Sunday, September 04, 2005

Declaration of Dependence


As I returned to work Friday morning with a headache and general fuzziness caused by lack of sleep and gnawing anxiety, several of my co-workers were expressing their concern to me about the events unfolding in New Orleans. Most of them were wondering about the friends and loved ones I have in that city. Luckily, I can report relatively good news in that respect. A small few of my colleagues are asking me, as a former New Orleanian, how such a desperate situation could have occurred. At the risk of being lumped in with all of the armchair blame-game quarterbacks, I will throw out an opinion.

New Orleans is a city that has a large population that is dependent on government for their personal welfare. When the entire infrastructure that provides assistance vanishes, there is nothing left but anger, hostility, desperation and violence. If somebody else was providing for your personal welfare, surely somebody else is also responsible for your lack of personal welfare at that moment. And if they’re not providing for you, your only recourse is to demand their assistance. If you’ve got a gun, even better, because then you can attempt to force them to assist you.

I don’t blame the President. I don’t blame the Governor. I don’t blame the Mayor. I don’t blame the victims. I almost don’t blame the looters. I do, however, blame a mindset that permits dependence on others to be the default paradigm for one’s existence.

Maybe I’m na├»ve and nostalgic, but I envision some time in our past where people in isolated communities had a clear sense of personal responsibility and pride. There was a clear line between necessity and luxury. People weren’t a burden on others. They made certain that they were able to take care of themselves. But bad things always happen to people in life, and it is at those times that the community or government should help out. In most cases, people went out of their way to help each other because they knew everybody had that sense of personal pride and accountability to take care of themselves and their families. The moment that help is expected or demanded, however, is the exact moment of social downfall.

I don’t mean to detract from any of the suffering of my former fellow New Orleanians – what I am seeing is a disaster for the city and its citizens that I can barely comprehend. But in order to move on, recover, and prevent further catastrophe, we should look at our own amorphous ideological/social structures before we look at any of the shortcomings in our institutional, political, financial, and built infrastructures.

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