Apocalypse Now

If you’ve ever wondered what you would do in the apocalypse, look at what you’re doing now.

That’s your answer.

OK, before you either panic or tell me I’m overreacting, let me break some of that down.

First off, while I am using apocalypse in its current casual meaning of a collapse of civilization, I’m not including the various religious interpretations. This isn’t the fundamentalist End Times.

And in truth, I don’t mean the end of the (human) world, because I’ve never believed that was going to happen even at the height of the Cold War when the US and the Soviets were rattling so many missiles at each other.

We’re not going to all be living in caves or in isolated groups with no access to the many things we humans have developed over the years. We’ll even have a lot of the good things left.

But we are already in a period of change and chaos, some of it extreme and much of it causing a great deal of human suffering. It’s going to keep happening. Of course, like everything else in this world, it will not be equally distributed.

So despite the fact that some of that change is going to be catastrophic, you’re still going to have to pay your taxes, get the groceries, and take the cat to the vet, all while trying to dodge the crisis du jour, whether pandemic, disaster, or political.

From the way things look right now, we’re going to continue to have all three of those crises for the foreseeable future.

We’ve got record-breaking pandemic numbers all over the US right now, even in highly vaccinated areas. Hospitals are once again getting overwhelmed. The only saving grace seems to be the death rate, which is lower because even though vaccinated people are getting sick, they’re not getting as sick.

Apparently our only pandemic plan was to vaccinate all Americans. Not everybody in the world, just Americans.

We didn’t plan to do anything else, even though it’s been obvious for at least six months that the vaccine plan wasn’t going to do it, partly because of anti-vaxxers and partly because there are other countries on the planet.

The current plan seems to be to leave us all on our own to figure out what we’re supposed to do, as Professor Zeynep Tufekci pointed out in a brilliant op-ed in The New York Times.

We need quick tests and quality masks for everyone, along with substantial work on ventilation systems. I’m not sure why we aren’t getting those things, except that it doesn’t fit the “it’s almost over” narrative.

And as long as we don’t make sure the whole world has vaccines and treatments, we’re going to get more variants. Despite the many nasty laws around national borders, it’s a small world and the virus isn’t stopped by Border Patrol.

Then there’s climate change, which is finally being recognized as the cause of any number of disasters even as no country is doing what’s necessary to keep things from getting much, much worse.

The Washington Post reports that 40 percent of Americans live in a county that was directly affected by climate-change-caused disasters in 2021. By the way, that report doesn’t include the Texas deep freeze from early in the year or the tornadoes that did so much harm in Kentucky in December, because those events aren’t linked to climate change.

That may be true, but those were still disasters that affected a lot of people. I’m not sure it’s worthwhile distinguishing disasters based on whether or not they might have happened anyway. We’re going to need to help the people and land harmed by them.

I don’t think we can depend on “self-reliance” to fix things after events like the end of the year fire in Colorado that made 35,000 people homeless.

Then there’s politics. As I write on January 6, the news is full of discussion of the attempted coup from a year ago. I’m glad to see the President, Vice-President, and Attorney General taking that coup attempt seriously, but I’m still worried that no one has dealt with it forcefully enough to ensure that we’re not going to get another one.

The voter suppression laws and other efforts to block fair elections going on in many states could still lay the groundwork for an authoritarian government that will destroy all efforts to live up to our democratic ideals.

Professor Tufekci, who as a sociologist is smart about many things that involve human behavior, wrote a great piece on the risk to our democracy back on December 6, 2020 — a month before the coup attempt. She understood what was happening before the rest of us did.

I don’t have any great advice on how to deal with this trifecta of crises. I just know we’re going to have to deal with them while still making dinner and cleaning house and going to the doctor.

Daily life isn’t disappearing in our apocalypse, but don’t let the ordinary fool you into thinking we don’t have major problems.

As Tufekci observes in her piece: “Alarmism is problematic when it’s sensationalist. Alarmism is essential when conditions make it appropriate.”

The conditions are all too appropriate.

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