Saturday, September 03, 2005


All the coverage of Katrina amazes me in many ways. First, does society revert so quickly into a "Lord of the Flies" situation? I can ALMOST understand the looting, if it were coming from a survival instinct. But the news footage shows people with shopping carts like they won the supermarket sweep. While I don't condone it, I wish that were the worst of it. Now you hear people saying that rape (including kids as victims) and mayhem prevail. I think I heard that a third of the police force in New Orleans deserted, and the officers that stayed to help had no food or water themselves, were taking gas from abandoned cars to put in squad cars, were outnumbered, and scared.
Today the military came in and are cleaning up. I've heard people say that there are plenty of acts of heroism, but that just makes me wonder what is your baseline for human behavior? Sure, next to the rapist/looters - pretty much any non-criminal behavior can be seen as an act of heroism. I don't doubt the heroes are out there. I'm just horrified that apparently the default behavior in a disaster area is not to care for one another (thus making "heroism" the prevalent behavior), but to rape and murder them.
I enjoyed the Salon article that I linked to from Road Runner. I think you can't dispute the fact that the ones who were left behind were the ones who couldn't help themselves to get out: either they are too poor or unhealthy. I completely agree that this raises ugly questions that have to be thoroughly discussed and answered. However, I picked up a hint from reading the article that (regarding the behavior) there was this "what do you expect, they're poor" tenor to the argument. I can't agree with that. I think it oversimplifies the complexity of the problem.
Unfortunately, I fear that this also gives an opening to conservative Christians to push for getting religion back into the schools. It's such an obvious, (also) oversimplified argument - because these people "didn't know any better" we have to teach them, and naturally this means we have to teach them Christian values.
As is probably clear from the earlier part of this blog, I expect people - poor, rich, in a disaster area, whatever - not to rape and murder. That's my baseline. My question of why this is not everyone's baseline cannot be answered so easily by either of the above arguments, and I acknowledge that they are only truncated versions. Both answers start with "what do you expect from THESE people?" which in-and-of-itself suggests a disenfranchisement - another issue which must be addressed. I hope that this leads to a frank discussion of the incredibly complex issues alluded to in the Salon article. That would be a silver lining on this otherwise horrible disaster.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have some really good points. It is sad that Katrina revealed so many ugly sides of human nature in both the victims and the commentators sitting in the sidelines. Ted told me today that there was this very pointed critique of George W. from a Katrina victim last night that got blacked out on the West Coast. Basically this guy said that if you were a certain color then going out and getting food to survive was called looting but if you were another color it was called providing for your family. I did have to think about how else you would get food in a situation like that that wouldn't involve looting.