Fragility and how people react to breaking…
No I was not talking about my head the morning after. (I used to have a T-shirt as a young climber that said ‘Does the noise in my head bother you?’ just for Saturday mornings.) or about the delicate tissue-fragile feelings of snowflakes, sent hurtling for their ‘safe space’ and their blanky and the play-do by the possibility of a pico*-aggression.
I was talking of our society and our civilization.
Now, as Somalia, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and North Korea illustrate, societies continue to exist and function – in a fashion – WAY below what most westerners would consider ‘survivable’. The gap between a pretty comfortable society to live in, to one where people die of starvation but the state still exists some form of society continues is HUGE. Humans (at least as a species, rather than individuals) are amazingly tough and adaptable. Even the cockroaches are impressed.
Of course that doesn’t mean individuals – a lot of them — don’t die very easily. They do. I’ve personally seen someone die from an injury that 99% of people would live through, and vice versa. Humans as a species, and their societies can however be really robust…
But that’s really robust to live in too. Death and hardship are very common. You don’t want to be there. A society you DO want to live in… is surprisingly fragile. As an example: most of us, these days, would not want to live in a society where internet access is not an every-day, damn near every second commodity. I live in rural Australia – 90%+ of Australia, admittedly with 10% of the population. For us, internet access has improved and changed lives and ways of interaction, retail banking and things like medicine hugely. Very rapidly people have got used to it, and would find doing without it quite hard.
A lot of us rely on satellite… and one service provider does a lot of that. So: A few Saturdays ago a construction digger – one construction digger – put around 80% of rural Australia off the internet for two days. A few weeks earlier, a construction digger had cut the comms to the mobile network for 24 hours (ordinary phones and internet still working) to most of Victoria and Tassie.
We’re not talking nukes, or a massive solar EMP. We’re talking about a very small machine. The situation was mainly inconvenience, and awkward for the volunteer Ambulance service I am part of.
But the point is, the system is so fragile that a single digger could take out something affecting hundreds of thousands to millions of people.
So: As writers whose start point is often disaster of some sort… it is fragile. No matter how people claim otherwise, really fragile. BUT disaster as in millions of dead and the world as we know it gone… people are ingenious, and while some urban and peri-urban areas are in real strife if the power, water or deliveries stop for 24 hours, for that to happen on large scale takes a little more than one digger. Not an implausibility more, to overwhelm the state’s ability to cope, somewhat more than that to overwhelm a society (because, no matter if the city folk have spent generations pouring scorn on small towns and rural people… those deplorable folk WOULD come to help. They wouldn’t just sit tight. Of course they’d probably come armed and shoot the first looter, rapist or mob that got out of hand.)
But there is a limit on that too. Limits of fear, limits possibly as a result of infrastructure damage that they too had suffered. If the electrical grid has gone, off-grid homesteaders might be able to help a few neighbors, but not the city.
Still, people cope (especially if a disaster is not ‘fast’ but merely deep). I thought it would be interesting – from the writer’s point of view, to talk about something none of us have fully experienced, but some of us may have at least partially. You know, being an idealist and all, and an ambulance officer as well as having volunteered with Mountain Rescue and so on – a disaster anticipated and thought about is one hell of a lot easier and better coped with than something you never thought through. Mental preparedness tops most other kinds – so even if it never ever happens and merely provides fodder for stories, it’s a good exercise. And it might make for better stories too.
So: disaster strikes. The power across… well, you have no idea, is out. What do people do? The phone system appears dead. The internet is dead. You have no idea if it was a solar EMP, a nuclear EMP, a calculated act of sabotage, taking out strategic points (like those construction diggers did, by accident. Doing on purpose, and effectively is anything but fantasy. And assuming that people who can’t catch leakers in their own ranks can catch everything… is optimistic. About all that keeps us safe is that our foes are also not the sharpest pencils in the box.
Anyway, that’s short term irrelevant. The big question is what do you do? I mean, you’ve tried your mobile/cell and it doesn’t work. Now what?
Well, I can’t talk for you, but my first step is to think of my family. (All the other prepper things like filling the bath don’t really apply to me, I have my own water (and power) but let’s talk about them.
I think my first step is to start worrying about my family. Common sense, if they were all there, would be to hunker down a bit. Living where I do, I expect neighbors to come around to find out if my power/phones were off. (Neighbors where I live are the better part of a mile off.)
If the family weren’t home… I might take my shotgun (and who knows what else) for a drive and bring them home. At the same time I’d be finding out what anyone else knew. Here – and I suspect in many smaller places, not sure about cities which would be chaos – any problems would take time to manifest. Panic would come, but not immediately. I think where people were densely packed that spark of panic might take flame faster. I don’t know. I’ve never been there.
But what do you do next? What do you think people would do?
And how do you react?
*A micro-aggression is, by SI unit definition: 0.000 001 of an aggression, or a millionth of an aggression. We’ve long moved past that. We’re past the mere nano-aggression whinging stage. A nano-aggression is a billionth of an aggression, almost visible under SEM, and just whizzed past as the level at which it is possible to be offended. We’re now on pico-aggressions – trillionths of an aggression, 0.000 000 000 001 of an aggression. Best defined as less serious than someone on the far side of the solar system, that they will never meet or know existed, who did not instantly agree with the offended. We’ll get to yocto-aggressions yet!