Ed Driscoll

The Return of the Primitive

The Return of the Primitive was the title of an Ayn Rand book on the post-McGovern left. I borrowed it to use for my category on some of the more extreme examples of the flight from reason that’s an ongoing part of much of today’s society.

Frankly, it’s not a category I use very often. But since Katrina’s hit land, it’s gotten a workout. And it’s not a coincidence that in his latest Chicago Sun-Times column, Mark Steyn refers to a phenomenon called “re-primitivized man“:

Anyone watching TV in recent days will have seen plenty of “re-primitivized man,” not in Liberia or Somalia, but in Louisiana. Cops smashing the Wal-Mart DVD cabinet so they can get their share of the booty along with the rest of the looters, gangs firing on a children’s hospital and on rescue helicopters, hurricane victims being raped in the New Orleans Convention Center. . . . If you’re minded, as many of the world’s anti-Americans are, to regard the United States as a depraved swamp, it was a grand old week: Mother Nature delivered the swamp, but plenty of natives supplied the depravity.

Not all of them, of course. But it doesn’t really matter if it’s only 5 percent or 2 percent or 0.01 percent if everybody else is giving them free rein. Not exactly the most impressive law enforcement agency even on a good day, the New Orleans Police Department sent along some 80 officers to rescue the rape victims trapped in the Convention Center, but were beaten back by the mob. Meanwhile, the ever more pitiful governor was, unlike many of her fellow Louisianans, safe on dry land but still floundering way out of her depth, unable to stand up to the lawlessness even rhetorically or to communicate anything other than emotive impotence.

With most disasters, it’s a good rule to let the rescue teams do their work and leave the sniping till folks are safe. But in New Orleans last week the emergency work has been seriously hampered by actual literal sniping, as at that hospital. The authorities lost control of the streets. Which one of Tom Ridge’s Homeland Security color codes does that fall under?

After Sept. 11, many people who should have known better argued that it was somehow a vindication of government.

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One thing that became clear two or three months after “the day that everything changed” is that nothing changed — that huge swathes of the political culture in America remain committed to a bargain that stiffs the people at every level, a system of lavish funding of pseudo-action. You could have done as the anti-war left wanted and re-allocated every dollar spent in Iraq to Louisiana. Or you could have done as some of the rest of us want and re-allocated every buck spent on, say, subsidizing Ted Turner’s and Sam Donaldson’s play-farming activities. But, in either case, I’ll bet Louisiana’s kleptocrat public service would have pocketed the dough and carried on as usual — and, come the big day, the state would still have flopped out, and New Orleans’ foul-mouthed mayor would still be ranting about why it was all everybody’s else fault.

Those levees broke; they failed. And you think about Chicago and San Francisco and Boston and you wonder what’s waiting to fail there. The assumption was that after 9/11, big towns and small took stock and identified their weak points. That’s what they told us they were doing, and that’s what they were getting big bucks to do. But in New Orleans no one had a plan that addressed levee failure, and no one had a plan for the large percentage of vehicleless citizens who’d be unable to evacuate, and no one had a plan to deal with widespread looting. Given that all these local factors are widely known — New Orleans is a below-sea-level city with high crime and a low rate of automobile ownership — it makes you wonder how the city would cope with something truly surprising — like, say, a biological attack.

Oh, well, maybe the 9/11 commission can rename themselves the Katrina Kommission. Back in the real world, America’s enemies will draw many useful lessons from the events of this last week. Will America?

All in all, sadly, I wouldn’t bet on it. But David Brooks is certainly right: “Rudy Giuliani, an unlikely G.O.P. nominee a few months ago, could now win in a walk”. And for good reason.

Update: Related thoughts from Roger L. Simon, and a related video illustrating Steyn’s point, via Charles Johnson.

Another Update: Mark Steyn also has a column on New Orleans in England’s Telegraph: “The Big Easy Rocked, But Didn’t Roll“.