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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Monday, September 05, 2005
People see events as confirmation of what they already believe. A writer to the Times, Simon Ferguson, says:
The speed of the breakdown implies that only the cursory removal of law and order is necessary for American society to descend into anarchy.

Such scenes did not accompany the tsunami or the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, ten years ago, despite the scale of suffering and disaster being greater in both cases.

The underbelly of the American dream is being laid bare — namely that 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”.

I have just come back from Switzerland, where there is not only a right to bear arms but a duty: every man is issued with his own assault rifle to take home after military service. Yet there was no breakdown of order there in the recent floods. I spoke to someone involved at quite a high level in organising rescue and relief. He said there were some instances of hysteria, but neither he nor anyone else I spoke to mentioned looting, let alone insurrection. True, the Swiss floods were nothing like as widespread as those in the US - but the experience of a small community whose homes are surrounded by the rising waters is similar.

So why are the responses so different? I doubt whether Mr Ferguson has any clearer idea than I do what really happened after the tsunami, an event that affected an appreciable fraction of the world's land surface. He must have missed the reports of a breakdown of order in Aceh, not that there was over-much there to start with. However he is right about Kobe.

Why did order break down in (some areas of) New Orleans? With my somewhat different perspective to that of Mr Ferguson, I blame welfare. Two or three generations of absent fathers due to the peverse incentives of a welfare system is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a violent society; it is just a very likely bet. As well as the violence, I think the welfare culture also promoted fatalism. As Blithering Bunny writes:

How little resourcefulness do you possess if you can’t even get you and your little children away from what you know will be a flood zone when you have plenty of warning? If most of these people were on welfare, then doesn’t say much for welfare culture. I would have walked if nothing else was possible.

But of course there was another possibility that the BBC didn’t consider: maybe these people just decided to take their chances, not believing that the flooding would be that bad. The goverment always trying to scare you, they might have figured, this won’t be that bad. Why spend my money on a beat-up? It won’t affect me, anyway. I’d rather stay here and protect my house, etc. It is a wrench to walk away from your home knowing there’s a chance that it will be ruined and you won’t be there to try to protect it.