I must say, I’ve been a little surprised at some of the reactions to my (fairly mild, I think) comments on New Orleans.
They reinforce what I said to a different reader last week: that I’m emphatically not a tragic realist, who thinks ‘the strong do what they want and the weak endure what they must.’ No. On the contrary – I think we have to fight and resist, argue and keep on arguing, not give up, not lie down, not surrender, and certainly not shrug and say ‘that’s just how it is’ and go about our selfish business. I’m a little shocked at the amount of ‘that’s just how it is’ I’ve received in the past couple of days, in censorious emails as well as in comments.
This for instance, from an academic: ‘Please focus on what can be done to help the poor people of New Orleans. Spare us the superior morality stuff.’ I replied, and was replied to in turn: ‘I doubt that many of us need reminding that inequality exists in the US. Indeed, it’s a fact of life everywhere on this planet.’
True, inequality is a fact of life everywhere on this planet. So – ? So there’s no point in talking about it? So it’s wicked to talk about it (because, the first message said, catastrophic events are exploited for ‘political gain’)? But that doesn’t follow, and it isn’t true. All sorts of things are a fact of life on this planet; some of them can and should be changed; it’s worth trying to change them. Why wouldn’t it be? How can the fact that inequality is a fact of life everywhere possibly mean (all by itself) that it’s necessary to rebuke people for mentioning it or condemning it?
For another instance, ‘As for the the rich living on high ground, in any culture that has ever existed part of the definition of being rich is to live on high ground.’ Actually that’s not true – in volcanic areas it’s the other way around. But that’s a side issue. The central one is the same as the first. Yes, the difference between rich and poor is an old one and a widespread one – so what? It doesn’t follow that there’s no reason to discuss it. It doesn’t follow for instance that there is no difference, or no difference that matters, between relatively small gaps between rich and poor, and enormous ones. It also doesn’t follow that there is no difference between having a small underclass and having an enormous one. These things are eminently discussable (and in fact there are quite a few perfectly respectable academics who do discuss them), so the cold scorn of my critics has surprised me.
The hell with tragic realism.