In the wake of Katrina's visit to South Florida last week, I saw little hints of lawlessness in the hours immediately following the storm. Every 30 seconds or so at major intersections where there were no signals (which by law are supposed to be treated as four-way stops), someone (usually in a pickup truck) would simply barrel through the intersection without stopping, honking and obscenely gesturing at anyone who protested. Several scam artists dressed as Florida Power and Light employees have talked their way into homes to steal items. People raced to Home Depot to beat their neighbors in the rush for generators.
All of this is minor compared to what's happening in New Orleans right now. The damage to The Big Easy from Katrina was much more serious, widespread, and long-lasting than what we experienced here. And the looting and pillaging is spreading. People are stealing diapers and food--and shoes, and cars, and television sets. And they're shooting cops.
Often we hear people proclaiming their "faith in human nature" and in "the basic goodness of mankind." So why is it that in the sudden absence of enforced law, we see society almost immediately deteriorate? Why is it--if mankind is basically good--that instead of seeing humanity rise up in a time of crisis and become better behaved, pulling together for the common good, we see it degenerate into a state of anarchy? Who among those who pay such lyrical homage to human nature, if they were to be honest with themselves, truly feels safer during a time of lawlessness when human nature is left to its own devices? Who believes at such a time that most, or even a few people altruistically have your best interests at heart?
The truth, of course, is that the notion of "the basic goodness of mankind" is a humanistic lie that has fueled many of the world's greatest atrocities, from the French Revolution to the Russian gulags to the Chinese slaughter of tens of millions to the Cambodian killing fields. We intrinsically know the real truth, that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked..." (Jeremiah 17:9), but we suppress it, choosing to ignore the obvious in favor of a dangerous utopian fantasy.
If, Heaven help us, the terrorists ever succeed in shutting down the power in this country for more than two days, it will become Lord of the Flies. They know it, you know it, and I know it. And it won't be because of mankind's essential goodness.