Abandoning the Weakest

This CNN article about the body hunt in New Orleans has been open on my desktop all morning. I read it immediately, but it took all morning for me to write something about it.

Dr. Louis Cataldie, medical incident commander for Louisiana, said the elderly appear to make up the bulk of the dead but that searchers also are finding more children.

“That’s tough,” he said.

Much of the final search was being conducted in eastern New Orleans. Crews probed areas of the city that just recently have been drained enough to allow ground searches — neighborhoods that were closest to the fractured levees and bore the brunt of the floodwaters’ force.

Should it be any surprise that most of the dead now being recovered in New Orleans are the elderly and children? Not when you think about it. It’s no more surprising than the reality that most of the people who were left to fend for themselves in the floodwaters were poor (both the working and non-working varieties). It’s the expected outcome of conservative policies that abandon the weakest — economically or physically — among us.

It’s being said now that the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf region is being turned in to a laboratory for a number of conservative policies, and there may be some truth in that. But to some degree — as with the rest of the country — New Orleans already was laboratory for conservative policies and theories. It’s just that the results were seen there sooner than everyone else.

It’s no shock that most of the dead in New Orleans were among the “weakest of the week,” those who were too old or infirm to fend for themselves, and those who were too young to fend for themselves if separated from parents or other adults. That’s the expected outcome of a philosophy that basically boils down to “survival of the fittest”; in the case those physically and economically “fit” enough to get themselves out of the way of the hurricane.

It’s the logical outcome of mindset founded in social darwinism, which fits right in with the conservative “wealth is well-being is virtue” ideal I mentioned earlier. It’s not just the physically or economically strong that survive (indeed that should survive, according to this POV), but the morally strong as well, because economic strength (manifested as material well-being, and the ability to move out of harms way) implies moral strength. Thus, poverty implies moral weakness.

And there is no obligation on the part of the morally strong to save the morally weak, because moral weakness is always a choice. The poor, then, have it coming. That the dead being recovered in New Orleans now simply had the misfortune of being old and poor, or being born into poverty, doesn’t figure into the equation somehow.

The old and poor should have simply made better choices in their youth. The young and poor, well they should have been born into wealthier families. Of course that means their inherited poverty was no more deserved than someone else’s inherited wealth. But it doesn’t make them any less dead.

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About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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9 Responses to Abandoning the Weakest

  1. KipEsquire says:

    “But to some degree — as with the rest of the country — New Orleans already was a laboratory for conservative policies and theories.”

    Are you suggesting that Democratic politicians are underrepresented in Louisiana generally and New Orleans specifically?

  2. Steve says:

    I don’t know where to start. It amazes me to see what someone else’s perspective of what my views or motives are. Usually they get them completely wrong, altered by their own beliefs and prejudices.
    I grew up a conservative in a middle class family with an excellent work ethic. I’ve had to work hard my entire life. I never believed that merely being poor was the choice of bad morals and, since I’m not poor, I have better morals. That’s a ludicrous idea. What I do believe is that giving someone money, not expecting them to do something to better theirselves, is the path to ruin. How many people have known rich children who got everything from their parents who grew up lazy, stupid, and ignorant of the real world? I bet we all have.
    So boiling conservative politics down to “wealth is well-being is virtue” is no more accurate than boiling liberal politics down to “they can’t help themselves, so we’ll have to take care of them for life.” Both views represent a simplistic and false view of what each side believes.
    I think if we all try to get past demonizing the other side and start trying to understand, even accept the other side can sometimes be right, then I think we can finally solve some problems instead of being polarized.

  3. Steve says:

    By the way, I completely forgot I wanted to respond to the first point of the blog. Of course the poor, esp the young and old, were disproportionately effected by this. They were failed on so many levels. Blaming FEMA, which has never been responsible for what happens before a catastrophe, is wrong-headed. The local and state folks were responsible for ensuring things went smoothly with getting people out ahead of time.
    BTW, the only thing I think the federal government should have done is go in and federalize the catastrophe, taking it out of the obviously incompetent hands of the local/state authorities. But if they had, I have no doubt that this and every other liberal blog would have vilified them for doing it. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t. I do fault the administration for not having the political courage to do it anyway.

  4. lorin11 says:

    Terrance: I am with you on this one. The previous posters have not apparently taken the time to read the earlier links. And this idea that states and localities are responsible for primary response to catastrophic events comes out of the conservative mix. I am old enough to remember a time when the conservative line was “well of course, the federal government has primary responsibility in a catastrophe, but other than that…” But then, that was before folks like Dick Armey started called people like Barry Goldwater liberal. The fact is that it used to be considered a given, by virtually all serious members of the political conversation, that the federal government had primary oversight in a case like this.
    But the tap-dancing has been typical of what passes for dialogue lately. Slash federal budgets, demand the states and localities take responsibility, and run screaming from accountability when the levees break. This has less to do with local officials than with the philosophy that tax breaks for the wealthy are more important than vital infrastructure, whether physical or social, and a B-1 bomber is more important that decent schools.

  5. keri says:

    This has less to do with local officials than with the philosophy that tax breaks for the wealthy are more important than vital infrastructure, whether physical or social, and a B-1 bomber is more important that decent schools.


  6. Terrance says:

    No, I’m not suggesting there’s a dearth of democratic politicians in New Orleans or Louisiana. I mean in terms of federal policy and how it affects those areas in circumstances like this.

  7. Terrance says:

    Steve, those may not be your values, but it’s a pretty close assessment of the right wing — the religious right wing — of the Republican party, which still holds quite a bit of power in that party.

    Liberal Oasis has a pretty good explanation of what conservatives — Bush conservatives, anyway — have in store for our civil services.

    …there is a right-wing mission to break our civil service.

    To end the notion of a government bureaucracy led by experienced professionals, guided by facts, working on behalf of the public.

    And to replace it with a government bureaucracy led by hacks, who only need experience in putting self-serving politics ahead of public service.

    Why? When your government staff is reality-based, it’s hard to make them implement a reckless, corrupt agenda.

  8. donna says:

    Wow. Steve, you start off saying those aren’t your values, then go to a generalization like “every other liberal blog”. Well gee, now who is generalizing values?

    I’m sorry you grew up in a conservative family, and I feel for you. But you know, not everyone did, Steve. They don’t know how to handle money, or be responsible, or whatever it is you think you know that “they” don’t. If you don’t trust them with *your* money, that’s fine. But, despite what Bush says, the money the federal government uses is not “your” money. It is a fee all of us pay to take care of everyone, not merely those you think are deserving. Where is your outrage against all of those on the take in this government, the defense contractors who don’t deliver working systems, the FBI being used as pornography agents instead of doing their jobs, the military being wasted in a fruitless war? Get upset over those things, not whether someone who makes less than 20K a year might have bought some booze or used thier money “irresponsibly”.

    Come back when you grow up, Steve, and realize not everyone is the same as you are. And stop being a friggin hypocrite already.

  9. Steve says:

    I don’t see anywhere in my post where I stated I didn’t trust “them” with “my” money. This is part of the demonizing I was talking about. You just put words in my mouth that I did not say. I didn’t say anything about someone making less that 20k a year spending their money irresponsibly. People, until we grow up and learn that other people could have valid and good ideas, even if they conflict with your own, we’ll never advance as a country.
    Don’t feel sorry for me. I grew up in a great family. They passed along things to me like duty to your family, duty to your community, and duty to your beliefs. Same as your family, I’m sure.
    When I referred to “every other liberal blog” I was not referring to internal motives, which was the meat of my original blog, but to overt and demonstrable actions. That does not make me a hypocrite.

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