Sep 2, 2005

On The 'Anarchy' In New Orleans

Share

Left: refugees stranded in New Orleans - TV New Zealand

The breakdown in social order ocurring in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina has produced desperate conditions for the citizens still stranded in the beleaguered city. Rampant crime, scarce resources, and an unhealthy environment have completely disrupted established social norms, leading many mainstream journailsts to describe the city as falling into "anarchy."

In a technical sense, they are partly correct, for "anarchy" is derived from the Greek word αναρχία (anarchia), which roughly translates into "without a ruler" (an- means "without", arch- the root that denotes "rule"). The destruction of communication and power systems have indeed left the city, state, and federal governments at least temporarily incapable of rule, and armed gangs still control sections of the city tonight.

"Anarchy," though, is not an accurate description of the situation in New Orleans; what may seem to be linguistic hair-splitting has a subtext of several millenia of governmental self-justification. Entrenched governments typically view notions of anarchy as threats to power, and citizens are taught to make an association between "anarchy" and "chaos." We are also taught from an early age that government's role is paternal, benevolent, and natural; while I was heartened to see President Bush tour the Gulf coast today, the constant media references to "Compassioner in Chief" were surreal.

As a utopian ideal, anarchy is shared by groups as diverse as libertarians and Marxists. Both types of political outlooks envision a world where self-actualized people no longer need a government, and social relations are voluntarily and freely established between individuals. Anarchism, in its theoretical forms, is a vision of how a stateless and non-authoritarian society might work.



Left: patrols attempt to restore order in New Orleans - Guardian

Shifting gears after my lesson in political linguistics, I am both profoundly disturbed and morbidly intrigued by the bizarre resistance from organized bands of thugs to attack relief workers in New Orleans. Shots have been fired at numerous rescue personnel, a Chinook helicopter took fire yesterday, and fire fighters were penned in by snipers this afternoon.

Are these actions simply hooliganism at its worst, or do they represent some misguided anger toward authority? It is easy to write this phenomena off as mere criminal behavior by disturbed individuals, because we do not have to raise questions about American democratic capitalism this way. Find 'em, round 'em up, and book 'em, Dan-o.

The stranded refugees, interviewed by network reporters, possessed a high degree of anger at the failure of the government to protect and rescue them. This anger, however, seemed to be deep-seated, and oriented around a long period of bleak prospects.

The city of New Orleans has had chronic problems with poverty and unemployment; one can debate the reasons for these conditions, but the fact remains that there are few opportunities for poor residents of the Big Easy to exit the cycle of poverty. Should the violence directed toward agents of the government be chalked up as typical criminal behavior, or are these disturbing scenes indicative of deeper problems in America?

10 comments:

Frank said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Frank said...

Not to diminish what we're dealing with, but New Orleans bears resemblance to a recent movie that started with this line...

"Would you reach out your hand to save a drowning man if you thought he might pull you in?"

Frank said...

Mike, reading dispatches on cnn.com about people wandering aimlessly without resources or government - it reminds me of how the south was during Reconstruction.

Anonymous said...

Typical liberal coddling of criminals.

historymike said...

I do not suggest that we "coddle" criminals, as you call it.

I am trying to understand the anger that is being directed toward relief workers.

This phenomena is not isolated; there have been many instances in urban America when shots have been fired at ambulances and firefighters.

Are these events in New Orleans a reflection of a deeper antipathy toward authority figures from people who feel shut out from opportunity?


Again, I condemn this violence, but I want to understand what I think is a disturbing phenomena.

historymike said...

I have yet to view that movie, Frank. Thanks for the reference.

As far as Reconstruction, there certainly are some parallels. The sudden disappearance of established order has unpredictable consequences, and it is usually the poor who bear the worst of the fallout.

I am so tired of hearing people in their comfortable homes and businesses, far removed from the carnage, pontificate about the "breakdown in morality" among the survivors.

If you had a sick or hungry child, and help was nowhere to be found, you would do whatever you had to do to survive and take care of your loved ones.

Finally, with regard to the looting of weapons, I think much of the stolen weaponry was taken by panicked citizens who understood that the NO police department had lost control of the city.

Frank said...

In his stark radio interview Mayor Nagin sadly pointed out that many of the armed & dangerous are drug addicts without access to a fix.

Hooda Thunkit said...

”Are these actions simply hooliganism at its worst, or do they represent some misguided anger toward authority?”

I feel that this is a blind lashing out at any symbol of authority, rooted in a long festering frustration.

”It is easy to write this phenomenon off as mere criminal behavior by disturbed individuals, because we do not have to raise questions about American democratic capitalism this way.”

Do you really think that “American democratic capitalism” is what this is about?

I would look at our current (severely eroded) values, our penchant for laziness and our acceptance of underachievement by those who can do more/better for themselves but don’t.

”Find 'em, round 'em up, and book 'em, Dan-o.”

Sadly, this is how we address these problems, instead of our former ways of holding people to the higher standard, encouraging and promoting achievement (as in education).

If we could only step back to the 40’s or 50’s and recapture the best of our values then, and reapply them again today, less jails would be necessary. Dittos for manufacturing jobs that have gone offshore, rampant illiteracy, and the massive numbers of our so-called less fortunate labeled as unemployable.

I, like many others, believe that these people are not stupid, just lazy and uneducated, which is OUR fault.

Welfare, instead of workfare has stripped them of any incentive to better their lot in life and our modern “improved” educational system has been a massive failure. And these members of our society are the unfortunate victims.

”The stranded refugees, interviewed by network reporters, possessed a high degree of anger at the failure of the government to protect and rescue them.”

I am not surprised. Sadly, they don’t realize that those coming to help are not individually responsible for their overall situation, we all are.

”This anger, however, seemed to be deep-seated, and oriented around a long period of bleak prospects.

Exactly! As a society, we have to begin applying tough love to all of our children so that, in a generation or two, this part of our society will be virtually non-existent. And those do remain will be our truly needy and should be supported by us.

”The city of New Orleans has had chronic problems with poverty and unemployment; one can debate the reasons for these conditions, but the fact remains that there are few opportunities for poor residents of the Big Easy to exit the cycle of poverty.”

Except through proper (highly encouraged) education and breaking the chains of welfare, which has become, in effect, a modern prison, created by us under the guise of compassion.

In retrospect, we still have slavery, by keeping some of our citizens uneducated and content to receive a check. They deserve the chance to achieve and prosper, by their own efforts and we owe it to help them to break those chains.

”Should the violence directed toward agents of the government be chalked up as typical criminal behavior, or are these disturbing scenes indicative of deeper problems in America?”

Typical and understandable, considering how we are the real problem (as stated above)…

Note: I did my best to avoid pointing fingers any specific groups, although several did come to mind.

historymike said...

Very thoughtful comments, Hooda.

My reference to "American democtratic capitalism" was that it seems to work for many, but not all, of our citizens.

Rather than question what we are doing, it is easier to simply blame the people stuck in cycles of povery (which welfare certainly perpetuates).

Rather than using the word "lazy," which implies a sense of preference in their idleness, I prefer to argue that welfare recipients are making rational economic choices. Wlefare, while degrading, pays better than part-time, minimum wage jobs.

You (Hooda) did not fall into the trap of putting all the blame on the poor.

Marx called this phenomena the "reserved army of the unemployed," or that 5%-10% of the population that never seems to make it out of poverty. He argued that capitalism requires a pool of idle bodies as a counterweight to wage inflation.

While I have serious reservations about Marxist "solutions," I think that many of Marx's crticisms of capitalism are still valid.

And I agree that what passes for value systems among our nation's poor leave much to be desired.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Mike,

You're right of course, "lazy" was a bad choice of words; you said what I meant, but more eloquently than I could ever have hoped to ;-)

And, Marx did have some valid criticisms of capitalism. After all, he was no dummy...