Blogs > Liberty and Power > Spontaneous Disorder in New Orleans

Aug 31, 2005 9:59 am

Spontaneous Disorder in New Orleans

Hayek's evil twin would appreciate this depressing news:

Most streets in New Orleans were empty yesterday except for the hub around the Wal-Mart, in a section of the city that remained dry. People were everywhere: in cars and trucks, pushing goods in carts and baby carriages, dragging full trash cans and laundry baskets. The steady stream of cars caused a traffic jam on the streets near the store - the type of traffic jam last seen here when people tried to evacuate.

"Is everything free?" asked a woman who pulled up in a red car. Hearing"yes," she started to chant:"TV! TV! TV!"

Inside, a teenage boy held up a pair of blue lacy panties and snickered,"I want to see somebody in these so bad," before tossing them in his basket.

Another man used a table to break into one of the last unscathed jewelry cases.

Some shoppers were oddly selective. A rumor that the National Guard had arrived sent people running toward the store's exit, shouting:"Come on! Come on!" But no one put down any merchandise, and the Guard rumor turned out to be false.

One woman said she was taking only facial-care products. Another was pushing a cart filled with silk roses and baby's breath. In the pharmacy aisle, she leaned over the handle, pushing it slowly as she read labels the way a paying customer would.

But the overwhelming feeling was one of chaos - angry shouting, carts ramming, fast grabbing. When a teenage girl passed out face down between the baby clothes and a women's-sock display, people pushed past or stepped on her.

Joseph LoCascio of Picayune, Miss., stopped to try to help the girl. He rolled her over, and she vomited pink liquid all over her face and hair. He then rolled her back.

"People just walking around like they don't care," he said.

He and his friend Sandi Nolan, 21, of Baton Rouge, tried to revive the girl by pouring water, Gatorade and soda over her face and neck. It only left her shirt and hair soaked.

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Grant Gould - 8/31/2005

I think there's a valid point there, though. Anarchy, as we envision it, is as much a thing of institutions as it is of the actual absence of the state. The most honest way to say it is probably: "In the absence of established institutions, this is how anarchy begins."

It's an important reminder in that respect. An honest anarchist must either put building the institutions first and smashing the state second, or else must be willing to conscience a bloody smash-and-grab interval between state and anarchy.

It's too easy to forget that anarchy, like the state, is a thing that must be built.

William J. Stepp - 8/31/2005

Exactly, it's not a test case in which anarchy fails. And it's not like the state is working all that well either. Are the cops protecting the property of the shops that are being looted? Are the traffic lights and the rest of the government infrastructure working?
Perhaps an analogy would be an anti-scientific Luddite who claims that a scientific experiement can't work in the wake of an earthquake that destroys the lab in which it's being carried out. Under normal conditions, the experiment might well work and could at least be tried.

Roderick T. Long - 8/31/2005

I just know someone out there is eventually going to say "See? This is what anarchy is really like, that's why we need the state."

It'll be a bad argument, of course. The anarchist claim is that voluntary institutions can supply order in the absence of the state. A catastrophe that smashes the entire institutional infrastructure is not exactly a test case of anarchy.

Sudha Shenoy - 8/31/2005

Police as well as people looted shops. But police by themselves could've done nothing. If people acted on this rule _universally_, then any exchange -- division of labour, specialisation -- would be possible only in the narrowest, face-to-face situations. This would be a gradual reversal to earlier kinds of circumstances. Conversely, since the US in the late 20th century does in fact exhibit an extremely minute specialisation, this means that people do not, as a general rule, loot property.