Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The pathetic exploitation of human suffering

My job being what it is, I've been bombarded with coverage of Katrina's aftermath all day yesterday and today. There are few things that have ever put me at a loss for words, but this is one of them. I simply cannot find the words, or maybe they don't exist, to express the utter sadness and devastation being visited upon Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of the hurricane. The damage and devastation is what it is, and if you have a shred of humanity in your soul, you understand its impact...and if you don't, well, I'm sorry.

Events like these often bring out the best in human nature. Neighbors help neighbors, strangers help strangers, and ordinary citizens, who often times already come from meager means, sacrifice what little luxury they may have to help someone less fortunate. I was just checking the facebook last night, and I saw a simple gesture that was rather touching -- a link at the top of the page that provided information on donating to the Red Cross in order to aid the hurricane victims.

It's like things like that that restore my faith in humanity.

However, there are also things going on in response to Katrina that destroy all that faith and completely disgust me.

There are those looting the businesses in New Orleans. It is perhaps excusable, or at least understandable, for hurricane victims to be looting grocery stores in search of food and potable water, medical supplies, and other things directly related to their survival. But it is simply revolting to see the looting of electronics stores, stealing appliances for which there is no electricity, breaking into Casinos and stealing money for which there is no business, looting shoe stores, stealing bags full of shoes for which they have no place to store, running from clothing stores with as many clothes as they can carry, etc.

These people are shameless, selfish opportunists with no comprehension that, with every dollar lost by the business from which they steal, another person -- usually one that most desperately needs the job -- is at risk for losing that job.

There are those comparing this disaster to other disasters, such as 9/11 or the tsunami. First of all, comparing a natural disaster to a malignant attack by religious zealots strikes me as extremely poor taste. It remains to be seen if the death toll from this hurricane will be comparable to that of 9/11, and the damage and destruction is already far worse, at least in terms of scale, but it somehow seems wrong to compare an act of God to an act of terrorism.

There is also something unsettling about comparing this storm to the tsunami. For one thing, we had advanced warning of this storm, unlike the tsunami where there was none. Not only was there advanced warning, but there was a mandatory evacuation declared in New Orleans. However, thousands of people simply refused to heed this warning, and as such have placed themselves in this situation. Even worse, for every person who had the means to evacuate and chose not to, they are taking resources away from those who had no choice but to buckle down and pray.

On the subject of acts of God, I've heard it suggested that this is a sign from God, or an expression of his anger, and we should take notice and make efforts to reduce our immorality. As I've said before, I consider myself at least a moderately religious person, but I still believe this is absolutely ridiculous. This hurricane, along with the tsunami, is perhaps an example of the power of God -- but not the wrath. I believe that weather patterns are nothing more than systems put in place by God. God doesn't micro-manage, as far as I'm concerned.

Perhaps the most upsetting group of people coming out of the woodwork in this whole situation are those saying that America somehow deserved this disaster...or are even to blame for causing it.

German environmental minister Jurgen Tritten blamed President Bush for not doing enough about global warming and facilitating the conditions that caused Katrina. With similar reasoning, Robert Kennedy Jr. blamed Mississippi governor Haley Barbour for not pushing to ratify the Kyoto protocol when he was Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Ignoring the fact that, even if it's wildly unrealistic goals are met, the Kyoto protocol will marginally affect the global temperature a century from now, and ignoring the fact that even the nations who have ratified the protocol are dismally failing to meet those goals -- the audacity of these people to interject politics into this disaster -- and to exploit the suffering of millions of people as a political opportunity -- is absolutely staggering.

Thousands of people are left with nothing but the clothes on their back, hundreds, if not thousands of people are dead, people are still looking for relatives, and most, if not all of these people have nothing to go back to once the waters recede. Can we not have the decency to let these people mourn, grieve and suffer without exploiting them as pawns in a political game? It's absolutely inexcusable.

On a personal note, I feel completely helpless. From my apartment some 1,000 miles away, I feel completely idle and useless. Not that I know what I would be able to do if I were able, or even if there is anything at all I can do. The situation seems so hopeless, and hopelessness is arguably the worst of human emotions.

Despite the ugly facets of human nature that have been on display, I have faith that the American people, as they always do in times of crisis, will come together and rally around those in need, and make whatever sacrifices that are necessary to rebuild their homes, as well as their lives.

Until then, all the rest of us can do is pray, send good thoughts, whatever it is you do...and if you've got a little to spare, maybe send it to those who could really use it right now.


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