Thursday, December 11, 2008

Daytona Beach 22.9.05: Skull Beneath the Skin. And God?

Writing from Daytona: and now another very fierce hurricane, Rita, is approaching the shores of Texas. If two (or more?) catastrophic hurricanes hit this season, what will the consequences to the U.S. be, I wonder?

Katrina showed what a thin, illusory line exists between our “civilization” and chaos. Watching footage of New Orleans after the storm was almost like watching footage from Nazi Germany: glittering Berlin cabarets become grim Auschwitz death camps.

It may be that what these hurricanes are showing us is that, as a nation, we live a much closer step than we realize to the gaping chasm of incivility. We speak of the decline of civility as if it’s a lapse of manners—the failure to send a thank-you note for a dinner invitation.

But civility may, in the long run, be about something much deeper: the ability of people to live together without murdering one other. It’s easy to grin and bow when times are good. It’s when things fall apart that the skull beneath the grin shows itself.

If hurricanes—a series of them—disrupt the oil industry and decimate major urban areas connected to that industry, we may, all of us, see privation and need unprecedented in the U.S. in many years. And with the disruptions and dislocations, a decline in civility that surpasses anything the manners mavens have even begun to dream of.

If nothing else, Katrina and events preceding it have shown us that the robber barons of the oil industry—Bush & Co.—have themselves, not the body politic and civil society, at heart. They’ll gladly take the money and run, leaving the rest of us high and dry—or low and wet, as the case may be.

The ferocity with which Rita is arriving on the heels of Katrina makes me wonder. It makes me wonder about the mysterious spike in oil prices this summer. It makes me wonder about the war in Iraq.

How much of hurricane devastation can be predicted? I know that meteorology is an inexact science. I also know that scientists have predicted the development of a period of proliferating—and more ferocious—hurricanes.

Though Bush & Co. have pooh-poohed global warming (it’s their oil industry that is largely responsible for it, after all), could they have known more than the rest of us about these coming storms? And their disruption of oil production and delivery?

Sadly, in times of disaster, the rich inevitably find a way to enrich themselves more. They’re already doing so with Katrina and will do so after Rita. And at the expense of all of us, I fear.

And God? The biblical questions of good, evil, justice? St. Simon Wiesenthal, pray for us.

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