I saw a few comments here from the discussions around Hurricane Sandy, the efforts to help afterward, and the apparent previous discussions around what should or should not be done for those in need. Allow me to admit up front that I have not had the time to go back and read all that was written in the back and forth comments here at SUFA regarding this issue. But I saw enough that I felt like I wanted to weigh in and offer my thoughts on what I am seeing and what I think the proper role of the government is in this situation.
Let me first say that I do not believe that the answer to this situation is “people should have better prepared and if they didn’t, then screw them.” As most of you know I am a strong proponent of personal responsibility. That does not mean that I believe everyone should rely on themselves only at all times. Extreme circumstances call for a different way of looking at things. When I talk personal responsibility, I am talking about pulling up the bootstraps, working to improve your life, and not waiting on government to fix things for you. YOU are ultimately responsible for your own success or failure. I absolutely believe that. I think that overall most people do believe that.
We are, however, talking about a natural disaster here, folks. That means that there are aspects that no matter what you do, you cannot prepare for. You cannot prepare for your house to be washed away in a storm, for a fire to burn it to the ground in a storm, etc. That isn’t to say there are not responsible steps to take in order to prepare for your recovery from such things (proper insurance, safe storage of irreplaceable documents, etc.). But you cannot prepare to be able to deal with the immediate aftermath of such a disaster. You cannot (unless you are a one percenter) simply have another home on standby to rush to when your first disappears into the ocean.
Let me tell you what I think you CAN do…
You can have a plan for surviving the first week after a major disaster like this. This could include a generator or fuel or food, etc. But it doesn’t have to. You can, as a neighborhood, come together with a plan so that everyone has a place to go if theirs is the home that slides away. If you cannot do that, you can have a plan for where you will go prior to the storm coming so that while you lose a home, you are safe and cared for (any of you at SUFA, yes you too Charlie, can contact me and come stay here) until things get to a point where you can return and deal with the situation. You can create a stockpile of enough food for you, your family, and a partner family so that if either of you is stricken, the other is prepared to cover both families.
Most of these options require something that we haven’t had in quite a while. Something that allowed those at the beginning of this country to survive and eventually prosper. Something that most in the cities, New York being a prime example, have virtually eliminated altogether.
Too often this sense of community is born out of a disaster. People will rally to one another in a time of crisis because, in general, people are usually pretty compassionate when it gets down to it. But after the disaster is TOO LATE! That sense of community before a disaster struck could have saved lives and made it easier on everyone. But we are all too busy in our own lives to foster that community. And we are all so eager to prove how “tough” we are that we often spend time flexing instead of trying to understand each other and forcing ourselves to become a valuable member of that community. I don’t say this as a proud example of the valued member. I say this as the arrogant one who for many years didn’t see the value in a sense of community.
So let me tell you all right now. Your local community is where it matters. Politically, personally, and when a crisis comes, in terms of survival. If you want to put yourself in the best possible situation for the unexpected disaster that WILL come to your community one day in some form, start becoming a part of your community. Enough of my community PSA…
So… who did “wrong” in this Sandy situation? Lots of people. Those who did nothing to prepare until the last minute.. were wrong. Plan with your community, prepare by having a plan, having provisions for a week and all those other things that the “preppers” do. Failing to do so is simply foolish. And if you are in hardship for that first week because you didn’t prepare and you could have, then I don’t feel as bad for you. What is that old saying? Failure to properly plan on your part does not constitute and emergency on my part. That isn’t to say “screw you.” You will get help but you absolutely fall below others on my list. You are well below those who are in a situation that they couldn’t prepare for (of which Sandy provided a plethora).
Those who were in an area where they were told to evacuate and chose to ignore those warnings… were wrong. I am not talking about poor people who had nowhere to go and no money to just pick up and leave. I am talking about middle class people with families and friends elsewhere who could have swallowed their pride and got out of the way of this storm. Mrs. Weapon and I have friends in Wilmington (where I actually met Charlie while visiting some of those friends). There is a standing offer to them that when the big storms are coming, they should get out of the way and come here. For those that could have gotten out of the way and chose not to, I don’t feel as bad for you. Again, it isn’t screw you. But you also fall below the others on my list.
Now this is not the ghost of Ayn Rand saying it’s all about me and screw everyone else. It is a recognition that those who CAN properly prepare but who choose NOT to do so are not real high on my priority list of who I think should get taken care of.
We must realize, more importantly, that there are many who couldn’t have possibly prepared for what happened. Houses floating away are a great example. But so are many of the poor who don’t have family or friends outside of the city they live in (and while those of us who are world traveled find that amazingly unlikely, you should meet my sisters who have never left my hometown. They have me and my father out of the area. No one else). Those people had nowhere to go. And they didn’t have the money to simply drive inland and get a hotel for a week or two. There are elderly who simply cannot travel easily and who also happen to have all their family living ten states away. No one in their family thought it was that important to drive twenty hours each way to get grandma from her 35 story building in Manhattan. What could happen to her there in a hurricane?
It is important to remember that this shitty economy we bitch and complain and blame each other’s party for is a bitter reality for a lot of people, no matter who is really at fault (even though we know it is the Dems fault 😉 ). They don’t have a job and wonder how they will feed their family next week in a normal situation. So we cannot expect them to have two weeks worth of food sitting around or expect them to afford to just pick up and leave town. And while we smugly point out that cities that consistently elect Democrats do so because there are so many on the government dole there, we should remember that those cities (hello, New York) have so many on the government dole there because they have higher concentrations of working poor.
And THAT folks, is where we come to the proper role of government. I completely agree that it is horrible that there are so many people who will do nothing to properly prepare themselves for potential disasters. And a nanny-state government has done plenty to enable that mentality. But you have to stop and think about where we are. In THIS country, we are supposed to care for those least able to care for themselves. Refusing to do what we can to help those in the afflicted area is akin to seeing a person lying in the road and driving right on by. Sure maybe they are a dumbass who got hit because they were walking in the middle of the road. But that doesn’t mean we won’t stop and help them. That would be heartless. Is that who we are as a country? Is that who YOU are? Of course not. I don’t think anyone at SUFA is that person.
Which is why, when we talk and debate and argue about the proper role of government, we should never, ever disagree that emergency relief and aid to those most in need is absolutely within the proper role. It isn’t just what we should try to do. It is what we are compelled to do. When the shit hits the fan, fair friends, we are ALL dependent on each other. If you don’t believe that you are in some way dependent on others, you are living in fantasy land (and you will NOT be invited to my group when the zombie apocalypse hits). We can argue about many things, but this should not be one of them. I don’t care WHY person A is now stranded without power and without food with a winter blizzard potentially closing in. I don’t care WHY grandma is stuck on the 25th floor without her medication or working toilets. It is our duty to do what we can to help them out of immediate danger.
Because that is who we are.
There are so many things that we can argue over whether the government should be doing them, but this isn’t one of them. When there is a “private”relief agency receiving enough charitable donations to provide what FEMA and the Federal government can provide in terms of resources and capabilities, I will concede we should at least have a discussion about whether it can be done better by someone else. But until that time, THIS is the proper role of government. In fact it is more the proper role of government than building roads, levying taxes, accepting treaties, or most of the other things most agree with. This is about being a human being who has the ability to help another human being. And right now, the most effective way to help is the government. I hate that this is the case, but it simply is.
So I absolutely advocate doing whatever we can for the millions of people who have been affected by this storm who couldn’t possibly have done anything to better prepare for what was coming. Because I think there are far more of them than we would like to think.