How Too Much Good Fortune Can Be A Bad Thing
The IKYA family just dodged another hurricane last week as Ana skirted the state, dumping some heavy rain and large surf but sparing us the damaging winds. That makes three this year that were heading right for us but decided to change paths at the last minute. The State of Hawaii has had a huge lucky streak when it comes to hurricanes, with only two notable exceptions. The most notable was Iniki, who basically set development of Kauai back several decades in 1992. While Oahu and Maui have both seen massive growth in resorts and tourism, Kauai struggled for years to rebuild it's infrastructure and only recently has been on it's way to catching up.
Even though the recent hit to the Big Island this year with Iselle damaged crops, felled trees, and took the roofs of some homes it's impacts were spared for the rest of the state after slamming into the volcanoes and dissipating. It was pretty spectacular watching a volcano shred a hurricane on the satellite imagery, like God was cutting loose and having some fun that day smashing his toys into each other.
Being a former Nuevo-Englander myself it was surprising when I first moved here and found out people's attitudes towards hurricanes. On the shores of Cape Cod they are nothing to mess with, and everyone has a healthy respect with a regular monitoring of The Weather Channel's Tropical Update from July to October (and sometimes beyond). In Hawaii people generally ignore hurricanes unless it's already on the news and heading straight for us, which up until this year was a very rare occurrence.
The Gods Must Be Pleased With Us
The reactions for this year's storms were predictable with people lining up at Costco to buy emergency supplies, fill their gas tanks, and tie down their lawn furniture. Of course being preparedness-minded really paid off for us as we got to avoid the rush and having to deal with panicked crowds and aggressive drivers cutting each other off for parking spaces. Many of the stores also wised up and stopped allowing returns on bottled water after rotating their stock several times to the same people.
In essence, hurricane panic has become normalized. Like the repeat cycle of false Tsunami alarms it's played itself out in a bit of Disaster Theater, only the main act doesn't show up. At worst it appears to be a form of ritual, where appealing to the Gods of consumerism will somehow persuade them to save us. The news people call it Hurrican Fatigue, but it's basically people are training themselves to be 'unprepared'. Instead of maintaining a constant level of readiness we are becoming a culture of last-minute-scramblers, and I am not immune to this.
The Misinterpretation Of Luck As Success
What really snapped me into attention was the day after when the phrase kept being repeated on the news and HAM radio nets that we really “dodged a bullet”. Nobody dodges bullets. This isn't the Matrix and we aren't the chosen ones. Bullets miss, and people getting shot at are granted a few extra precious seconds to make some very important decisions regarding their health and safety.
The same thing happens with economic collapses, race riots, solar storms, nautical mishaps, nuclear standoffs, and pretty much every other situation where people regularly flirt with disaster only to be pulled back from the brink at the last minute. Humans are psychologically wired to seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses despite overwhelming evidence in a phenomenon known as optimism bias.
This coping mechanism allows us to avoid confronting uncomfortable situations and maintain seemingly-healthy relationships in the present, but possibly at a huge cost in the near future.
What we can do about it?
I'm sure you know a few people who tell jokes about how bad things that happened a long time ago or to someone else. You probably have run into the type of people who repeat everything they hear in the media almost verbatim without a bit of introspection or consideration on their own part. Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you are exposed to this sort of bias, do your best to slowly extricate yourself from the situation and find someone who has been through the worst and has a story to tell.
After years of reading preparedness and survival advice, the most profound experience I had was one day when a 90 year old Japanese-American friend started randomly talking about her experiences in North Korea after the end of World War II. Her family of Japanese colonists suddenly found themselves behind enemy lines, lost everything they had, and had to run for the mountains in order to escape certain death. They hiked for a month constantly being hunted by North Korean and Russian troops who would rape and kill anyone of Japanese ancestry that they discovered. Her story is gritty, terrifying, and even 70 years later and she still has occasional nightmares and mourns for the ones who didn't make it out.
There were two important lessons here. Being prepared can turn into an extended commercialized fetish-shopping spree, where we forget to prepare ourselves emotionally for the kinds of suffering that will inevitably endured in a bad situation. She is the most hard-core survivalist I know, getting through a war zone as a small-framed 20 year old woman with no training, no support, and keeping her family together when every conceivable force was trying to pull them apart and destroy them. Listening to her stories helps me tune out the media noise and focus on the truth, which is that any time our false sense of security can come crashing down leaving us to scramble for the hills, eat grass, and cling to our love ones so we don't lose our own sanity.
Bropinions Vs. Grrl Power
The second point she had to make was also very shocking. In the world of internet survivalism women are usually relegated to posing next to firearms or wearing camo bikinis, sometimes both. In the real world it's the women who are most likely to survive. It turns out when you take away a man's identity as a provider and protector it totally undermines our will to carry on. While most of us imagine ourselves expiring next to a pile of brass and and empty rifle, the world is ruled by chaos and rarely lives up to our expectations. You sell the rifle to buy medicine for a sick child. A sneak attack you never saw coming exposes vulnerabilities you never knew you had. An overwhelming force occupies the area and you opt to cooperate instead of a glorious certain death which would deprive your family of an important resource: Yourself!
As Alpha or Beta male identities in normalized society begin their precipitous drop on down the Greek alphabet to letters we never knew existed, guys who aren't busy jumping in front of bullets or becoming predators themselves tend to turn to alcohol, suicide, or just plain fall down and refuse to get back up again. Women are the ones who, out of necessity, pick up the pieces and keep their families together.
Studies show that when the danger is past that men start to re-assume their head-of-family roles and gender politics go back to business as usual, but if you are concerned about the 'in-between' periods like a good survivalist should be then re-assessment of the roles the women in you life will have to play is essential. Let's just say after hearing those stories I'm taking a mental health inventory on myself and having serious talks with Mrs. Feathers about what happens if I'm suddenly incapacitated or not around to make the tough choices.
And after last week's hurricane near-miss when my truck was out of commission, possibly leaving us stranded with no post-disaster transportation? I'm going looking for my surfing buddy who lived through the Iniki and the agonizing months that followed to ask him to share more stories. Maybe it will remind me why it's important to have my act together for the storm that eventually does hit. Sometimes you get lucky, but one of these days Guy Hagi is going to be right.