The Shame of New Orleans

Carl H. Flygt

September 2005


The thin veneer of civilization has been momentarily rent by recent events in New Orleans. How humiliating for America, which probably expected the good people of Louisiana to rise to the occasion of a powerful hurricane with mutual aid, trust and solidarity, much as New Yorkers did after nine-eleven. How damning of the intentions and the moral posture of the Bush administration, which recently took it on to export at gunpoint a progressive Western social system to the Cradle of Civilization. How peculiar of a local government to place tens of thousands of frightened, traumatized and under-resourceful people in a couple of large public buildings for several days with no instructions, no authorities and no provisions for safety or hygiene. And how hopelessly warped of the deprived and childish minds of those at society’s margins to turn to looting, to vandalism and to assault and worse when the threat of forceful redress appeared to have ebbed far away. Something is wrong in America, and now everyone, literally everyone, knows there is.


None of this is to gainsay what is manifestly right with America – her Federal democracy, her decent and largely progressive values, her freedoms of opportunity, association and speech, her separation of governmental powers, her equality under the law. It is just that we who live here seem to have left something out of the lives we lead, something we seem helpless to recover in a systematic way, but something that will be gestured at by others until today’s circumstances seem to be a piece of primitive history, and part of a time as unrecoverable by the citizens of the future as the days of Athens and Sparta are for us. That something, of course, is spiritual solidarity, a real unity of experience and consciousness among the human community, such that the pleasures and pains of the social organism are felt by the whole, by the unified field, and not merely by the hand, the head or the invisible foot.


I think it will probably take about a thousand years for the kind of social solidarity that would satisfy the Muslim or the Hindu to emerge fully on American terms and on American soil. We are too materially sophisticated and diverse for the cosmic spirits behind world evolution to begin weaving themselves transparently and intelligibly into the etheric fabric of our lives. An objective and workable theory of conversation, which would be a gigantic step in the right direction, has moreover only recently been proposed. In the meantime, we’ll need more prosaic sociological explanations and remedies for what has happened in New Orleans, and for what is happening all the time anyway in America and most of the progressive parts of the world.


George W. Bush is no racist, and to think that he is is silly and unreflective. What he is, however, is classist. He believes in the values and the successes of those with material freedom, sensibly regulated. Those without such freedom do not interest him much. Investing capital in them makes little sense to someone like him, because such people are by and large incompetent to add value to it, to profit and thereby to lift themselves beyond their current lot. In a way, it makes sense to allow the sea walls of New Orleans to decay, the waters simply to wash the people away and to start the City over, if at all. Exceptional individuals among them, of course, will always remain free to lift themselves up and into the halcyon company of the affluent classes. Otherwise and in general, if such people seem happy to be where they are, and no steep political costs are incurred, we can usually allow whatever comes down to come down, and ourselves to look the other way. The cause of the misery of the poor folks of New Orleans, given the progressive system of class and economy in contemporary America, is their own state of consciousness.


What is this state of consciousness? I think we will eventually accept, especially after the advent of my theory of conversation, that it is their ungrammaticality. It is well-known in philosophy, if not always well-understood, that states of intentionality directly reflect the grammar of their contents. Human intentionality, and even human consciousness, is grammar. Thought and will hook on to the world, and become thereby effective or ineffective, by means of grammar. And the American negro and the poor Southern white, whose histories and cultures are intertwined, have long been authors of some of the most atrocious English grammar ever devised.


The implications here are deep, because the grammatical theory of consciousness implicates all of us, not just the undereducated black, Latino or white. Consciousness itself is a work of words, and the more exactly those words are used, the more exact and exalted consciousness can be. To be sure, there are further conditions on such exaltation, such as an objective knowledge of the human energy system. But if we can allow ourselves to take seriously the karmic power of the grammatical attitude, and apply that to the possibility of well-formed conversation, we will find ourselves in a position to uplift even the least among us, and to bring them into an etheric bond that completely transcends the ties of blood and tribal memory, and reflects instead the logos of the World Spirit, the solidarity of universal brotherhood and the Idea of freedom.