Monday, October 29, 2012

Denial, Denialism, and a Hurricane

It would not have been a pretty picture if the stock market had opened today. Imagine technicians walking the seven miles from the Upper West Side on unlit streets through torrential rains to open the exchange, and others crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot in gale force winds. They arrive to see the Wall Street bull partially submerged and the front entrance boarded up and sandbagged, with hurricane waves lapping at the steps. Once inside, after shaking the water out of their boots, they meet the captains of capitalism who, oblivious to the drama outside, are fretting over the latest strategies for buying low and selling high.

I exaggerate, I think. Yet a scene similar to this nearly happened. New York’s weather forecast has barely shifted in three days, yet it was just hours ago that the New York Stock Exchange said it would not be opening. The wording of the report hinted that someone in Washington had twisted their arms.

Denial is a natural component of the response to an unfolding disaster. It can’t be as bad as it looks. This thought is all the more natural for a disaster of a kind that no one has ever seen before. Yet some of the reaction to Hurricane Sandy goes beyond a mere psychological reaction of denial. Some of it looks more like denialism. It is a habit of forced positivity put forward like a barking dog to guard a shaky position of privilege.

But it is a barking dog that would not protect New York from one of the largest hurricanes ever seen, no more than the word “unsinkable” protected the Titanic. In the end, New York did close its subways, its schools, even its stock exchange. The costs and risks involved were that much greater for the days of dithering, but at least the decisions were made while there was still time to take action. Surely some evacuations will be needed beyond those already taken, but they may be a matter of a few blocks or less as people move to higher ground or a more secure structure.

As for me, the forecast puts the center of the storm near here around this time tomorrow. I have saved up water and food and charged batteries. I have blankets. With any luck, I will be able to keep working.

The official forecast warns of trees being uprooted. I have a hard time imagining that, yet the forecast maps suggest hours of tropical storm winds, so obviously, trees will come down. They will break utility wires and block roads. If last year serves as a guide, I can expect an extended power outage, including a cellular outage. There has been a momentary loss of power here already. I will post my status tomorrow or as soon as I can.