Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina Rant

The destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, aided and abetted by bipartisan environmental destruction, global warming, foolish human planning/political economic decisions (2), privatization of essential services (2), and funding cuts in the service of upward redistribution of wealth and expansion of empire, should make our souls cry out in empathy for the suffering and the dead, our pocketbooks (given the criminal incompetence (2, 3) of the richest state in the world, which should be taking care of it all) open in the spirit of mutual aid, and our lives be recommitted to radical social change.

A post at Lenin's Tomb says it well:

Where do you even start?

The lack of planning for/giving two shits about the poor? The wittering on about 'looting', ie the clear, unambiguous prioritising of property over human life? The none-more-post-horse-escape stable-door bolting in terms of 'disaster funds'? The wide-eyed ingenu act from Bush? 'I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees!.' Oh really, Mr President? So there were no extended warnings written months back, exactly describing what would happen? No concerns about lack of funding? The US Army Corps of Engineers didn't beg for more flood defence money for the last three years, and have a fraction of it granted? You-all didn't cite Iraq as the reason for that? You utter fuck.

Reporters are groping for metaphors - Jonathan Rugman (wmv file) offers 'apocalyptic venice' - and while that kind of aestheticisation normally sticks in the craw, I find myself forgiving it somewhat: it seems a sincere attempt to express a genuinely unprecedented spectacle.

Not only the utter fucking ineptitude, but the race-and-class-inflected nature of this catastrophe is so utterly, nakedly, blatantly obvious, that they're very hard to write out, no matter how the gears of the ideology-machine spin. Most of the interviewed refugees make it clear: 'Bush doesn't care.' 'He's playing golf.' 'That's where our tax money went.' And even the lamest media is saying the same thing: this is a third-world crisis in the richest country in the world; this is appallingly managed; it's the poor who are suffering. And you keep hearing the 'I' word - Iraq.

There's something surreal about the whole thing. Admittedly, I think some of me reacting that way is indicative of having been sucked into First World arrogance: Natural disasters happen Elsewhere and to Others, almost by definition. They are one of the few reasons "exotic" place names fall from the lips of our televised news reciting drones, other than the U.S. invading somewhere. In the dominant discourse in North America, disasters reinforce Their backwardness, Their "unfortunate" status, Our benevolence in providing woefully inadequate aid while we pat ourselves on the back (and support a political economy that deprives Them of adequate resources to begin with). As much as both the actual impact and the mainstream news coverage of Katrina are targeting North America's domestic Others and further Otherizing the victims, that can't erase the strangeness of such a disaster happening here.

It is also because Katrina is a sign of a new era, a herald of death and destruction yet to come. In a way, it is the twin of 9/11. After World War II, when they wisely decided to stop slaughtering each other's civilians, the rich countries (or at least the owners, the middle-class, and even much of the white working-class within the rich countries) enjoyed a sense of near immunity from the devastation capitalism wreaks upon the world. But 9/11 showed that there are those who are willing to respond to the violent reactionary fundamentalism of markets and empire with a violent reactionary fundamentalism of their own. And Katrina shows that Mother Nature can punch through the fingers-in-ears, "Nah, nah, can't hear you!" of the Bush administration and the barely better liberal pandering of Europe and Canada, which deny how close to serious, irreversible, long-term environmental devastation we have driven the Earth. Of course, as with everything else, the worst suffering falls on those already most heavily oppressed: Free market disaster preparedness means the rich and the white flee in their SUVs while the poor and the mostly-Black have no choice but to wait around to die.

But perhaps the most surreal element is one that is, in material terms, less important: I just can't believe how little effort the Bush administration feels it needs to put into even pretending to care about suffering and death among working-class people of colour. I mean, is your right-wing white electoral base so overtly racist that even pretending to care will cost you support? Or is it a recognition of political vulnerability because of National Guard units unable to respond to domestic disaster because they are busy creating disaster overseas, levee reconstruction money cut to fund Homeland Security and empire, or disaster preparedness planning funding cut for same? Or is it because the only people of colour that can be found to blame the magnitude of this disaster on are those who are suffering from it? (Which will be accepted by a segment of white America, but I hope, hope, hope not the majority.)


I'm not sure what more I have to say. Spewing moral/political vitriol may be therapeutic, but it seems particularly inadequate in this instance. It seems to me the most appropriate response to this disaster is to do, not to say. This disaster intersects in some way with nearly every major struggle that occupies progressive movements in North America. After the first priority of providing necessary direct aid is accomplished, it should spur us on to heightened commitment to create transformative social change in all of those areas.


SoN oF DaD said...

Excellent comments.

I agree 110%

bijoux55 said...

Have you made a charitable donation to the red cross. If not shut your laptop and go home. BTW Michael Moore and Kanye West are dead bang right. Just ask the dead granny still lying in her wheel chair and being eaten by rats. Somebody is going to prison over the breach of those levees. If there is justice in this world. George Bush is lazy, stupid and evil as are those who still support him.

Scott said...

Hi bijoux55...thanks for the comment. As far as I can tell from the content of your comment, you and I seem to be largely in agreement, but from its tone it sounds like you maybe disliked some of the things I've said. I'm happy to hear more about what you disagree with and clarify my intent, if I can.

Thanks for stopping by and reading.