Disaster as a Way of Life


Wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc are generally natural occurrences. We term these “disasters” in the context of their effects our lives. They destroy our homes.

We are never really quite prepared for these events, even when we know that they will eventually occur. It is hard for us to mentally conceive of events that could completely level all the structures that give us our daily existence. We like to think that it will not happen to us. It happens to people in other parts of the world, and we watch it on the news.

The tragedy, it seems to me, does not lie simply in the devastation of homes and personal possessions, although of course these are tragic to us when we are personally involved. The greater tragedy is that our lives have not been structured to accommodate natural cycles of destruction and renewal. Our lives have been formed on stasis, on day by day continuance of normalcy and homogeny. We build homes which are intended to be permanent. As individuals we accumulate possessions that are of such value and personal meaning that we are devastated by their loss.

But perhaps these accepted structures—normally so firmly embedded into our everyday psyche such that we don’t even think to question them—are not synonymous with natural movements and cycles. Forests periodically alight with flame. This is an inevitability. The earth periodically releases pent up pressure along surface fault lines and volcanoes. The currents of the air and sea form into torrents of wind and rain. These are all necessary and natural occurrences. And when they happen to us, we are devastated, because they lay waste to what we have structured our lives upon.

But the very fact that these are natural processes makes one think that perhaps mankind should be attempting to find a way to adapt our everyday habits and comforts to these distant portents of ‘disaster.’ In our efforts to build structures of commerce and habitation that are the most conducive to short-term stability, we lose sight of the possibility that there are forces much more powerful than us that sway our lives and that are beyond our control.

Our necessity to try to preserve our ways of life at all costs necessitates a constant battle against the forces of nature. Fire-fighting is a dangerous and strategically advanced undertaking, and the only reason that it is necessary is because we have structures intended to be permanent that we need to protect. Because we prevent forest fires and shrub fires from occurring as they would naturally, we have created unnaturally dense thickets of fuel and tinder, thus abetting the catch-22 of creating more and more dangerous and devastating fires that must be fought with an ever greater pooling of resources and manpower.

In the effort to create lives structured around permanency and constant stability, perhaps we are turning a blind eye to our own destruction.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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