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Language. - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Aug. 31st, 2005

09:16 am - Language.

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Black folks loot, white folks "find".

Just a warning to everyone to be aware of the way language changes perception and not to fall into the trap the media is setting for us when we think about what is happening in New Orleans.

I think it's a huge mistake to conflate the few looters who are violently stealing expensive consumer goods with the vast majority of people who are breaking into grocery stores so they can eat. It isn't like these folks have the OPTION of lawfully paying for their food. And really, those stores are going to be out of commission for so long that the food will be unsellable anyway. Honestly, I'm not even sure it'll ever be economical to recover the consumer goods from their stores for resale. So really, the fact that folks are salvaging stuff that would probably otherwise be lost to the bulldozers when they rebuild NOLA isn't a big deal. Violence is a big deal and I'd like to see the violent looters distinguished from the peaceful salvagers in news stories. I'd like to see that distinction NOT be quietly implied along racial lines.

Comments:

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From:aethyric
Date:August 31st, 2005 03:18 pm (UTC)
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i haven't noted racial allusions in the stories i've seen, but i have been distressed in the last 24 hours about people trying to obtain food and supplies who are being judged at LOOTERS in newscasts. dude, when was the last time YOU lost everything, you know?! gar. (actually, i did it myself in a comment in my own journal, but... well.. here..)

i believe that most looters were not hiding out waiting for a chance to wreak havoc, though i'm sure there were some small percentage who were. for the most part, it's probably a whole lot of people trapped in a town, their home, which has just been completely devastated. people who maybe didn't have much to begin with. you look around and you have nothing left to your name.

lots of people are looting food and clothing, which makes sense if you have none. lots of people are looting pharmaceuticals, which makes sense if you want to feel either slightly prepared OR want to find a way to escape the horror you just experienced. lots of people are looting jewelry and electronics, which makes a certain kind of sense if you think perhaps you can barter with/sell them later on if you've lost everything.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 31st, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC)
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On the notesfiles someone asked if the violent kind of looting was proof that "anarchy" is an inherrently violent situation.

I replied that this wasn't anarchy, it was capitalism during a natural disaster.

Seriously, people loot because things have value and can be resold. The state which protects and ensures the property rights attached to that value has become ineffective in a local area but the value still exists in a larger context and the psychology of attaching value to things still persists in the minds of looters. The get rich quick by screwing your neighbor for personal gain psychology is a product of capitalist socialization.

This really is capitalism during a natural disaster. These folks aren't choosing an anarchist life, they are choosing to behave in a corrupt manner for capitalist gain (knowing/thinking they can sell goods for value in other markets). Kind of like how Enron's behavior, while outside the law, wasn't anarchist. Kind of like how Mafia-ruled Russia, with it's ineffective formal state, is not anarchist.

I suspect there are a number of other examples in New Orleans of extreme cooperative/altruistic behavior. These aren't as dramatic and don't fit easily into a single picture.

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From:aethyric
Date:August 31st, 2005 03:56 pm (UTC)
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you sound so much more edumacated than i. *grin*

also, more pessimistic. commie. *duckflee*
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 31st, 2005 04:00 pm (UTC)
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Heh. Well I cut/pasted your paragraphs above into the same notefile thread because I thought you captured the essense of it more understandably than my abstract rantings.

I'm only pessimistic about capitalism. I'm extremely optimistic about human nature. I just happen to think that capitalism twists people into inhumane behavior.
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From:kateorama
Date:August 31st, 2005 05:24 pm (UTC)
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Some of my co-workers (i.e. cops) were talking about this today, and I was happily surprised* to hear that they made a clear distinction between "stealing random shit" and "getting food so you can eat." There was a rather humorous (brief) discussion of how to categorize cases of beer.

*Note, I was not "shocked" because I've worked here for two years and have found many reasonable, thoughtful people among my cop co-workers.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 31st, 2005 05:30 pm (UTC)
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I'm generally of the opinion that the vast majority of cops are quite reasonable and thoughtful. My problem with cops has always been simply that the unreasonable ones often get to act badly with impunity and their bad acts have more far reaching effects than a non-cop's bad acts.

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From:aethyric
Date:August 31st, 2005 06:37 pm (UTC)
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i had a strange thought regarding the beer retrieval photos. if you have no potable water, or if you want to save potable water for your toddler or something, would beer, safe and clean (and warm, oog) in it's bottle, keep you from getting dehydrated if it's not overconsumed? mostly i just want to be able to justify beer looting in case of a natural disaster. :) no, no. this is an actual, sincere question with a humorous side-effect.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 31st, 2005 06:40 pm (UTC)
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My understanding has always been that both beer and caffeinated soda are net dehydrators.

They do have calories though...
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From:aabassplayer
Date:August 31st, 2005 07:53 pm (UTC)
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you know...I've, for many months at a time (Ah, IMSA days) subsisted on soda and whatever water there may be in the foods I ate (probably not a lot, except in salads) w/out dehydrating at all...I think that the whole net dehydration thing is a myth. That, or it's at least partly true in the eyes of dietitians, etc.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 31st, 2005 08:19 pm (UTC)
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You never drank from the water fountain or had juice at breakfast time or drank non-caffeinated sodas?
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From:aabassplayer
Date:August 31st, 2005 09:08 pm (UTC)
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I might have had a glass of milk or something in the morning sometimes...but it was mainly mt. dew straight to the vein. :-)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 31st, 2005 08:29 pm (UTC)
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Seems like you might be right about caffeine:

http://www.ific.org/foodinsight/2002/ja/caffdehydnbfi402.cfm
http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/0973.htm

I can't find good cites about alcohol, there does seem to be some debate about whether beer is dehydrating or not.
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From:aabassplayer
Date:August 31st, 2005 09:15 pm (UTC)
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interesting, though I believe that there's something perhaps a little off about this:

To test this theory, a group of researchers, including myself, compared the daily volume of urine produced by subjects during a week of consuming their normal fluid intake with that produced during a week of abstention from all caffeine-containing drinks. What we discovered was that during the no-caffeine week the subjects consumed fewer drinks in total, with the effect that their fluid intake was reduced and their volume of urine production lower.

We all know that one beer in equals two beers out...and about the same for soda...so, if you're not drinking a diuretic, you're not going to be eliminating as many liquids whether you take in the same amount of drinks or not. Seems like there was some data missing in the experiment to make me convinced of this, though I will agree, when I go to a non-caffinated diet (every once in a while) I don't make it up enough in drinking water and the like.
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From:arohanui
Date:September 12th, 2005 09:25 pm (UTC)

aqua vita

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I'd always thought that too, and that the major cause of hang-overs is actually dehydration.

On the other hand, it's also my understanding that, where the potability of the water supply may be in doubt, people the world over have developed fermented alternatives (small beer, watered wine), not just to get drunk on, but to provide a measure of sterilization.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:September 12th, 2005 09:37 pm (UTC)

Re: aqua vita

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Dehydration is definitely a major cause of hang-overs.

It is possible though, I guess, that dehydration only sets in when one overwhelms one's system with alcohol intake. Like maybe there is a certain rate at which your body can process alcohol and that doesn't require any more water than normal metabolic processes. But then after a threshold the body says "HEY THAT IS TOO MUCH!" and starts using up bucketloads of water to flush the offending surplus of alcohol from the body before it causes toxic damage.

So maybe 6 beers in an hour causes net dehydration but 2 beers over the course of a day provides some net hydration. Maybe the same threshold thing is true of caffeine.

*shrug* I dunno! My simplistic understanding of how this all works is certainly shaken.
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From:arohanui
Date:September 12th, 2005 09:42 pm (UTC)

threshold

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> But then after a threshold the body... starts using up bucketloads of water to flush the offending surplus

Smart man. Yeah, that'd make total sense, at least, it'd gel with my vague memories of BIO101.
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From:tugena13
Date:August 31st, 2005 08:41 pm (UTC)
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while i'm saddened and disgusted by the looters/finders distinction, i'm not at all surprised. *sigh* fuckheads.

just to play devil's advocate, though... completely outside of a natural disaster situation, what about homeless people/the working poor who need to steal to eat? one could argue that they did nothing to deserve their situation, and instead exist within a limited and faulty system that forces them to do so... just like the people who are salvaging to eat now, in the flood.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:August 31st, 2005 08:54 pm (UTC)
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As an anarchist, I fully support those folks who have to steal to eat. Pragmatically, I happen to recognize that those folks will often face some kind of criminal charges and the reasonable political struggles on their behalf are not to find them completely innocent but a) to give them minor sentences and to be outraged if they receive major sentences and b) to advocate for a greater social safety net so that folks do not have to turn to theft to feed themselves.

In general I actually think that when our legal system is functioning correctly it is actually normal for folks who steal to eat to get reduced (misdemeanor) sentences especially if the theft is not armed and not drug-related. This isn't to say that a lot of folks don't get shafted by three-strikes laws or racist juries/cops/DAs/judges...those are cases of our legal system functioning poorly.
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From:boannan
Date:September 1st, 2005 01:59 am (UTC)
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I think you're right about that . . . the judges I've seen are pretty sympathetic to non-violent crimes of that type (especially cause they see so many of the other types of crimes!). Not that there aren't jerks, but by and large i don't think you'd get the shaft (and you could attempt to use the Necessity defense! :)
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From:mfeltes83
Date:September 1st, 2005 04:17 am (UTC)
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After all, who wants to be Inspector Javert?
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From:boannan
Date:September 1st, 2005 02:02 am (UTC)
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Honestly, I think the newscasters are just jonesing for a new sensationalist word to generate new headlines (looting! cholera!) as if it isn't horrifying enough _already_. And in this situation I am totally sympathetic to grabbing food and water when you can get it - I think people do it because they can't trust their government to solve the problem (whether that's rational or not)
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From:sueg
Date:September 1st, 2005 05:40 pm (UTC)
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I was thinking some similar things, but hadn't quite cobbled together my thoughts yet, but they were definitely along the lines of "...and they're supposed to get fresh food and drinks WHERE, after getting funds from WHAT CASH STATION?" Likewise, if a poor person's been wiped out by the flood they may not have insurace to cover their losses, whereas Best Buy probably will, don't you think? I could see where the survival instinct would kick in and taking some high-ticket goods would seem reasonable.
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From:arohanui
Date:September 12th, 2005 07:43 pm (UTC)
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This is a serious issue which you've described more eloquently than I ever could. I hope you don't mind that I've quoted this in my own journal. (Please let me know if you do, and I'll zap it.)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:September 12th, 2005 07:56 pm (UTC)
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No problem at all. I'm honored.
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