September 1, 2005

"The sense that we will be decent and brave in times of crisis."

Peggy Noonan on the looters:
A hurricane cannot rob a great city of its spirit, but a vicious citizenry can. A bad time with Mother Nature can leave you digging out for a long time, but a bad turn in human behavior frays and tears all the ties that truly bind human being--trust, confidence, mutual regard, belief in the essential goodness of one's fellow citizens.

There seems to be some confusion in terms of terminology on TV. People with no food and water who are walking into supermarkets and taking food and water off the shelves are not criminal, they are sane. They are not looters, they are people who are attempting to survive; they are taking the basics of survival off shelves in stores where there isn't even anyone at the cash register.

Looters are not looking to survive; they're looking to take advantage of the weakness of others. They are predators. They're taking not what they need but what they want....

If this part of the story grows--if cities on the gulf come to seem like some combination of Dodge and the Barbarian invasion--it's going to be bad for our country. One of the things that keeps us together, and that lets this great lumbering nation move forward each day, is the sense that we will be decent and brave in times of crisis, that the fabric holds, that under duress it is American heroism and altruism that take hold and not base instincts born of irresponsibility, immaturity and greed....

If New Orleans damages that sense, it's going to be painful to face. It's going to be damaging to the national spirit. More damaging even than a hurricane, even than the worst in decades.

I wonder if the cruel and stupid young people who are doing the looting know the power they have to damage their country. I wonder, if they knew, if they'd stop it.
Let me quote this commenter from one of yesterday's threads on this blog:
I work in New Orleans East. I try to help families there. I've recieved telephone death threats from people I couldn't help. I've known children whose father had been shot. People who moved after they had been held up at gun-point. The list goes on. You can't say that the hurricane is the only root of this problem. Many of the thugs running around the city now, were thugs before Katrina as well. This just gave them an opportunity to turn more of the city into the lawless chaos they tend to drag with them where ever they go. I pray for the innocents who lived in fear of them before the storm and especially those who live in fear of them now. They must be stopped.
Most people are decent and brave in times of crisis — and in ordinary times as well. People suffer routinely and inconspicuously in ordinary times. Now we see those ordinary problems magnified and on television. While we're looking and feeling moved to help the victims in New Orleans, we ought to make a note to remember how much people living in that city and other cities have to struggle with violence as part of their lives even when no one is paying attention and thinking about doing anything to help them.

Here's the link to make a donation to the American Red Cross.


Goesh said...

It's a law of nature/physics, following the path of least resistance. Of course thugs are going to loot given the opportunity. Much of criminal activity is based on vulnerability or perceived vulnerability. To them it is like an anonymous gift that might appear in our mailbox - oh! How nice! A free gift - la la la! Personally, I think non-food looter should be shot on sight, I'm like Napolean and his famous whiff of grapeshot, but who listens to me these days? (certainly not my wife)- 1500 cops are going to hit the streets down there to curb this. It happens in all disasters and always will. Our spirits are better lifted with pictures of rescue workers and people responding in a positive way.

dax said...

The New Orleans looters are not part of our society and to wonder if the looters are thinking of the consequences of their actions on our nation is pure folly.
These looters are thugs and parasites of society and have been looting our society well before Katrina.

Mark Daniels said...

After World War Two and his confinement in a Nazi concentration camp, the psycotherapist Viktor Frankl published a number of influential works, most of which challenged conventional Freudian thinking.

Freud, basically, believed that if human beings were robbed of their creature comforts, they would all universally revert to a kind of animalistic, suvrival of the fittest mode of living.

Based in part on his prison camp experiences, Frankl, said that, on the contrary, those people who prior to their debasement in the camps had lived with some sense of decency in ethics and concern for others could attain a place of almost self-actualized saintliness under inhumane conditions. But, Frankl also observed, those of a more selfish bent seemed to become even more so under intense debasement.

The point isn't that people can't change. As a pastor for more than twenty years, I've witnessed hundreds of people change, mostly for the better either in response to God's compassion or that of other people. But for the most part, it seems that if your personality is oriented in one direction when disaster, tragedy, or adversity strikes, you have a predisposition to continue in that direction, often to a heightened degree.

Except for those understandably desperate for food, baby formula, and the basics needed for human living, the looters in New Orleans probably aren't desperate individuals--though they should be--but people who were thugs before Katrina hit. Disaster has given them "permission" to give full expression to the way of life they long ago adopted or preferred.

Patrick Byrne said...

I'm sure that many if not most of these looters planned to ride out the storm precisely because of the opportunities that awaited afterwards.
Does this remind anyone of that Kurt Russell flick "Escape From New York?"

knoxgirl said...

The media is definitely guilty of mixing images of people taking food and people with cartloads of sneakers and other obviously unnecessary things.

HaloJonesFan said...


Well, if nothing else, the total anarchy and government non-response to same have convinced me to buy a shotgun.

Ann Althouse said...

I think last night the media were avoiding showing much of the looting footage they had. Big exception: O'Reilly.

Chum said...

"People with no food and water who are walking into supermarkets and taking food and water off the shelves are not criminal, they are sane. They are not looters, they are people who are attempting to survive"

Too bad the President doesn't hold this perspective. Scott McClellan after saying help would take days added that there are other ways to get it.

Conflicting statements are just not going to help the situation.

Gerry said...

"I've recieved telephone death threats from people I couldn't help."

The people needing help have telephone service? He has telephone service?

I am skeptical at the veracity of that account.

Jennifer said...

I don't know if this happens after all disasters. I've lived in Hawaii for most of my life and I can't remember a time we've had looting after a hurricane or flood. I do recall after Iniki, when much of Kauai was destroyed, stores like Safeway were opening their doors and inviting residents to help themselves to refrigerated items as they would spoil anyhow.

Maybe because Hawaii is such a "small world," we don't have the anonymity here that many do in large cities.

Whatever the reason, the armed thugs terrorizing hospitals, nursing homes and ordinary people are beyond despicable.

Charles said...

As usual, the language common use and actual meaning makes officials look like fools when they are careless. Food and water are not looting items during a disaster when you have none. Beer and chips are pushing the line into looting. Plasma TVs, guns, $200 running shoes, large amounts of clothing, jewelry - that's looting. LA and MS governors need to get tough: Shoot looters. No prosecution. 2 of those on TV and looting will stop.

This is a production of the government welfare and give away system to the able-bodied, but lazy. If you think you are entitled to things, never learned a strict right and wrong, then taking all the stuff you never got a job to afford is just fine. It's morally relative, right?

Fortunately, many looters are showing up at the evac points with their stuff and expecting to leave with it.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm sure that many if not most of these looters planned to ride out the storm precisely because of the opportunities that awaited afterwards.

We were watching the news during the evacuation before officials turned the traffic on both sides of the highway to be outgoing. I said, "Who are all those people headed *into* the city? That's nuts." My father-in-law answered, "Those are the looters." Maybe some of them were.

I don't think that New Orleans is indicative of what would happen in every other major city. Cities have their own personalities. I think anyone who has ever been to New Orleans would assume that crime would run rampant there after a major disaster. There are just a lot of thuggish folks around and a general feeling of lawlessness. (Lots of great folks too, but they aren't the problem.) The city also seems pervaded by a the idea of "I've got to get mine." (Not that other cities aren't, it just seems particularly pervasive in certain cities, including NO.)

dick said...

I read this and it made me think of the blackout in NYC. I lived just above the West Village during that first blackout and the looting and other things that went on then were incredible. They wuld back their cars up to the steel doors, hook up a come-along chain and just rip the doors off ad then the people swarmed into the stores and took everything they could lay their hands on.

From what I have seen of New Orleans some of that is going on but the majority is concerned with survival rations. I don't think that the media should cover this as if it were a breakdown in the proletariat caused by the right wing. It is the have nots and do not want to work people trying to take advantage of the situation when t comes to the looters. They are animals.

When I was in the blackout my neighborhood had a very large number of dogs. I had a black lab with a very loud bark. A couple of looters came along and Duchess let out a loud bark. The looters scooted right out of the neighborhood. There were only a couple of stores looted there. However, I worked up in Washington Heights at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and almost every store anywhere near there was just destroyed. I remember one of the store owners who had a bicycle shop was so disillusioned that he just closed his business. He had made it possible for the kids in the neighborhood to have bikes to ride, he built them a couple of playgrounds, he would fix their bikes for free. Come the blackout and the neighbors stole everything in his shop that was not nailed down. I just hope that the people in New Orleans are not quite that bad.

Patrick Byrne said...

"Well, if nothing else, the total anarchy and government non-response to same have convinced me to buy a shotgun."
Put me in that same boat. Looked at handguns today as a matter of fact.
I live in a bad area of West Palm Beach, and while there wasn't much looting last year after our hurricanes, there were a few isolated instances. I can't help but think that the N.O. example (mainly the lack of a harsh crackdown)is going to embolden looters after the next storm. Call it a copycat effect. Next time I'll be sure to ride it out with Smith & Wesson.

John Hawks said...

I think some people could stand to actually watch some of the coverage instead of commenting on it blindly. Last night Fox News had viedeo of COPS looting a Wal-Mart. There is some total social disintegration happening, including people shooting at rescue boats and helicopters. When people wonder why the Guard and Military aren't moving faster, consider that they have not only to set up logistics so that they aren't part of the problem; they now also have to secure their activities against the thugs.

Harkonnendog said...

I think it depends on the ratio of people you have-

If 99% of the people in a community feel they are part of the community- they have faith in their community, they believe good things happend when you do the right thing- they are moral, they have personal pride, whatever you want to call it, then you're probably okay.

If 20% feel that way, and 80% feel they are VICTIMS of a community, and that good things happen to people who screw over other peoply, than you're probably screwed.

I completely made up those numbers... I have no idea- but I think there probably is a number... how many thugs does it take to make a natural disaster into a human disaster? Probably not that many.

I have a hard time believing most American communities would react this way.