Monday, October 06, 2008

On disasters in general, and the current disaster in particular

It was about a month ago that I spent a week watching as hurricane Ike rolled across the Gulf of Mexico and eventually took aim right at home. (No, Ike isn't the "current disaster"; the financial crisis is. I'll get there in a minute.) The news media was getting increasingly hysterical as the storm approached. I mean, if your average daily thunderstorm is Big News, and if O.J. Simpson merits a month of coverage, they have nowhere to go but off the scale whenever something important actually happens. So in the news media, fearmongering for profit as is customary at times like this, I even saw a headline that included the quote 'Evacuate or face certain death.' Now, not far from here down on the island where this quote may have applied, I think by the time the medical examiner released the counts, it was under 0.1% of the people who stayed who are known to have died. (While some are still missing, it too is a small portion of the people.) As they say one death is too many, of course, but "certain death" it was not. "Certain hardship", probably. "Certain disruption", no doubt. "Certain death?" Not really. The thing about all the overblown rhetoric is it got people so rattled that they risked panicking, and a panicked person is far more likely to do something stupid, or forget to do what they knew they should. A couple of the deaths during the storm were from people who had thought they would stay but then panicked and decided to evacuate during the storm. Bad idea, really, going out in weather like that, but panic will do strange things to your mind. If they hadn't decided they had to leave or die in the middle of the storm, those particular people probably would have survived.

The government declared the island uninhabitable while there was no electricity and no public water supply. No refrigeration, no air conditioning, only fire to cook on. Some of the old timers who had stayed just laughed: all our ancestors lived like this every day, they said. They were cooking outdoors and socializing and enjoying themselves, all in this "uninhabitable" place.

So about the current crisis -- and about any crisis in general. I'm not saying this isn't serious; time will tell. I'm saying that if it is serious, the last thing we want to do is get worked up about it. If the worst nightmare scenario comes true and western civilization falls, it's time to start a farm or an orchard or a biodiesel plant or something and rebuild. Take a few books -- and make sure some are just for fun. Take a musical instrument, maybe a few sheets of music, or maybe write a new song. In the ancient law of Israel, God commands more feasts than fasts. Celebration is not an optional part of life. Life is poorer without celebration than without an IRA. And the IRA never was the main thing to celebrate.

If things get shakier -- when things get shakier -- we need to be the steady ones for those around us. God is faithful. At the end of the day, that's enough for us.


Tony-Allen said...

You already know how I feel about media hype. I will say I share your same attitude. A lot of things I've become apathetic about not because I necessarily don't care, but because I've found, as you said, getting worked up about it within the first few minutes does absolutely nothing.

Weekend Fisher said...

I'm with you. This one does have the potential to be The Big Disaster that everyone has been waiting for. That would be the most visible time for us to be the light of the world -- when the lights go out.

Of course, that doesn't excuse us in the meantime. ;)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF