Despair in Disaster

by | Sep 10, 2005

Why is there looting and raping in New Orleans? What does it say about the people there? What nobody wants to talk about is the psychology of helplessness. We all know that a large number of the victims in New Orleans are poor, black, and in many cases dependent on government for all or part […]

Why is there looting and raping in New Orleans? What does it say about the people there?

What nobody wants to talk about is the psychology of helplessness. We all know that a large number of the victims in New Orleans are poor, black, and in many cases dependent on government for all or part of their welfare. Is it any wonder they display an attitude of total and complete helplessness in the face of what is admittedly a tragic situation? Even more, their leaders shriek that it’s all President Bush’s fault for not “doing enough.” President Bush will comply with hundreds of billions of tax dollars, but just watch: it will never be enough.

When you have a preexisting mindset of helplessness, that helpless mindset can only worsen when a disaster strikes. There’s little or no can-do spirit animating people who feel that somebody else is supposed to take care of them. If they feel hopeless or helpless nearly every day of their lives, then how can they feel any different in a disaster? There’s only wailing and anger. I am not suggesting that this is the mindset of all victims in New Orleans, black and poor or otherwise. But it does seem to be the dominant mindset portrayed by the media, perhaps because the media establishment so cherishes that mindset.

In a context dominated by helplessness and dependence, criminals take over. There are criminals in every class, and it’s not a racial issue. It’s a psychological issue. The more helpless and despairing the majority, the more empowered the criminal minority will feel to do what it does best: terrorize the population.

Everybody wants to talk about how the disaster and despair in Louisiana is the fault of President Bush and white people in general. The cause is actually deeper and different from that. The cause is the psychological attitude that makes the welfare state possible, and that makes disasters even more tragic than they otherwise would be.

***

According to MSNBC.com, “The political ramifications [of the disaster in New Orleans] might last longer, with widespread criticism of the government’s relief work and suggestions that Washington would have moved much quicker if it were rich whites in danger.”

Whose criticism? It’s unclear, other than MSNBC’s perception that the criticism is widespread and self-evident.

Leaving this aside, I still have a number of questions about all this:

A lot of these people who are trapped in New Orleans are poor; many of these poor are on welfare and in government housing. I have been to New Orleans many times, and the government-subsidized slums make similar slums in places like New York, Washington DC and Chicago seem mild by comparison. If the government is to get the blame for not providing “enough help” to poor black people after the hurricane, shouldn’t the government get the blame for not doing something about those slums? And, by the way, do the poor themselves have any responsibility for anything, ever?

Most of the tax money (and probably most of the privately donated money) to help the victims of the disaster in the South come from rich white people, simply because there are more rich white people than there are rich black people (although some rich black people will pay, both through taxes and voluntarily). Whether it’s taxes or voluntary contributions, the rich always pay more to help victims of disaster because, as rich people, they simply have more money. This is the way it is, even if only 1 percent of all rich people donate.

So if I were MSNBC.com and all the other media outlets spreading such impressions, I’d be careful about condemning too many of those rich white people (and President Bush, whom they perceive to be the representative of the rich and the white). Without those “tainted” rich white dollars, there wouldn’t be the amount of help that you already see.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

Have a comment?

Post your response in our Capitalism Community on X.

Related articles

No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

Pin It on Pinterest