In her essay, “The Uses of Disaster”, Rebecca Solnit extensively outlines the degree to which people respond positively and admirably to disasters. She asserts that catastrophic events have the capacity to unify the populace, inspire civility, and bring about “good sense”. While she points to multiple examples and quotes credible sources, I believe that she presents too narrow a view of disasters and expresses too much faith in people.
However, I do not mean to say that Solnit ignored the truth. In fact, the major example that serves to disprove her thesis had not even happened at the time that her essay was published. So it is through a more-informed lens that I consider and reject her findings. Surely one can point to disasters such as earthquakes and terrorist attacks and find instances of “solidarity” eclipsing suffering. But while this result is evident in these less significant events, it is virtually non-existent in the greatest disaster of modern times, the Bush administration.
You can say what you want about how ‘compassionate’ his conservatism was, but you simply cannot deny that the indisputable peace and prosperity that he inherited slowly but surely evaporated over the past eight years. As a matter of fact, ‘slowly but surely’ is an inaccurate characterization of two terms that undid decades worth of American good. The dishonesty, corruption, profiteering, negligence, greed, irresponsibility, hubris, and ignorance so prevalent under Bush and Cheney was of catastrophic proportions and led to the political, economic, and social disaster we are currently living through.
Between the global financial crisis, the multiple unwinnable wars in which we are engaged, our tarnished international reputation, and a plethora of other fiascos, this is undeniably a disaster. Yet while the problem “is clearly identifiable”, why isn’t the “necessary response”? Why doesn’t America seem “peculiarly hopeful”?
The fact is, disasters of this extent transcend the relatively temporary glitches in every day life that are earthquakes and hijackers. Perhaps if the problem could be solved overnight, people would put on a happy face and pretend to feel selfless for twenty-four hours. But that would only be an act. Look around today and see the panic in peoples’ eyes. Look at “tea parties” and then decide if, in disasters, people rarely “stampede”, as Solnit claimed.
Try to claim that, in disasters, people do not “engage in…acts of opportunism” as Glenn Beck makes millions off of books and rhetorical diatribes that do nothing more than arouse the most spiteful sentiment in citizens in their most volatile, fearful, and impressionable state. Or try to claim that, in disasters, “citizens begin to demand justice, accountability, and respect” when the body politic is too disorganized, discouraged, and debilitated to pursue the prosecution of senior members of an administration that ordered the violation of both domestic and international laws forbidding torture. Consider the findings of sociologist, Charles Fritz, who asserts that “large scale disasters produce…mentally healthy conditions”  along side the opposing findings that correlate rising suicide rates with the economic crisis which Bush ushered in, unregulated .
As much as it might hurt us to admit it, the “Hobbesian true human nature” in which “people trample one another to flee, or loot and pillage, or they haplessly await rescue” referred to by Solnit is the reality we face today. Rather than disaster disrupting “self-absorption”, our politics have become increasingly partisan. If disaster “speeds the process of decision making” then why are we still without a plan to repair our broken healthcare system? And if disaster “facilitates the acceptance of change”  then why does a bigot like Rush Limbaugh, who hopes our first African-American president fails, have more than twenty-million listeners a week ?
The political landscape is more divided than ever. Fear and anger appear to play a role in the formation of every opinion, the expression of every idea, and the consideration of every course of action. We are perhaps less united than we have ever been and there is no sign that either side is prepared to change this. Unlike the examples discussed by Solnit, it seems that this disaster did not bring out the best in us. In a New York City electrical blackout, one might offer a stranger a helping hand. But in our current disaster driven by hate, dissent, and irrationality, we’re probably more likely to deny strangers of our charity, or to frown upon them for being too gay, or too uppity, or too Muslim-looking, or to send them off to the middle east to die in a war that was never worth fighting.
Of course, George W. Bush is not entirely to blame for the hostile environment that America has become. While he caused the disaster, the cause for our collective response must be attributed to the “Hobbesian true human nature” mentioned by Solnit. Human beings react selfishly and out of fear. Perhaps this disaster is America’s state of nature. Witness the war of all against all.
 Charles Fritz, as quoted by Rebecca Solnit
 “Economic crisis pushing more people to the brink – Health – SignOnSanDiego.com.” SignOnSanDiego.com | The San Diego Union-Tribune | San Diego news, California and national news. Web. 15 Dec. 2009. <http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/mar/02/1n2mental214548-economic-crisis-pushing-more-peopl/>.
 See 
 “Rush Limbaugh Signs $400 Million Radio Deal – washingtonpost.com.”
Washingtonpost.com – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. Web. 15 Dec. 2009.
 All other quoted phrases: Solnit, Rebecca. “The Uses of Disaster”