“no one seems to be focused on the horror”: PS

From email from a friend:

Galveston is still such a sad place right now.  In my driving around, it is horrible seeing people just standing there next to a pile of all of their belongings with blank looks on their faces.  It breaks my heart.  I almost feel like I am in mourning – we’ve lost so many people and businesses in the past few weeks and we don’t know if the Island will ever be the same.  Our public schools have only half of their enrollment, there are only a limited number of church services on weekends, and whenever an old restaurant re-opens, we are happy for them …   UTMB [a major medical school] is shrinking their beds from 600 to 200 and will most likely lay off 4000 employees in the next few months – that news is almost as tragic to many Galvestonians as the storm.  
Galveston was such an interesting place to grow up … we were raised knowing that a time would come when we would have to depend on a neighbor to pull us up onto their raft during a storm and we wanted to make sure that the neighbor would make room for us!!  Nowadays, smart people leave during a storm, but when they return, it is still nice to know that there is still a basic kindness and helpfulness with our Islanders – that won’t change. 
In an editorial by Dolph Tillotson, editor of the Daily News, he wrote about that no one seems to be focused on the horror going on in Galveston and he, too, attributed it to the fact that we are not standing around looking for handouts – everyone seems to be busy working and helping others. 


PS:  If you work through the controversy expressed in the comments, it might be worth being aware of the history that is mentioned in #5.

7 thoughts on ““no one seems to be focused on the horror”: PS

  1. It sounds really tough down there, and it’s too bad it’s not getting more coverage. But I also wish that editorial writer had not cast New Orleans residents in the way that he did by implication, when he wrote: “I have not seen a single citizen of the city begging, demanding and weeping piteously for help from big brother. ” This characterisation of N.O. residents is pretty appalling, especially after he has already noted that the Galveston leadership and FEMA have done a better job than was done in N.O. (He also strangely overlooks the fact that with a historical election and a historical economic meltdown on, there’s a lot of competition for the news coverage.) The editorial really left me pretty offended by his attitude toward Katrina’s victims.

  2. (Note: I’ve become worried, many hours later, that my comment below is unfair. Given the massive Katrina relief effort that the editor was almost certainly part of, we might begin to look for another explanation of why he describes them now so unsympathetically. I’d conjecture there’s a mixture of 1st and 3rd person views, but now’s not the time to explain that! See #5 below.)

    Yes, I certainly agree with your criticism, and perhaps shouldn’t have linked to the paper with those views. It is unclear what is going on with him, except that at least in part it illustrates the extremely dislike of, and inability to empathize with, what they see as asking for handouts. That attitude has a huge political presence in the US. At the same time, his comment about FEMA may be more political than accurate, while people in Galveston have been really gone far beyond what one could expect, as far as I could see.

    I also take your point about the financial crisis, though papers are also carrying other stories. I think the lack of attention calls for more of an explanation when one of the nation’s largest cities, perhaps the world’s largest medical research, education and treatment center, one of our largest ports and millions of people are damaged and/or displaced indefinitely, and, in so many cases, hurting. For example, there is no help for people whose businesses had to close because there was no power, or so I’m told.

    I’m not sure what the explanation is, though, and maybe it is best not to conjecture.

  3. Having side-stepped the question of why not more coverage, I though maybe I’d mention a couple of conjectures and see if anyone has others. To understand one conjecture, you need to know that whites are not a majority anymore around Houston and Galveston. So two ideas:

    1. It’s typically the attractive victims that get the attention. New Orleans is very colorful, culturally interesting, Galveston – in comparison – is less so.

    2. The media aren’t interested in stories about blacks and hispanics helping themselves and each other. Stories about minorities overwhelmed by need fit the profile. Competence is much less interesting, attention-getting.’

  4. I didn’t read the linked article but I found your friend’s e-mail really problematic for the same reasons mentioned above – the implication is that the victims of Katrina were ‘standing around looking for handouts’ as opposed to the (morally superior) residents of Galveston. I assume that on this blog the problems with that reading of the victims’ stance are obvious. There also seems to be a suggestion that the Galveston residents possess “a basic kindness and helpfulness” that the New Orleans residents lack(ed). Surely we should all reject such individualizing and character-based readings of how communities react to a crisis. Study after study shows that ‘kindness’ and ‘helpfulness’ are NOT stable character traits but situational reactions.

  5. Rebecca, thanks for the critique of my friend’s letter. I’m not sure about your interpretation, however.

    i think your reading of the situationalist literature is problematic. As Jesse Prinz points out (see ref below), the data is culturally relative. Kindness in an individualistic community is much more situational than in a collectivist community. Could the community of a small island be much more collectivist? I would have thought so. Certainly, the cultural of the island community is very different in a number of ways.

    A second factor to consider is whether character traits become more stable in particular environments, as many people interested in social policy have been arguing. Maybe there is more character instability in NYC than in a small, close community where people have known each others’ families for generations, and are very aware of their shared histories.

    I didn’t read the email and the article at all together, so I didn’t connect their references, but I think your assuming that there’s a comparison with Katrina victims in the remark about kindness is questionable. The contrast is between the island community and elsewhere, or may be. Given what one reads in the newspapers about people not getting helped in crises (e.g., dying collapsed on the floor of a hospital waiting room), kindness and helpfulness are remarkable.

    Finally, I think it might be helpful to remember that Houston and Galveston took in many thousands of the Katrina refugees. There were huge cruise ships in Galveston’s harbor for some time housing Katrina refugees. A least a lot of it was city based, not federal government. The mayor of Houston turned over the Astrodome, many people in the two cities worked to find housing and jobs for people, tons of volunteering and donating, etc. And many Katrina victims are firmly members of the community now, but it couldn’t possibly have all been smooth. So perhaps part of what is being said is something like, “Well, we’re not asking anyone to do for us what we did before, and one consequence is that we are ignored.”

    Prinz’s paper is here:

    Click to access NormativityCharacterPrinz.pdf

    There’s also a discussion of situationalism vs. different environments in a recent Harman paper here:

    Click to access GH-Situ.pdf

    Both of these are particularly useful for the references to literature outside of philosophy (as I remember).

  6. They’re not standing around looking for handouts.. just media coverage and sympathy?!

    250,000 died in 2004 around the Indian Ocean. That’s significant. The Myanmar government prevented aid workers entrance to the country. That’s interesting. The problematic federal response to Katrina might have been racially motivated. That’s relevant.

    What happened in Galveston is simply not nationally significant, interesting or relevant. I don’t see any need to dig deeper than that (though the above comments are interesting).

  7. Jay, thanks for your interesting opinion. I do wonder if you are conflating what the press finds interesting, what people find interesting, and what is in the nation’s interest. Reporting on the election suggests that popular attention does follow the press a lot, but that might not be a good thing, and not a reason for drawing a general conclusion about what is unqualifiedly interesting, still less what it is in our interest to pay attention to.

    Your comment suggests that the press is interested in racism. So if the people on roofs in NO had been white, the press wouldn’t have been interested? That doesn’t sound right to me. I suspect what was interesting was the utter incompetence, which wasn’t just a function of race. It was hard to believe that that was happening in the21st century in this supposedly incredibly advanced country, but the incompetence was reflected in the lack of preparation Houston had for Rita, as opposed to Ike.

    Houston and Galveston have been preparing since Katrina, and so despite the terrible loss, the incompetence has been fairly located. That probably part of the reason why it is much less interesting tto the press.

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