The Darkest Storm

A monstrous storm is approaching.  It is too big to avoid; no matter where or how fast you go, you cannot hope to escape.  Your home cannot possibly survive the coming storm, nor can public shelters hope to do better.  You will just have to shelter in place and hope for the best.  Nothing you’ve experienced compares to this.  Your money can’t combat it. Your place in society cannot combat it.  Friends with connections cannot combat it.  You’re used to being able to fix things; you can’t fix this. It’s terrifying.

There’s no doubt electricity will fail as the storm’s peak approaches.  It will be off for at least a month; it might be off for many months.  You have food in the refrigerator and pantry that will feed you and your family for a week.  Considering the power of the storm, it’s obvious there will be no new supplies of food coming to you for weeks, maybe months.

You live in an upscale neighborhood, in an upscale house. Today.  But tomorrow, your house and your neighborhood and  your city will be in splinters.  Food will be scarce.  Water will be scarce.  As the weeks wear on, hunger will become a serious problem.  Lack of water will become not just serious, but deadly.  Help will be sent, but it will take weeks for it to reach you. Your neighbors will begin to break into homes, looking for food and water. Friends may become enemies; they will be forced to choose between helping you or feeding their families with what they find in your larder.

Your choices six weeks after the storm won’t compare in consequence to the choices you faced before.  Six weeks earlier, you would have fretted over whether to go out for Mexican food or Indian food.  After the storm, you will fret over feeding your daughter and feeding your dog.   Anything.  Even the dog may become the protein your daughter needs to survive.  Your emergency stores, the “preparedness package,” is still intact, though; you have the basics for six weeks.  You have time to think about how to get beyond the immediate horror of the aftermath.

The finance charges on the BMW, crushed and mangled in the garage, will keep mounting. The insurance companies will claim the damage to your home and your car were water-damage; that’s not covered in your policies.  The banks don’t adjust for catastrophe; you borrowed, by God, you pay. Of course even the GM of the BMW dealership will be hurt by this storm.  But the financial markets won’t factor in pain and loss and weather; they will demand you pay or suffer the consequences.  “We understand what you’re going through, but you have to understand the situation we’re in.  You need to find a way to pay; if you don’t, we will be forced to take actions to protect our investment.”  They will not be threatening just your credit, of course; there is the implied threat that your financial life will be ruined.

Somehow, though, credit and cars and nice homes will no longer matter. You may not even think about contacting the insurance company or the bank or the dealership when you awaken to the devastation.  A day after the storm, your only priority will be to find shelter for your family. Two weeks into the aftermath, the only things that will matter are stretching your supplies of food and water.  You will learn to cope with the stench.  You will learn to accept the comfort of a tarp in lieu of a roof. You will not learn to deal with your inability to feed your family.  You will not learn to cope with starvation and dehydration. You will not learn to do these things because you did prepare; you prepared for a six-week ordeal.

Fortunately for your company’s CEO, there is enough money to build an utterly storm-proof shelter.  He did it.  He spent forty million dollars, equivalent to almost a year’s salary, constructing a virtually indestructible concrete and steel fortress.  Inside, there’s an emergency food and water supply that will provide more than adequate resources for twenty people for at least two years.  Beneath the garage where he keeps four cars, including a tricked-out Hummer, there’s a ten-thousand-gallon tank filled with gasoline.

Generators will keep the power on at his enclave.  He can pick up newscasts about the devastation and he will know how long the authorities say the worst part of the aftermath will last.  He can plan his return; granted, he will have to deal with some inconveniences, but they will be tolerable.

He was able to prepare himself so well because he makes one-hundred-sixty times the pittance they pay you; your quarter-of-a-million-dollars-a-year-salary can’t begin to afford you that level of protection.  It provided a comfortable living, but it can’t do magic. Not the way $40 million can.  You have to wonder: what value does this guy bring to the company that merits getting paid 160 times what you get paid?

The woman who serves as your appointment scheduler and assistant might wonder the same thing.  You’re paid almost six times her meager $42,000 salary; she might wonder what you do to deserve that.  But she won’t wonder.  Because she doesn’t have the luxury of wondering; she will be wondering where to find her next meal, her next drink of clean water. At her salary, there just wasn’t enough to build that preparedness kit.  She made choices, though. She decided which nights she and her children would eat starchy meals without protein so she could stretch the paycheck enough to allow them to get by until the next one.   After the storm, she and her children will be homeless, left to fend for themselves in an environment that can only be described as chaotic.

For those survivors who were homeless before the storm, the aftermath will be more of the same, but worse.  Their adjustment to the experience will be a little easier for them, though, compared to you and your appointment scheduler, because it won’t be as dramatic. They will have a tougher time than you because of the scarcity of food and water, but they will be better equipped than your appointment scheduler because they have had to struggle for food and water before; they know where to look. If she’s lucky, your scheduler may connect with someone who can help her find a place to stay and resources for food and water.

Your company’s CEO probably is not heartless.  He might be callous and greedy and arrogant, but he’s not heartless.  After the storm, as soon as the banks are operational, he may make a significant cash donation to a charity working to help people most severely affected by the storm.  His $100,000 cash donation will make news, reinforcing his reputation as a rich, but deeply charitable, man.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to The Darkest Storm

  1. robin andrea says:

    John, I feel the same way about Paul Kingsnorth’s essay. It really describes how I see the world, which is quite depressing. But I absolutely appreciate this paragraph:

    “If you don’t like any of this, but you know you can’t stop it, where does it leave
    you? The answer is that it leaves you with an obligation to be honest about where
    you are in history’s great cycle, and what you have the power to do and what you
    don’t. If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or
    new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual
    “campaigning” behavior is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday,
    you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed,
    or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a
    better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your
    time. If you try to live in the past, you will be wasting your time. If you
    romanticize hunting and gathering or send bombs to computer store owners, you
    will be wasting your time.”

    His five tentative answers on not wasting time are important antidotes to the reality of where we find ourselves in history.

  2. Robin, I just read Dark Ecology again. The second reading was harder; it made me think more and changed my mind. The phrase, “nature has value beyond utility,” resonates with me. But, now, so do the words of Theodore Kaczynski. This essay is one of the most provocative I’ve ever read. And the second reading was one of the most satisfying, yet depressing, reads I’ve had in years.

  3. It’s so interesting, Robin! Thanks for sharing it. I love provocative ideas and assertions; being challenged is what forces us to confront things that otherwise we might just let slide. And when we’re confronted with new ideas, based not on bias but on real thought, we can successfully begin to learn. I love this stuff! Thanks, Robin!

  4. robin andrea says:

    You might like reading this. It’s a long and profoundly interesting essay.

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