“Not our Fault”

I was playing around on ZabaSearch. Ya know, looking up my own name and trying to see what I could find out and how much information is there compared to, say, Google. It’s kinda cool I guess, but there’s not really more info than Google. And actually, in my comparison of random other people I’ve known but haven’t seen in forever it didn’t provide anything striking. It did find more information than a general search on a friend of mine from high school who doesn’t seem to have discovered the internet yet and as such, has no online presence at all. Still in other cases, like my uncle, who I know reads this, the name is so common that you really can’t differentiate the results without significantly more information about the individual.

I’m sure you’re saying to yourself that this would all be very interesting if my television were broken or something but what’s the point? The point is, one of the other names I searched on revealed the following from an abstract of a dissertation:

“To assign collective responsibility is to say that a group is morally responsible for some significant harm. Collective responsibility may be non-distributive and apply only to the group considered as a whole. Alternatively, it may be distributive and shared, applying to each member of the group. A satisfactory account of collective responsibility in either form must overcome two prominent objections, first put forth by H.D. Lewis: (1) collectives are nothing more than the aggregation of their members; (2) collective responsibility ignores individual contributions to harm.”

**fair warning: long-ass post**

So I’ve been thinking about this philosophical construct of a group as a moral agent able to do good and cause harm. Just to make things really fun, there’s the idea of a group being worthy of blame. When you take this construct and set it within the context of Post K New Orleans something sort of interesting happens. Think about the Mayor’s state of the city address a few months ago when he was chanting “It’s not our fault” over and over again. Aside from being more than a little weird something else about it bothered me but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read that quote a few days ago.

The statement itself is a denial in both a psychological and literal sense for one. Secondly, where does the accusation come from that prompts the denial if not from within? With that said, let’s say the group in question is the city itself in the most abstract sense of it being an aggregate of everyone that’s lived here prior to something bad happening and at the time of something bad happening with some limits. Limits in the sense that we can’t just blame Bienville for everything…lol.

Crime is the first thing that comes to mind. As I understand it, crime really got the way it is now in the mid 1980’s with the arrival of crack cocaine. This was true of many cities in the U.S. So why didn’t their crime rates persist for the last 20 years like it has here. Well, they must have done something different than we did here. Mainly, I would think they refused to tolerate the behavior and put a stop to it using the criminal justice system. Perhaps new laws or stricter penalties were put into effect. I dunno exactly, but it seems logical.

So what would have prevented us from putting a stop to crime? The same thing that’s stopping us now. To put it bluntly: race. Here’s a good example of what I mean. It’s misdirection. Or put another way, it’s obfuscation. In the manner they’ve chosen to show support, they’ve tied crime to race in a very odd way. You can easily see the fallacies at work since all the previous DAs were white they were a bunch of white guys convicting young black men, and now that there’s a black DA he’s being attacked for being black.I’m not going to say the argument isn’t true, but it is certainly invalid. And what was its purpose short of divisiveness which I guess is what ministers do best since they’ve managed to segregate the belief in one God into various factions. It, in fact served no purpose but to inject race into the issue and polarize opinion along race lines.

Could it be that the black community of New Orleans feels some collective guilt for the crime of the last 20 years? I don’t know. But before there was always blame the white power structure but now with a black mayor, a black DA and a black Police Chief, there’s no one outside the group to blame. And I would think that somewhere in the community, there was a hope that having proper representation would minimize the impact of institutional racism and allow the core problem to be dealt with without being tainted by race issues. It appears that isn’t going to happen.

More importantly from a collective guilt standpoint, everyone who’s held office since the crime wave started shares that burden. Additionally, the people of New Orleans share that distributed responsibility for electing leaders that could not solve the crime problem. It is still argued whether a group can have intent. Intentions in the context of morality and ethics is the foundation for determining the value of nearly any action. So was the city’s intention to have a lot of crime? I wouldn’t think so. Was the city’s intention to ignore crime and elect leaders that would do the same? Again, no. But did the city accomplish these things without intent? It would seem so.

Now, that example wasn’t the one I wanted to focus on but I thought it important to have at least two examples. I also think if this city doesn’t start having real conversations about the state of race relations in this city we’ll never get it worked out. I mean, have you seen the ignorant, racist comments on the nola.com? Wow. It’s really horrifying.

The real context I wanted to look at this in is smack dab in the middle of the Katrina thing. Everyone (here at least) understands that the storm did not flood the city – the levees failing did. The storm caused the levees to fail, sure, but it did not necessitate it. I should start by saying that for me personally, I do feel some amount of guilt related to the storm. Prior to the storm, I never gave much thought to the Levee Board but I was aware that it was a flawed system full of people put there through political cronyism. I know quite a bit more about the levee board now and I still say, if I’d have been a member of the levee board I would have a tremendous fear in my heart. I would have moved and never come back to this city out of shame. Prior to the storm I never voted in any election. Ever. I don’t have any confidence in that system and I don’t think my vote counts for shit. I don’t think people vote from a thoughtful, sincere standpoint based on the issues and are therefore being socially irresponsible with their vote. All my vote is doing is negating one ignorant vote so I’m outnumbered. Besides, my civic obligation is fulfilled having served in the military. I voted a few times after the storm in a vane attempt to have a voice but I don’t think I’ll be voting again as the experience only proved what I suspected. Also, abstaining from voting is just as much a protected freedom.

Back to the levee thing. Weren’t we sort of asleep at the wheel? Fifty year old, poorly maintained levees managed by unqualified people didn’t seem like a problem? Looking back it just seems silly. Money was consistently milked off and used elsewhere by the people we elected. The ACE built those levees how many years ago? Well, who was trusted to manage and maintain them? I don’t remember the levee board ever screaming “hey, we need some shit done over here”. I know it’s a hard pill to swallow but aren’t we all partly responsible for the inevitable failure of levees that weren’t even properly maintained let alone improved significantly. Did we, the citizens it protects, stand up and demand improvements to the system? No, I don’t believe we collectively ever did.

I just had to have yet another alignment done on my car. They had to heat up one part and hammer it out straight again from a pothole I hit. Do we collectively allow the streets to be in the condition they’re in? We certainly do. And do we bitch about it? All the time.

Do we tolerate the school system being a joke? Yes, we do. We send our kids to private schools instead of fixing them. And then we pay for both.

If you really wanted to be honest and do some soul searching, aren’t we all a little bit responsible for the state of things? Even if you set aside groups having intent or purposefulness, don’t we as a group hold some of the distributed blame for every murder, every flooded house, every kid that drops out of school, etc. It’s a heavy, horrible thing to take on yourself. But it is necessary. I see so many people pointing their hurt and stress inward and outward at any target, however unlikely. Lashing out at each other; lashing in at ourselves. We all know people doing both.

For me, I think just knowing gives me an advantage in getting over it. I mean, there’s nothing to do about it that I’m not already doing so maybe the only thing left is to find some peace with it in my own head, and in my heart so it doesn’t affect my decision-making too much. Maybe we are and maybe we aren’t morally at fault through our apathy or our determination to resist change. Our ability as a city to say things are good enough and put up with shit we shouldn’t have to put up with is astounding to me sometimes. That may be as much of a clue why people are leaving this city as anything else: On some level we’ve done all of this to ourselves and two years out we seem intent on blaming everyone, accepting no responsibility for any of it, and continue down the road to doing it to ourselves again. That optimism I initially felt that things would be better when this was all over died in the street with the police on the way many months ago.

The willingness to change doesn’t have to imply a dissatisfaction with the way things were though in some cases it is appropriate. And a willingness to change isn’t an all or none proposition. Some things can be held onto while others are let go. Whenever someone says they want things to be the way they were it seems they are being somewhat short-sighted if not romanticizing pre K New Orleans. When Katrina swept through this city how far had we wandered from what our collective sense of ourselves would have wanted for us? Are things like choice, compassion, morality, or most strikingly of all, beliefs something limited to the individual or do we hold these things collectively?

Music is a good example of how the beliefs and lives of our aggregate individuals can produce a group sum greater than it’s parts and New Orleans is pretty good at music. Why can we not take that sense and apply it to everything? Couldn’t we live in a city that has all the complex foils and harmonies our music possesses with all the strengths and weaknesses that each individual brings playing a part? I don’t see why not.

Nobody likes to hear this kind of thing. No one wants to be held accountable. No one wants to feel bad. And maybe I’m way off base and completely wrong. Remember, I have no authority and will likely never impact the life of someone reading this bullshit in any significant way. It’s just a little peek at what’s been on my mind the last few days. For good or ill, this is what my “quirky mind” does. I don’t share it to convince anyone of anything, change any minds, or piss people off. I just share it to share it; hoping all along that some people disagree and tell me something new, and that some people agree so I won’t feel so alone with my thoughts.

7 Comments so far

  1. Amy (unregistered) on July 25th, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

    Unrelated to the content of you post, who was the high school friend? I wouldn’t dare dream it might be me…


  2. Jack Ware (unregistered) on July 25th, 2007 @ 3:04 pm

    nope.


  3. Craig (unregistered) on July 25th, 2007 @ 3:08 pm

    Wow — that IS a long-ass post. But interesting reading. I’ve reflected on some of the same things over the past 22 months since we’ve been back and been watching a collective lack of caring among certain sectors of the community. And these sectors aren’t broken down along racial lines, either.

    I had intended to post the other day about the story in the T-P on rent subsidy. It appears the Bush Administration is about to continue rental assistance for about 11,000 families still displaced by Katrina and Rita to JUNE OF 2008, fergodsakes. But I did not post about this because it would only repeat my same outrage from the last time the deadline was extended. It would seem to me that in nearly all instances, TWO YEARS after a family was displaced, they’d have been able to establish a new life, at least temporarily, elsewhere. I mean — New Orleans isn’t the only city where Section 8 vouchers exist. I assume, also, that these same individuals will also be able to continue voting in New Orleans elections even though they remain elsewhere.

    This is where we are, at least in some important ways, having an artificial collectiveness imposed on us. While those of us who have made our way back have been making a collective effort to keep the good and toss the bad, our efforts are sometimes thwarted by those who used to live here but don’t anymore — but still have enough ballot power to turn an election. While I agree that those who are trying to rehabilitate their private property should indeed have a voice, too many never owned any property here to begin with.

    I am not saying that only property owners should be able to vote in municipal elections. What I AM saying is a voter’s physical residence should be within the city. If the Doe family has been living in Houston since Sept. 1, 2005, Houston is their home if they want it to be or not. They don’t live here right now. They are not part of our collective effort for the time being — and they are diluting the voices of those of us who DO live here. It occurs to me that collective responsibility should indeed imbue us all with a sense of guilt, concern or what have you — but addressing our needs should be the responsibility solely of those who live here — not those who have spent nearly two years living not only outside Orleans Parish but over one or two (or more) state lines.


  4. Skeeter88 (unregistered) on July 25th, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

    “The ACE built those levees how many years ago?”

    The 17th Street canal had just been renovated when Katrina hit. The renovation took several years and was done by the ACE.

    I didn’t see anything wrong with it after it was finished but the newly redone canal collapsed when the first hard rain hit it due to ridiculous design errors.


  5. Jack Ware (unregistered) on July 25th, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

    Shit, Skeeter, I didn’t know 17th St. canal was just redone. I know they were working on the bridge right there at the mouth. Was the part that failed the renovated part?

    Were faulty design renovations a contributor to the K failure?


  6. Jack Ware (unregistered) on July 25th, 2007 @ 5:03 pm

    I couldn’t agree more Craig. It’s well trodden soil but always bears repeating. And I’ve often wondered what kind of oversight there is to ensure that people aren’t in the system wherever and here. Voting both places..etc. You have to figure that people who are riding the system out at this point are probably lifers and spend quite a bit of time figuring new and better ways to work the system.


  7. Editor B (unregistered) on July 27th, 2007 @ 11:06 am

    Collective responsibility. Yes indeed. There’s lots of anger and despair swirling around since the flood, but very little of another crucial emotion: shame. We should all feel some shame, because we all share somewhat in the blame, and that shame should move us to take responsibility.



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