I haven't seen the word "anarchy" in the papers so much since the days of the anti-globalization protests. New Orleans descended into it. Toronto Star reporters were caught in it. It even halted rescue efforts. If we're looking to blame abstract states of being for the aftermath in Louisiana let's start with inertia. As the true extent of the disaster became horrifyingly clear, President George W. Bush could be seen doing his best Nero impression, grinning and playing guitar for a photo op. Only after nearly a week did the feds give national Guard the go-ahead: and then only after giving Hallliburton a contract to repair army bases.
Sewage backups - of the sort that killed thousands of fish and may have permanently disrupted Morningside Creek in Scarborough just recently - are almost banal in New Orleans. Crude oil refinery leaks there are making the floodwaters a poisonous soup that, instead of being cleaned up, will be pumped into the Gulf. Of special concern is an underground toxic waste site inside the city. Before the flood, low-income housing projects mainly inhabited by blacks sat atop that site.
Most of the city's pale-skins were able to flee in private vehicles to other arrangements in what can only be described as a laissez-faire evacuation and the truest test of the American mass free-market system.
Far from being beset by anarchy, most of those left behind were victimized by its exact opposite - the rigid, entrenched hierarchy of the dollar, which has centralized control of land and lives over the years.
The violent results are what happens when people keep on trying to live by its rules in the vacuum left by its arbitrary withdrawal, like earthbound physics applied desperately by someone dropped on the moon.
Suddenly, those invisibly punished by bureacracy for decades are punished by bureacracy on national television. Police protecting grocery stores from those with no money seems absurd. Letting the rich make decisions for the poor seems obscene.
When applied to a disaster, the "I'm OK, you're OK" society that supposedly floats all boats becomes an "I'm OK, you're screwed" epitaph for the oppressed - and begs us to ask whether it was ever anything else.
An Army Times article out this week called New Orleans a "little Somalia" and referred to those left behind as "insurgents."
It all harkens back to a similar disaster in American history, the Mississippi flood of 1927, when, due to white landowners' fears, tens of thousands of black sharecroppers were left behind to starve on levees, and survivors were later forced into work gangs by the National Guard.
But that tragedy was also a turning point. The allegiance of the majority of America's black communities would switch from the Republican to the Democratic party, and the way Americans thought about social programs would change, setting the stage for the New Deal.
The emotional reality of the current disaster is settling in as slowly as the water is being pumped out, and while no one knows just what will be revealed when the floods finally clear, we may find a very different America.