Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Thing About Tracking Disasters and Staying Calm.

Yes, I like disasters, and probably do a lot of other people.

I totally understand the weird looks people give me when I tell them, "hey, I just like tracking and staying informed about disasters, okay?" Then I sometimes notice their eyes on me get just a little bit narrower as the words "disaster fetishist" form in their minds. The conversation usually ends up with me having to catch my words before I go on too long of a spiel about the Wuhan Coronavirus when my acquaintance just wants to talk about something less ominous, family and hobbies and what-are-your-plans-this-weekend, that kind of stuff.

There's definitely a market for the mass consumption of disaster scenarios out there. People like going to cinemas, spending money on tickets, drinks and popcorn, and watching a multi-hour experience of the world falling apart around them. Just in recent memory, we've had movies like 2012, Cloverfield, Oblivion, and I am Legend, along with a spate of other similar films with apocalyptic premises getting good results at the box office. Even disaster films that have taken some liberties with on-screen effects like The Day After Tomorrow (race into the library before the cold snap gets to the door like you're trying to outrun a rolling boulder!) made money. 

Get to the Library before the cold gets there!
So no, it's not just me that likes disasters; I think there's a healthy number of Americans in general that love the thought of them, too. 

How to Disaster Fetish Responsibly

I think the only way to Disaster Fetish responsibly is to understand that the people who are being directly affected do not want to hear you preaching about it! If I'm holed up in the middle of Wuhan, worrying about if the government's reporting accurate flu case numbers, if the city's transport ban could affect groceries and supplies and resources coming into the city, or whether or not to risk getting pay docked and staying home or still going to work but possibly getting infected, I definitely don't need to have some rubberneckers tweeting at me and yelling "this is your fault for eating bats." 

Nobody wants to be smugly pointed out what's wrong with them when calamity is directly over their heads. I usually stay away, speculate around the development of a specific disaster, and donate to proven, responsible causes for recovery and first aid. Better that than to do nothing but play Monday-morning quarterback. 

But I'm still a disaster fetishist! I like speculating about them, following their latest developments, and trying to see what humanity's responses to them are. I think deep down in the strands of DNA our ancestors passed down to us, two things in particular make up disaster fetishists:
  • The idea that a "disaster" would allow us to live closer to our roots. Like Robinson Crusoe-style making huts out of palm trees and being self-sufficient with fishing nets and electronics-free living. I'm not an anthropologist, but I think that we are evolved opposable thumbs from apes so that we could best take advantage of them, craft tools and make something. Maybe when we are looking at a disaster, something in the back of our minds go "time to make something!" and we get excited at the idea of putting our hands to work.

I also happen to enjoy Primitive Technology, the guy makes a hut from wood and clay and his hands and every other Youtube comment is a joke about how this person would be the most useful in an apocalypse.

  • The crab mentality where I don't feel that I'm doing as well as other people. So my psyche gets comforted when I see other people being "pulled down." Kind of like a student who regularly gets an F being a little giddy to see the class ace uncharacteristically getting a C. I might not be fulfilled in my every-day living, but at least I don't live in Japan when that volcano suddenly blew up. 
 Both bullet points are reasons I think people enjoy following disasters, but I want to promote the first and dissuade the second in my blog. Yes, I understand that I'm still reading them up and writing about them and speculating about them, but I don't want to let it consume me and pull me into a negativity spiral because disasters themselves are almost by definition, miserable events. I want to be happy and fulfilled, and I want my readers to be happy and fulfilled. 

Maybe the thought of disasters attract a lot of people who may already have some negativity in their lives because of the old adage "Misery Loves Company," but I know that if disasters and catastrophes are all that I think about every day, that's not going to do good things to my mental health.  

So this brings me to what I want to write about for my blog: definitely things about disasters, pandemics, futurology, the singularity, climate change, and all that good stuff. But I also want to sometimes talk about how to stay informed but not panicked, staying zen, and keeping a cool head when everything seems to be falling around us. I promise to keep the fear-mongering to a minimum, and bring rational, thoughtful discussions despite my ominous-sounding URL. Stay tuned!

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