August 27, 2011
Hurricane Irene made landfall near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, early this morning as a category one storm with 85 mph winds. It, now, begins its slow slog up the eastern coast of the United States. Out of the 65 million people in its path, local and state governments ordered 2.5 million to evacuate. Airlines cancelled 8,000 flights through Monday and many transit systems in larger cities will shut down this afternoon – some for the first time in their history.
Across the country, millions of Americans who are not in the path of the storm will periodically check their televisions or favorite internet sites for news of how those fellow citizens fare who are in its path.
Morbid curiosity? I don’t think so. Many have relatives and other loved ones in the storm’s path and wait for news about them. Even aside from that, we are, for the most part, a social species. Our brains are wired to recognize and feel others’ emotions, to empathize with others in our species who suffer tragedy. So much so, that we consider it pathological to be unable to empathize with others – the definition of what we deem sociopathic.
All of our major religions require us to help others in need. Governments spend billions of dollars on disaster aid and in every disaster, around the world, individuals – religious or not – give generously to those who suffer through the tragedy.
We are also a learning species. We learn from our own mistakes, tragedies and triumphs as well as those of others. This has been a year of great disasters, here and around the world. A recent poll done here in the United States found that 45% of Americans now keep a supply of food and water set aside for emergencies and disasters. That’s a good thing. Bureaucracies, by their nature, take time to kick into gear during a disaster and it may take time for even smaller, lighter groups and agencies to reach a disaster area. If you are not one of those 45%, start now. FEMA, at their ready.gov site, recommends a three day to two-week supply and has many good ideas about how to prepare ahead of time. http://www.ready.gov/america/getakit/index.html As does this blog in the series, Doom and the Working Poor (linked at the top of the blog). As do many other blogs linked in the blog roll at the left of this site.
Some disasters are natural; some, like economic collapse, men bring on themselves. Some disasters hit without warning; some, like Irene, give notice ahead of time. All require time for governments and relief agencies to address. All have repercussions that spread throughout the larger, globally interconnected society and economy.
While we watch Irene churn up the eastern coast, especially as we get a better picture of the damage she leaves behind, our natural empathy will kick in. We will each do what we can to make sure our fellow Americans get the help they need. But we also need to make sure our innate ability to learn kicks in, too, that we and our families do all we can to prepare for that one disaster that will most certainly churn its way through our own lives, eventually.
As always, keep our fellow travelers in your hearts and minds. We never know when we will need to be in theirs.