Saturday, January 23, 2010

More on Catastrophes

Funny, the extent to which we're brainwashed, the extent to which we are, most of us, committed to being part of the herd, to looking to someone else, some supposedly expert person, to tell us how to think and what to do. (You’ve heard my views on experts before.)

When I was a young woman, I started opening taps in public bathrooms with my elbow. I'd seen how poor people's habits of hygiene were, and epidemics of this and that were beginning to move fiercely here and there. I thought it was a good idea, but was also secretly ashamed, having been made to feel foolish about my obsession with cleanliness when I was a child. I'd hardly have imagined that years later, I'd see this elbow routine recommended in pamphlets and books on hygiene, that, along with pushing doors open with your back and not putting your handbag on the bathroom floor, etc, etc. All of these were old habits for me but it would take the threat of vicious, swiftly speading viruses before their basic good sense would be evident.

We all believe there's nothing to be done about earthquakes. They arrive of their own volition and in their own intensities, and we can’t tell when they will come. I don't believe that. I've already said on this blog that if we keep pumping massive amounts of viscous matter (as in, oil and pitch) and natural gases out of the earth, we're removing cushions that the earth's mantle needs. It stands to reason – otherwise they wouldn't be there. It's the equivalent of saying we can take air out of our lungs, or water out of our bodies, and have it make no difference. But the earth isn't alive, is it? Or is it?

I've seen one article that suggests that the earthquake was caused (perhaps accidentally) by the massive manipulation of waves in the ionosphere, but I'm not going there till I find out whether it's from loonies, mischief makers or serious people. I think it's within the realm of possibility, and I'm as far from New Age as anybody could get. A bit of a conspiracy theorist maybe, but that's just because I believe Donne and "doubt wisely". I don't see why I should bow down and worship science and expertise that is demonstrably less scientific and expert as the days go by. Makes a lot more sense to me to worship an inscrutable God. At least he’s up front and says his ways are higher than mine and I’ll only start to figure him out after long study.

But we've been programmed remarkably well. We trust our banks and insurers to be reliable, our doctors to be skilled, and our levees to hold, until something disastrous happens. Consider, after all, how we've behaved since the economic collapse. Have people changed their banking habits, switched their business away from the Big Banks? Not that I've heard. Those very banks are making enormous profits once again. We know those experts are greedy robber barons who ruined – wait for it – the world economy, but we trust them with our hard earned pence anyway.

Consider that in 1975, E.B. White wrote an essay about how vulnerable the city of New York was to precisely the kind of attack that arrived in 2001. But E.B. White was a literary man, not an expert on war. What would he know?

So even if no one else is interested, I'll try to find out what the Chinese, and anyone else studying the matter, have discovered in their efforts to predict earthquakes. The devastation in Haiti would have occurred to no purpose if we, in Haiti and elsewhere, don't try to learn all the lessons it can teach us. There are obvious ones about helping one another, building homes and offices better, the importance of re-forestation, and so on, and there are less obvious ones about, say, how to move with dispatch when catastrophes happen. Why, for instance, is aid getting to Haitians so slowly? There was an interesting sermon at mass this week about how good Jesus was at crowd control. The people were pressing in on him, so he got in a boat and put out to sea and preached from there. No danger then, of people crushing one another in their rush to get close to him. Similarly, he sat people down before he fed them and distributed the food so they all got. Maybe we should check with him?

We’ve learned from recent tsunami events and there’s now a warning system that’s been proved to work. I think there are efforts we can make to at least foresee when earthquakes might happen, and so prevent the kind of massive loss of life and wholesale devastation that's occurred in Haiti. Selah!

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