Europe’s socialist (and America’s liberal) media cannot suppress a hint of gloating over what is happening today in New Orleans. Observing the scenes from the Big Easy, where looters are shooting at policemen, commentators remark: “And this is not the thirld world, but the richest country in the world.” Indeed, they imply, the arrogance of the Americans has boomeranged back upon them: “Looters are turning New Orleans into ‘downtown Baghdad’” and “the army has not enough helicopters as they have all been sent to Iraq.”
The European public are being reminded that welfare state Europe is a so much better place to live in than capitalist America where one looter, a certain Mike Franklin, told Associated Press: “To be honest with you, people who are oppressed all their lives, man, it’s an opportunity to get back at society.”
There, that is an “honest” looter for you. His words remind me of the recent words of an equally “honest” man in Belgium’s Borinage region where, since the mines were closed down several decades ago, three generations have spent their lives on the dole, claiming unemployment benefits as their right without having to look for a job: “Once, the miners were exploited by the state; now we exploit the state,” he said.
Difficulties in getting water and food to the victims, people crying out for help... The point that this is happening in the richest country in the world is totally irrelevant: pain, hunger, hardship are hard to bear for anyone in that situation whether he be rich or poor. True, such scenes are branded in the minds of TV viewers as typical of the third world, and are associated with incompetent economies and government. Often it has little to do with the latter, but more with the fact that those countries are situated in parts of the world where such natural hazards occur while most of the rich West lives in temperate climate zones so far from the experience of nature’s full destructive force that three days of severe rain is regarded as a national disaster.
The latter is particularly the case in Western Europe, while the United States has always been a region more prone to the violent and unpredictable forces of nature: hurricanes, twisters, earthquakes. Many Americans live with the knowledge that, nature being unkind, perhaps in a week from now everything they possess might be wrecked. It is a reality that seems unimaginable to most Europeans and it has a deep influence on the psyche of the American heartland, where, contrary to the cliché, people tend to be considerably less materialistic than in Europe. This is probably also one of the reasons why Americans are a far more religious people than Europeans.
The fact that nature does not often scourge Europe may partly explain its arrogance and sense of superiority, as if having fewer natural disasters has something to do with merit. Such arrogance can lead to carelessness and a sense of invulnerability, reinforced by the certainty that if things do go wrong, the nanny state is there to pamper us. But nature does not discriminate. Now and again she reminds Europeans, such as the Dutch in 1953, that they, too, are vulnerable. However, though the Dutch have to go back more than half a century to be reminded of this, Americans in Florida and elsewhere along the Gulf of Mexico are under threat several times a year.
Tsunamis and hurricanes make no difference between rich or poor countries. Floods and tornados wreak the same havoc wherever they strike. Only political utopianists, such as Marxists, think that governments can create a world without pain and hardship.
Brutally, Katrina has proved that the latter is an illusion. But it is not the only illusion socialists harbour. The other illusion is that governments can create a world where all people will be good to one another. However, not only does nature strike the rich and poor alike. Clearly the capacity of man for evil is the same whether he be rich or poor. The terrible thing is that individuals who have grown up in a society where every child receives an education and no-one need want, can lose every sense of dignity and resort to barbarianism at a moment when their citizenship is put to the test.
It is sad to see how so many whose lifestyles are based on the attitude that others are there to help them, do not reciprocate that attitude. Stealing from shopkeepers who cannot protect their stocks, raping women who have no walls left to protect them... It is shocking that the authorities are required to devote their attention to controlling crime and are even under attack, when every resource is needed to help fellow human beings. And it is hypocrisy to criticise the authorities in the name of the very people who are doing everything in their power to thus thwart the relief efforts.