Houston is socially resilient. Texas’s culture may strike some as atavistic macho-cowboy silliness, but, as it turns out, when the water gets high you really want to have some atavistically macho cowboys around, particularly if they are in possession of the flat-bottomed boats favored by the justly celebrated “Cajun Navy.” The now-famous Houston Chronicle photo of a stoic-looking man wading through the flood waters while carrying an exhausted woman who is herself carrying a child is an iconic expression of certain realities that are not, whatever the voguish academic nonsense claims, “socially constructed.” Whatever the culture of Texas is, it is not a culture of helplessness. On Twitter, my friend Michael Berry, a former city councilman and current conservative talk-radio host, shared a picture of a long line of Houstonians waiting not for supplies or evacuation but for a chance to volunteer, to help those neighbors who cannot help themselves. Harris County has hundreds of volunteer sheriff’s deputies in its reserve patrol. These are not weekend warriors who are given a tin badge and a flare gun but men and women who have done the hard work of being graduated from the same law-enforcement academy professional police officers attend, at the end of which they receive not a salary and benefits but a fairly demanding volunteer schedule. The reserve has search-and-rescue teams as well as a marine patrol, both of which are very much needed at the moment. It is the second-largest reserve command of its kind, behind Los Angeles County’s.
That is not the sort of thing that happens overnight. That is the result of a real ethic of active citizenship’s interacting with local institutions that take generations to cultivate. Even amid all the suffering, a friend of mine jokes that Harvey looks like a conspiracy to make Texas look good.