Saturday, September 17, 2005

What Have We Wrought?

Civilized Asian typhoon victims vs. Barbaric American hurricane victims.

National Review 2005-09-26
The Veneer of Civilization
Utterly removed

The experience of foreign survivors of the tsunami that caused such fatal damage throughout coastal Southeast Asia, and that of those who survived the hurricane in New Orleans, have been very different, or at least very differently reported. I suspect that the difference in reported experience is real rather than a journalistic artifact.

The survivors of the tsunami reported their terror at the size and destructive force of the wave, of course, but in no instance that I recall did they mention having been robbed by other survivors, let along going in fear of armed gangs. And there were no reports after the recent floods in Bombay, which produced destruction of homes and caused death on a scale not so very different from the hurricane in New Orleans, of looting or other forms of public disorder.

It goes without saying that the population of Bombay is very much poorer than that of New Orleans, incomparably so, in fact. Raw poverty, therefore, cannot explain the disorder in New Orleans and its absence in Bombay. Nor can comparative poverty, that last resort of the liberal who is eager to find an economic explanation of human frailty and wickedness, and who is aware that raw poverty per se will not do the trick. But the gulf between the rich and the poor in Bombay is, if anything, greater than the gulf between them in New Orleans, probably much greater. The ostentatious opulence of the rich in India exceeds that of the rich in America, while anyone who has walked through a Bombay slum will know that nothing remotely comparable exists, or indeed has ever existed, in America. So relative poverty does not explain the disorder in New Orleans, either.

How, then, are we to explain it? What is the underlying social pathology that accounts for it?

Most of the looters look bitter, angry, resentful, and vengeful as they go about what British burglars are inclined (in all seriousness) to call their “work.” The gangs are reported to have used racial taunts during their depredations. In all probability, the looters believe that, in removing as much as they can from stores, they are not so much stealing as performing acts of restitution or compensatory justice for wrongs received. They are not wronging the owners of the stores; on the contrary, the owners of the stores have wronged them over the years by restricting their access to the goods they covet and to which they believe they have a right. The hurricane has thus given them the opportunity to take justice into their own hands and settle old scores.

If this surmise is right, it is a terrible indictment of all the efforts undertaken in recent years by government welfare programs and institutions that practice affirmative action, such as universities, to ameliorate the condition of underclass blacks. It implies that the nihilistic alienation of the looters and gang members is as great as that to be found in Soweto at the height of the apartheid regime. Far from ameliorating the situation, then, the billions spent on welfare programs, and the intellectual ingenuity expended on justifying the unjustifiable in the form of affirmative action, have resulted in a hatred that is bitter and widespread enough among those condescended to in this manner to result in the scenes for which New Orleans will now long be remembered.

If Hurricane Katrina had struck New Orleans in 1950, when the black population could justly have complained of severe oppression and injustice, would we have witnessed what we have witnessed there in recent days? I cannot prove it, but I think the answer is no. And if this is the case, then we must ask ourselves what has lit the fire in the minds of men that they are prepared to shoot at their neighbors’ saviors.

Dr. Dalrymple, the Dietrich Weissman fellow of the Manhattan Institute, is a prison psychiatrist in Britain, and the author most recently of Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses.


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