Thursday, September 01, 2005

Welcome to the Past

Things are getting worse in New Orleans. The evacuation of suffering people to Houston was suspended temporarily after someone fired shots at an Army Chinook helicopter. The summer heat goes on unabated, so the dead will begin rotting soon.

There are apparently a lot of them.

Watching the actions of the increasingly desperate people of New Orleans serves to remind me just how thin the veneer of civilization actually is for what Mark Twain called "the damned human race." We have, as a species, been civilized for about 5,000 years. In times of great stress, however, that veneer shows itself to be less than skin deep. It peels off astonishingly rapidly, and we start to behave as our primitive hunter-gatherer forebears did. It's a sobering sight, and not for the faint of heart.


A fundamentalist Jewish website (and no doubt a series of fundamentalist Christians as well, by now) has started saying that the devastation of the Gulf States and the disruption of oil industries in the area are "God's will" in punishment for American policy in the Middle East. Conversely, an Islamic fundamentalist site "rejoices" in God's punishment of America.

This is magic thinking in action. You don't like what someone is doing? Then laugh and say "Ha ha! God is punishing you!" when something bad happens. Bad things happen all the time, whether it's you lost your job or your sister needs an operation on her crotch or your house and all of your possessions has been obliterated. But human beings haven't yet managed to shake off the sense that everything is managed by some spooky authoritarian parental figure.

Connecting 'moral evils' (lying, cheating, sex, etc.) to 'natural evils' (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) is an old form of magic thinking, and acts as a crutch to prevent us from facing the stark reality that the Universe, at its heart, has No Meaning.

It is horrible that people should suffer, particularly since it is becoming obvious that the degradation of the levees and loss of wetlands to construction could have prevented a lot of this. It is even more horrible that people should gloat about it, or seek to gain from it, or victimize those who are caught up in it.

1-800-HELP NOW


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