September 6, 2005

A Man-Made Disaster:

John Ray points us toward an important essay by Robert Tracinski at The Intellectual Activist that emphasizes the disastrous role played by wrong assumptions about how those left behind in New Orleans would behave, and the impact that would have on slowing the rescue and succor efforts:

It took four long days for state and federal officials to figure out how to deal with the disaster in New Orleans. I can't blame them, because it also took me four long days to figure out what was going on there. The reason is that the events there make no sense if you think that we are confronting a natural disaster.

If this is just a natural disaster, the response for public officials is obvious: you bring in food, water, and doctors; you send transportation to evacuate refugees to temporary shelters; you send engineers to stop the flooding and rebuild the city's infrastructure. For journalists, natural disasters also have a familiar pattern: the heroism of ordinary people pulling together to survive; the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, and rescue workers; the steps being taken to clean up and rebuild.

Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored vehicles, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And journalists—myself included—did not expect that the story would not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and looting.

This is somewhat exaggerated, since a few hundred well-led trained armed men could have secured the city quickly. In fact, you should expect for there to be a lot of revisionism about how the level of violence wasn't really as bad as rumor said it was. Of course, as one resident told a TV crew, if somebody shot him and left him floating, his body would swell up and it's unlikely anybody would bother looking for bullets in him when his body was found. I suspect that there won't be a strong effort made to figure out the precise cause of death of all those swollen bodies fished out of the water.

But, it's a key point borne out in many riots (such as Detroit in 1967), that violence, especially any level of sniping, has a paralyzing effect on rescue workers. Sure, rumors outrun the reality, but think about what it would be like to be a cop or fireman who is supposed to go out in a boat and rescue people. You're putting your life vest on because there's a chance that some desperate survivor in the water might pull you in. But then your wife rushes in and says there are reports of snipers shooting at rescuers, and she insists you put on your bullet-proof vest instead. But that's heavy and would drag you right down to the bottom. So, you say, screw it, I'm calling in sick.

Now, if you have good quality men, like the heroic Fire Department of New York on 9/11, and good leadership, well, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. But the New Orleans police department always consisted of shakedown artists (see the Dennis Quaid movie "Big Easy"), and then, after the black takeover of the mayor's office, standards were dropped even lower to take in lots of blacks, many with criminal records. (I don't anything about the New Orleans Fire Department. Firemen generally are of a higher moral level than policemen, but who knows in New Orleans?) So, unsurprisingly, the rescue workers did not show exceptional bravery under fire.

But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.

The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and television channel has gotten the story wrong.

The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not happen over four days last week. It happened over the past four decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.

The man-made disaster is the welfare state. [More]

Now, that's a nice safe place to stop: blame it on the welfare state. There's a lot of truth to it -- as soon as welfare to unwed mothers was raised above starvation levels in the 1960s, the illegitimacy and crime rates shot through the roof.

But a big problem with this argument is that liberals will in response point out that Sweden has had a far more lavish welfare state for 70 years now, yet, despite incessant American conservative predictions of Sweden's imminent collapse, it's still a functioning society. And liberals say, "Well, I wouldn't quit my job if we had a better safety net. I find my job a fascinating exercise of my intellectual capabilities. Are you saying that other people aren't like you and me and the Swedes? Are you implying that ... blacks aren't like Swedes? Are you, huh, are you? Crimethink! Ahhhh-oooo-gahhh! Crimethink!"

And that's where the argument has bogged down, at least among intellectuals, almost permanently since the 1960s ... because of the unthinkability of pointing out that, well, yes, maybe, blacks aren't Swedes.

Heck, even the Brits aren't Swedes -- the welfare state wrecked Britain economically in a couple of decades and is destroying the morals of Britain's white working class today.

Now, ever since the 1966 midterm elections, running against welfare and crime has typically been a winning issue for conservatives because, the public can see how disastrous the welfare boosts of the 1960s turned out to be.

But, the rapid rises in crime and welfare that happened 40 years ago are fading into the mists of time, and the pundit elite is making noises this week like they've forgotten the past and they want to spend zillions on "urban problems" again.

So, once again, we are seeing the disastrous impact of having an intellectual elite that isn't allowed to write sense about topics, if they want to keep their jobs, that the general public talks about it.

As Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate, said in my 2002 interview with him:

Q: Aren't we all better off if people believe that we are not constrained by our biology and so can achieve any future we choose?

A: People are surely better off with the truth. Oddly enough, everyone agrees with this when it comes to the arts. Sophisticated people sneer at feel-good comedies and saccharine romances in which everyone lives happily ever after. But when it comes to science, these same people say, "Give us schmaltz!" They expect the science of human beings to be a source of emotional uplift and inspirational sermonizing.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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