Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Paranoia on the LES

Last night I went with my friend Duncan to Bluestockings Bookstore on the LES. I had never been there before but it reminded me of a New York version of Citylights. They sell a lot of gender and queer theory literature and books on marginal topics that conglomerate booksellers like Borders probably wouldn’t carry. There was a group of three self-proclaimed anarchists doing a Power Point presentation on self-reliance and protecting yourself without government intervention in the event of a natural disaster. Some of the things they said made sense – with FEMA’s horrendous response to Hurricane Katrina, and the tornadoes in Greensburg, KS and the flooding in Iowa, it’s pretty clear that the government is relatively unprepared in terms of coping with a large scale natural disaster. In some ways it does seem sensible to prepare yourself, but mostly the whole thing just struck me as profoundly paranoid. Natural disasters are increasing – earthquakes that aren’t on fault lines, massive flooding, food shortages – but I mean, call me a crazy capitalist, but I have relative faith that the government will protect me in the event that one of these happens and dramatically affects me. Is that na├»ve? Does it come from a place of white privilege? I’m not sure. Maybe. Maybe the concept of distrusting the government makes me so fucking afraid that I don’t want to admit that everything is kind of fucked up. I mean, I’m obviously a staunch liberal, I hate George Bush, I think the response to Katrina was embarrassing and horrible and did have a lot to do with the fact that it was a concentration of poor minorities that the government kind of just ignored – but the idea that the government would leave me to die in a natural disaster is something I don’t even want to think about. I mean, I don’t even want to think about natural disasters.

So I guess I can’t blame these folks for wanting to be prepared. One of the speakers had scars on his neck from what looked to be a recent tracheotomy, so of course my novelist mind jumped to the conclusion that he was just recently victimized by an earthquake or hurricane, and the government didn’t come to his aid, so he felt the need to take matters into his own hands. It seemed more human that way. Plus, two of the three were in the city for 9/11 (which I was not), so I imagine that would kind of fuel the necessity for planning your own relief efforts.

But one thing that really got to me was the hypocrisy of some of their statements. They started off the discussion with the fact that George Bush and the GOP completely manipulated 9/11 to their advantage, bolstering approval ratings and using it to preemptively start a gratuitous war. Admittedly this pisses me off as much as the next person, but then later the trio discussed how, in the wake of a natural disaster, their group could use that time to start from scratch and rebuild a society with sustainable resources that would function in a better way than the one that came before it. Okay, fine, but that means they’re essentially doing the same thing Bush did after 9/11: manipulating a situation that leaves people inherently vulnerable in order to further their own political agenda. How can they call themselves anarchists and then reconcile modeling themselves after something the government did that most people agree was downright wrong? So I asked them this at the end of the presentation, and the general consensus was: “Well, we’d be using the situation for good, while the government uses it for bad/profit.” But I mean – that’s just semantics. Personal opinion. Not everyone thinks the government is evil, so depending on how you look at it, your agenda could be construed as wrong, too.

It was an eye-opening experience nonetheless, even if the room was stiflingly hot and the presentation ran on for way too long. I talked to one of the presenters afterwards, Dave from Kansas, who was cute and nice and only smirked a little bit when I mentioned I worked for the man at the NYU Alumni office. Honestly, the whole thing made me think about that Yahoo article about the world blowing up, and then I had to step outside for a cigarette to keep myself from hyperventilating. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. If this city gets hit by something horrific, I guess I’ll just roll with the punches.

Below are scans of the pamphlets they handed out. Try to ignore my chicken scratch:


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