This piece, by Bill McClay, is one of the best Ive read. A taste:
New Orleans is a city in which one has always been reminded, at every turn, in ways both banal and profound, of the degree to which existence itself is contingent, and human mastery an illusion. No one living for long in New Orleans can fail to understand this; it is a lesson that the city’s limitations, and particularly its intimate contact with the power and terror of the elements, teaches very well.
This is emphatically not the lesson, however, that has been drawn from Katrina, or that undergirds much of the debate in its aftermath. When “someone” is always to blame for calamity, it must mean that everything untoward happening in the world can ultimately be attributed to the malfeasance of some human being or human agency, and can be fixed by some other human being or agency. We are, or should be, masters of our existence, and we should never tolerate real or perceived lapses in that mastery.
Lost in this view of things, sometimes fatally, is that increases in rational mastery over the physical terms of existence do not necessarily make us happier, or safer—and may even have the opposite effect. Consider the growing rage at our medical system and pharmaceutical industry, a system that has been remarkably skillful, and more so in every passing year, at addressing a range of diseases and conditions that were formerly thought to be untreatable. Modern medicine can do many astonishing things. But it cannot banish risk, which is why the medical system is all too often a casualty of the very expectations it raises.
Joel Kotkin has also been thinking about the larger significance of New Orleans and Katrina:
By becoming mass dispensers of welfare for the unskilled, playpens for the well-heeled and fashionable, easy marks for special interests, and bunglers at maintaining public safety and dispensing efficient services to residents and businesses, many cities have become useless to the middle class, and toxic for the disorganized poor. Today’s liberal urban leadership across America needs to see the New Orleans storm not as just a tragedy, but also as a dispeller of illusions, a revealer of awful truths, and a potential harbinger of things to come in their own backyards.
Look beyond the tourist districts. Few contemporary cities are actually healthy in terms of job growth or middle-class amenities. Most are in the grips of moral and economic crisis.
If we are lucky, the flood waters of Katrina will wash away some of the ’60s-era illusions that fed today’s dysfunction. Honest observers will recognize that this natural disaster, which hit the nation so hard, was set up by the man-made disaster of a counterproductive welfare state.