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Tom Coburn is a Big Fat Jerk


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Friday, September 09, 2005

We're this close

Via Steve Gilliard:

The thin veneer of civilization.

The basic point is the same: Remove the elementary staples of organized, civilized life — food, shelter, drinkable water, minimal personal security — and we go back within hours to a Hobbesian state of nature, a war of all against all. Some people, some of the time, behave with heroic solidarity; most people, most of the time, engage in a ruthless fight for individual and genetic survival. A few become temporary angels; most revert to being apes.

[...]

There are intimations of this even in normal, everyday life. Road rage is a good example. Or think what it's like waiting for a late-night flight that is delayed or canceled. At first, those carefully guarded cocoons of personal space we carry around with us in airport waiting areas break down into flickerings of solidarity. The glance of mutual sympathy over the newspaper or laptop screen. A few words of shared frustration or irony. Often this grows into a stronger manifestation of group solidarity, perhaps directed against the hapless check-in staff. (To find a common enemy is the only sure way to human solidarity.) But then a rumor creeps out that there are a few seats left on another flight at Gate 37. Instant collapse of solidarity. Angels become apes. The sick, infirm, elderly, women and children are left behind in the stampede. Dark-suited men, with advanced degrees and impeccable table manners, elbow aside the competition, get their boarding passes and then retreat into a corner, avoiding other people's gaze — the gorilla who got the banana. All this just to avoid a night at the Holiday Inn in Des Moines.

Obviously, the decivilization in New Orleans was 1,000 times worse. I can't avoid the feeling that there will be more of this, much more of it, as we go deeper into the 21st century. There are just too many big problems looming that could push humanity back. The most obvious threat is more natural disasters as a result of climate change. If this cataclysm is interpreted by politicians as — to use the hackneyed phrase that they will themselves undoubtedly use — a "wake-up call" to alert Americans to the consequences of the United States continuing to pump out carbon dioxide as if there were no tomorrow, then the Katrina hurricane cloud will have a silver lining. But it may already be too late. We may be launched on an unstoppable downward spiral. If so, if large parts of the world were tormented by unpredictable storms, flooding and temperature changes, then what happened in New Orleans would seem like a tea party.

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