5 Common Beliefs That Make Disasters Worse
As a keen observer of humanity and systemic failure, my pandemic lockdown has made one thing clear: Video game item shops should not close at night. The characters manning Nook's Cranny don't need to sleep -- they exist only to serve me. But the second thing that I've kind of noticed while waiting for the next Animal Crossing item balloon to appear is that disasters have a way of exposing all of our collective brain flaws.
This isn't because the world is trying to teach us a lesson -- the world is trying to murder us, not teach us -- but because information sometimes doesn't sink into the human brain unless it comes tied to a rock hurled through our window. So here are five common beliefs that can kill us all when times get rough ...
Note: the new David Wong novel Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick is up for pre-order now.
"Freedom Means Doing The Opposite Of Whatever The Government Tells Me!"
My favorite thing about Americans is that we hate being told what to do. If the government issued a health decree demanding we stop eating french fries, millions of Americans who've never eaten a fry in their life would immediately say, "Whoa, according to my watch, it just turned French Fry O'Clock, motherfucker! I've just issued a health decree of my own demanding the president eat my entire ass!"
But my least favorite thing about Americans is that we don't like the responsibility that comes with the freedom. The people yelling loudest about "regulations" don't seem too keen on regulating their own lives (my man, your town wouldn't need stiff fines for littering if you'd stop chucking taco wrappers out the window of your pickup). Sure enough, the moment the experts urged people to stay home to stop COVID-19, lots of us defiantly flocked to crowded beaches. But who, exactly, were we defying? The government? The virus? Death itself?
In a perfect world, sheer concern for our neighbors would have kept us indoors without having to be told anything -- we didn't need new laws to tell us how contagious diseases work. Common sense should dictate that it's madness to boast that you're "willing to risk it" when said risk is immediately transferred to everyone around you without their consent, including the sick stranger who won't get a ventilator because your sorry ass will be using it to stay alive. Hmm, it's almost as if our society has built up selfish dicks as a heroic archetype...
"In A Disaster, It's The Tough Loner Who Survives!"
I've talked before about how in the 1980s, Westerns fell out of fashion in Hollywood and were replaced by post-apocalypse movies. It was all the same plots; often a lone wanderer turning up in some sparse, dusty settlement (Mad Max instead of Shane or 1960s-era Clint Eastwood), the "Indians" were replaced by mutants/zombies/bandits and the evil sheriff or plantation owner became a flamboyant, sadistic warlord. But it's the exact same fantasy: In a mythologized era without alarm clocks, bills or dress codes, we would be free to become what society really needs: A Lone, Grizzled Badass.*
*Don't worry, the women still have shampoo, razors and makeup.
These heroes have no friends. They serve no master. They obey no rules. They are men of few words but many knives. Also, they can eat my whole ass -- in the real world, they're the ones stripping gun store shelves bare during the pandemic, because surviving the disaster means defending their stacks of toilet paper from the rampaging "bandits" they're sure are coming. "But who are these bandits?" you might be asking. Well, if you're reading this, it's you. In an apocalypse fantasy, it's the Lone Grizzled Badass vs the mindless hordes, aka, literally everyone else. Their entire worldview is based on the idea that when the chips are down, the whole of society will be reduced to a mass of hungry mouths.
So who cares if those mindless masses get sick or don't have any hand sanitizer because a badass bought it all? They're not real people, they're the background threat the real people will have to overcome. Never mind that these hordes are, in fact, the very people who are manufacturing and delivering that hand sanitizer, that they're the nurses and the trash collectors, that it's their labor that keeps the lights on and the cell phones working. It's like when billionaires build apocalypse shelters to escape ... their own customers and employees, I guess?
Some of us literally prefer the fantasy of mass death to the reality, which is that workforce specialization has turned the entire concept of rugged independence into a selfish, childish daydream. Maybe you can learn to grow your own food and purify water, but you sure as hell can't manufacture vaccines or perform a root canal on yourself. Side note: I'm convinced you could kill the post-apocalypse genre forever just by attaching a device that lets the audience to smell the characters. Though I guess the fantasy genre would die with it.
"If I Prepare For A Disaster And It Doesn't Occur, Then The Preparations Were A Waste!"
Confession time: Prior to this whole thing, the only emergency supplies in my garage were a chainsaw and a chainmail codpiece. Plus some scented candles in case the power went out. And why not? You can literally live for decades without ever realizing how unprepared you are for an actual emergency. "What, you want me to buy a bunch of bottled water and canned goods and then just toss them in the trash when they expire? What a waste!"
But the real shock of the Corona Crash has been finding out that apparently our entire infrastructure was operating on this same, "only plan for what you need five minutes from now" philosophy. The US government's emergency pandemic stockpiles were tiny and withered. The billionaires who scolded the poor for not having six months of emergency cash immediately screamed for government bailouts after a single week of bad sales. It turned out everyone was hurtling down the same proverbial highway with no brakes or headlights, completely nude and steering with our proverbial knees so we could use both hands to light our proverbial meth pipes.
Gee, I wonder if this is because the ruling classes always pissed their pants if we ever tried to save money? When Millennials stopped wasting cash on diamonds, the media cried that they were "killing" the industry. Consumers saving instead of spending is considered a dangerous red flag for the economy and every massive corporation will fly into action to make sure that doesn't happen. All of our pop culture is built around shaming people for doing it.
If you save money, they'll tell you, you're depriving your loved ones of a full life ("Remember, an average wedding costs $34,000!"). If you cut back to plan for the future, they say you're not "Living in the moment." If you stock up on emergency supplies you're a paranoid prepper, if you wash your hands too much you're a germaphobe, if you worry about potential disasters then you need to "Stop and smell the roses." You know, for your own mental health.
In fact, if tomorrow we all collectively decide to slow down, simplify our lives and save for a rainy day, I can tell you exactly what the media will call it: A Worldwide Economic Collapse.
"If Someone Warns Of A Disaster And it Doesn't Occur, It Means They Were Wrong And We Should All Laugh At Them!"
You know who should have loved the idea of a civilization-threatening pandemic? Donald goddamned Trump. Remember how he tried to drum up panic about how refugees were bringing new, exotic diseases into the USA? Or how he played up the Ebola threat in 2014 to demand travel bans from Obama? His whole deal is using the threat of "foreign" disease and demanding drastic action in response. It's red meat for his base -- remember, the whole psychological underpinning of social conservatives is believed to be a stronger innate sense of disgust (thus the constant reference to foreigners being dirty or unsanitary, the stereotype of the sexually promiscuous being disease-ridden, etc).
Well, here we have a lethal pandemic that A) the media says started in China (he hates China!) B) was exacerbated by a cover-up by their evil government C) supposedly originated in unsanitary foreign meat markets and D) would thus require a travel ban. It so perfectly fits the ugliest parts of Trump's philosophy that I'm kind of surprised he didn't ground every international flight the moment the first cough was heard. This guy masturbates to videos of foreigners crying at airports.
But he didn't do that, partly because he has an even stronger fetish for rejecting the advice of know-it-all "experts" and partly because every president knows there isn't a lot to gain by preventing a problem. Winning a war gets you a second term and a statue; maintaining peace means high school history classes will skip your administration entirely. Well, it's the same in everyday life. If you save a drowning child in a lake, you'll get your face on the local news. If you put up a sign and a fence that keeps all children out of the dangerous lake entirely, you're just the cranky jerk ruining everybody's fun. "Look, it's the mean 'no swimming' guy! Eat my dry ass, old man!"
"Handling This Is Surely Someone Else's Job!"
Another thing I've mentioned before is that our system depends on making everyone feel powerless, even though each day is a frantic stream of real, consequential choices. This drives some of us to the Lone Badass fantasy, but others are drawn to the opposite, equally untrue belief that the system is so corrupt that no individual's choices actually matter.
The people who buy into this aren't heading to the beach in defiance, they're doing it because, well, what difference does one more person make in such a big crowd? Likewise, why donate to a charity to support laid off workers? Surely the government will take care of them. Why cover your mouth when heading to the grocery store? The billionaire who owns the chain should supply the staff with gear.
It's just basic game theory: why should you make the sacrifice if there's a chance someone else can do it instead? If you don't buy up all of the toilet paper, some other hoarder probably will. Why should they be the one who gets to spend quarantine doing their wacky Mummy character on Tiktok?
In the end, our inability to prepare for the worst is really just A) an inability to grasp which hypothetical futures can actually occur and B) an unwillingness to see strangers as real humans whose needs overlap our own. I can tell you from experience that it's possible to live most of your life without these flaws ever getting exposed, in the same way that a flimsy chair can last forever as long as nobody sits on it.
But now the disaster has come to sit on us all, our legs are cracking and we've all got a certain amount of ass we'll soon have to eat. Those of us lucky enough to live through it will hopefully learn the right lessons. If we're really lucky, we'll have time to forget them all before the next time the shit hits the fan. Stay safe, everybody.
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