Hurricane Harvey slammed Texas’ Gulf Coast. It poured some 11 trillion gallons of rain on the Houston area. As first responders and ordinary Americans from across the country descend into Houston to help with relief efforts, we can always count on the liberal media for being, well, insufferable. The so-called Cajun Navy, a group of private boat owners based in Louisiana, answered the call, as did first responders from all over. Thousands have been rescued, though not without casualties. Eighteen people, including a police officer, have lost their lives due to the flooding. The pictures of the elderly half submerged in their homes were shared. The endless volunteers on boat that went door-to-door to get folks to safer and drier ground have been documented. It is, as some have said, representing the very best of America after weeks of intense commentaries about Confederate statues and fights between the far left and far right that led to one person being killed in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. The violent thuggish elements that are inherent in both camps have certainly received their time in the limelight, so this, while not the most ideal of situations, is a welcome sign that we are a nation that still values community, hope, and altruism. And then, there’s Washington Post-affiliated Slate that argued it’s misleading to say these Houston rescue efforts show America at its best. Yeah, they’re certainly the life of the party:
But does catastrophe illustrate, or does it transform? What if America is less a glorious nation of do-gooders awaiting the chance to exercise their altruism than a moral junior varsity team elevated by circumstance? In her book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, Rebecca Solnit argues that emergencies provoke from us a conditional virtue. They create provisional utopias, communities in which the usual—selfish, capitalistic—rules don’t apply. “Imagine a society,” Solnit writes, “where the fate that faces [people], no matter how grim, is far less so for being shared, where much once considered impossible, both good and bad, is now possible or present, and where the moment is so pressing that old complaints and worries fall away, where people feel important, purposeful, at the center of the world.”
The point here is obviously not to diminish the bighearted men and women who rose to the occasion when Harvey, a “once-in-a-lifetime” storm with a spiraling death toll, slammed into Texas. But it is misleading to characterize Houston as an exhibition of the “best of America” when what it represents is a contingent America, a “paradise” specific to the “hell” around it. These waterlogged suburbs have become zones of exemption, where norms hang suspended and something lovelier and more communal has been allowed to flourish in their place. Disaster scientists have repeatedly punctured the myth, perpetuated by Hollywood and the media, that cataclysm awakens our worst selves. Rather, disruptive events loosen our mores just enough to permit new kinds of compassion. As Slate reported in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, researchers at the University of Colorado–Boulder discovered “that panic is not a problem in disasters; that rather than helplessly awaiting outside aid, members of the public behave proactively and prosocially to assist one another; that community residents themselves perform many critical disaster tasks, such as searching for and rescuing victims; and that both social cohesiveness and informal mechanisms of social control increase during disasters, resulting in a lower incidence of deviant behavior.”
People are fighting for survival and we get a hot take and some quote from a book that no one gives a crap about right now from Slate. We don’t mean to denigrate or marginalize the massive relief effort and reconstruction projects that will take years once the water receded, but we’re going to do just that because that’s what we do here at Slate. I’ll make a large wager that if there was a Democrat in the White House and this was the liberal Northeast, this story either wouldn’t have been posted or it would have made the case that these relief efforts showed America at its best. But Trump is president. Texas is a red state. And Gov. Greg Abbott is a Republican.
Coming soon from Slate: We never saw another Trump term coming pic.twitter.com/sKSVo3OTbG— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) August 30, 2017