For many years, novels and films have given us apocalyptic views of how easily mankind could disintegrate into ruthless barbarity once removed from the constraints of law and order, and the comfortable smooth machinery of “civilization”. But all that was just fiction, right? Not really. The reality is in the news.
While the people of New York City responded predominantly with goodwill and a heroic attitude to the World Trade Center attacks, it is important to keep in mind that the basic structure of the city – the services, facilities, and general day-to-day functions – were still intact. The disaster that has befallen the gulf states is an entirely different kind of animal. The entire city of New Orleans has been utterly devastated. Many peripheral communities and cities have been essentially washed away. There is no source of free-flowing fresh water, food sources have been severely depleted, virtually no energy infrastructure remains, although line crews from neighboring states are working feverishly to get power restored to critical facilities like the water supply system. Tens of thousands of people have lost their possessions, their homes, their jobs, and their entire way of life. As some of the survivors have put it, they are literally “adrift”.
While many people do have a positive, strong mental and psychological orientation, allowing them to forge ahead and find a way to carry on within the boundaries of law and moral principles, many others do not.
Poverty-stricken communities already have a tendency to have higher crime rates under normal conditions, due to obvious environmental factors. Many people in this environment often become dependent on the “welfare-state”, deriving some of their income, access to services, and food allowances from government-sponsored systems. In a “civilization-destroyed” scenario, these systems cease to function. In times like this, people who ordinarily would not resort to outright theft or robbery do so, and the more violently criminal-minded become even more ruthless and barbaric.
A disaster on the scale as that of the gulf states, where the ability of the government (local, state, or federal) to control affairs is seriously diminished, creates a ripe opportunity for the desperate and the criminal to exploit the misfortunes of others. And they’re doing it. Armed gangs roaming the demolished landscape, reports of rape inside the overwhelmed astrodome, boundless pillaging of every storefront or home left standing; these are the stark images that tell us just how fragile our domestic peace really is.
America is truly a great nation, populated by many great people. But there is bad among us, too, waiting for the opportunity to seize upon the misfortunes of others, whether for profit or just for plain pathological gratification.
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