Sunday, January 23, 2011

Catatonically Speaking: The Natural Disaster of the Minimal Government Ideology: NOLA and Katrina

In the four years I have been doing Clockwise Cat, I do not believe I have ever let loose with a Katrina rant. But Alan Britt's excellent poem "For the Refugees of Katrina" reminded me of that excruciating event. And while searching for art to embellish his poem, I was reminded of artist David Bates, and his Katrina series. I had seen his work in Austin, Texas, with my older brother, and became quite enamored. His stark style agonizingly highlights the horrific nature of how the impoverished people in New Orleans were treated in the wake of the levee-break.

There was a distressing amount of mean-spiritedness when it became apparent that so many poor people had no way of getting out before or during the NOLA flood. It was appalling and disheartening and it just bred nihilistic feelings toward humanity. Privileged people didn't understand why anyone would stay in their homes when such a flood was forecast, refusing to recognize that many who live in poverty do not have access to radio or TV - and even those who do did not necessarily have access to get out in time. I mean, when you live in a crumbling shack, it's quite obvious that you cannot necessarily afford your own means of transportation. And the worst part was, there was no assistance to evacuate the less privileged from NOLA before the storm hit; any good disaster-plan would naturally encompass that, but in this cruel era of minimal-government ideology, such humane ideas are viciously mocked - a disaster unto itself.

And then the treatment of the poor during the evacuation was beyond abominable. The government was deliberately ill-prepared to handle it, and this caused bizarre resentment among the more misanthropic toward the the POOR. The resentment was misdirected, of course, and should have been on BEHALF of the poor toward the anti-government ideologues in office. But that is how our leaders malevolently manipulate us; by "exposing" the inefficiency of goverment (an inefficacy that is invented through willful underfunding and understaffing), they engender the malicious fallacy that government does not work and that it's always up to the individual to take care of him or herself, even in time of natural disasters.

Never mind that in all such tragedies, the privileged are often able to escape unscathed.

Naturally, this is how America works - if you have the money, then you have the means. Otherwise, you're screwed, and the rich (and even middle class) will ridicule you. Never mind that in most other civilized countries (and I don't really count America as terribly civilized, but that's a semantical debate for another time), the idea that government is a collective force that cares for the general welfare, especially concerning healthcare and disaster plans, is the NORM.

There is a double curse, of course, against poor black people. People have come to expect there to be rampant poverty among African Americans, and so the sight of so many helpless black people just further confirmed for some that in this, the land of opportunity, if you are poor, it's your fault. Never mind the nuances of our economic system that reinforce class hierarchies, and indeed thrive on them. Never mind that there are more people than jobs and that it's the government's duty to provide protection for the people.

This is why we pay taxes. The anti-tax assholes have NO CLUE what they are promoting when they rail against taxes. Yeah, let me know how it works out for you when your trash is not picked up, your mail is not delivered, the armed thief who terrorized your neighborhood is not pursued, your child is not educated, your car wrecks on pothole-riddled roads, and your house burns to the ground. Sounds like a great plan!

Of course there won't be any trash to pick up or children to educate if your house burns down, so HEY. Oh, and in a natural disaster, when a cyclone sweeps through your area, make sure you refuse the help of others, because you are an individual who CAN TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. In fact, just divorce your spouse and renounce your family and friends, because you won't be needing them either. After all, you're a RUGGED AMERICAN.

The handling of the aftermath of Katrina was a national shame, devasatingly demoralizing. And the shameful treatment persists - NOLA has been slickly gentrified, displacing more poor people, most of whom are black.

I hope that Alan Britt's poem and David Bates' Katrina art will inspire greater compassion toward those less privileged, and that you are moved to speak out to educate others about how we are all shackled when others are enslaved to poverty.


According to Wikipedia: "Five years later, thousands of displaced residents in Mississippi and Louisiana are still living in temporary accommodation."

1 comment:

Ken said...

One thing that deserves general attention is the mean spirited attitude that people have developed in the last few years towards, frankly, anything they find unpleasant or do not wish to deal with. In Katrina, the public turned on the victims in many ways. In the current budget talks, the public turned on civil servants (one commentator posited that all the anger that should have been applied to the bankers and wall streeters who mugged the economy somehow was pointed by a fickle public at public servants and their pension funds). I am still pondering this bizarre turn of events, but it is almost as though a disfunctional redirection of anger and blame is the first reaction the public goes for. I am puzzled.