By The Digger
Do Hurricane Sandy survivors tell the American Story? I believe the answer is both yes and no. In defense of the yes answer, I believe that these “survivors” illustrate just how deranged our language has become with its descriptors. In defense of the answer no, I believe that many of us are still just tethered enough to reality to recognize that we are observing bullshit disguised as a lexicon of victimization.
Check out this story about two “survivors” of Hurricane Sandy, and ask yourself if you would want to be mentioned as a “survivor” in the context that Joe Frystock and his son Matthew find themselves mentioned.
First, I offer full disclosure. I am a “survivor” of multiple hurricanes. The first memorable brush I experienced with counter clockwise cyclonic devastation was Hurricane Elena in the 1980’s. I was forced to spend the night in an evacuation shelter on the campus of the University of South Florida. My neighborhood emerged from the night with minimal damage thanks to Elena charting a more preferred course of obliterating Louisiana. Note to casual observers: strong anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that Louisiana is a terrible place to remain when a major hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico.
If you see this on your local weather forecast you should definitely haul ass in the other direction.
My second memorable engagement was with Hurricane Georges in 1998. That storm caused me to suffer. I was living in Isabella, Puerto Rico at the time. My little cottage was on a hillside, only fifty paces from a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I had a mango tree, 2 coconut palms and an avocado tree in my yard, as well as a majestic flamboyant tree to frame my idyllic little slice of heaven.
Alas my tree!
The storm windows were fine against coconuts travelling at eighty or ninety miles per hour at short distances, and the husks around the windward windows the next day bore testimony to the truth in that advertising. Those same windows on the leeward side were no match for the roof of my neighbor’s gazebo, which became a fixture of my bedroom during what appeared to be the work of a tornado. My flamboyant tree was destroyed. The place had gone from my refuge of rest to a post apocalyptic vision of Caribbean living.
A year and a half later, I was living on another island working at a job that, as it turns out, remains categorized as the best paying job I have ever landed. Ironically, it was a job in the non-profit sector. More than surviving, I had learned the art of thriving. I believe that happened because I didn’t have other acceptable options, and it turns out that disaster creates a thriving sector in society.
“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” – Alexis de Tocqueville
I don’t know anything about Joe and Matthew Frystock, except that they are prominently mentioned as “survivors” of Hurricane Sandy who were living in a motel almost a year and a half after the storm had passed, and as a result of their FEMA benefits expiring. FEMA benefits? I’d never known such a thing existed when I was air drying my bed on the porch after it had become waterlogged. I only knew I needed to borrow a friend’s hammock to prevent me having to sleep with the centipedes.
At this point, many would assume that I am preparing a tirade on the narcissism that a person exhibits when leading with a label like “victim” or “survivor.” I have no way to judge the character of Joe or Matthew along those lines, other than that they are listed in the newspaper as Hurricane Sandy survivors. If they’re comfortable with those labels, I feel great sympathy for them because they not only lost their house; they lost the human dignity that is requisite to recover from tragedy. I didn’t get a new house and job because I was a paragon of virtue; I got them because the idea of being a bum was so frightening to me that I couldn’t bear it. I acted through fear, not fortitude, and was able to keep my dignity intact.
Conspiracy Alert: What follows is a conspiracy theory. The lexicon of victimization was created by a thriving industry that NEEDS victims. Non-profits can be profitable enterprises that pay people on par with the profit earning sector. Getting a job in the non-profit sector used to mean that a person was forgoing the wages and prestige of the business world to make a difference. Now, backed by grants from both the public and private sector, many of these organizations and agencies pay on par with comparable work in the for-profit world.
The government loves the non-profit sector. That’s an industry that exists at the leisure of its funding sources, and the government is happy to pump money taken under duress from private companies and individuals to keep those funding levels high. The non-profits also provide another layer of liability and “deniability” protection for the government that funds them.
The non-profits need victims to exist. In a better world, non-profits would have less people to feed, clothe, retrain in new jobs and the list could stretch for paragraphs. Basic human nature is to seek the easiest route to comfort. Why on earth would I go to work every day if I could sit at home and collect food, money and all of life’s other necessities at little or no cost other than wearing a label? Make me a victim, help me to believe that I am enough for my conscience to be soothed, and then give me basic needs and I might be tempted to wear that label proudly. That’s what non-profits are happy to do.
I believe that a conspiracy to create victims is the reason we have so goddamned many of them now. Those victims feed an industry. According to the Urban Institute, “The growth rate of the nonprofit sector has surpassed the rate of both the business and government sectors.” (See the report here.) Sure, some victims are narcissistic parasites who thrive on the attention their “victimization” draws.
But many “victims” and “survivors” are nothing more than statistical reference points in a grant cycle. They feed an industry that siphons money away from actual production and growth, and re-channels it into an industry that serves at the leisure of a small and privileged class that enjoys playing god with society. And that’s bullshit.