Today, in an interview with CNN, a New Orleans police officer stated that some hurricane victims were initially reluctant to board the helicopters that had come to rescue them because they were worried that the service would cost too much money.
Think about it for a minute. You have been stranded on your roof without food or water for a week. You have not slept. You are surrounded by floodwater, and you legitimately fear that you may die before anyone finds you. Possibly, some members of your family already have.
Then, finally, miraculously, a rescue helicopter arrives to take you to safety. What is the first thing you feel? Is it elation at having been saved? Anticipation of your first meal in days? Hope that you will be reunited with your loved ones?
No, the first thing you feel is worry. You worry that you cannot afford to be saved.
You worry about this because you have spent every day of your life worrying that you cannot afford things. You worry that you cannot afford to get sick. You worry that you cannot afford your rent. You worry that you cannot afford groceries, or clothes, or busfare. You worry that one small emergency—an impacted wisdom tooth, or a broken appliance—will bring the house of cards that is your life crashing down.
You don’t worry about hurricanes because you can’t even conceive of what a big emergency would do.
Meanwhile, neo-conservatives are placing blame for Katrina’s devastation on the welfare state, which has usurped the “normal” and “decent” values of radical individualism. Referring to the trapped residents of New Orleans, one writes:
But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them.
This piece appears in The Intellectual Activist, a magazine published by the followers of Ayn Rand, and was linked from a comment posted to the New Orleans Metroblog. On a purely philosophical level, its contents can be effortlessly dismissed as belligerent tripe, as can Rand’s so-called literary works and with them the entire project of objectivism.
However, it is worth noting that the policies of the current American administration are steeped in such tripe, and that its most influential member, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, is a former protégé of Rand’s. This is not a matter of conspiracy theory, but of ideological framing: how does a Randian view the victims of Hurricane Katrina? As human beings deserving of government assistance? Or as “parasites” on the body of American capitalism?
As a closing note, it turns out that Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown had virtually no professional experience in emergency management prior to his appointment to FEMA in 2001. He was, however, a lawyer and a commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, which apparently made him a perfect candidate for the position. Strangely, the editorial staff of the Louisiana Times-Picayune disagrees.