Do Events Like Katrina and 9/11 Make Us Crazy?

New Orleans, before the inundation, and today; NYT photo

Feeling anxious and short-tempered these days? I’ve noticed it everywhere since the news of Katrina’s destruction and aftermath has sunk into public consciousness. More arguments overheard. Road rage picking up. Those who tend to moodiness are positively morose. The rhetoric on all sides seems to have been ratcheted up. The NYT in its lead editorial today snapped (emphasis mine):

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

The commentary from the right wing was, not surprisingly, to blame everything on the godless poor and disenfranchised: The stories are all blather about looting and the shot fired at an evacuation helicopter shuttling 20,000 desperate homeless from the New Orleans dome to the Houston dome, and announced (unenforceable) “zero tolerance” policies for price-gougers. If people who had suddenly lost everything due to simple unpreparedness for an inevitable disaster, the right-wing pundits said, and whose plight was apparently being ignored by the rest of the world, would simply exercise patience and self-discipline, there would be no problem. In the apparent complete absence of law and order, if the people sitting in the darkness, cut off from telephone and other communication with anyone, would simply avoid the tendency to use their gazillions of constitutionally protected semi-automatic weapons to shoot at anything that moves, everything would be fine. The more extreme right-wingers even blamed the disaster on their god’s wrath over abortion and homosexuality.

Comments on the blogosphere have been likewise intemperate. I have been astonished at the anger that has erupted on the pages of bloggers who are outraged and distraught over this predicted and entirely preventable disaster. Imagine if you were the US Director of Homeland Security, the largest and most heavily-funded government operation in the history of the world, and that not only did you not heed warnings dating back years that the exposure of below-sea-level New Orleans to hurricane damage was one of the three greatest security risks to the country, you oversaw the diversion of millions of dollars earmarked for addressing that risk to the fraudulent war in Iraq, which created rather than reduced US security risk. Would you expect to still have a job? Meanwhile the Bush administration, with the National Guard and other emergency forces fully conscripted and overextended in the Middle East, has done essentially nothing. New Orleans is a city without light and power, without communications, without essential services, without sewage treatment, without safe food and water, without housing. They’re still waiting for help from this utterly inept administration.

What’s going on here? What is it about events far away in New York or New Orleans that makes us all so edgy? I remember in the days after 9/11 people seemed likewise unable to concentrate, and on short fuses. But this North-America-wide skittishness, irritableness, was not evident after the Asian tsunami, which elicited some grief but otherwise more positive, sympathetic emotion.

What do 9/11 and Katrina have in common, and what is that doing to our heads?

  • They were both preventable, but the cost and challenge of prevention were (and are) massive, almost overwhelming
  • Unlike the tsunami, both 9/11 and Katrina represented or brought out the worst in humanity, and raised serious questions about human nature (negligence to prevent a predictable disaster, incompetence in dealing with it, and exploitation of the misery afterwards)

The fact that both events were preventable has to fill us with almost irrational fear. They happened. They could have been prevented, but boy would it have been difficult. They could easily happen again, and the trillions that have been spent on ‘homeland security’ and will likely be spent rebuilding New Orleans could well be totally wasted, when it happens again. What Bush has done since 9/11 has greatly increased the likelihood of a recurrence of a terrorist attack in the US. The focus on rebuilding New Orleans will be putting things back the way they were — there is no money (half of the people of New Orleans have no flood insurance, so the rebuilding will be substantially at public cost, and Bush’s imperial war and tax giveaways to the rich have left nothing to pay for it) for anything beyond refugee-level housing for the flooded-out residents, let alone for building expensive levees to protect New Orleans from the next hit.

The fact that both events have brought out the worst in human nature must be deeply unsettling to those who believe that, at heart, we all want to do the right thing, and that, in times of crisis, we will pull together. What are we to make of large segments of the population who clearly believe it’s “every man for himself”, that we have only limited responsibility for the welfare of others? What are we to make of dice-throwing politicians who take reckless chances with human lives to line the pockets of their cronies and to secure cheap oil? What are we to make of the misspending of trillions of taxpayer dollars for ‘security’ that actually makes citizens’ lives less secure? What are we to make of price-gougers who tell desperate victims that if they won’t pay ransom for vital necessities, they’ll sell it to the next rich idiot, who doesn’t even need it? What are we to make of struggling survivors who are so cynical about life, law and order and their neighbours that they think nothing of exploiting a crisis to kill, rape, steal and destroy, simply because they can, and because “the Man never did nothin’ for me”? Are we humans really that base and despicable under our veneer of civilization? And why?

The third recent event that has engendered these same responses, and has the same frightening common attributes, but to a lesser degree, was the inability (most evident in 2000 and 2004, but preexisting) of the US election process to reliably reflect the will of the voters. Like 9/11 and Katrina, the unresolvable doubt over who actually won the electoral college vote in these two elections was entirely preventable. And like those events, this doubt brought out the worst in humanity — blatantly corrupt government and corporate officials, conspiracy theories with a frightening ring of credibility, exploitation of the system’s weaknesses to deliberately disenfranchise the poor and discourage future participation in the voting process, and nagging doubts about whether the democratic process has been hijacked. The fact that this is a political disaster rather than a humanitarian one (it has completely undermined the credibility of the US as a defender of democracy in other countries, and the legitimacy of all elected officials in the US) may cause us to shrug off the comparison, but we should not. The angst that we felt when we read the evidence of tampering and the complete lack of verifiability of the voting machines in Florida and Ohio is not that different from the angst we felt after 9/11 and Katrina — dread, fear, helplessness, the sense that everything is spiraling out of anyone’s control.

Lakoff has explained how hard it is for us to understand and process anything that doesn’t fit with our ‘frames’, and how desperately we tend to cling to our personal worldviews. Events like these, I would suggest, come dangerously close to shattering our frames and destroying our worldviews, and to some extent make us, at least temporarily, slightly insane. To the progressive, giving up on the view that most people are good, caring, honest, and fair is sickening. To the conservative, giving up on the possibility that if you live a diligent, moral life you have a chance of being safe and secure, is equally sickening. These worldviews are our levees, and when they break, the result is profound and destructive.

Katrina, 9/11, and the broken US electoral system are victories for short-term, cynical, negligent thinking over long-term, dispassionate and compassionate thinking. They are victories for terror and helplessness over reason and self-control. They are victories for the dark side of our nature over its bright side. The shocking awareness that violence, abuse of power, and inhumanity can so easily, and so often, wash over us with such destructive force, like the waves smashing the levees of New Orleans, is enough to make us all crazy.

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29 Responses to Do Events Like Katrina and 9/11 Make Us Crazy?

  1. Darcy says:

    Make us crazy???? I would say that there is abundant evidence that we have been living in a state of collective and deep-seated madness for a very long time.

  2. Mike says:

    Seriously, nuke us before it’s too late. We’re a rogue country led by a madman, with thousands of nukes. It’s too late for us, but please save the world.

  3. El Flojo says:

    Violent crime in New York sank significantly after 9/11.If you guys don’t like the way things are going, get involved and change them.Don’t blame it on our leaders or the collective madness. The only madness is the lack of participation.

  4. El Flojo says:

    One catastrophe does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.You spend more time looking for reasons to be depressed than you do looking for reasons to think positive. It is self defeating.To save the world we must first save ourselves.Whomsoever saves a single life, saves the world entire.

  5. Raging Bee says:

    Dave: you see only the worst of human nature because that’s all you’re looking for. Nowhere in your “people all suck” jeremiad is there any link to actual news, people blogging from the scene, charities to which to donate, suggestions of what to donate, or anything to alleviate your monochromatic picture of barbarism and depravity.Click on my handle. Go to my blog (it’s not friends-only). Click on the “friends” link in the upper-left area. Look at all the posts from others about Katrina and the aftermath. Note the actual links to news, commentary, and charitable organizations to which to donate. While you’re going crazy about how everyone else is going crazy, people from the UK to Iraq are showing actual concern and responding to the real situation on the ground — not just their own decades-old prejudices about human nature.PS: what part of Hurricane Katrina was “preventable?” And do you really believe our response to 9/11 “created” a terrorist threat? My own response to Katrina is nothing to brag about, but at least I’m not adding more of this sort of useless drivel to the background noise.

  6. zach says:

    <html><body>"Feeling anxious and short-tempered these days?" No more than usual, I can honestly say it hasn’t really impacted me at all.  Nuclear war scared the crap out of me when I was 8 years old or so, I can say 9/11 didn’t bother me much compared to that."What is it about events far away in New York or New Orleans that makes us all so edgy?" Fear, plain and simple.  So perhaps the title of your article could be ‘does fear make us crazy?’"They were both preventable"  A hurricane is preventable? Really, that’s neat. And if you mean they shouldn’t have build New Orleans then I would have to agree, stupid Americans building a city like New Orleans and not spending huge amounts of money to storm proof it, that was dumb."What Bush has done since 9/11 has greatly increased the likelihood of a recurrence of a terrorist attack in the" US.   This is your opinion only, not supported by fact."What are we to make of large segments of the population who clearly believe it’s "every man for himself", that we have only limited responsibility for the welfare of others?"  One question for you: Do you like me? I would guess probably not.  Have you heard of ‘the golden rule?’"dread, fear, helplessness, the sense that everything is spiraling out of anyone’s control."  In reality mommy and daddy are only human, they can’t control everything."These worldviews are our levees, and when they break, the result is profound and destructive."  What are you holding back?  Why is it only destructive? Openness and vulnerability are absolutely key to personal growth. "The shocking awareness that violence, abuse of power, and inhumanity can so easily, and so often, wash over us with such destructive force, like the waves smashing the levees of New Orleans, is enough to make us all crazy." You can have no good with the bad, our shadows are part of us.  This is reality. </body></html>

  7. Chris says:

    Hey look at me, I can be self-righteous, condescending AND get in about 28 left-wing unlinked and mostly unprovable conspiracy theories WHILST the dead are still floating around New Orleans. dave, you seriously need to get a grip. but i’m sure you hear that all the time.

  8. Zephyr says:

    I would weigh in, with the opposite opinion. There hasbeen, in the latter part of the 1900s, an ideology whichsays if people will just think positively, things willhappen positively in their lives. It is said that oneshouldn’t get bogged down with complaint and depressingtopics. What occurs here, is that people put blinders on -just like they would on horses, centuries ago. They don’twant to be scared, so they don’t allow themselves to takein the larger perspective which they ought to.”Critical thought” is a thing which is very much encouragedby the most progressive teachers and college professors inthe usa school system.The problem comes from those who have set themselves up, asthe most powerful voices in society. Reuters and theassociated press and the cable news television networks…in the usa. The ethics of these organizations, which compelthem to portray the events in their world in one light oranother – this has a tremendous impact on the worldview ofthe citizens.I’ve been watching CNN’s news coverage of the disaster inNew Orleans over the last few days… speeches by governingofficials – including George Bush – from hour to hour reflectthe kind of perception which CNN has chosen to give totheir audience, recently. CNN is a very theatricallyorganized way of presenting news… all the motifs of thepresentations are carefully put together with anintentional agenda. The hosts in the studio always aremaking inferences about linguistical techniques which theyuse, to make certain that they are edging the perception ofthe audience, in the direction which is intended.Generally speaking, people choose to fall into line withthe opinions of the larger society. Those beliefs becomereal to individuals, even though the reasoning is logicallyflawed.The way the biggest media voices approach issues, tends toimpart the perception to the usa people, which they have.The ohio voting irregularities were swept under the rug,becausethe media didn’t want the usa people to beconcerned about that. The tragedy at the new york worldtrade center buildings, gave an opportunity to the ownersof the media organizations to push the governments ofvarious nations to the ironic agenda of trying to clean upthe problems of other nations, through making war. Are people made crazy by such tragic events? No, the waythese things are portrayed is often very much out ofcontext. I appreciate how CNN has approached the gulf coastdisaster – they have focused on giving information, andurging rescue. However, in several days, you’ll see thatorganization shift gears back to hateful and vindictivespeech against arabs, or muslims, or towards those who havemade misjudgements in tense situations, and have beenlabeled “criminals.” In light of all this, I think it very important that people do developand air their real opinions in the blogosphere. We are finally decentralizingthe information channels in north america and elsewhere. Blogs allow usto see what we couldn’t see in the 1900s – the insides of people’s minds.One may sometimes see a wasteland of anxiety and misperceptions. But,also, it allows one insight into human nature. One can learn about theinner workings of various professional guilds, where one mightwant to apprentice, someday.In any new environment – like the internet – there’s going to be animmaturity which is seen in the short term. Consider how childrenspeak and think, and treat eachother. Well, here adults are the oneswho are gaining their footing in a new environment. Within a decadeand two, maturity on the internet will have replaced foolishness.

  9. Raging Bee says:

    To what reality, specifically, do you think we are blinding ourselves? And in what direction, exactly, is CNN intentionally “edging the perception of the audience?”

  10. DaveThe levie system has been built up and maintained over decades of time. It was built for a category three hurricane. That much we know for fact becasue the ARMY corp of engineers has stated as much and they were the ones who built it and maintained it. You claim (actually you do more than claim) you state as if it were an irrefutable fact that it was preventable and by this current adminstration. I’m not an engineer, but with a little critical thinking I can figure out that the levie would probably need to be constructed of something very different and under an entirely different design methodolgy than the existing structure. (I.e with better run offs and better use of wetlands which have taken decades to lose and likely decades to win back. AS you’ve said the other day see the Dutch) That kind of change would need to have been contemplated and started long before this administration, whether democratic or republican.That doesn’t excuse the US government, but it does put it into a different context than George Bush and the neocons and their right wing friends are the root of all evil, which seems to be the tenor of your comments of lateYou are starting to sound like a hate mongerer.When it comes to these kinds of issues my question to you is: where has your critical thinking that you are so good at gone? Why do you leave it behind when talking environment and US politics yet display it so elloguently when talking business innovation

  11. Zephyr says:

    Building a city on former marshlands, several feet belowsea level, is simply foolish, John. The same amount ofmoney that will be poured into rebuilding new orleans,could have been put into raising the level of the city -building by building – before the tragedy occurred. I wasraised in Seattle, Washington… and in the early 1900s, anentire hill was removed in the city, to raise one portionof the city up somewhat, which was having floodingproblems.The fact is, that the impossible physics of this situationin New Orleans were known long ago – there’s a hell of alot of potential energy in the water which is physicallyabove the city at all times. I agree with Dave that thistragedy should have been prevented. It’s a classic exampleof people foolishly thinking that they can live in anunsustainable manner. I believe that the environmentalmovement ought to utilize this event like the right wingutilized the trade center tragedy. We need to use this asan object lesson – point our fingers to it and say “lookwhat happens when you allow coastal erosion of wetlands””look at the toxic soup which is going to be in the streetsof new orleans for months – this is what humans all overthe world are flushing into their lakes and oceans, everyday.” It’s not uncaring to rally around working towards asolution, which will prevent future problems of a similarnature.

  12. Andrew James Maynard Norster says:

    As a slight aside: The traits you use to describe the darker sides of humanity are very much a part of the collective whole of who each and every person is. To proclaim one state of being over another is redundant as we all contain the potential for apathetic, or even gleeful narcissism yet additionally selfless and compassionate.What is currently lacking in our society is motivating drives for the most sustainable modes of activity. The projection of specific actions as dark, evil, vulgar, etc is simply a miscommunication of the driving forces behind those actions. Each person DOES do what he or she feels is right, at that place, given the circumstances. The standards for what ‘right’ is have simply become so convoluted and distorted by systemized organizations that the segmentation of our minds results in a host of conflicting moral factors, differing from person to person and producing an inability, in most, to comprehend the reasons for others actions. This results in despotism, apathy, and generally ineffective and despondent personalities that you have cited here. Like Pavlov

  13. Zephyr says:

    Wow – I hope you write a book, someday, Andrew.In regards to your last assertion – I agree. I was lookingat today’s CNN portrayal of the homeless people of NewOrleans. The management of that news organization seems to believe that showing compassion has a grounding point somewhere – where compassion becomes pity, and commiseration with someone. I deeply appreciatewhat television is doing, in bringing the people’s plight tonational attention. But, having been homeless myself at onepoint, I see that there’s a fundamental mistake they aremaking. Those making the city unsafe are .01% of the people.It’s an environment problem for those who are there on theground. It is not an issue which reflects on the characterof those who are despondent and helpless. Human beings are not things like rocks, which have certain qualities whichcan be defined, and which are static. Instead, human beings are always changing and their lives are going in one direction or another.Ethics are an interesting study. I think differently than you,but I wouldn’t want to take the wind out of your sails.I think that ethics are tangible things which can befactored into logical analyses of social issues. However,they are culture specific, to a large degree. There’s a socialdance that has to occur. And that has to occur smoothly.There are certainly laws I disagree with in my own nation,but I accept it as a caveat of living here. And, honestly,I have a good quality of life.I know that my brief thoughts don’t hold a candle to yourdepth of analysis, Andrew. Thank you for giving us the reading material.You have a beautiful way of thinking. Keep it up. Spread your wings and be free.

  14. Zephyr says:

    And again, to you Dave: I must confess that in past years in the hot debateforums I’ve participated in on the internet, I’ve gotten in the habit of drawingup my reply before thoroughly reading the person’s assertions, before me.Writing is a different way of thinking – it’s the opposite of reading.And you must admit that your highlighting of text encourages a personto speed read, and think that they have gleaned the gist of what you saidwhen, perhaps they haven’t.I love what you have said here:To the progressive, giving up on the view that most people are good, caring, honest, and fair is sickening. To the conservative, giving up on the possibility that if you live a diligent, moral life you have a chance of being safe and secure, is equally sickening. These worldviews are our levees, and when they break, the result is profound and destructive.Philosophically, there is somewhere in the middle of this event wherepeople need to reassess how they view the world, isn’t there? And whathappens when they do? Food for thought, it is.

  15. Dave Pollard says:

    Darcy: Yeah, I’ve alluded to that fact before — but this represents a significant worsening of the condition ;-)Shaded: I just call it as I see it. I’m not “looking” for reasons to be depressed — they just keep jumping up and biting us in the face.Raging Bee and Chris: There are 14 million blogs out there. Please, both of you, fuck off with your incessant whining judgemental criticism and misreading of everything I write. If you just once had something positive to say your negativism would be tolerable, but you don’t. If you would even make the effort to *read carefully* and understand what I’m saying and *think* before you jump to conclusions and write your blather it would be tolerable, but you don’t. Your comments are outrageous, hurtful and unwelcome. Go hassle some other bloggers, preferably someone as judgemental as you. I’m fed up with both of you.Zephyr: I appreciate your point, but I think we need to distinguish between our response to the actual events and our response to the media coverage of them (which are not the same). I would agree that the legacy media are aiming for theatre — they see their job not to (as Maher put it) “make what’s important interesting”, but rather to exploit visually sensational and provocative situations to “sell tickets to the theatre” (get people to watch, drive up audience numbers, increase advertising revenue and hence satisfy shareholders). They are utterly uninterested in the truth (it’s usually too complex and too subtle to make good theatre, and costs too much to obtain). What I’m referring to is our visceral response to these events, even before we really know the details. For progressives, that’s “How could anyone do this/allow this to happen/react this way?” and for conservatives that’s “Now how can we ever feel safe and secure again?” The mental illness that this invokes in us is purely emotional and subconscious, and all the yammering and rationalizing and excuses that follow are just attempts — completely unsuccessful attempts — to come to grips with this sickening emotional reaction. As for your point about my highlighting of text encouraging people to jump to conclusions and not properly read the whole article, I think you’re right, but so many readers have told me they like the highlighting that I’m going to have to take that chance.John: Today’s NYT has the description, by the author of a 2001 article in Scientific American about it, of the 1998 multi-government plan that recognized the inevitability of this disaster and proposed a $14B project to prevent it. The plan got shelved because of politics. This disaster was entirely preventable. Andrew: I’m afraid I cannot follow you. And if you’re saying that I’m carping on the ‘dark side’ of human nature I think you’ve missed my point. I believe humans are inherently good — it’s this *apparent* dark side that is so troubling to progressives (like me), the seeming impossibility of reconciling gangs taking over the NO convention centre, with the outpouring of positive good will and mutual assistance we would expect of inherently good people. Take a look at this article about how the people of Mississippi have been helping each other out, for example, and the author’s ‘hope’ that this ‘rising to the occasion’ behaviour will continue.

  16. Raging Bee says:

    …the seeming impossibility of reconciling gangs taking over the NO convention centre, with the outpouring of positive good will and mutual assistance we would expect of inherently good people.The difference is leadership, plain and simple: people stuck in NO and cut off from the rest of society are giving up and melting down because those whose job it is to take control and organize relief, evacuation and resupply have failed — for whatever reason — to do so. This sort of chaos normally does not happen in the US because our security forces normally establish control of a stricken area before people have a chance to get this crazy.People normally want to do the right thing; but certain people in certain situations do not always know what the right thing is, or aren’t able to do it, or don’t have the organization to make it work. Disasters like this naturally cause fear for the people affected, and fear leads to panic in the absence of strong and coherent leadership.

  17. Darcy says:

    There is a direct relationship between the establishment of official authority and order (or failure of) and chaos. During the 1992 Rodney King riots (I was there), the looting ran unabated until yuppies were seen breaking into computer stores on Wilwhire Blvd. Almost immediately a heavily armed cordon of Nat’l Guard (higher nos than were in NO 4 days after the hurricane) was thrown up around Beverly Hills. The property of the rich is always somehow protected. Or so it looks.Another example. This was not reported widely in the national news media, but it was in local media. During the collapse of the WTCs on 9-11, there was rampant looting going on in the midst of the collapse and the immediate aftermath. Later, when the site was excavated, a fire engine was found in the underground mall area was uncovered; its front seat filled with stacks of blue jeans. New York Heros dying while looting. The looting and lawlessness ended quickly as NYC went into a state closely resembling martial law – which was firmly established by that evening. No one without an id proving their residency – could get within 20 blocks of the site. Among other things which were being protected down there was a huge amount of gold stored in the collapsed HSBC offices. There is some cnn feed which shows that hundred of fire and rescue people have managed to make their way to New Orleans, with their own boats, fuel and food in tow all the way from Calif (Sacramento, LA, Orange County, San Diego!). How is it that they could get in, but the Nat’l Guard can’t? Is it because all their equipment is in Iraq? Or is it because on some level, at this point “they” have considered it a wash (no pun intended) and since there is no property to protect … what is the point. Sorry to be so cynical, but as my very conservative and old fashioned Army Officer Grandfather always said, “actions speak more truthfully than words.”

  18. Dave Pollard says:

    Darcy: It seems to me that the need for “official authority and order” is a function of the size of the group that the authority is attempting to govern. In small communities where everyone knows everyone else (like communities snowed in in a blizzard) people don’t need someone to tell them what to do — they just pitch in and help each other. Is the reason large groups don’t act this way a ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ issue that only arises when you get a span of authority greater than that in which relationships are tight? Would we find that the people who loot stores avoid stores where they know the owner? And why do you think behaviour was so much better during the Big Blackout a couple of years ago than it is today in NO?

  19. Andrew and Raging Bee: Yesterday, while reporting on the Hurricane, CNN interactive banners were showing the following heading “Anarchy in New Orleans”. Do we share the same definition of what really means anarchy? Forget about anarchism and take out the best of it: freedom and solidarity for all. I’m not an “-ist” of any “-ism”, but I have to admit that the anarchist philosophy gave me a lot of positive vibes the last few months. And I feel angry witnessing that CNN keeps saying bullshit to everyone. Why not saying the true: “Democratic Chaos after the Hurricane” or “South Gethos Get Out of the Shade”?Chris: When 9/11 happened, I was on my way to the University of Geneva. When arrived in the hallway, people were shocked watching TVs with an autistic look on their face. From my side, I felt utterly confused and angry with those terrorist fuckers. My defensive and unconscious reaction at that very moment was irony and cynicism. I recall saying to one local journalist that “they” [the terrorists] could have started with the UN, here in Geneva! Mainly because Geneva, THE Bank capital of the world, was known as the “head of the monster” (as Castro defined it when he came to Geneva back in the 1960s). And that it was about time to start asking ourselves the right questions. Later on, I was disturbed with this sudden and blind sarcasm, when people died in the twin towers. Should I feel guilty being cynical when people die from war, natural disasters or poverty? Who are guilty? Civilians or politicians? The collective unconsciousness? The more I go on, the more I realize that intelligence means the best adaptive strategies to attain true happiness. Cynicism is one way, a purely human one ( In today’s society, cynicism clearly helps few to deal with the unfair suffering of others.How can we remain stoic in front of such catastrophe? Is it another defensive way in order to avoid unpleasant emotions? Check this out:

  20. otterhound says:

    As a libertarian, it breaks my heart to draw the conclusion I must after watching the goings on in New Orleans. That conclusion is: Hobbes was right. In a state of nature it does appear to be a war of all against all and only an authoritarian state can maintain civil society. How utterly depressing.

  21. I agree with you Dave.Human nature is vile and repugnant, with just a thin veneer of “civilization”, “religious Pharisee hypocrisy”, and “patriotic sadism”.Most parents abuse their children mentally, if not in other more vulgar ways.Most teachers are inept. Most corporations are schizoid. Most politicians are scumbag liars and manipulators.It doesn’t take much to strip off the masks and politeness.USA is a pampered, weak, stupid nation. Number of Asian students studying science, math, and engineering skyrockets, as the USA is dumbed down.The residents turn to savages, the government pretends to care, the charities accumulate money but spend it foolishly or on themselves, the MSM can’t be trusted ever.Wake up and smell the coffin.

  22. Dave Pollard says:

    Otterhound, Steven: I am not *that* discouraged. The people of Mississippi are helping each other out, as are (from one wild guess I read) 95% of the people of NO. Yes, the incompetent politically-appointed wingnuts at FEMA are telling us to give our Gulf Coast donations to assassination-prone hate-monger Pat Robertson, but I think it’s thugs and stooges like these that are the thin veneer. I continue to believe in the desire of the mainstream, the vast majority of the population, to do the right thing. Maybe the majority is deluded, gullible, ignorant, escapist, weak, prone to procrastination, and in deep denial, but I just can’t believe they are deliberately nasty. Though I’m disturbingly tempted to get carried away by your eloquent and dispirited rants ;-)

  23. Andrew James Maynard Norster says:

    Simply put, I meant that the activities inherent of gangs are not uncommon in most surviving species on this planet. The title at the top of this website was “save the world.” I assume you mean the human species, and so I suggest that rather than labeling their activities as “the dark side” like some esoteric evil, you analyze them and see how this aspect of humanity can be a benefit rather than a detriment. I simply believe our view of ourselves is what is destroying us. And no, I didn

  24. zach says:

    Andrew: Could we really learn leadership skills from Hitler? Why does letting go of judgement expand morality? I doubt re-orienting to the subjective would be any better than an objective orientation. The existance of relationships makes the sum of the whole greater than the sum of the individual pieces standing alone (see SNA).

  25. Darcy says:

    As long as there are *some* people in the world who are willing to literally put their lives on the line to help their fellow human beings live, then I feel there is reason to hope. Dave – re the NYC blackout in 2002. That was a really interesting event. We all expected looting and were geared up for it. I think several things prevented it, mostly all psychological (there was *some* in some areas but it never caught fire so to speak so the police were able to deal with it). The feeling of bondedness that arose out of 9-11 was still a factor; we felt that if we could survive that we could survive anything. That is I don’t remember any fear. Everyone hung out outside with their neighbors on the streets (or where ever they happened to be stranded) – the *disastor* that it could have been turned into a huge city-wide block party, food was everywhere as people emptied out refrigerators and shared food that would go bad anyway. I really believe that if looters had tried to attack local businesses in my neighborhood, most of us would have been willing to put our bodies in between them and the looters. As it turned out, it never even came close to materializing. What I remember most about that night was the “live” music. Drums, guitars, songs, etc…Re “official order”: I think what I really meant was leadership. Even in small groups which “somehow” just start to cooperate, what really happens is that someone or a small group somehow takes charge and figures out what to do and how to do it. Most people just do as they are told – in an emergency, there is no time to “negotiate” what one will or will not do. I grew up in small towns and have seen this happen time and time again. In crisis, the natural leaders step forward while the rest of us cooperate and pitch in as best we can. In a “big” situation, some sense that the Big Powers are there, are able to handle what is happening is needed. When there is a vacuum of leadership, all hell breaks loose. Organization is what enables the group as a unit or a body to survive…One more thing. I hate these Hitler examples. Hitler (and his ilk) was not a leader. He was a bully. Huge, huge difference. Leaders inspire – they speak to the common humanity in all of us. Brutes rely on fear and use it to crush the human spirit.

  26. Michael says:

    Great post, Dave. I especially like the section of questions you posed, specifically this one: “Are we humans really that base and despicable under our veneer of civilization? And why?” I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve read and watched what has been transpiring.

  27. Jon Husband says:

    I think such events are pushing, pulling and spinning us towards what has been called a “fourth turning”.

  28. I’m disappointed. I cannot find anything in this thread that addresses the real issue — helping the stranded, men, women, children and, yes, even pets.Puh-lease — you’re giving in to a self-fulfilling prophesy. Didn’t anyone see the 9 year old boy interviewed by MSNBC? He speaks for all. “We need help,” he said. In reply to the slow response of aid, “Pitiful. Just pitiful. And shame…”Politics will invade, nay, has invaded this tragedy, but it is NOT the politicans who will, ultimately, make things right. It’s the people. People like you and me and everyone who commented here. The world spins in a 24-hour cycle no matter where you are, or who you are, or what conditions you live in. There is only one thing of importance NOW…the well-being of the people (and animals) caught in this tragedy.Let’s work to solve their suffering, and worry about the politics later. Perhaps, the fault lies with us all… we, the people, could have prevented the total distruction. We chose not to. Now, we must deal with the consequences. Let’s do that, and get into the politics after.

  29. Yvonne: you’re right, people need help NOW. I made a donation to the US red cross, and I apologize if my words were misinterpreted concerning the gethos. I thought about the poor being particularly exposed to natural catastrophes, regardless of their ethnic origin. I also have a dream of a peaceful humanity. We’re all equal, which doesn’t mean that the world is fair. I disgust authoritarian leaders in general, especially Castro, Chirac, Poutine, Blair or Bush. I have some doubt about the current Malthusian-like and meritocratic economics, for it creates wealth, sure, but also death (more than 2 Mio work-related deaths each year, ILO report), poverty and precarity. French gethos are not a dream, and precarity reigns in the heart of Paris. Swiss misery is also well hidden behind the doors. 1/4 of Swiss children live in poor families. Leftovers are massive in democratic countries. And I feel scared, knowing that the human activity is causing global warming and its self-destruction, being part of it. Scientists are alarming us. We need to put the fourth turning (if it means a positive crisis) all together into action NOW. We’re not talking politics here, we want change and it requires to think about meta-solutions, in a systemic way. To me the science of work could help us build a new sustainable model of human- and environmental-centered economics, and not the other way round. It could help people to redefine the value of their work, and get fair and universal exchange means. Market anarchism boosted with the model of “good management”, eco-development and the gift economy, might open new windows of creativity to get rid of poverty. THE motto: health, comfort and play for all! Not from an hygienist POV, but from a psychodynamic one which means freedom and solidarity for all. The demographic boom is a myth; we all have our place down there, as long as we respect ourselves and Gaia. Our lives are sacred.I’m an optimist pessimist by nature.

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