Posted by Curt on 31 August, 2017 at 12:44 pm. 1 comment.


Kyle Smith:

‘Houston,” declared a Slate headline, “Doesn’t Showcase ‘America at Its Best.’” When a tweet promoting the article from the site’s official account went viral, and not in a good way, the editors reconsidered the wisdom of trolling a suffering city, deleted the tweet, and changed the title to “Why It’s Misleading to Say That Houston Showcases ‘America at Its Best.’” An accompanying photo showed a National Guardsman carrying a woman in hip-deep floodwaters.

Neither of these headlines quite captures the essence of the essay by Katy Waldman, though. Waldman thinks it’s unfortunate that the spirit in Houston today is bound to recede with the floodwaters. Underlying the piece is an old impulse of the Left dating back to Lenin and beyond: A wish to keep society in emergency mode because of the opportunities it opens up. Catastrophe tends to loosen up all that red tape that gets in the way of progressive action. Catastrophe leads to immediate mobilization. Catastrophe gives us spontaneous collectivism. Why can’t we have collectivism always and everywhere, not just in the Houston area when 50 inches of rain falls on it? Waldman is looking toward the aftermath of Harvey and fears that this disaster will be allowed, in the deathless words of Rahm Emanuel, to “go to waste”; i.e., it won’t lead to a major leftward turn for Texas or the U.S.

Am I being unfair in saying Waldman calls for a permanent mindset of catastrophe? Consider this passage: “These waterlogged suburbs have become zones of exemption, where norms hang suspended and something lovelier and more communal has been allowed to flourish in their place. . . . Disruptive events loosen our mores just enough to permit new kinds of compassion.” Waldman calls Houston today “a beautiful anomaly” and a “provisional utopia.” Absent catastrophe, America is just a “moral junior varsity team” where the usual rules are “selfish, capitalistic.” She concludes, “Humans may possess inherent goodness, but that goodness needs to be activated. Some signal has to disperse the cloud of moral Novocain around us. Some person, or fire, or flood, has got to say: now.” It’s chilling to observe a young writer openly thirst for destruction and chaos as a necessary first step to a more evolved humanity. As V. I. Lenin put it (quoting fellow revolutionary Georgi Plekhanov), “The worse, the better.”

The attitude is a familiar one on the Left: Capitalism, with its ethos of self-absorption, causes people to be cruel to one another. If only we could take filthy money-grubbing and profit-seeking out of human existence, we’d all live in a permanent rather than temporary Utopia.

But capitalism actually facilitates what F. A. Hayek called “the extended order of human cooperation.” You buy something from the shopkeeper, possibly something that carries an internationally known brand. Whether it’s Mom and Pop’s corner store or Ford Motor Co., every seller wants you to be happy. He wants to keep you coming back to buy again. If he sells you defective merchandise, or cheats you, you won’t be back. If he cheats many customers, he’ll have trouble staying in business. You and the people you buy things from, or sell things to, build up a dense web of commercial relationships. You become friendly with the guy who sells you coffee every morning. You grow to respect Tim Cook.

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