"The biggest thing we learned from the disaster is that we don't learn from disasters," Marty Harbibi pontificated from his safe and comfortable seat at the big round table at Hardyville's Hog Trough Grill and Feed.
He was talking, of course, about the catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. The media may have treated Rita as if it were an itty-bitty catastrophette, but in fact it was a pretty damned nasty storm with a bureaucratic aftermath as botched as Katrina's. (It's just that the media doesn't consider anything a disaster unless it hits a major city.)
"Naw," Nat disagreed, washing down a mouthful of grits with something vaguely resembling coffee. "The biggest thing we learned was that the bes' laid plans can get laid real flat, real fast. Year's food ain't much use if it's underwater."
"Nope." Carty shook his big, shaved head. "The biggest thing we learned is that just havin' a gun is a good looter repellent."
"We learned that neighborhoods and communities can cooperate, even in the worst circumstances," Dora-the-Yalie added. "And they usually do. That was one very big lesson that too many journalists downplayed. They were too busy reporting gory rumors."
"You're all wrong," I said. "The biggest lesson we learned is that you can't trust the government."
A thick silence fell as everyone in the whole restaurant turned to stare at me unbelievingly. I sat there. They sat there. You could have heard a FEMA executive's credibility drop.
"Oh," I blushed. "I guess we already knew that, didn't we?
"Um, well," I added, trying to cover my folly, "I learned that it might be a good idea to add four more days food and water to my bug-out bag."
"You want to know the main thing we learned? Really?" Bob-the-Nerd asked. "We learned how to improve the gene pool."
"Huh?" went the general opinion around the big table at the Hog Trough.
"That's right," Bob repeated. "How to improve the gene pool."
"And how do we do that?" Marty demanded.
"'We' don't," Bob shrugged. "But in every disaster, a few of the dumbest eliminate themselves from the great natural competition to contribute to the future of the human race. You, too, can commit 'suicide by Mother Nature.'"
"Wait a minute," Dora objected. "You can't blame everyone who died in those storms. That's heartless!"
"I'm not blaming anyone," Bob shrugged. "I'm just saying that some people die, or risk death, more by their own fault than by Mother Nature's. Let's see," he continued, starting to tick items off on his fingers.
"Live in a dangerous place and don't take any responsibility for your choices for starters. You know ... Live in a flood zone and act like nobody knows the place can flood. Live in an earthquake zone and don't bother finding out how to shut off the gas. Live in a winter storm zone and don't have alternate heat.
"Don't have a bug-out bag. Don't have an emergency plan. If you have to evacuate, dash out of your house carrying mattresses, 18 specialized pots and pans, and your TV set. But leave your food, water, and prescription meds behind. Remember: Someone else will always take care of you!
"Disarm yourself. It'll save the government or looters from having to bother. Don't be like that silly neighborhood group that made distribution of guns and ammo a priority.
"If the power goes out, use a generator or charcoal burner indoors. That's a good one for wiping out entire generations of dumb genes." Bob paused a moment to consider.
I jumped in. "Always trust your government. When it tells you it's prepared to handle every emergency, you can be sure you don't need to take care of yourself. And you also won't have to band together to work with those untrustworthy, selfish neighbors. Just wait for FEMA or the National Guard. Hundreds did and ended up swimming in something other than the gene pool."
"Be sure to let everyone -- especially the government! -- know you have lots of supplies on hand," Carty added.
"If you get advance word of disaster, be sure to evacuate," Marty snorted, "even if you're on high ground or otherwise out of the path of danger. Your neighbors are doing it! It must be the thing to do."
"Wait a minute," Bob said, taking the high ground again. "Refuse to evacuate, even if you're on low ground or otherwise right in the path of danger. That's a better way to improve the gene pool."
"But some people had good reason for refusing to leave home," Dora objected. "They were old. Or they wouldn't leave their pets. Or they wanted to protect their property. Some of them were just self-guided individualists of the sort you usually praise. They weren't necessarily stupid."
"It's a crime that most shelters won't take pets," I growled. "It's different in some other countries that are more animal-friendly. Nobody's getting me to leave the dogs behind, ever. If that makes me unfit to swim in the gene pool, so be it."
"Okay, okay," Bob agreed, "The evacuation thing is a tricky issue. But I bet we'd all agree on this one: Always trust your government. When it orders you to give up all your preparations and leave your well-stocked home, you can be sure you're going to a nice, safe, comfortable well-stocked shelter where you'll be taken good care of."
"Always trust your gummint," Nat added, pausing over the grits. "They're a fine buncha cooprative, reasonable, selfless public servants that only want what's best for you. They know more than locals do about rescuing people. But they still welcome ever'body who c'n help."
Carty snorted. "How 'bout this one? Whine about how no one's doin' enough for you, even after you're safe and sound. If a volunteer doctor in a shelter prescribes generic medicine for you, accuse him of not thinkin' you're important enough for brand-name meds. You've heard all your life that you're 'entitled' to womb-to-tomb care at everybody else's expense. Now the media is watching. So shout for your 'entitlements,' baby!"
"Yeah, but how does that improve the gene pool?" Marty scoffed. "Seems like them kind of attitudes just breed more dumbasses and politicians. Or do I repeat myself?"
"Ya gotta look at the big picture," Carty explained. "Creatin' more dumbasses and politicians screws up the gene pool in the short term, yeah. But then your civilization collapses 'cause of being weighted down by idiots and eventually the survivors have to get smarter to stay alive."
Most of us laughed. But not Dora.
"That is so Darwinian!" she objected hotly. "This whole discussion is ... just so primitive. And judgmental. And racist."
"Racist?" half the people at the big table chorused. "This has nothing to do with race. People of all races did smart things and took care of each other all over the Gulf Coast. And no color or creed has a monopoly on acting stupid. Some rich white people in Washington, DC, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana acted as stupid as anybody else. Unfortunately, their genes are still in the pool."
"And judgmental?" Carty asked. "Honey, nature makes the judgments. Always will, no matter how many promises big government makes to protect every single body from every single thing. All we're doing is the after-action commentary."
Dora wasn't buying it. She drew back in her chair, red-faced and glaring steamily at us savages. "This whole conversation is cold," she sniffed. "Cruel. Don't you have any sympathy?"
"Sure," Carty shrugged, "for the people who did their best and got hurt anyway. For people who lost their livings in the storms. For little boys who had their pets yanked out of their arms by government thugs. For tough men and women who got dragged out of homes they were tryin' to protect. It happens. But why should anybody have sympathy for people who think they can ignore reality -- then demand that others pay the consequences?"
Dora turned her head away, still furious.
"Well, maybe here's one you can agree with, Dora," Bob-the-peacemaker offered. "One way to really clean out the gene pool by the thousands, even millions, is: Always trust your government. When the president himself says the military should take the lead in future disasters and never mind that old Posse Comitatus business, just think how lucky you are. They'll bring you long life, military efficiency, a helpful attitude, and freedom, just like in Iraq.
"And don't forget," Bob concluded, "Always trust your government ... to do what governments do."
Experience the exciting new novel by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman: RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone. It's the story of one boy's dangerous quest to fulfill his dreams in a world where dreams are dulled with prescription drugs and everything, everyone, everywhere, is watched and controlled. First four chapters and reader reviews are online.