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Shame on me, America
Katrina has blown through our homes with its secrets that we have hidden in our closets for so long and we are left standing naked to the world


Babak Morvarid
September 14, 2005

What went wrong in New Orleans has been going wrong for some time now in America.  The disaster that we have been witnessing before our eyes is a jolting view into the slow and steady erosion of the very fabric of civility of our great social experience.  It is due time that we look at ourselves with the eye of objectivity, if there is any hope left to preserve the very thing that has made us great and up until last week, the envy of all.  

Disasters, as they are apt to do, expose us to our own nature.  Human beings are a complex mystery of rational and irrational impulses.  We all know this, even when we choose to point the finger at others.  Those amongst us, who are the most moralistic, are the ones whom often when exposed, reveal a darker hidden side.  No need to go into too much detail on this point, as, in fact, I consider this argument to be a priori. 

So now Katrina has blown through our homes with its secrets that we have hidden in our closets for so long and we are left standing naked to the world, no longer able to play card tricks and distract the world from the dark underbelly of our beloved country.  So we feel shame, we are disgraced, as well we should be.  There is value in shame.  It can be the beginning of change and recovery.  I love America.  So please let me openly and without sugarcoated language, intervene on a loved one before it is too late. 

Hurricane Katrina has in its wake, uncovered the fact that our present day American lacks leadership, sound judgment and foresight, lacks compassion for its poor and that often times in our country, the racial divide and the economic divide go hand in hand.  The fact that in the modern world, in the United States of America, its wealth and power unmatched in the history of man, 28% of the people of the great city of New Orleans should live below the poverty level and that over 80% of those poorest are black is a shocking and perhaps a more shameful fact than the devastation of the hurricane, or its size and magnitude.  

It is this very fact that she has left over in its destructive wake for us to ponder, if we have the courage to do so.  We have tolerated this poverty.  Yes, we have hidden it away into neighborhood that we don’t invite tourists to, which our journalists as well as our politicians ignore. 

So the hurricane came and blew open the doors and the shaded windows.  It left those American most in need, in their greatest time of need, exposed and abandoned.  And we are surprised?  How dare we?  Now we are outraged?  Oh, where is the government?  Where is the help?  Where is the infrastructure?  Where is civility?  Is this America?  Sadly, yes.

We, who in a glutinous and shortsighted state, have continued to consume at a record and alarming rate, not only our own natural resources, but also those resources around the world, should feel shame.  Is it any wonder that we are getting fatter as a nation?  It is called gluttony America.  To maintain our “way of life”, we are willing to accept many things and to look the other way.  Knowing this, our politicians have devised an elaborate world of moral righteousness and spin zones, all aimed to keep us from self-examination. 

That veil has now been violently lifted and we can see how fragile our web of an infrastructure really is.  Soaring gas prices and slow to respond resources all point to being stretched too thin.  While our country was once shaken by 9/11, we did not address our resources properly and have turned a surplus, a nest egg to be used in time of need, into tax cuts for the rich, into argument about estate taxes, all while we send kids from poor American family to Iraq to fight a war that was ill thought out, at best.  Where are our resources?  Where are the Marines, the Reserves and the National Guardsmen? 

Well,  those dedicated men and women who cry during the national anthem and are deployed in Iraq, driving in poorly equipped Humvees in Fallujah, so that rich kids in America can fill up their custom-made Hummers with high octane gasoline here in the states, would have given any war-time glory, just for the chance to help out their fellow Americans in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  And please don’t tell me that we have all the resources we need here because clearly we don’t.  Action speaks louder than words, doesn’t it?

Please don’t be mad at me America, loving someone sometimes means to tell them that they are makings mistakes.  I am you, so I am talking to myself, too.

Now to those politicians who say, “don’t play politics with this” I say, the following.  What is politics?  To me, the very purpose of a politician is leadership as well as foresight.  The purpose of the social covenant is to ensure civility, especially when disaster strikes.  We need our government to be prepared to help us, when we need help.  If our president can go on National TV and say, that no one could’ve predicted the New Orleans levee breaking, when it has been in discussion for almost 20 years, he should be help responsible for his ignorance.  I am sure he cares.  But he is the President and what comes out of his mouth, especially during times of crisis, matters America!  That IS politics and we are not the ones playing.  We should demand that our politicians don’t play politics with our lives, which is, I am sorry to say, exactly what that type of ignorance amounts too.

Finally, a word for myself.  As an American, I looked at the looters and felt anger.  I objectified them.  I said, “Hey, I would never do that”.  Who are these people because they surly don’t look like Americans?  I satisfied myself with shame towards “them”, as opposed to my culture and myself.  But I am to blame, because I have allowed my culture to be so consumer driven that we have lost track of what truly matter; for when the value of plasma screen TV’s and Nike shoes equal an American during a Hurricane, there is truly cause for shame.  As I said earlier, shame can be a good emotion. .  It can mean the beginning of change.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

- John Doone

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