It is a zoo out there though, make no mistake. It’s the wild kingdom. It’s Lord of the Flies. That doesn’t mean there’s murder on every street corner. But what it does mean is that the rule of law has collapsed, that there is no order, and that property rights cannot and are not being enforced. Anyone who is on the streets is in immediate danger of being robbed and killed. It’s that bad.
New Orleans’ Charity Hospital halted efforts to evacuate its patients after it came under sniper fire, according to Dr. Tyler Curiel, who witnessed the incidents.
The evacuation of the Superdome was temporarily disrupted today after shots were reported fired at a military helicopter and arson fires broke out outside the arena.
People are looting because they are hungry!
–Heard on NPR yesterday afternoon
Scenes like those in the first three quotes above are myriad and multiplying in New Orleans. Interdictor has also reported hearing of “rapes, murders, rape-murders,” and other horrors. All the same, I am hearing–less today than yesterday, but still–newspeople, commentators, and friends in their journals justifying lawlessness on the grounds of need. I love my friends, and I love their hearts that give the benefit of the doubt to mankind. It’s a sweet kind of optimism, but it also has a razor inside, leading them to soundly damn anyone criticizing the actions of looters. So I thought I’d try to put my thoughts together on the subject.
Some folks, like Thomas Jefferson, believe humankind to be basically good. Other folks, like John Adams, believe humankind to be animalistic and in need of control. But I like to see it as a yin-yang sort of balance, a struggle between our animal natures (we are animals!) and our humanity (we have souls!). There are parts of us that want to be good, to help others, to maintain order, to make progress; there are also parts of us that can kill over a trifle, snap at an innocent comment, or strike out in anger. And since everyone is different, one can expect the balance of these two natures–animal and human–to be marked at different centers in any random group of our fellow men and women. It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round.
When Katrina drifted inland and the floodwaters began to claim New Orleans there were first sporadic reports of looting, then pictures, then video and live news reporting. It didn’t take long for verbal sniping to get started all over the Net, as fans of law and order and fans of blanket goodwill started pointing out what assholes each other were for having such stupid and wrongheaded opinions. “How DARE someone take another’s property, especially in such a disasterous time?” “How DARE you judge someone in such a desperate situation?” Round and round. It’s still going. This post is part of it, too.
But look. Look at what it’s escalated to now, with the Marines “pouring” into New Orleans to restore order.
I can see it in my mind’s eye, someone throws a brick through a store window, thinking about the kids at home needing water and some food. Of course, people follow the example.
It begins to dawn on people that the rule of law has been suspended. The greedier sort begin to hit department stores, electronics stores, shoe stores, some of which are small businesses that may or may not have the kind of insurance to cover this kind of loss. Hence the pictures of people, of all colors, mind you, wading through the water with trash bags full of loot. People start bartering loot, trading new shoes for a raincoat, or jewellery for food. Of course, people follow the example.
There are tales of cops looting, mixed in with the martial-law tenet that the authorities may confiscate whatever is needed to help bolster public safety. The most harrowing one I’ve read is the tale of cops running looters out of a store only to begin “gathering” “supplies” once the store is clear. This understandably makes the looters pretty goddamn mad, and eventually, someone starts shooting at the cops. Of course, people follow the example.
Another quote from interdictor: “people we’ve been talking to say they are not recognizing the NOPD as a legitimate authority anymore, since cops have been seen looting in Walmarts and forcing people out of stores so they could back up SUVs and loot them.” That was posted yesterday afternoon.
There is shooting in the streets and people are setting fires. A nurse from a hospital who went outside for a moment’s relief of the stench of the living, the dying, and the dead was robbed at gunpoint by a thug. Police (hopefully, the good kind) are begging evacuees as they leave to give up their weapons–not as some kind of anti-proliferation method, but because the police are running out of ammunition, God help them.
I’m not trying to be depressing. In the midst of all this, there are a million kindnesses, large and tiny, being committed by the moment. That’s the point! The only point I want to get at, the only reason that I’m typing this right now is because people must hold on to their humanity, their sense of community, and their respect for their fellow sufferers and the people trying to rescue them, or else it only adds misery upon misery. Last night I heard on NPR news that a National Guardsman had been shot. Not to mention the shooting at the evacuation helicopter. Those who commit these acts have let go of their humanity. They have become like animals. They have gotten sucked into the mob mentality because their monkey-mindedness (see? do!) has won out over over their very humanity. It is evil at its core, in its essence. And no way to stop it now except for sending in many young men wearing boots on their feet and rifles on their shoulders–which is what they are doing, and no doubt the mob will not quell and remember its humanity until, sadness of sadness, those same troopers have shot them into submission, American soldiers killing American citizens, because they have to, but that doesn’t take the dagger out of our hearts.
A brick through a store window to get water and bread. And look what we have wrought. A tiny civil war in the heart of misery.
These people are not animals, no matter how poorly they act. They are men and women, Americans and immigrants, children and adults. They are not meat machines forced by circumstance to act. They are people, and people can choose how they act, no matter what the circumstance. If a young Chinese boy can stand in front of a column of tanks, erect, proud but scared, then a hungry man concerned for his family can leave that brick by the curb where it lies, and do what he can, while holding on to the soul that makes him a man instead of a beast.