They are just being human
We all of us have been appalled to varying degrees by the recent string of disasters along America’s Gulf Coast and, most publicly, in New Orleans. The first disaster came in the form of Hurricane Katrina, which agitated the landmass and the people installed thereon; the second through thousand and forty-fifth disasters, with hourly updates, resulted from human intervention (or lack thereof) in the immediate wake of this natural occurrence.
There is little point in here rehashing for the millionth time the exact sequence of events, or in cataloguing the various aspects of the disaster. Suffice to say that, whichever angle you look at it from, it has been a monumental tragedy of errors.
One of the more curious aspects of this event has been the peculiar amount of attention paid to criminal behavior in the aftermath of Katrina. The images are everywhere: people wading through floodwaters with iPods and bottles of gin stuffed beneath their arms; reports of armed bandits taking potshots at rescue workers; raping and pillaging on a scale not seen since the Norman invasion of England.
The media have naturally been rendered aghast - though sadly not speechless - by these events and have been broadcasting them night and day. When a fresh criminal act has not been reported for a while, they replay the same images and interview witnesses. The witness testimony is generally along the lines of “I seen this one black guy stealing’ loaves of bread from the corner store - what’s this country coming to?”, but any port in a storm, I suppose.
What nobody has deemed necessary to mention is that these activities are all perfectly natural, and any reasonably person would indeed have expected them after watching the first few hours of post-hurricane reportage unfold. Let us put aside the fact that only a sadist would protest at food, water and other critical supplies being “acquired” in the middle of a crisis of such magnitude, and attempt to examine this from a biological and sociological perspective.
The modern concept of society came about many thousands of years ago, when small parties of hunter/gatherers found it beneficial to assemble into tribes, some of the earliest social institutions. These tribes would consist of many different families, each from different parts of the land, but all concerned primarily with one thing: survival. Nestled within a tribe, each of its members could to some extent rely on the others for sustenance, aid, care, and protection.
The guiding principle was the reasonable division of labour and subsequent resources, which meant that single members did not have to work quite so hard or so dangerously as they would have alone or in a smaller family group.
Of course everyone was expected to pull his or her own weight, and moochers were quickly disposed of. But humans had finally figured out something that animals and insects had already known for millennia: that they could find safety in numbers. But as any schoolkid knows, when you get a bunch of people in one concentrated area, interacting with one another daily, you have a very simple and effective formula for trouble.
Individuals within a society are still individuals. While they may have a general social obligation, they still have their own thoughts and desires. Some will be predisposed towards violence, others towards apathy, others towards hoarding, others towards meddling, and so on. In situations like this it is simply might makes right. The person with the greatest strength or the greatest number of furs will always win out.
Many will be put at profound disadvantage, as they are not given enough goat’s milk to drink, or are forced from their huts by a physically more powerful individual, or group of individuals. Situations like this necessitate two things: the introduction of laws based on accepted moral codes, and the introduction of a governing body to enforce these laws.
Hence, the government, which prevents the society from descending into anarchy and chaos (still others in the society may enjoy chaos, but it is unsustainable).
To this day nobody is quite sure of the best form of government, but the fact remains that it must exist, in one form or another, to bring order to things. But a government cannot just synthesize out of a disparate band of individuals. In a monarchy, the rulers are selected by virtue of their birth. This is a poor way of doing things, as the content of your blood is no indicator of capability. In a tyranny, the ruler selects himself, generally by murdering those who oppose him. Tyrannies, despotates and dictatorships are all similar in that they are ruled by a single body (or individual) which exercises complete authority over its citizens, and is not constrained by laws or constitutions.
Other forms of government exist, but we will concern ourselves only with these few, and the one mentioned below, for the moment. Many (including myself) will disagree with this point, but the consensus is that the most effective form of government is a democracy. Whittled down to the core, a democracy comes about when all members of the society vote to install an elected leader or leaders, who they believe will act in their best interests.
Obviously not all members of the society will agree on who should be chosen, so the rule of thumb is that the majority wins out. Regardless of how a government is elected into power, it is generally selected on the basis of its apparent or alleged ability to govern the society fairly, justly, competently, and conscientiously.
The leaders need to be of a certain level of intelligence, with certain moral values, and with certain competencies. For example, they ought to be fluent in the language of their people; they need to believe that setting infants alight is wrong (simply because infants are the surest way of perpetuating their society); and they need to be able to cure leather, or carve meat, or bandage wounds. They will need to come from a range of backgrounds in order to more properly represent the varied backgrounds of the individuals within the society, as they will be representatives of said society in all internal and external transactions, dealings, rulings, etc. The elected government must formulate certain laws to protect the freedoms and rights of its people, and for them to do this they must force their citizens to abide by certain social contracts.
Whether the laws and social contracts are correct or fair or accurate is not a matter for present debate. The government must also provide services to its people. In the case of a society of tribe- or clansmen, these services would be very few, and very simple. For example, the government ought to ensure that the stockpile of material for thatching roofs is protected from damp and fire, and that enough grain is harvested during summer to provide for the people throughout winter.
In more complex, modern societies, the services become more numerous, and more complex. For example, a good communications infrastructure; an able defense force; roads and hospitals. Governments are able to provide these services by collecting taxes.
Whether this tax should be so high, and whether the government should have complete and utter control over the manner in which these taxes are spent, or whether the taxes should even be money, is again not a matter for present debate.
However, in order for people to obey the government (which we will assume is a beneficial situation, provided that the government possesses the requisite attributes and provides the demanded services), the government must also obey the people.
The best means for ensuring this is by holding new elections every few years, so that leaders who have proved to be useless can be removed from power, and other, hopefully more competent leaders, inserted. And here we reach the crucial point.
When a government denies its people services such as transport, medical aid, infrastructure, food and water, power, and protection, then it has failed them. If it demonstrates that it is unable to provide these services, then it is incompetent. If it demonstrates that it is unwilling to provide these services, though it be capable of doing so, then it is evil. It has failed its people.
When a government has collected taxes under the implicit and universal understanding that these taxes will be used to provide certain goods and services to 'all its people', and then refuses to provide the goods and services, or provides them in a profoundly sloppy and unfair manner, then it has disobeyed the society it was elected to govern. Whichever way it goes, the government is a failure. In the case of New Orleans, not only has the government demonstrated itself to be incompetent in the provision of aid and services, but, through FEMA and local police authorities, it has 'actively prohibited' the provision of aid by non-government volunteers and other sources, and has not even permitted its people to aid themselves.
Imagine, if you will, your house being on fire, and the government fire brigade, that you have directly paid for via tax deductions, turning up with bags of polystyrene packing balls and a few spools of wire. You know, to lash the flames into submission, and then pretend it’s snowing. Dickheads, you would rightly deduce. But then your neighbors start filling up buckets of water and forming a chain-gang to help douse the blaze, and the police force attached to the government fire brigade 'prevents them from doing so'.
Therefore, in this particular example, there is no reason for the people to obey the government. A government that has failed or disobeyed its people is no longer the government - it is just a roomful of individuals, or possibly chimps, with no power, and no authority.
In desperate circumstances, where it is impossible to elect a fresh government with any efficacy, then the logical thing to do is to assume that there is no government, and that therefore the government’s historical rules do not apply, as the government is no longer providing the services that it was elected - contracted, if you will - to do.
If a man came to mow your lawn, but then didn’t, would you still pay the lawn-mowing bill? Citizens without a governing body are just a collection of individuals. Individuals will do whatever they feel to be of greatest benefits to themselves and other members of their direct tribe - their family. Some of them may just want something to eat, something to drink, and some medicinal herbs to rub into wounds.
Some people may want a little more - direct fiscal assistance, or new clothes, or segregated bathrooms. Some few people might just want iPods and widescreen TVs. It doesn’t matter what they want because as soon as the government no longer exists, society no longer exists, and people without a society are just individuals, and individuals, when freed from these constraints, will do whatever the fuck they please.
If your family is hungry, and food is available that would otherwise just rot away, would you leave it alone in order to not displease your government? Or would you take it to feed your family?
Likewise if a new laptop computer is sitting there on the shelf, about to be soaked in toxic gumbo, and insured by the owner of the store anyway, so no matter what happens to it the owner isn’t missing out, would you nick it for personal use or for possibly selling in order to acquire money for buying other things you need or want?
These alleged rampaging criminals, running amok along the Gulf Coast, are not breaking any laws. Their government no longer exists, and therefore the laws no longer exist. They are just being individuals. They are just being human.
The "Looting" in New Orleans: Not Insane in the Least
Some comments on recent events in New Orleans from an anarchist perspective. Despite the comment from the Philadelphia tourist, I can't find this insane.
Let's review now:
How Bush sold New Orleans to Buy Iraq
By macman 5 September 05
What follows are a collection of news snippets outlining how funds meant for the hurricane and flood defences of New Orleans were diverted to the war in Iraq ... plus an open letter from Michael Moore to George W. Bush.
Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath: from natural disaster to national humiliation
The catastrophe that is unfolding in New Orleans and on the Gulf coast of Mississippi has been transformed into a national humiliation without parallel in the history of the United States.
New Orleans is an incredibly important place for Critical Resistance
We are heartbroken by the devastation in a city we love -- and by the media's racist and classist portrayal of our communities, the demonization of our brothers and sisters who have been in dire straits for decades, and the militarized, brutal response towards those left behind.
With Jails Flooded, Bus Station Fills the Void
"All my towels - they was used up," Mr. Thomas said. "I was hoping to get some towels to get a bath with." Another man acknowledged that he had stolen a car and protested that government officials had encouraged residents to evacuate by any means necessary.
Lets stop making sense and just go for light relief. Humour
About 300,000 pieces of mail in the New Orleans processing center that could not be delivered before the storm hit were moved up to a higher floor, and Day said postal inspectors reported that mail does not seem to have been damaged.
Yippee I oh, don’t forget the mail, the mail was saved, coz in America it’s a federal offence to mess with the mail or fail to protect it, its not the same for populations, they got soggy, bloated & pulped, no fiction.
How funny? Higher floor, priceless, the letters were kept dry, only in competent, no foot wrong, goofy America, here we don’t even expect a delivery.