By Greg Ellis
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”
– William Butler Yeats
New Orleans was not accustomed to being in the news in late August, much the same as the unsuspecting shows of this fall’s TV lineup were. Without the tale of debauchery and vice under the rubric of Fat Tuesday, the Big Easy could have only been home to national tragedy. The circus act of networked news took an ample dose of amphetamines and deifined itself “Hurricane Headquarters.” This is not to be mistaken for last week’s “Terrorism Central” or even last year’s “Election Oracle.” The self-indulging myth of the news’ self importance was nothing new, but for once it wasn’t so much the manner in which the story was reported that concerned me so much as the reality being depicted in the aftermath of Katrina.
Absent were the accounts of heroism and pet rescues in Katrina’s wake, coldly superceded by reports of widespread looting, rape gangs, and armed bandits lurking in the shadows of Canal Street. If anyone ever needed a counter-narrative to the noble savage dreamed of in the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, nowhere but the streets of flood-ravaged New Orleans could prove that the American inclination to opportunism at its worst was as strong as the jingoism of America–the fervor that blows the trumpet and sings “God Bless America” on Capitol Hill.
The panic was widespread, and desperate times certainly called for desperate measures. Who but an administration trained heavily in the art of rhetoric to attack this enemy with everything in its arsenal. President Bush approached the matter as he does any: with rage, a little stupidity, and bold declarations. I waited on my heels for the axis of evil to have a new friend named Katrina join its ranks. Nothing as poetic as Mr. Bush’s oration on the rumble of the World Trade Center (“We can hear you, the world can hear you, and soon the people that brought down these towers will hear all of us!”) was witnessed, but Mr. Bush could not escape those fightin’ words. A president who is constantly lost somewhere between the fog of war and the fog of himself eminently proclaimed what needed to be said about America’s worst natural disaster in history: “It’s as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by the worst kind of weapon you can imagine.” The administration knows little else than declaring war on obscure enemies, and thus I anxiously awaited the official declaration of war on Hurricane Katrina as if it was a terrorist weather-controlling conspiracy.
There seemed to be little good coming out of the devastation and I was getting tired of waiting for the spiritual rescue from Hollywood and the music industry. The socioeconomic explanation is simple: the ones that could not get out of New Orleans were the impoverished, generally with a greater affinity to crime, and in times of desperation the worst could be seen in even the most noble American savages. I looked to Leviathan’s explanation of the dangers of anarchy and recognized that when lawlessness exists, life is as Hobbes put it: “brutish and short.” Just before we were forced to endure the bleeding hearts of society’s elite from the pulpit of a mass telethon, I wondered if America was taking a hard look at itself in a time of crisis. I didn’t think they were, and with a mentality that you’re either with us or against us, the infallibility of the American military-industrial complex sent both disgust and trepidation into the world abroad.
With the Bush administration attacking Katrina with the sentiment and rhetoric that had embodied the war on terror, I can’t say I was at all surprised the response effort was not going as planned. If the administration’s aims are export of the best democracy money can buy, then the realized gains are nothing less than abject incompetence. We’ll soon have nothing to fear of natural disasters when President Bush adds them to the axis of evil in his next State of the Union Address.