Slate advice goddess Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, dispenses her wisdom in a weekly column on the news website and in a live weekly chat on the Washington Post website. In this week's chat, she gently scolds an advice seeker with some interesting opinions on Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. Under the pseudonym "No Sympathy," the person asks:
I recently caught my Sunday school class off-guard when Hurricane Katrina was brought up, AGAIN! (*Sigh*) I made it known that I have no sympathy for anyone that lost homes, lives, loved-ones, etc., when Hurricane Katrina hit. My reasoning: 99 percent of those people made a CHOICE to live in an area that they knew was prone to hurricanes. Therefore, it was my opinion that I shouldn't have to feel sorry for someone that made a mistake and chose to live in the wrong area of the United States. Does this make me a bad person?
I have my own answer for "No Sympathy," but I'll go ahead and let Prudence handle it:
Do you teach at the Ayn Rand "It's Your Own Fault" Sunday school? When you teach the story of the flood, you must disparage God for instructing Noah to save the living creatures of the earth—according to you they all deserved to drown. By your reasoning, anyone who lives someplace prone to natural disasters (earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards) should be left to their own devices when catastrophe hits. Perhaps you should instruct your students where the proper places to live are, since vast swaths of the earth put populations at risk. Maybe you want to open your home to the millions who must migrate if they follow your principles.
I'm assuming Katrina came up yet again because your students find your point of view morally indefensible. Good for them. Having such a discussion—and citing biblical texts to support various points of view—will make for a challenging, lively class. Although you are very certain about your lack of empathy for victims of the hurricane, I will leave unanswered your question as to whether you're a bad person. I just don't have enough information about you to draw such a sweeping conclusion.
You tell 'em, Prudie. Another participant in the chat also chimed in on "No Sympathy's" inquiry, restoring my faith in humanity:
As one of the people who made a mistake and lost my home and many good friends to Hurricane Katrina, I want to thank you for your answer to this woman. I'm sure that she has never eaten seafood, because it is harvested daily by people who make the terrible mistake of earning their living on the coastline of North America. I'm sure she has no sympathy for soldiers either, since they made a mistake in their choice of profession. Firefighters, policemen, doctors, nurses, etc. deserve no sympathy for any tragedy that befalls them if you follow her line of thinking. I hope she never makes a mistake and needs to ask for help to survive.