Will the gods forgive us?
September 7, 2005
I made a contribution to the Red Cross this week, but I’m not quite sure why.I mean, I felt as if I had to. How could I refuse to contribute, after spending hours watching the tragedy in New Orleans? How could I even hesitate, when the need is so great?And yet, something felt a little strange. Certainly, when the tsunami hit Indonesia, my wife and I sent money without question. The tragedy there was immense. The people’s need was great. And their country couldn’t manage on its own. We are a rich nation; they are a poor nation. So of course we had to help.But this is the United States. This tragedy happened here – and certainly this country can afford to pay for all the assistance that anyone needs.Never mind – for now – questions of whether help should have come sooner. And, let’s be very clear, I am not doubting the wonderful people who rushed to actually provide help, the people who put their own bodies on the line. They are truly praiseworthy. What I’m talking about is paying the bills for that help, paying for the recovery from disaster. This is the United States, the wealthiest nation on Earth.Isn’t this what we pay taxes for? Isn’t this what we have a government for? To step in and rescue people in times of emergency and tragedy.And that is, of course, what’s happening. The government has already appropriated $10 billion. They’re getting ready to pony up another $40 billion. And if more is needed, the government should come up with that too.That is exactly as it should be. But my point is that it is already our money that’s paying those bills. We’ve already given. We’ve paid our taxes. So why are we all digging deep to send more? Why are two ex-presidents out campaigning for donations? Particularly when our generous hundreds of millions will be a drop in the $100 billion bucket.I certainly don’t side with the “religious” hatemongers who rant that New Orleans caused its own disaster because it is a city of licentiousness and decadence.But I cannot help wondering if there is a certain, not divine retribution, but cosmic balance that is bringing tragedy down upon the United States.It is as if the universe is telling us that we have become a little too proud. No, make that “much too proud.”Perhaps Iraq was our first warning.Never mind whether we should have invaded. The point is that, ethics and morality aside, we were certain that we could do as we pleased. We could march into alien territory, into a nation of tribal loyalties and warlords, and have our way. And we (or at least those we put in charge) were certain we could do it with relatively few troops, for relatively little money, with virtually no sacrifice.We were wrong. And so we are learning the limits of our power against even an impoverished nation.And now we are getting a second lesson. We are learning the limits of our power against natural disaster. We can’t stop a hurricane, of course – but now we are forced to learn that we can’t even do a good job of cleaning up after one. We are at the mercy of the elements. For even the rich and powerful, this is an inescapable fact of life.In the dramas of the ancient Greeks, the painful, inevitable fate of the tragic hero was the result of “hubris” – excessive pride or arrogance. Those who would make themselves the equals of the gods were doomed to bitter defeat and destruction.And so we now face the consequences of our own hubris, our own tragic flaw, our pride and carelessness.And so, perhaps, desperate to raise a flag of surrender to the will of the cosmos, as a promise of good behavior, we send off our checks and hope that somehow that will be enough.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com
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