Friday, December 03, 2010

Upsetting the Established Disorder

I must confess to never having read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I tried, but I am cursed with a loathsome attention span, as evidenced by the sporadic nature of my postings on this blog. From what I understand of its premise, however, it is largely about a society in which the government has become oppressive toward its achievers, far too stifling of creativity, and in which the exceptional people of society go on "strike". This, of course, was largely a response to the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt administration, which sought to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the most powerful, and clearly Rand's Social Darwinist philosophies painted far too generous a picture of those who have achieved much in life. It is true that society is driven by the captains of industry, but their achievements are made on the backs of those for whom Rand had so much contempt: the simple, ordinary people.

Still, I have, upon moving to New Orleans, come upon a curious situation in which exceptional people of all sorts seem to have gone on strike in their own way, and the country at large barely notices. It is one in which artists, writers, poets, and even an odd architect or two have come to congregate, take their degrees and talents and apply them toward becoming waiters and bartenders. They subsequently destroy their minds with drugs and alcohol, and willfully wash all of their natural capacities down the drain -- largely because society at large rejected them, or else simply failed to recognize or appreciate how beautiful they were and how much they had to offer.

I myself stared into that abyss and rejected the entire experience. I took on a job as a waiter for a time, and drowned my mind in alcohol for an even longer time... all in the interest of gleaning the authentic New Orleans experience. To my mind, the New Orleans experience is one of death. No longer mourning life, people come here to kill themselves, if not directly, then indirectly. They destroy their minds and thus no longer can truly be said to be themselves. They fall into the abyss of despair and rejoice in it. They are all happy because nobody any longer expects anything from them... they are simply waiters and bartenders, and from that platform of low expectations, they can snicker at all the moneyed tourists who come through and make snide comments at them, insulting their intelligence without them knowing, and letting them wonder why society is so screwed up, and isn't there anybody out there who can fix it?

Atlas shrugged, and so did everybody else. Now we have a city with a service industry staffed with people capable of becoming doctors, engineers, and philosophers, and all anybody can think about when they talk about this city is helping out the people who don't work... the junkies, the panhandlers, the thugs. In this town, having a job is a bragging point. Poverty is so endemic that panhandling is a profession. Say bra, you got a qwata? Hey, I betcha I can tell you where you got them shoes.

Nothing in the media of the bartender at Cajun Mike's with a master's in counseling. Nothing of the RN waiting tables. Nothing of the brilliant artist who tends bar and is so down on herself that she barely considers herself one. No, it is always the Lower Ninth Ward, presented in the national media as a "working class" neighborhood which fell prey to Katrina, but the truth is that it was always a troubled neighborhood.

But suppose somebody comes along who doesn't fall into their trap. It has been said that if you upset the established order, everything turns to chaos. What if somebody came along and upset the established disorder of this city? What happens then?


UM said...

Upset it. Upset the established order. Or leave there. Let the degreed man tend bar, for he is no longer a councelor, he is a bartender. Let the RN wait tables, for she is now a wiatress. You are awash in a sea of want, and no amount of charity or government handouts can cure a society so imploded upon itself. Katrina may have destroyed a lot of buildings and some people with them, but the city was already dead when she showed up. Had she had a spirit before, she'd still have one now. While I have never visited what I am told is a great city by some, it seems to me it may have been better to leave the levees broken, and the city under water, for then the people would have been freed from what is slowly killing them to move on to new lives in more productive societies across this great country of ours. One thing I have never understood, or had explained to me, is just why someone would build a city below sea-level. It just makes no sense to me.

CarbonDate said...

The city's troubles clearly run deeper than Katrina. The city is slowly devouring itself, although I must confess it is rather tasty.

It is a city of extremes. I've met some of the best people I've ever known here, and some of the worst. By day it is beautiful, but by night the vampires come out.

I can only live as I always have, helping where I can and standing aside as an impartial observer where I cannot. I may not be able to change things, but I can bear witness.