An environmental disaster such as Hurricane Harvey does a funny thing to humanity. It lays bare what kind of nature lies beneath our fractured social relations.
Watching the storm through television or their social media feeds, many were able, at a safe distance, to feel sentimental about acts of human heroism or selflessness amidst the flooding.
Without adequate state or federal assistance to house the displaced and feed the hungry, many responded like “Mattress Mack,” who turned his mattress store into a shelter; Texas mosques gave out hygiene products, water and food; and impromptu rescue boats saved the stranded.
However, disaster would be remiss if, at the same time, it didn’t evoke the worst of human tendencies: profiteering, violence and hate.
The state’s Attorney General’s office reported instances of a case of bottled water priced at $99, and a gallon of gasoline at $20.
While some can choose to close their mega-churches to flood victims out of spite, economic brutality against those same victims is a different shade of the human heart. The desire to profit from misery is perhaps the most unnatural and regressive relations in which humans engage.
Imagine some bloodthirsty manager of a big-box store power-tripping because he has the only drinking water available in a mile radius. No real difference exists between him and a newly displaced family of four. Only the value we prescribe dollar bills or lines of credit in a plastic card create the true expanse between the manager and the family.
Those who use a natural disaster as an excuse to price gouge and take advantage of victims are no different than those who use the same disaster conditions to loot businesses. The intentions of using disaster to be immoral are the same.
Hurricane Harvey put on a display of human vileness in a way only 2017 can deliver. Chasing a soundbite, a CNN reporter pushed a visibly traumatized woman to profanity after repeatedly shoving a microphone at her family.
We humans do love to gawk at victims of mass disasters a little too much. Self-titled as an “anti-looting patrol,” a far-right quasi-militia called the “Proudboys” waded through empty-looking residential areas with AR-15 rifles.
It's unclear what the reasoning behind carrying assault rifles around areas of disaster really was, but it does not exactly conjure the same warm and fuzzy feelings that "Mattress Mack" does.
The modern phenomena of Muslim-hating fake news stories also spoke up in response to real mosques helping people. A satirical website reportedly ran a story claiming a Texas mosque was refusing shelter to “infidels,” which was of course permeated across the internet.
In reality, Texas mosques offered up their shelter and supplies to victims.
The untold amount of human decency in Texas appears to be overshadowed by the amount of hatefulness and greed. Whether it be price gouging or far-right militias, this ugliness comes out in a disaster because it is merely reflecting the true face of our society.
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