Why Aren’t We Panicking?
Doing “normal” things in the face of the intolerable isn’t courage — it’s catatonia; and with every passing day, I become more and more perplexed by our lack of reaction to conditions that should legitimately provoke a response — any response at all. We stay home when we have the sniffles, and yet we are dutifully showing up to school and work and otherwise going about our “normal” lives when far worse things than a head cold are happening all around us all the time.
Consider what’s happening and how we are reacting:
- A gunman killed 21 people in a school on Tuesday. The following day, students at 200 schools walked out at noon, which might seem like something, until you look it up and confirm that there are 90,000 schools in the US, meaning students at less than a quarter of 1% of schools protested. The fact that students were even there to walk out shows that pretty much every parent in the US sent their kids to school the day after the second worst school shooting in US history, and those kids obediently went, even though there is nothing — absolutely nothing — to prevent them from being subject to the exact same form of violence.
- The West is running dry. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at some of their lowest levels ever recorded (especially for so early in the year), and yet California water usage in cities was up 19% in March. Let that sink in — people in Southern California are living through one of the worst water crises in recorded history, and they’re doing less than nothing about it.
- COVID test positivity rates are around 11%, the third highest rate since testing became routine; and yet people are flying around the country at rates just 10% off of 2019 highs. Public health measures related to masking or other curbs on things like indoor dining are all but non-existent.
- Half of the US is experiencing unprecedentedly high temperatures for this time of the year, less than a year removed from a heat dome that shattered temperature records in the other half of the US and Canada. India and Pakistan just baked under unlivable heat. I can’t concisely summarize all of the behaviors we aren’t changing in response to this, but one telling stat: daily worldwide demand for crude oil is almost back to the levels of 2019, which marked a record high after 11 straight years of increases.
The way we’re behaving only makes sense if you believe that upsetting the petroleum-based economy and disturbing our own ability to pursue the transient pleasures it provides constitute a greater risk than dehydration, heat stroke, and eventually, mass starvation. Within the US, our behavior only makes sense if you believe that preserving the theoretical safety of being a “good guy with a gun” is worth the actual observed risk of letting anyone, including all the “bad guys” (who — funny thing — look pretty much the same as the “good guys with a gun” to me), buy guns whenever they want.
It is a hurricane of awfulness. If it were an actual hurricane, we would stay home in order to board up the windows and ride out the storm. In the face of chronic threats we can’t do anything about, stoic perseverance is admirable. In the face of problems we ourselves caused, it is insanity.
As a start, maybe for just one day, we should all stay home. The next time someone guns down 19 kids in an elementary school or 10 shoppers in a grocery store or the next time the temperature in the pines of a BC town reaches 121 degrees and then the town burns to the ground the very next day, we all just stop for one day to say: this is an emergency; things are not okay.
As the Boomtown Rats once sang…
The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload
And nobody’s gonna go to school today
She’s gonna make them stay at home
We’ve come a long way since 1979, all of it at 1000mph, in reverse.