The Katrina Tragedy


George Clooney recently donated one million dollars of his own money to help the victims of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, saying, “there is nothing much else that one can do.” I personally believe there is a lot more a person can do than just donate money, especially someone in Clooney’s position of power and authority. Not that I’m grilling Clooney here. But I think his comment goes to show how blind we are to the sources behind certain tragedies.


The Katrina Tragedy

I get mixed feelings when I see all the TV stations, celebrities, Walmarts and basically everybody else in this nation (including myself) donating money and joining forces with the Red Cross to help out the victims of Hurricane Katrina. On one hand, I think it’s great to see everyone helping out, because the victims need all the help they can get at this point both in terms of financial and medical support…but the key phrase there is “at this point.”


The fact of the matter is that the very people who are now trying to help the victims of Katrina are (along with the victims themselves) the very people responsible for the sad and ugly tragedy these victims had to endure. And if we don’t come away from the tragedy realizing why, exactly, we are all to blame for this, then a similar tragedy will only reoccur in the future.


Now, we all basically understand that the tragedy involved with Hurricane Katrina wasn’t triggered by the hurricane itself, as the people were warned four days in advance to stay clear of the hurricane’s path; it was triggered by the fact that there were thousands of people in the below-sea-level New Orleans area who were too poor to get out of the hurricane’s way. What most of us don’t quite understand, however, is why this tragedy occurred. Why are these people so poor that they can’t even travel a few miles north to escape that path of a category-five hurricane?


If the argument I make in my "art as charity" blog (click here to read this) has any validity (i.e. that helping spiritual poverty is the key to helping financial poverty), then the reason why the victims of the tragedy are so poor is because they are byproducts of a poor-in-spirit American nation. If our capitalist culture had a better understanding of what is important in life—that putting the majority of our energy into expressing ourselves freely is more important than putting it into cost-effectiveness, good investments and maximizing profit—then our nation wouldn’t possess the great economic disparity among people that it does at this point in time. We would all make just enough money to feed, shelter and clothe ourselves and channel the rest of our energy into expressing ourselves (whether that be in the form of creating a piece of art or raising children or spending time with a loved one etc.). This means that, if we weren’t so poor in spirit, the economic gaps in our nation would gradually close and everyone in our nation would, potentially, have enough money to escape a hurricane that makes its presence and scale known several days in advance.


So, in my opinion, the seeds to the tragedy in New Orleans can be traced all the way back to our poor-in-spirit culture. And although it’s too late to prevent the horrible tragedy that occurred during the aftermath of Katrina, it isn’t too late to prevent more tragedies like this from occurring in the future. But the key to doing that is in spiritual charity, not the kind of financial charity you see coming from everyone right now, especially all the mega-corporate entities and mainstream celebrities.


Of course, I understand that financial charity and Red Cross aid is still very necessary. The homes destroyed in the hurricane have to be rebuilt, so money is needed for that. And the people also need food, clothing and shelter while they are jobless, so money is needed for that too. Nevertheless, we need to start thinking in the long-term, and if we do that, spiritual philanthropy should be our area of focus.


Besides, the damaged homes and other material destruction doesn’t disturb me as much as the human destruction that occurred during the hellish five-day hurricane aftermath. People died very disturbing deaths and endured horrible amounts of suffering when there was really no reason why they should have. We all saw those horrible video images of babies dehydrating to death in the arms of mothers and elderly women collapsing onto the pavement and people screaming for help. All of that could have potentially been avoided had our culture been spiritually healthy. In fact, the only misfortune that the hurricane should have brought to these people is destruction of their material goods (their homes, property and possessions), which is all small-stuff. But because the people were so poor that they couldn’t leave their homes (or, in some cases, so attached to their material possessions that they didn’t WANT to leave their homes), the hurricane brought hell to them. And the reason for this hell is rooted in our spiritually poor nation, not the hurricane itself.


And, really, when it comes down to it, the only reason why these entities team up with the Red Cross and run telethons and match employee donations and finance benefit concerts etc. is because it would be bad for business if they didn’t. The people running these businesses are so poisoned by the capitalist mindset that their charity simply becomes a positive-PR move; that is, it becomes something that, in the long run, only helps to heighten their company’s reputation and, in turn, boost business. Don’t get me wrong: I know as human beings they mean well, but as “practical businessmen” (i.e. what capitalism makes of human beings) they are only looking out for the best interests of their companies, not the best interests of the hurricane victims.


I guess the main problem is that the kind of spiritual charity that would have prevented the tragedy in New Orleans is cost-ineffective. As long as the capitalist ideology is running our nation, mainstream opinion will never hold any value for such a charity. In fact, spiritual health is probably capitalism’s greatest enemy. In a nation where economy is everything, spiritually healthy people only get in the way of strengthening the economy, because these people don’t engage in a perpetual cycle of work and spend. Without such a cycle, the economy would never be able to sustain itself.



Overall, the tragic hell we saw in New Orleans during the five-day hurricane aftermath is yet another reason why we need to stop valuing the dollar bill as much as we do; more sad and disturbing tragedies will continue to occur if we don’t.


More importantly, we can’t pin the blame for such tragedies on any one definitive person or entity, as most people (including the victims themselves) have been doing. The only people we can blame is ourselves, because we all, for the most part, partake in the capitalism that is at the root of the New Orleans tragedy. This is a reality you’ll never hear voiced by anyone with a position of power, influence or authority, even by your typical left-winger like Michael Moore, whom basically pins all the blame on Bush. Nobody with power wants to second-guess capitalism because a) they all stand to benefit from it and b) they don’t want to alienate themselves and consequently drain their power. So they play it safe by donating a few bucks and "doing what they can" to help, but the truth is that what they actually end up doing is nowhere close to being "what they can."


The good news, however, is that, because each of us are to blame for what happened in New Orleans, each of us also possess the power to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring in the future. Donating money and time and resources to the Red Cross is definitely needed right now, because it’s too late for spiritual charity to help the victims of Katrina…but, in the future, we have to start channeling our energy into spiritual—not financial—charity. It will only mean more hell if we don’t.


10,000 Holdouts (written a couple days later)

Ten-thousand people are believed to still be in New Orleans. They refuse to leave their homes. If they stay, they'll be able to hold on to their material possessions, but...they'll also die from toxic waters and disease. This doesn't seem very logical. Then again, nothing seems very logical lately.


Overall, I think a hurricane like Katrina goes to show that leading a life where all you do is make money and accumulate material wealth has no long-term benefits. All it takes is one natural disaster to enter your life for a couple of hours and all that material wealth gets obliterated, rendering your life up until that point absolutely meaningless.


If I were in their shoes, maybe I'd do the same, but it seems to me that these people who refuse to leave their homes have their priorities far out of whack. This is very sad, but at the same time, I think their problem is a common American problem: money and material wealth have become all the majority of Americans have to show for in their lives.


Our nation is composed of people who devote their lives to making money - not because they are greedy - but because this way of life has become the norm in our culture. All it takes, however, is one hurricane to show why leading a life like this is a bad idea. Take away the materials of people who live in this manner and their existence becomes null and void. They become ghosts.


The only thing that could really make those 10,000 holdouts realize that their homes and materials and money aren't worth risking their lives for is spiritual - not financial - charity, and when I say 'spiritual charity' I don't mean to sound all new-agey and fruity. All I mean is there needs to be a new way of thinking within mainstream America, one that will make people remember what our forefathers had in mind when they came up with the concept of "free expression." For some reason, America has become a land where people express themselves solely through the accumulation of money and materials. Very few people express their ideas and opinions anymore because those that do become aliens, and nobody, of course, likes being an alien. But an environment where people are afraid to express themselves freely is extremely unhelathy. In fact, it's downright dangerous (think Germany circa 1930s).


Hurricanes are powerful, but only powerful enough to take away our materials, not the ideas and opinions and feelings that we've expressed throughout our lifetime, which are more important. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans (many of which are Katrina victims) have failed to express themselves in such a way. Why else would 10,000 people still be clinging to their homes and material possessions as though these things are all they have to live for?


The only reason why actual lives were lost by Katrina is because a) people were too poor to escape the hurricane (due to the fact that other people in America have hoarded more money than necessary, as the hurricane victims probably would have done themselves if they only had the chance) and b) people were (and still are) so attached to their material possessions that they didn't WANT to get away. In both cases, spiritual charity would have prevented all the human destruction that people falsely blame on the hurricane itself.


To put it simply, Hurricane Katrina should not have been a disaster in any other sense except a material one. People died (and will continue to die if they don't get the hell out of New Orleans) because our culture is poor in spirit, something which spiritual charity could have prevented.


Email to Donal Foreman re: Katrina

This is an email I recently wrote to an Irish filmmaker-friend of mine. It is a response to his response to my Katrina blogs, particularly the one regarding the 10,000 New Orleans holdouts:


Overall, I think everything you point out is valid. I understand that home is where the heart is and that there's family albums, heirlooms and other stuff like that in those homes, but if you really think about life in the long run, even that stuff is unimportant. Don't get me wrong: it's so understandable that people feel emotionally attached to those types of things (as I do), but I think people need to start to realize that everything that is physical in life isn't important. Ideas, feelings and opinions - once expressed - can't be destroyed by anything because they aren't physical. The minute you get them out of your system, they are "out there" floating around and they're indestructible. If a hurricane comes along and destroys your home, your materials and even YOU...the ideas, feelings, opinions (in short, everything you've expressed about yourself during your life) are already out of your system and circulating the world in an intangible form that no force, however strong, can ever destroy.


Now, works of art, as you imply, are a sense. If a hurricane came along and destroyed every single print of a Cassavetes film, that would be a shame. But for Cassavetes himself, this wouldn't really matter. What matters for him is that he lived his life working his ass off to express himself to the best of his ability and as long as he got that artistic energy out of his system, no force could ever destroy that energy - it transcends the physical world. If a hurricane comes along and destroys his physical works of art, that sucks, but it's beyond his control, so it's not really hell for him. If, however, he had lived his entire life thinking that making money and building the economy was more important than getting his feelings out of his system, then a hurricane could have potentially just come along, destroyed all his material accomplishments and rendered his life absolutely empty of meaning and importance. In that case, the subsequent hell that he would have experienced (i.e.knowing that he lived his life and has nothing to show for it) WAS within his power to prevent. I know that's all very vague, but you see what I'm saying.


Re: America - the ony reason why I may talk about America as being the center of the universe is because a) it's the number one superpower right now and b) it's spreading it's capitalist ideology (which Bush euphemistically refers to as 'liberty' or 'democracy') all over the world through global Americanization (which either comes in the form of actual imperialistic war like in Iraq or something as seemingly benign as the Peace Core). And, yes, this is ridiculous and very very wrong, and I'm so against it, but one cannot deny that America is kind of becoming the center of the universe for those reasons. That's my defense. As far as Condoleezza Rice and Bush go, they're just under the delusion that America's ideology is the ideal and that God wants them to spread it all over the world. It's called well-intentioned self-delusion. Hitler-syndrome.


The media coverage of Katrina: horrible. Exploitive and useless. I think the media should be addressing some of the points I make in my blogs, not because they're 100% right, but at least they get people thinking and that's something people aren't doing right now. The problem is that they may upset people a bit and that will only hurt ratings.


Instead, the media sees the whole disaster as a great opportunity to tell stories of heros (e.g. the victims and the people who helped the victims) and villains (e.g. Mike Brown from FEMA or President Bush himself), just like after 9/11 and every other "tragedy." It's just sensational tabloid journalism that titillates the American public and doesn't provide the least bit of profound insight into the nature of the event. As [Ray] Carney would say, it's pornography. I'm sure we'll see all these stupid hurricane movies in Hollywood soon that will do the same thing. There's already something in the mix, I think.


This is why Oprah frustrates me so much. If there's one thing people should be doing right now it's thinking. "Wow. Life is so fragile. Money and material wealth are so mutable. One hurricane could come and take everything away. Maybe I need to be doing something better with my life, as opposed to devoting all my energy into acquiring money and material things that can be taken away from me in a snap." But you don't see that kind of stuff talked about in the media. People like Oprah just go down to New Orleans, interview some victims, and fool people (and themselves) into thinking that they're doing something healthy and important in response. But what they're really doing is simply exploiting the disaster, making money off of the sensational aspects of it and deifying their public image in the process.


Do I practice what I preach? Well, if a hurricane were coming my way, the only thing I'd really care about is bringing my films, scripts and other writings with me, and also my computer, but only because I have writing on there that I feel is necessary to preserve; that is, if I'm able to. If it's not within my power to save those things, then there's nothing I can do about it. God's just being an asshole for destroying my works. The hell, in other words, would be outside of my power to prevent, so it wouldn't be hell, because hell is something we create for ourselves, as I implied when I was using the Cassavetes example.


The other stuff I realize isn't important and I wouldn't have too much of a problem with leaving it behind. Now, leaving the photo albums and that kind of stuff would certainly hurt me emotionally, but we're all going to die and leave that stuff sometime. It's not worth risking your life over, because as long as you're still alive you can still express yourself and expressing yourself makes you immortal. Clinging on to the physical world renders you just as physical and, thus, mortal (mortal meaning you die and no essence of you is left behind and I think I'm just rambling here.)


I do think I practice what I preach to the best of my ability, but I also realize that it isn't easy living the way that I say people should live, and I also realize that I'm not living my life EXACTLY in the manner I say one should. But does that mean I should keep my mouth shut and just say "to each his own"? I mean, isn't it important that I at least get this perspective of life out of my system, so other people can at least hear it and see if it's a good one or at least a valid one? I'm just throwing those questions out there. I don't know the answers.


Frankly, I'm a little wary when it comes to that whole practice what you preach thing. Nothing against you saying it, but I think most people who accuse people of that are cowards. One one hand, if you know you can never live up to the ideals you say others should live up to, then those ideals are basically useless. On the other hand, I think people are much too afraid of looking like a hypocrite all the time (and a fool in consequence) so they just play it safe by keeping their mouths shut and not voicing any ideas, opinions, feelings etc. That is unhealthy.


I don't profess to be St. Matt (in fact, I have more demons in me than the average person, I think), but I feel voicing what I voice is what the world needs right now, even if I don't practice every single element of what I preach (though, for the most part I do - I realize, for example, that doing things like writing this email are more important than working another stupid shift at my supermarket, even if it means losing money that I certainly could use.)


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