Houston, TX is a city of contradictions. It has both the most evangelical churches and strip clubs per square mile. It has the first openly Lesbian Mayor, and the most powerful right-wing State School School-board actively legislating today. There are eclectic neighborhoods, wealthy cultural elites, and poverty that does not discriminate. On the surface, it seems as if there is no logic to Houston’s largesse, but I would argue, that the individualism and heterogeneity is the logic – and it is something of which to be very wary.
Houston, TX is the home of “no zoning.” And it is the lack of zoning that insures the exhalation of private property – you can shoot someone who threatens your home/land with impunity here; the districting of schools is based on the desire for children to have local neighborhood schools; streets are flooded to insure that homes stay dry; and Ike is considered the most expensive hurricane in the last 50 years because of all the insurance claims on private property. Wendy Brown calls these examples of “economic rationality” which is central to neoliberalism. Yet, if we begin to press on the rationales presented, we begin to see that they are not merely based in economics, but are steeped in deeply raced, classed, and gendered ideologies which are presented in shifting rhetorical ways.
In this paper, I will used the aftermath of hurricane IKE (2008) to discuss both the obvious failings of de-regulation, but also how the city of Houston and its residents are so steeped in neoliberal ideology that they could not discuss those material realities. Instead, they fell back on rhetorical figures which are often used to mask and rally behind neoliberalism’s failings – that of the outsider and equality. Both rhetorical figures are mobilized as a way to culturally explain away the failings of neoliberalism without having to truly change the material circumstances that have failed. And, in IKE it was the de-regulation of the power companies that left the nation’s 5th largest city without power for nearly a month.