Boundless Better, Boundless Worse

Written by Drew on September 6th, 2005

“This truth within my mind rehearse,
That in a boundless universe
Is boundless better, boundless worse.”

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson in “The Two Voices”

Tennyson’s line, “boundless better, boundless worse” has resonated well through the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, as we watch how the victims in those parts respond to tragedy. On NBC’s “Today” show, Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour said, “The truth is, a terrible tragedy like this brings out the best in most people, brings out the worst in some people.” How true.

On the one hand we watch in horror as ruthless men work to finish the devastating job begun by Mother Nature. Awful reports have come through the news of arsonists setting fires for no reason and looters cleaning out the local shops (how do these thugs expect to smuggle out their plunder?). A fully-functioning hospital in Gretna, LA asked to be evacuated after a supply truck carrying food, water and medical supplies was held up at gunpoint. In Hattiesburg, MS, a man fatally shot his sister in the head over a bag of ice. A nursing home bus was carjacked.

We’ve all heard about the Superdome’s chaos: Gunmen fired at military helicopters trying to airlift the sick and injured out of the Superdome; a man was beaten to death; another couldn’t take it anymore and leapt off a balcony to his death.

Then there are the less-violent crimes: price gouging at the gas pumps and hotels, taking advantage of charitable giving, and insurance fraud. Though these do not lead directly to death, they can, eventually.

The finger-pointing and immaturity of some in positions of influence has also been disappointing. The time will come for criticism, but right now our nation needs leadership. When local leaders use press conferences to blame the federal government, they do nothing but foment unnecessary anger. The tension is already thick enough. There’s enough blame to go around. How about getting to work? Even more repulsive are celebrities like rapper Kanye West, who said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Thanks, Kanye, for that flash of genius.

The news, though, is not all bad. Times like these also lead to “boundless better.” Out of the rubble of despair new heroes are born. Local leaders like Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour have inspired hurricane victims to move on. New stories surface every day about National Guard units, rescuers, and volunteers who are valiantly putting their lives on the line to save others.

It is especially encouraging to hear about Christians working quietly to contribute their time, money, and even their own homes to help the storm-ravaged refugees. You won’t hear their names; they won’t be running for office. The only Name glorified through their efforts will be the Name of Christ.

Jesus taught His disciples, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). We must resist the temptation to focus on the lows to which men can stoop in times like these. True, the news can be disheartening. But don’t forget—in this boundless universe, a light is shining in the Gulf.


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Drew Kizer says:

    For a rebalancing of the blame-game so many are playing, see Ben Stein’s excellent column, “Get Off His Back”. I love Ben Stein.

  2. Drew Kizer says:

    A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of 609 adults taken September 5-6 shows:

    Blame Game — 13% said George W. Bush is “most responsible for the problems in New Orleans after the hurricane”; 18% said “federal agencies”; 25% said “state and local officials”; 38% said “no one is to blame”; 6% had no opinion. — 29% said that “top officials in the federal agencies responsible for handling emergencies should be fired”; 63% said they should not; 8% had no opinion.

    Source: The Drudge Report.

  3. Jason says:


    This lengthy article that I have provided is by Robert Tracinski from Sept 2, 2005. He is editor of and The Intellectual Activist. I think his article hit the nail on the head.

    An Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare State

    by Robert Tracinski
    Sep 02, 2005
    by Robert Tracinski
    It has taken four long days for state and federal officials to figure out how to deal with the disaster in New Orleans. I can’t blame them, because it has also taken me four long days to figure out what is going on there. The reason is that the events there make no sense if you think that we are confronting a natural disaster.

    If this is just a natural disaster, the response for public officials is obvious: you bring in food, water, and doctors; you send transportation to evacuate refugees to temporary shelters; you send engineers to stop the flooding and rebuild the city’s infrastructure. For journalists, natural disasters also have a familiar pattern: the heroism of ordinary people pulling together to survive; the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, and rescue workers; the steps being taken to clean up and rebuild.

    Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored vehicle, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And journalists–myself included–did not expect that the story would not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and looting.

    But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.

    The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and television channel has gotten the story wrong.

    The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not happen over the past four days. It happened over the past four decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.

    The man-made disaster is the welfare state.

    For the past few days, I have found the news from New Orleans to be confusing. People were not behaving as you would expect them to behave in an emergency–indeed, they were not behaving as they have behaved in other emergencies. That is what has shocked so many people: they have been saying that this is not what we expect from America. In fact, it is not even what we expect from a Third World country.

    When confronted with a disaster, people usually rise to the occasion. They work together to rescue people in danger, and they spontaneously organize to keep order and solve problems. This is especially true in America. We are an enterprising people, used to relying on our own initiative rather than waiting around for the government to take care of us. I have seen this a hundred times, in small examples (a small town whose main traffic light had gone out, causing ordinary citizens to get out of their cars and serve as impromptu traffic cops, directing cars through the intersection) and large ones (the spontaneous response of New Yorkers to September 11).

    So what explains the chaos in New Orleans?

    To give you an idea of the magnitude of what is going on, here is a description from a Washington Times story

    “Storm victims are raped and beaten; fights erupt with flying fists, knives and guns; fires are breaking out; corpses litter the streets; and police and rescue helicopters are repeatedly fired on.

    “The plea from Mayor C. Ray Nagin came even as National Guardsmen poured in to restore order and stop the looting, carjackings and gunfire….

    “Last night, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said 300 Iraq-hardened Arkansas National Guard members were inside New Orleans with shoot-to-kill orders.

    ” ‘These troops are…under my orders to restore order in the streets,’ she said. ‘They have M-16s, and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.’ ”

    The reference to Iraq is eerie. The photo that accompanies this article shows National Guard troops, with rifles and armored vests, riding on an armored vehicle through trash-strewn streets lined by a rabble of squalid, listless people, one of whom appears to be yelling at them. It looks exactly like a scene from Sadr City in Baghdad.

    What explains bands of thugs using a natural disaster as an excuse for an orgy of looting, armed robbery, and rape? What causes unruly mobs to storm the very buses that have arrived to evacuate them, causing the drivers to drive away, frightened for their lives? What causes people to attack the doctors trying to treat patients at the Super Dome?

    Why are people responding to natural destruction by causing further destruction? Why are they attacking the people who are trying to help them?

    My wife, Sherri, figured it out first, and she figured it out on a sense-of-life level. While watching the coverage last night on Fox News Channel, she told me that she was getting a familiar feeling. She studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Chicago, which is located in the South Side of Chicago just blocks away from the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the largest high-rise public housing projects in America. “The projects,” as they were known, were infamous for uncontrollable crime and irremediable squalor. (They have since, mercifully, been demolished

    What Sherri was getting from last night’s television coverage was a whiff of the sense of life of “the projects.” Then the “crawl”–the informational phrases flashed at the bottom of the screen on most news channels–gave some vital statistics to confirm this sense: 75% of the residents of New Orleans had already evacuated before the hurricane, and of the 300,000 or so who remained, a large number were from the city’s public housing projects. Jack Wakeland then gave me an additional, crucial fact: early reports from CNN and Fox indicated that the city had no plan for evacuating all of the prisoners in the city’s jails–so they just let many of them loose. There is no doubt a significant overlap between these two populations–that is, a large number of people in the jails used to live in the housing projects, and vice versa.

    There were many decent, innocent people trapped in New Orleans when the deluge hit–but they were trapped alongside large numbers of people from two groups: criminals–and wards of the welfare state, people selected, over decades, for their lack of initiative and self-induced helplessness. The welfare wards were a mass of sheep–on whom the incompetent administration of New Orleans unleashed a pack of wolves.

    All of this is related, incidentally, to the apparent incompetence of the city government, which failed to plan for a total evacuation of the city, despite the knowledge that this might be necessary. But in a city corrupted by the welfare state, the job of city officials is to ensure the flow of handouts to welfare recipients and patronage to political supporters–not to ensure a lawful, orderly evacuation in case of emergency.

    No one has really reported this story, as far as I can tell. In fact, some are already actively distorting it, blaming President Bush, for example, for failing to personally ensure that the Mayor of New Orleans had drafted an adequate evacuation plan. The worst example is an execrable piece from the Toronto Globe and Mail, by a supercilious Canadian who blames the chaos on American “individualism.” But the truth is precisely the opposite: the chaos was caused by a system that was the exact opposite of individualism.

    What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider “normal” behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don’t sit around and complain that the government hasn’t taken care of them. They don’t use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men.

    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.

    The welfare state–and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages–is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story that no one is reporting.

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