What Made Hurricane Katrina Different?

Walter Isaacson writes:

Walker Percy had a theory about hurricanes. “Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case,” he wrote of Will Barrett, the semi-autobiographical title character of his second novel, “The Last Gentleman.” “Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes.”

…Will Barrett’s hurricane insight is prompted by the recollection of a date he had with a girl named Midge. Driving through Connecticut, they are caught in a Northeastern hurricane and seek shelter at a diner. When the wind breaks a window, they help the counter attendant board it up. “Midge and the counterman,” Percy writes, “were very happy. The hurricane blew away the sad, noxious particles which befoul the sorrowful old Eastern sky and Midge no longer felt obliged to keep her face stiff. They were able to talk. It was best of all when the hurricane’s eye came with its so-called ominous stillness. It was not ominous. Everything was yellow and still and charged up with value.”

…That’s what makes hurricanes therapeutic. “Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban Short Hills, N.J., on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon?” Percy wrote in one of his essays. “Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?” Part of the answer is that when a hurricane is about to hit, we no longer feel uncertain about our role in the world. Everyone is focused, connected, engaged. We know what we’re supposed to do, and we do it.

But Percy’s theory about the redemptive power of hurricanes goes beyond the fact that dangerous situations allow us to become action heroes or saints. “True, people help each other in catastrophes,” he wrote in “Lancelot.” “But they don’t feel good because they help each other. They help each other because they feel good.” The hurricane blows away our alienation. “I knew a married couple once who were bored with life, disliked each other, hated their own lives, and were generally miserable — except during hurricanes,” Lancelot recounts. “Then they sat in their house at Pass Christian, put a bottle of whiskey between them, felt a surge of happiness, were able to speak frankly and cheerfully to each other, laugh and joke, drink, even make love.”

Hurricanes may be redemptive for upstanding white communities because people pitch in and help each other. Hurricanes are disastrous for black communities because blacks don’t usually construct such supportive communities. What sane non-black wants to live in a black country/state/city?

From the Wikipedia entry for Steve Sailer:

Sailer’s article on Hurricane Katrina was followed by accusations of racism from left-wing organizations Media Matters for America and the Southern Poverty Law Center.[41][42] In reference to the New Orleans slogan “let the good times roll”, Sailer commented:

What you won’t hear, except from me, is that “Let the good times roll” is an especially risky message for African-Americans. The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society.[40]

Conservative columnist John Podhoretz, responded in the National Review Online blog by calling Sailer’s statement “shockingly racist and paternalistic” as well as “disgusting”.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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