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Reflections on Ethics 45
Left Behind

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Like many others, I have been horrified by the anarchy that apparently swept over New Orleans as an aftermath of the flooding of the city. There has been a lot of criticism of the Bush administration for failing to get aid to the city fast enough. This seems to me to be ill-informed considering the difficulty in getting large scale aid to a disaster area where the infrastructure has been largely destroyed. It would be better to question why there were nearly 100,000 people requiring aid in a city which was supposed to have been evacuated.

It is not news that New Orleans is predominantly well below sea level, its very existence protected by levees. It is not news that a major breach in a levee could produce a city-wide inundation. You would think the city would, as a matter of course, have an emergency evacuation plan which would get nearly all of its citizens out of the city on limited notice.

And yet, with advance warning of hurricane Katrina approaching the city, with advance knowledge that the storm packed the force to breach the levees, and with a mandatory evacuation order issued, 100,000 people were left behind.

And those left behind were the least equipped to cope with a disaster if it came to pass - the poor, the unskilled, the uneducated, the infirm, the marginalized.

To a large degree, morality is encouraged and enforced by society, and by membership in that society. These people were, by being left behind, informed in no uncertain terms that they were not full-fledged members of society. They were an underclass. Second or third class citizens at best. No wonder things fell apart. There were no societal norms to live up to.

These people were not just left behind in the evacuation. They were left behind long before. Many of them were left behind generations before they were born.

Regardless of my own libertarian instincts, we cannot afford to leave people behind. We must find ways to make everyone participating and productive members of society. We must find ways to break the poverty and welfare traps that exist in western society. We cannot leave great numbers of our fellow citizens behind, whether in major disasters, or in everyday life.

The problems in the past week in New Orleans were not due to the slow arrival of relief. They were due to decades of neglect.

Subsequent Note: In spite of the many problems which have been exposed with the federal relief effort, and which have been justly criticized, the fact remains that these people should not have been left in New Orleans in the first place. And the city government was well aware from earlier storms and from studies that the situation would occur.