With the Covid-19 knocking on our door Hawaii has engaged in a favorite state past time, which is widespread shopping panic. It does not matter that the response to this highly communicable disease is to rush to a public location in the middle of an urban center next to an airport with several direct flights to Asia every hour. We have been so well conditioned with every hurricane, earthquake, and even missile crisis to run down to the nearest Costco and pile the toilet paper sky high in an attempt to maintain some control over a precarious existence on the most isolated place on earth.
At some point a rational person would say to themselves “well it seems to me we do a lot of panic buying every year, so maybe instead we should keep supplies on hand so that the next time something like this happens we can stay home and avoid putting everyones lives at risk”.
Why does that not stick? Here are a couple theories.
The sales at Black Friday suck worse every year. This used to be a “sport” for a lot of people and now it has been robbed of its significance. The dangerous element of mall fights and parking lot shootings is still an exciting element, but with stores taking customer participation for granted and offering less enticing deals every year there is no need to battle it out over toys and televisions. But people still love the rush, and a mass casualty incident is all the excuse they need to get back into the Holiday spirit.
Declining Standards of Living
People work so hard these days just to get by, but if you live in a liberal state with high taxes and an elitist superiority complex then it is downright brutal. Never mind saving extra supplies for an emergency, the emergency is ongoing in a lot of cases so the issue of preparedness comes down to having a little extra space on the credit card balance in case something horrible happens. The outflux of multi-generational Hawaii families supports this theory, and the politicians who refuse to address housing and other living costs in a meaningful way do not help the situation at all.
One of my old long time acquaintances was trying to get me to sign up for an MLM scheme, but I had concerns about being able to actually sell the product (vs recruiting more people for the pyramid scheme, which is the real way they make money). He told me “Don, Hawaii people are sheep. They just follow along what everyone else is doing.” This seemed like a very offensive comment at first, especially for a culture place I love so dearly, but hard boiled experience has proven there is a lot of merit to that claim. The standard of living has been declining for decades despite billions of dollars moving through the state annually, yet the same establishment Democrats keep getting voted in every election no matter how sordid the political scandals. Kids are taught to aspire to secure government jobs instead of becoming innovators, and local business is discouraged by a hostile regulatory environment and unchecked real estate speculation. It has a lot to do with Asian cultures that value subservience over independence, which probably sounds racist but does not preclude that there is some validity to the claim. It is also widely accepted explanation locally, especially when warning outsiders why they should not rock the boat.
Pavlov and Supply Chain
With everyone used to the convenience of just-in-time delivery people take the grocery store for granted. They figure it will always be there and then when something disrupts that illusion the thin veneer of civilization begins to tear revealing the wide eyed mass panic held in check by our collective faith that the System Provides, because of Science or Progress or something. The part of our brains that can actually comprehend just how far away we are from the source of 95% of our food, and how quickly it would run out if that supply was interrupted, is locked away in a denial vault that is covered several layers deep with outcome bias and empty political promises of sustainability initiatives.
Despite disaster preparedness warnings from several local, state, and federal agencies it seems like this cultural decision to collectively panic is firmly cemented in our conciousness. In fact we have become conditioned to fail, and sooner or later there will come an incident that will overload the system and unleash a true panic that will be remembered bitterly for generations. Hopefully it will not take too many of those to learn our lesson and become more responsible and self sufficient. In the meantime we should take those long lines of panic shoppers as a warning that we should be ready, not just for ourselves but for all the others who failed to prepare and will not be in their right mind until the danger passes.