Last night Japan had an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, along with a tsunami. A natural disaster on that scale is hard to comprehend. As bad as it was (and will continue to be, with aftershocks and the continued effects of the tsunami), Japan is probably better equipped than many other places. It’s my understanding that the economic boom in Japan in the 80’s included a lot of earthquake-proof buildings. So far I’ve heard death toll estimates in the hundreds or perhaps thousand. I find it astounding that such a large quake can hit such a populated area, and not wipe it out. I really don’t want to belittle what just happened, and I know that the full damage still isn’t finished let alone beginning on the recovery, and yet having hundreds or perhaps thousands of people die instead of literally millions is a success of sorts. The fact that huge numbers of high-rise apartments didn’t collapse is a success of engineering. It will be a success of modern medicine and hygiene that most people will live through the aftermath.
While driving to work this morning and rolling the radio around, I caught a guy on a classic country station (talking with a fake country accent, approximately as realistic as Foghorn Leghorn) talking about the quake… the magnitude, the flooding, the nuclear power plants, the tsunami headed for the west coast of the US, and his amazement at an event so large, and so on. He wrapped up his thoughts with “…wow. It looks like the end times.” He said that last comment in the same tone as all the rest, leaving you free to choose whether to interpret it as a metaphor, or a literal claim of the end times. Considering the conservative nature of the audience, I suspect a fair number of them believe the latter.
Why are we humans like this? Instead of seeing the successes of science, and seeing the work ahead of us of being compassionate and helping of others in need, we fall back to myths. We hide inwards, rather than looking outwards. We see the world in a framework of myths and fate, rather than dropping those shackles and really seeing what we can and should do, as individuals and as humanity.
We live on an active planet (which is vital to creating the Earth’s magnetic field, which in turn is vital to holding on to an atmosphere, which is one of the keys to us being here). It wasn’t perfectly designed for us (or designed at all). The Earth has evolved to its present state, and we’ve evolved to fit it as best we can. And so events like this, while terrible in the human sense, are simply expected.
We need to accept reality as it is, not try to fit myths on top of it. This is the most rational and compassionate thing to do.