Wild fires

I’ve spent the past several days stunned by the size of the wildfires consuming much of California. I lived in San Diego during the last bout with disaster, in October 2003. This time, however, while a fewer number of houses have been consumed statewide, the concentration of buildings lost in the San Diego area is higher. The scale of the catastrophe is simply epic.

 I wrote about this for the Guardian online yesterday. In my article I talked about the human dimension of the fires — the lives lost (thankfully, to date, “only” a few), the property destroyed, the dreams contained within those houses burned, the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing walls of flame. I also said I had a feeling many readers would take it as an ill-founded opportunity to get in some jabs at America. Unfortunately I was right. Several of the comments from readers were not only crass but deeply, perplexingly offensive. Apparently in some circles, it’s a form of radical chic to glory in each and every calamity to strike not the abstract concept of “America” but the real lives of individual Americans. 

 To my mind there’s nothing progressive about such words or thoughts. This is stupidity, pure and simple. It’s hatred masquerading as profound politics. Social justice movements need to coalesce around ideas and communal visions, not around competitions as to who can say the nastiest, ugliest words about America and Americans.

My thoughts are with all of my friends in Southern California at the moment. I wish them well and I wish the firefighters and emergency crews tackling the blazes good fortune.

2 Comment(s)

  1. You should check out the NY Times editorial - The Fires This Time.


    The NYTimes seems to believe that the result of the fires is caused by the fact that we San Diegans actually build homes. It’s true that when fires are set in high winds the result is predictable.

    This is deeply offensive to a group of people who live in the middle of the Marines and Navy that are sent to revenge the human acts in New York.

    Perhaps New York shouldn’t build tall buildings in the way of those planes? When those humans fly those planes into those buildings, the results are predictable.

    WTF is the NY Times thinking?

    I guess we San Diegans don’t have the same right to live as New Yorkers.

    Cary.King@minervae.com | Oct 24, 2007 | Reply

  2. Cary,

    I’m not sure that’s what the New York Times editors were intending… But there is an issue here worth exploring: with very few exceptions, most inhabited spaces on earth are subject to natural disaster periodically, be it cyclone, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood or fire. The earth’s environment isn’t stable. Much of human history has, it seems to me, involved managing the risks inherent in our living situations.

    That said, poor urban planning in southern California may have exacerbated the risks faced by many. Yet even if that is true, that’s an argument for better planning, not for negating the suffering of those who lost houses during the fires.

    Sasha Abramsky.

    Sasha Abramsky | Oct 26, 2007 | Reply

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