Time for Change

04 Sep 2005|Christoper Ireland

David Brooks knows America. The conservative NY Times columnist, PBS pundit, and author of Bobo’s in Paradise, has consistently demonstrated an ability to understand the deepest motivations of the country’s citizens and accurately predict their behavior. In his column today, which recounts the utter failure of the government’s initial response to Hurricane Katrina, he predicts,

“Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are.”

I’ve been too horrified and anguished by what I saw this week to comment in a blog, but David’s column made me think about the cultural change this disaster will prompt. I agree with his assessment of the public’s reaction. When government makes us mad, we argue and complain. But when it makes us feel ashamed of ourselves, we change it. More importantly, we change the conditions that spawned it.

There are a number of ways I think people and culture in the US will change in response to what happened in New Orleans and the surrounding area. Here’s a few:

Bling loses its glimmer. Americans have had a love affair with luxury for the last decade, but when the “haves” deserted the “have nots,” including the old and the infirm, they showed an ugly side that can not be cosmetically fixed. It won’t happen overnight, but the mass market will begin to rethink what the finer things in life really are.

Green goes mainstream. Much of the damage in New Orleans can be blamed on man, not nature. The levees caused the city to sink below sea level, and the eradication of the wet lands eliminated a crucial barrier from the storm surge. Although the Green movement began in the late 60’s, it will finally move from a niche ideology to a dominant philosophy as average folks come to realize their lifestyles are endangering their lives.

Science rules. The debate over Intelligent Design will fade into obscurity as Americans recognize that it was science that accurately foresaw exactly what would happen in New Orleans in articles published in Scientific American, National Geographic and even the Times-Picayune. Those same scientists are predicting similar problems in nearly every major coastal city as a result of global warming, but rather than being ignored or forced to defend their discipline, they will soon connect with a much larger, more vocal, and influential audience.

Role models abroad. American citizens are not used to hearing their cities and systems compared to the Third World. But the photos of FEMA management of the New Orleans evacuation left no doubt that we are far better at waging war than rescuing mothers and babies. In response, people will increasingly look to other countries, other governments and other models of management to find solutions, rather than insisting on the “American way.”

Passionate heros. The comparison between a furious Mayor Ray Nagin desparately pleading to the Federal agencies to “get off your asses,” or a sobbing Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, La., breaking down on Meet the Press and a casual President Bush congratulating FEMA head Michael Brown for doing a “hecka good job” is registering at a very deep level in our collective psyches. The days of the spin-controlled politician are nearing an end, to be replaced–I think–with men and women who have less face and more heart. This change will take place any where leadership is valued–in companies, in our institutions, and in the highest offices. If we’re lucky, it’s not too late.

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