Mined from the notebooks, Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Posted Sunday morning, September 3.
“Rescue boats fill a flooded street at flood victims are evacuated as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston.” Photo by David J. Phillip/AP. Courtesy of the Associated Press, via 10tv.
Why didn’t they evacuate?
What was the matter with them? What’s wrong with them? Why didn’t they know better? Why didn’t they get when the getting was good?
That’s what I’d have done.
As if the getting’s ever good. As if we can always know better. As if we can always know to know better.
Why didn’t they evacuate?
The question’s been asked online, on TV, on the radio, mostly by people who live nowhere near Houston and the other areas Harvey’s blown through. I gather it’s also mostly conservatives asking it. Which doesn’t surprise me. But I wouldn’t know. I don’t listen to them, watch them, or read them. What I know of their asking I mostly know through the answering coming from liberals I do read, listen to, and watch, who have responded with earnest lecturing on what it's like to be poor and not have the money for gas and food and lodging to sustain your evacuation, even if you have somewhere to evacuate to.
But this assumes that everyone who didn’t leave was poor.
Of course that’s what a lot of people asking the question are assuming. They’re also assuming some things about those poor people. Which, rightly, has provoked a great deal of indignation. Liberal indignation. Religious indignation. Moral indignation. Human indignation. People of good heart recognize the question as what it is, coming as it does from the usual quarters: an act of blaming. An excuse not to care.
Serves them right. If they're not going to help themselves, why should we pay to help them?
These quarters always speak up when people need government help or seek legal redress---other people. We heard from them loudly and clearly during Katrina, during Sandy, during Irene.
Who else would ask that question?
Any of us. All of us. Well, not you, of course. Not me either. We’re special. We’re saints. But the rest of the sinners,with whom, for rhetorical effect, I’ll be including myself despite my halo. We would. And did. Maybe not out loud. Maybe not as our first thought. But it's a natural enough question. We're used to lines of cars carrying people away from hurricanes, forest fires, erupting volcanoes. Where were the lines of cars leaving Houston? Why didn't they get out when they had the chance?
Why didn't they evacuate?
There are practical reasons for asking the question---what can be done in the future to stave off or at least mitigate the effects of such a natural disaster, of which, thanks to climate change, there are going to be many more---and practical answers to it that are not simply political or economic. Evacuating a city of 2.3 million people is next to impossible. People died in the evacuation preceding Hurricane Rita. People were preparing for a hurricane not a 500 year tropical storm that would cause flooding of near-biblical proportions. And even if more people had left, that wouldn’t have meant their lives weren’t ruined. They couldn’t take their homes and all their possessions with them.
But why didn’t they evacuate is not really the question most people are asking. It’s the disguise the real question wears. The real question is What if this was happening to me?
What would I have done?
How would I have escaped whatever trouble, suffering, and pain randomly inflicted by an indifferent universe or a heartless God?
It’s a reflexive and defensive and superstitious question. The impulse behind it is to assure ourselves we’d have been fine, we’d have survived. Whatever happened wouldn’t have happened to us.
I’d have done this. I’d have done that. I’d have planned. I’d have taken action. I’d have done whatever it took and I’d have come out all right.
And if we’re honest, our answer, which might take a few steps to reach, would be: Maybe not.
We might not have come out all right. We might not have escaped. We might not have survived. Or if we did it would be due as much if not more to luck than to our own careful planning and quick thinking. We might not have handled it better. We might have handled it worse!
Asking the question can be the first step to putting ourselves in others’ shoes.
There but for the grace of God…
A way to tell conservatives from everybody else is what they mean when they say that. What decent people mean is, Gosh, I’m lucky! What conservatives mean is, Gosh, God must love me and think I’m special, what a good person I must be.
The corollary to this is, of course, And God must not love you or think you’re special. What a bad person you must be.
You can see how such thinking would be habitual for conservatives. If you do the right things, follow the rules, go to church and say your prayers, you'll be fine. God will look out for you. If you aren't fine, God wasn't looking out for you, you brought your trouble on yourself.
I’m talking about religious conservatives. Other conservatives simply frame things in terms of ego, vanity, and pride supported by a belief in social Darwinism and libertarian politics.
I’m doing fine. I’ll continue to do fine because I’m strong. I’m smart. I know how to take care of myself and my interests. Through my own efforts and will I’ve made myself a superior specimen. I’d have survived, I’d have escaped, I’d have come through all right because I’m not like them.
But at the moment it doesn’t matter who’s asking the question and why and what they mean by it. It's forgivable if your first question was Why didn't they evacuate, as are any of the questions you ask after it, if your last question is What can I do to help?
A lot of people have put their lives on the line, some have even died, answering that question. Many of them are liberals, many of them are conservatives, many of them are religious, many of them have no politics either way or religion either. There’s no telling them apart and no point to it. All there is to say of them is what that late great Texan Molly Ivins used to say whenever she wanted to praise someone. “Good on them!”
The rest of us, those who don’t live nearby or who for one reason or another can’t be on the scene to physically help can help by donating whatever we can. The best thing to donate right now is money. The Houston Food Bank can use the help and they’ll put your donation right straight to work. Our good pal and blogging buddy Tom Watson, who is in the business of helping effective charities be even more effective, has a suggestion. Here’s the note he left on Facebook:
Folks, as someone who works in organized philanthropy I often am asked about responding to natural disasters when people feel the urge to give and to help out. I always suggest GlobalGiving because the funds are directed via local nonprofits that are carefully vetted as partners of this stellar nonprofit whose founders are personal friends and people I trust. Nothing against the Red Cross - they'll raise tons and it will be helpful - but if you're looking to help people in Texas in the aftermath of the #Harvey disaster, I'd urge you to take a look at GlobalGiving's special fund. That's where I'll be making a donation.
That’s where we Mannions donated too. We also gave to the Food Bank.
Here’s the link to GlobalGiving’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
And here’s the link to the Houston Food Bank.