It is heartbreaking to watch the devastating images and read the news about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But along with reports and pictures of leveled properties, flooded streets and grief-stricken citizens, come the stories of social chaos that make it quite obvious that some people’s civility got blown away by the hurricane force winds.
After a natural disaster, there are some who seem to think that the laws of the land are put on temporary hold and they take to the streets to steal. Looters ransacked commercial establishments and residences, taking everything from electronics and clothing to prescription drugs, some of them even boasting about their loot on Twitter. And looting hasn’t been the only manifestation of social unrest
Tempers are flaring at the gas pump because of the long wait and gas shortages and fights have broken out because of people cutting ahead in line. Others are complaining about the slow response by authorities to supply food and restore power. Some people fail to realize that the authorities and volunteers work around the clock after these disasters to provide relief but when there’s extensive damage, it slows everything down.
Very few cases of looting involve stealing food and other essential items, which are made available to citizens through relief efforts; they don’t stem from the primal instinct of survival that would drive us do anything to protect and provide for ourselves and our family. They most commonly involve opportunistic individuals who take advantage of a chaotic situation and steal things just because they want them and not because they need them to survive.
This behavior comes from a sense of entitlement and is sometimes justified as sticking it to the man. According to an article in the Daily News, a young man, who identified himself as Jesse James, took a TV from a Rent-A-Center and claimed: “Look, they’ve been looting our wallets for too long, it’s about time we start taking this sh— back.” The short fuses at the gas pump and lines for supplies also stem from this sense of entitlement and America’s individualistic and instant gratification culture where people want their needs met right now. Going without modern conveniences, even for a short period of time, brings out the worst in some people.
For an interesting case of social order after a natural disaster in recent history, consider the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March, 2011, wiping out entire communities, claiming close to 16,000 lives and causing a nuclear crisis. Zero warning and no time to flee to safety of gather supplies. Yet the Japanese people displayed impeccable behavior and social order in the face of adversity thanks to their incredible sense of community and respect for one another. No looting, no riots, no whining. I can’t honestly say that would be the case in the United States if something of that magnitude happened here.
While power is reestablished, fuel and supplies are replenished, and neighborhoods are rebuilt, everyone should focus on how fortunate we are to live in a country with so many resources. People need to obey the law and work patiently together to get life back to normal. In the end, the only real tragedy here is the loss of life. Everything else can and will be replaced.