Need and Greed in Katrina's Wake
While some souls may be in peril for human misdeeds after the hurricane, let's temper our judgment with wisdom and mercy.
A rising flood tide brings all kinds of terror in its wake, whole populations cast into its swirling eddies, people fighting for their very lives. When the waters subside, it is not surprising that we should witness both the very best and very worst of human nature.
The best is both evident and admirable. In their readiness to give to charity, Americans are the most generous people on earth. Money is pouring in to the Red Cross and other relief organizations. A welling surge of humanitarianism is bringing comfort and relief to hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens who languish bereft in the face of nature's devastating power.
The worst of human nature evoked by such a catastrophe is both evident and hidden, in each instant manifesting the opposite of generosity, namely greed.
Evident is the criminal lawlessness. Hospitals being ransacked. Armed pirates on the prowl. Looters trashing stores. The wanton disregard for human life and property stands as a sobering reminder that, when freed from social constraints and driven by greed the human animal can become both feral and (unlike most other creatures in the animal kingdom) cruel.
Some people, given the opportunity, will steal whatever they can get away with stealing. Encouraged by crowd behavior and an apparent immunity to consequence, others will succumb to greed under the cover of chaos, committing crimes that they wouldn't dream of under ordinary circumstances. Opportunistic crime is not reserved for street thugs, of course. One corporate scandal after another testifies quite eloquently to the wide band in which human greed operates.
The great majority of citizens resist the temptation to steal what isn't theirs. To jump from the videotape to the conclusion that the dike of American virtue has collapsed in minority communities is as callow a judgment as is its ideological counterpart-namely that the only sins that really count are those committed in the corporate boardrooms or the halls of power.
Also, we must not forget that people have been without water, electricity, and sometimes food for almost a week now. Many of these despised looters have lost everything: left homeless, their cars literally flooded in three feet of water, their livelihoods suspended, and little in their bank accounts to fall back on.