Sunday, December 11, 2005

Suck It, New Orleans

Back when Hurricane Katrina first struck, and the magnitude of its devastation -- and ineptitude of the response -- were becoming clear, I planned to write three postings on why Katrina wouldn't change a thing. I only got to one, on the media. I had two others planned. The next would be on how politicians wouldn't change. Reality overtook me on that one, making it almost immediately clear that politicians and American politics wouldn't change.

Now, it's becoming strikingly clear just how indifferent President Bush and his administration really are to the plight not just of a city that's a genuine American, and world, cultural treasure but of the entire, stricken gulf region.

Thanks to Think Progress for finding and posting word from the Washington Post that the White House has moved on. The New York Times this morning went into some detail on the subject. (Tip to MyDD)

Why don't the media and politicians give a shit? I don't think the easy, quick answers are the right ones. Okay, sure, there's some element of truth to them. But it's silly to suggest that they don't actually give a shit. They do care -- in some way that feels like caring. The Washington Post is asking about it. Meet the Press is talking about it. The New York Times is opining about it. In Vanity Fair, Brian Williams said, "I watched Americans die for lack of food and my own country, before my very eyes. If this disaster doesn't lead us into a national conversation on the subjects of class, race, urban planning, the environment, Iraq, and oil, then we have failed."

They care. Williams clearly cares. By his own criteria, he's also clearly, spectacularly failed. But why should the disaster have led us into a national conversation on the subjects of class, race, urban planning, the environment, Iraq, and oil? Why couldn't BRIAN WILLIAMS lead us into a national conversation on the subjects of class, race, urban planning, the environment, Iraq, and oil?

Well, the answer to that leads me to the final thing I wanted to write about, the final thing that I thought wouldn't change after Katrina. And that final thing was you. Or, to be fair, us.

Please don't misread this as some lament about how young people today suck and things were better in the olden days. That's usually horseshit and it's definitely horseshit today. Young people today are, basically, less violent and more responsible than several preceding generations of Americans have been. I'm not talking about young people. I'm talking about their parents, and the generations of Americans who actually run things these days.

We care about the wrong things. We cry over sad pictures. We feel genuine anguish over the despair of others. But it's as if we've bought the Baby Boomer myth of never having to grow up, and perverted it to mean that we never have to take responsibility. Growing up is supposed to mean that you don't need sad pictures or sad stories to understand that people are suffering, to follow the causality of public policy, to imagine the impact of our decisions on people we will never know anything about. We're supposed to care about the Army Corps of Engineers before hurricanes happen, before sad pictures make us cry and inept politicians make us mad, and we're definitely still supposed to care long afterwards. Because that's what grown-ups do. They remember why bad things happen and how to prevent bad things from happening in the future. They don't just react emotionally to immediate, proximal stimuli and then move on. They fix things. The Christian Right's alliance with a particularly venal and ugly strain of corporate capitalism isn't winning because they outnumber the rest of "us" or even have more money than "we" do. They're winning because they actually get off their asses and take care of fucking business.

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance" doesn't refer to the need to watch our borders. It refers to every single citizen's duty to participate in government and the body politic, to be informed, to understand the principles that we're supposed to hew to especially in times of fear and panic. It's boring, boring stuff. That's the goddamn point. If it were sexy, it wouldn't require our vigilance; we'd be riveted by it. Instead, we feel as though we're vigilant because in our heart we experience something that feels like caring; we feel bad when we catch a glimpse of poor, sad, black people on the TV; we blog and read blogs. For some reason, we no longer guard the most important element of American freedom -- our nation's character -- with the zeal and vigilance that are required, choosing instead the exciting, adrenalizing "vigilance" of obsessing about terrorism or the easy, fun, undemanding "vigilance" of just railing against whomever we don't like and characterizing them as our enemy. And because we've elevated the pure, good-intentioned "heart" in society over the callous, calculating "brain," we've lost sight of what patriotism, vigilance and true, meaningful caring actually mean.

(Here's a good definition of meaningful caring: Caring that leads to action. So: Crying about sad TV pictures and then flipping the station is not caring; crying about sad TV pictures and then sending money that will momentarily alleviate someone's suffering but change nothing in the long term is okay caring; voting against the politicians responsible is okay caring; pressuring local media to cover relevant issues in such a way that politicians will respond and minimize chances of repeat occurrences -- and then patronizing media that actually respond to your pressure -- that's a lot closer to meaningful caring, and it's a template for how the evil Christian Right get their work done).

Anderson Cooper, quoted in the same, aforementioned issue of Vanity Fair, also clearly cared. He said, "The anger's here. It's not frustration. People are not frustrated -- people are dying. I am lucky. I can ask people questions. But there are no answers, just questions."

It's a common, revealing and fundamentally wrong conceit. THERE ARE ANSWERS. And more to the point, we don't need the news media to ask people questions. We need the news media to acknowledge that there are answers, even though that creates, for them, the burden of doing the work to identify them, and taking the heat for revealing them. This is a causal world. It's complicated, yes, but no less causal for that. We don't need the media to care for us. We need the media to give less air time to caring and to asking questions than it does to unearthing and sharing the answers.

Even after it was revealed that two out of the top three national disasters predicted by FEMA had come to pass, no one has even tried to launch a national discussion about the third. The problem isn't that we don't care, the problem is that we think we do. And the bigger problem is, we think that's enough. In reality, we've lost the right to claim we give a shit about New Orleans. The reality is, we don't. That's why we're still willing to risk another 9/11 and another New Orleans; because we haven't changed the fundamental notions we hold about how we think, what caring is, and what we consider patriotism.

Because, in the 21st century, the price of freedom isn't eternal vigilance. It's internal vigilance.


Anonymous said...

"Suck it?" The Bush administration has approved BILLIONS and BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars for New Orleans. You call that "moving on?" What the hell do you want from the Feds? How many BILLIONS of our tax dollars for New Orleans will finally make you happy? And incidentally, we've all already dug into our pockets and donated to New Orleans. Do you think Bush pulled those BILLIONS out of his wallet? It comes from, um, TAX DOLLARS, i.e. money we all paid. BILLIONS. Sorry that isn't enough of a commitment for you.

Anonymous said...

<< Now, it's becoming strikingly clear just how indifferent President Bush and his administration really are to the plight >>

New Orleans: Liberal Mayor. Democrat.
Lousiana: Liberal Governer. Democrat.

Bush: Authorized over 200 billion in aid.

If someone handed me over 200 BILLION dollars to fix my problems, I wouldn't consider that a "suck it," nor would I characterize it as apathy.

However, if my LIBERAL mayor and LIBERAL governer let me down so completely, I'd complain loudly.

erik said...

Suck it. Just cuz Prez Bullshit "authorizes" $200 billion doesn't mean it gets spent on human beings- look at how the money has been spent and accounted for in Iraq and after the Tsunami- slowly dribbling out $ to the needy claiming they need to make sure it's spent well, needing assurances and systems to be in place, while not constructively aiding that process, but making it real EZ for war profiteers like Halliburton and Bechtel to profit richly. Check out the Katrina and 9/11 timelines made of mainstream news articles at to get the big picture of the globalist "democracy" building agenda.

ceej said...

Anon, can you give a source for "over 200 billion in aid"?


Anonymous said...

<< can you give a source for "over 200 billion in aid"? >>

Yes. Please check inside your ass. I think you'll find it in there. Look thoroughly.

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