Yesterday on my way to work I was listening, as is often the case, to the BBC World Service NewsHour program on my local NPR station, and one segment in particular caught my ear. They were discussing the aftermath of the Chile earthquake, including President Bachelet sending thousands of troops into Concepción to “restore order.” Starting at minute 39, presenter Robin Lustig talks with Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology, about “the morality of looting.”
What struck me about this was Lustig’s dogged insistence on established narrative — people who take food and supplies from stores in the aftermath of a disaster are “looters,” selfish criminals out for their own benefit who don’t care about anyone else; post-disaster urban areas (especially those populated by non-white people) devolve into Hobbesian nightmares; it’s correct for governments’ primary response to be “restoring order” by sending in police or troops — in the face of Furedi’s patient explanation that the evidence doesn’t support that narrative. People act more altruistically after a disaster, crime rates are lower, and those who “loot” food and supplies tend to then distribute them among the population. But Lustig would be damned if he’d let silly little things like facts interfere with the preferred story.