Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Problem of Unrealistic Expectations

Reasonable people in the U.S. realize that the faulty response to Hurricane Katrina wasn’t all George Bush’s fault, or even former FEMA Director Mike Brown’s fault. As the floodwaters are seeping out of New Orleans, reality is seeping into the consciousness of Americans, and the recognition is dawning that there were problems at all levels of government, local, state and federal. Most Americans also realize that the most serious repercussions resulted from the failure to properly implement the evacuation plans, clearly a local and state responsibility.

What most people may not recognize is that many victims – perhaps most of them – were victims because they expected “government” to take care of them. They have fallen victim to the “government-as-savior” mentality.

There is a substantial number of Americans who don’t lift a finger to provide food for themselves or their family. Sure, some of them are unable to work, either because of some physical or mental handicap, or because they haven’t taken the time to learn how to do anything productive. And, yes, some of them are looking for work, but can’t find a job for which they are qualified. To this latter point, however, the caveat must be noted that prior to Hurricane Katrina, unemployment was at one of the lowest levels in decades.

But since the 1960s, America has been teaching its citizens that if you don’t work to earn money to eat – whatever the reason, or whatever the excuse – your benevolent federal government will feed you. It will provide a roof over your head. It will give you free medical care. It will do everything you ever will need. A look at the statistics of America’s poor reveals that more than a few of them own air conditioned homes, cars, satellite TV and have a fairly wide variety of perks one would not expect of people “living in poverty.” Americas poor, or at least a good many of them, have it pretty good. For these people, “government” has come through.

But the idea that government will protect you from all wrongs and all dangers is a fantasy of the dependency culture in America, where millions of people have bought into the liberal philosophy: “Don’t worry; be happy.”

Then a strong Category 4 hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast in just the right place, and New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, along with parts of Mississippi and Alabama, got hit hard. It was the greatest natural disaster in the history of the nation, and “government” didn’t quite rise to meet expectations. Some people died and others suffered.

The initial reaction of many Americans was, “How could government fail so very badly?” Instead of blaming nature, they blamed government. Instead of rushing to help, they rushed to judgment. Instead of being happy that so many had survived, they were angry that government had not saved them from all discomfort.

What we have here is a case of unrealistic expectations based upon a foolish and deadly dependency.

Putting the reaction of some critics into perspective, an Indonesian diplomat commented: "We have been puzzled by the pictures on television. We were plucking starving, bedraggled people out of trees more than a week after the [December] tsunami, and the reaction was invariably one of gratitude and thanksgiving. In America there is only complaining that someone did not get there sooner with more."

Americans not so long ago were taught that God helps those who help themselves. Even if you don’t believe in God, that statement still stands tall. If instead of trying to get yourself out of trouble, you sit around waiting for someone to save you, you might die. Some residents of the Gulf Coast area learned that lesson too late.

As long as we are pointing the finger of blame, targeting government officials and government agencies, let’s also point it at the sad culture of dependency we have created, where the natural human drive to do for one’s self has been replaced with the notion that “government” will do it for you.

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Anonymous said...

A great piece of writing. It is time that we as a people learn that no police or service organization, no matter how large or how small or in what jurisdiction it is based or what its responsibilities are on paper, can protect every citizen from disaster, either man-made or natural. Neither can such an organization, although it demands and receives the full support and involvement of all appropriate federal agencies, do everything necessary to preserve all life and property in large-scale disasters.

James Shott said...

Thanks, although I'm sure someone will disagree with us pretty soon.

Buffalo said...

I can certainly agree with your assessment in part, but not in whole.

Amazing to me how people of good will and intelligence can view things so differently.

Good piece of work, my conservative friend.

James Shott said...

Thanks, Buff. Good to see you're still checking in occasionally.

Yes, the variety of perceptions is a wonderful thing to behold.