially disastrous impact of wide-spread panic upon North America’s social mechanism has already been stressed. Instances such as those cited above, which posed a threat even without panic, serve as indicators of the considerable peril attending the intrusion of panic. Should an advanced deterioration of the Price System precipitate this peril, there would be no possibility of restraining the wave of violence and destruction which would likely ensue. It must therefore be stopped before it starts.

Knowledge is the best antidote to panic

Knowledge is the best antidote to panic in any form. When people know what to expect and what action to take when the expected happens — as during the Battle of Britain — the inclination to panic is reduced to a minimum. North Americans must accordingly learn what is happening to their Price System society and why its inability to distribute abundance makes it the greatest menace ever to confront the citizens of this land area.

The study of this problem has been the specific self-assumed task of Technocracy Inc.

Immediately after World War I, the originators of this organization realized that the Price System had entered its final phase of operation on this Continent, its post-dated death warrant having been written by the unprecedented injection of labor-saving technology into industrial processes. The Technical Alliance research group saw that, whether or not an adequate social program was designed to meet North American’s production and distribution needs, the Price System would eventually buckle under the load it was never equipped to carry. The first step, then, was to design a mechanism which would meet those needs. This was accomplished in Technocracy’s social blueprint which culminated years of intensive research. (See the book Technocracy — Technological Social Design)

Having the program, and implementing it, are two different things. Yet, it must be done if North Americans are to survive the end of the Price System. Bridging the gap from the old to the new could be the most hazardous and decisive period in our history. Most of

Technocracy’s organizational effort is now directed toward achieving a successful transition.

This requires the development of a corps of informed, self-disciplined citizens to give direction to their fellow North Americans confused by the developing economic crisis. The corp’s personnel must understand how a Price System operates before they can further realize why it is incapable of distributing abundance; they must realize the need of effecting a smooth transition void of interruption of the physical operations which sustain the citizenry of North America; and they must have some knowledge of human behavioral patterns under varying circumstances.

Since most people lack the social awareness to inform themselves along the foregoing lines prior to a crisis, it falls directly on the shoulders of those citizens with the necessary initiative to prepare themselves for leadership roles. While emergent leaders may come forward to help prevent panic, the most functional persons will be prepared leaders who know what to do under panic-conducive circumstances to prevent it. The more informed personnel there is at such a time, the less likely are the chances of havoc-wreaking panic.

There are familiar echoes of the past in the pronouncements daily being voiced to socially unconscious North Americans. Business leaders, while feeling less confident of the future than at any time since World War II, are trying to convince their prospective customers, or themselves (or both) that the present difficulty is merely a `period of readjustment’ that will right itself in the near future. Meanwhile, they are concentrating on the `gimmick market’ — a grand selling binge of anything that will help prevent the buying public from thinking seriously about what is happening. As a result, North Americans are probably the least prepared for the major change, coming inexorably their way, of any populace in history. The potential for consuming panic is accordingly the greatest to occur.

Where the issue of survival is paramount it is irrelevant to ask whether panic can be avoided in the forthcoming Price System crisis. It MUST be avoided if human life and civilization are to continue on this Continent.