Thomas Sowell compares and contrasts the declining morality of ordinary citizens during three city-wide crises over the last forty years–two New York City blackouts of the ’60s and ’70s, and New Orleans at tbe beginning of this month:
During good times or bad, the police cannot police everybody. They can at best control a small segment of society. The vast majority of people have to control themselves.
That is where the great moral traditions of a society come in — those moral traditions that it is so hip to sneer at, so cute to violate, and that our very schools undermine among the young, telling them that they have to evolve their own standards, rather than following what old fuddy duddies like their parents tell them.
Now we see what those do-it-yourself standards amount to in the ugliness and anarchy of New Orleans.
In a world where people flaunt their “independence,” their “right” to disregard moral authority, and sometimes legal authority as well, the tragedy of New Orleans reminds us how utterly dependent each one of us is for our very lives on millions of other people we don’t even see.
Thousands of people in New Orleans will be saved because millions of other people they don’t even know are moved by moral obligations to come to their rescue from all corners of this country. The things our clever sophisticates sneer at are ultimately all that stand between any of us and utter devastation.
Any of us could have been in New Orleans. And what could we have depended on to save us? Situational ethics? Postmodern philosophy? The media? The lawyers? The rhetoric of the intelligentsia?
No, what we would have to depend on are the very things that are going to save the survivors of hurricane Katrina, the very things that clever people are undermining.
New Orleans can be rebuilt and the levees around it shored up. But can the moral levees be shored up, not only in New Orleans but across America?