10 thoughts on “Compare and Contrast”

  1. I think living in dense urban areas erodes civil society because people develop the habit of ignoring other people just so they can walk down the street. When you throw in high crime you get a distinct environment of alienation wherein all strangers (which are the vast majority of people you encounter) are viewed first as threats. Invasive government means nobody builds or starts businesses without political connections. This in turn leads people to blame government for all ills. Poor people feel that the government and therefore the rest of society are to blame for their poverty.

    Such an environment leads to an “every man for himself” culture. People feel no special need to risk themselves for the community. People conditioned to wait for government approval or direction are less likely to initiative on their own.

  2. Katrina brought about the collapse of an utterly corrupt state and local government system, which had a long standing history of incompetence, thievery, and malfeasence.

    Furthermore, it revealed, for those who paid attention, the equally corrupt and incompetent efforts of the major media to construct a scandelous story line regarding the federal government’s response, even if it had to ignore significant facts on the ground that flatly contradicted that narrative.

    I remember reading a very thorough analysis of the Katrina aftermath by a blogger who did his homework, and the contrasts between what was reported and what actually happened was disgraceful.

    We are now witnessing the grafting of the uber-corrupt Chicago school of political operations onto the already disfunctional and corrupt national political structure. There seems little reason to believe this melding of midwestern sewage with east coast establishment sewage will somehow result in the elixier of the gods, nor any beneficial result for the country.

    What we are seeing is the establishment of Huey Long’s dream “Every man a king” program on a national scale. The corporate state which will inevitably result may very well set new standards for venality and repression, outdoing the Civil War/Reconstruction era, and the New Deal/WW2 period by light years of magnitude.

    In stark contrast to that entirely nauseating tapestry of schmutz, the people of the Red River Valley, assisted by numerous volunteers and activated National Guard units, may very well go through an extraordinarily destructive natural calamity without even one story similar to the disgraceful activity described by the Times/Picayune.

    As Shannon comments above, it is a tribute to both the sturdiness of rural, farming communities and the higher conception of community which that lifestyle brings to the fore. The rules of civil behavior, and civility itself, are taken pretty seriously in the Fargo/Morehead/Grand Forks area, and taking advantage of a neighbor’s misfortune to loot their home or business would not be dismissed so casually.

    Needless to say, if and when things start going really, really badly, as they very well might, I would rather cast my lot with a bunch of hick, rural midwesterners than any hip, urban area filled with hipster doofuses like those in NO, or Chicago or New York for that matter.

  3. Jane Jacobs would not have accepted that urban environments are inherently destructive of social bonds and initiative, and I would agree.

    It takes a social fabric to make people helpless and destructive, and a weak fabric may be more easily accomplished in a city, but perhaps that is because it is easier to create and enforce dependency there. But the city, itself, is neither necessary nor sufficient; at most it might somewhat enable.

    It’s not the whole story, but government plus the ideas as to what is acceptable or expected, coming from the establishment, play a much bigger role than architecture, I think.

    Theodore Dalrymple has a lot to say on this.

  4. It’s the “Muskrat Conundrum” in action, so very well described by Quammen in “Monsters of God.”

    I can’t begin to explain it as well as he did . . . muskrats, and humans, change their behavior markedly when they sense that they are in too tight of a competition for resources and/or are overpopulated.

  5. That the culture of the northern Midwest handles stress better than does the culture of New Orleans is no surprise. The ancestors of those self-reliant yet cooperative rural midwesterners came from places where people are self-reliant yet cooperative and where governments are relatively uncorrupt. This is the third major midwestern flood since 1993. During each of these disasters people as a rule were cooperative and decent.

    I don’t think it’s correct to blame social breakdown in places like New Orleans on dense urbanization. Not only does Louisiana’s public culture have dysfunctional features even outside of urban New Orleans, but people in other densely populated urban areas behave better. In the past few years we had something of a controlled experiment in our most densely populated city, NYC. During a power blackout in 1977 there was much crime and other anti-social behavior. Yet during a similar blackout in 2003 New Yorkers were notably civil and cooperative. The difference was probably a combination of better government and post-9/11 civic solidarity. Would New Orleanians behave better with better government? That’s hard to know.

    The USA really is composed of several distinct cultures. One cannot make sense of events here without understanding this fact and without knowing the cultural backgrounds of the people involved in any large-scale event.

  6. Jonathan,

    I don’t think it’s correct to blame social breakdown in places like New Orleans on dense urbanization.

    I don’t think it is the entire explanation but I do think it is where a big chunk of the problem begins. It’s simply easier to maintain a sense of community in a small rural town than it is in the big city. We would find it newsworthy if people in small communities didn’t cooperate whereas such behavior in a dense urban area would not be cause for surprise.

    The dominant zeitgeist of a particular region or time also strongly influences people’s actions. When New York suffered blackouts in the 70’s, they suffered riots and widespread looting. When they had blackouts in 2003 they did not. The primary reason for the differences lays in the dominate zeitgeist in the two decades.

    Clearly, the political culture of New Orleans is much different from that of South Dakota.

  7. Both politics and responses reflect culture; I wonder (because I don’t know) if Jonathan might not have had experiences that were quite comparable – that is Florida is heavily populated and has been hit by a series of hurricanes, if none quite as destructive. they don’t seem to have fallen apart.

    Of course, I assume cities in Florida don’t exist on the shore and below sea level. People living on one of the great fault lines of the country, below sea level, or on the edge of cliffs likely to turn to mud, and in the midst of kindling for fires would seem to have a pretty high level of cognitive dissonance. We live on clay and have come to accept cracks in the wall as part of living – a variable I would have had trouble with until year by year I’ve come to accept this. Tornados are like lightning – they may be bad but they are random and only a few are generally affected (with the rare exceptions of places like Grand Island, NE and Waco, TX).

  8. Maybe the difference in NYC was that before Giuliani it was acepted that nothing could be done about crime.After,that was shown to be nonsense. Maybe it was that most of the really bad hombres were in jail the second time around. Criminals cause crime.
    We did have a blackout in 1965. People behaved quite well then.

  9. It should also be mentioned that New Orleans was not the only area hit hard by Katrina. While the media went wild over NO, spinning tales ranging from somewhat factual to hysterical guesswork to outright fantasy, other states and locales, both urbam and rural, managed the disaster without either the lunacy or the incompetence of those involved with NO.

    But, as has been noted repeatedly as the credibility of the big name media collapses, once the narrative has been set, facts are not allowed to interfere.

    NO was a corrupt basket case long before Katrina.

  10. New Orleans was a French colony. Louisiana’s laws are based on the Napoleonic Code. Existing culture is not easily extinguished in the United States as David Hackett Fischer demonstrated in Albion’s Seed. To call New Orleans part of the United States is to grant the diversity our nation tolerates.

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