Timothy Garton Ash comments on the aftermath of disasters such as Katrina. ‘A few (survivors) become temporary angels, most revert to being apes.’ But all of us who have seen the survivors on TV will have noticed that the vast majority were not acting like ‘apes’. They were acting like sad, tired and worried human beings. I know Garton-Ash does not intend to make a racist point, but this calumny – that the survivors were bestial and degraded – is made explicitly by right-wing commentators in the USA, to excuse the state and the rest of the country in general from its responsibility for its fellow citizens.
Of course there are individuals in New Orleans, as in every city in every country of the world, who commit rape and murder. But the majority of human beings do not behave in these ways – not even a majority of adult men. Instead there is a sub-set of adult men who, perhaps due to a combination of inherent traits, training, and social role, are prepared to ‘shove other people aside’, are prepared to use violence against women, children, and other men.
It is in the interests of this violent sub-set of the total species to pretend that their behaviour is the human norm, but a cursory glance at the TV screens will show us that it is not. The degradation we see in Mississippi and Louisiana is the result of selfish and brutal actions on the part of political leaders not on the part of their hapless victims.