Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005
The floodgates of anarchy. I just now spotted that a little below Mr Lehman's letter on the Independent's letters page of 2 Spetember is the same letter from Simon Ferguson of Hatfield as appeared in the Times of 5 September. I can't put my finger on anything actually immoral about sending the same letter to all the papers, but the editor of the Times, where the letter appeared several days later, ought to wince at the duplication. Mr Ferguson's vision of American life once the veneer of civilisation is stripped off certainly has the knack of catching an editor's fancy.

I will spare you a duplicate of my post about the letter, but Moira Breen of Progressive Reaction writes:

Re Ferguson's "The speed of the breakdown implies that only the cursory removal of law and order is necessary for American society to descend into anarchy". Perhaps I am deeply misinformed because I do not have access to the BBC, but I was unaware that the social order had collapsed all across Katrina's huge swathe of destruction, rather than in a limited area of a city long notorious for its sleaze, corruption, and civic incompetence.

It's odd that he dwells on the famously law-abiding Japanese to try to make his point about the savagery of "American society". Is he suggesting that no other people - I dunno, say, no subset of Britons at all - would run wild under the duress of a Katrina-like catastrophe and the "removal of law and order"? (The crime stats do suggest that some Britons are fond of a bit of "looting" with the law intact and no natural disasters in sight, no?)

OK, so Ferguson is just being silly here. But the following statement - "...self-reliance, the right to bear arms and the pre-eminence of the individual over the State can be as destructive in times of social disaster as they are constructive in shaping the 'economic miracle'" - well, that just made my flesh crawl. "Self-reliance" is not the cause of corrupt, incompetent local government, and the decent folk trapped among the thugs in NO would have been a hell of a lot better off locked, loaded, and self-reliant.

I have read that the explanations the Japanese themselves give as to why they are so much more law-abiding than the rest of the world, in particular the Americans, have a disconcerting tendency to centre around Japanese racial superiority and/or homogeneity.

The homogeneity one I can just about accept. It's one less fault line to split along when a society comes under stress. That is not to say that there are not times when homogeneity can do harm; it made it psychologically easier for the Japanese to oppress other peoples during WWII, for instance.

Race was always there in the accounts of what happened in New Orleans. Some of the commentary of those slavering to finally reveal the awfulness of George Bush's America tended to parallel the commentary of those who believed that it all just showed that blacks were intrinsically irresponsible.

(ADDED LATER: Just because half the blogosphere has linked to this essay by Bill Whittle is no reason for me not to as well. It is long, but well worth your time.)

The videos of disorder, looting (including looting by policemen) and gang violence are indisputable. The first-hand accounts of racial harassment of stranded white tourists by black youths aren't going to go away either. However the more apocalyptic stories of mass rape and so on have not been confirmed. The Guardian's Gary Younge wrote yesterday:

New Orleans police have been unable to confirm the tale of the raped child, or indeed any of the reports of rapes, in the Superdome and convention centre.

New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass said last night: "We don't have any substantiated rapes. We will investigate if the individuals come forward."

I hope that the initial estimate of many thousand dead may also prove to have been an exaggeration. When there is a disaster in a developed nation casualty estimates peak after about two days then steadily decline as missing people finally manage to contact relatives. It's different for disasters in undeveloped nations, where days after the initial call relief workers can be confronted with whole wrecked villages they hadn't known about.