The Veneer of Civilization-Shoots from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii – Sept. 6, 2005

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The events in New Orleans came as a total surprise to most people, especially the violence and looting that followed the advent of the original disaster. There should have been no surprise though because such results were predictable as the sun coming up in the morning.

Civilization is, in fact, a delicate creation. We take it for granted because we are surrounded by it most of the time and therefore think it is on a firmer foundation that it really is. But we have had numerous examples that civil behavior flees at the earliest opportunity. With dismaying frequency many of our cities have degenerated into centers of violence, mayhem and looting in the last 50 years or so.


The implied social contract that makes modern society possible takes the willing cooperation of the substantial majority of its members as a given. It is only by a vastly greater portion of the populace tacitly agreeing to cooperate and live by the rules of a civil society that civilization as we know it can exist. If something disrupts the means of maintaining that cooperation required by the majority, such as a natural disaster, then chaos often quickly reins.

The infrastructure that makes modern life possible has become precariously perched on very many things that are so commonplace we fail to take in their importance in maintaining a civil society. Running water, electricity, highways and roadways, cell phones and other forms of instant communication, all which failed in the face of such a tremendous disaster. Once those that don