What Katrina stripped bare, then, was not white supremacy, but that culture matters — even if what created the culture was misguided white benevolence. Social scientists neglect that before the 1960s poor blacks knew plenty of economic downturns and plenty more racism.
But before the 1960s the kinds of behaviour so common among the blacks stranded in the Superdome, possibly including multiple rapes, was a fringe phenomenon. Only after the 1960s did it become a community norm.
And A&L also links a NYTimes Rothstein article on theodicies, which
have been plentiful after earthquakes, floods and droughts. Explanations are readily offered: disasters are the wages of sin, they herald an apocalyptic age, they cleanse the earth of evil. Theodicies aim to demonstrate that devastation does not really disrupt or overturn our understanding of the moral and social order. Instead, disorder provides evidence of order. The theodicy is that order. It explains forces that seem to lie beyond human powers, evils that lie beyond human cause.
As Rothstein observes: “It confidently extends scientific and political power into the realm of nature. It doesn’t really explain catastrophe, but it attempts to explain why we are forced to experience it: because of human failings.” This essay seems to conclude with a certain genial smugness:
Nature becomes something to be managed or mismanaged; it lies within the political order, not outside it. Theodicy, if successful, does not overturn belief but confirms it. So, for some commentators, the flood and its aftermath provided confirmation of their previous doubts about the Bush adminstration.
Actually, in some respects, this theodicy has gone even beyond the political: just as a religious theodicy might have shown natural catastrophe to be the result of human misdeed, many of the early commentators about the flood did the same, creating a kind of scientific/moral theodicy in which human sin is still a dominant factor. . . .
And in the face of nature’s awesome and horrific powers, the prospect of political retribution is as prevalent as the promise of divine retribution once was.
It is hard to share Rothstein’s point of view: losing touch with real causes and effects makes any real changes far more unlikely.