Before we answer yes or no to the question posed in the title above, let’s clarify exactly what behavior we are choosing or not choosing. Panic is a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behaviors, and that often spreads quickly through a group. Exactly which group are we asking the question of? The group that you the reader and the rest of humankind are a part of, of course.
Clearly, all of humanity is facing in the near term some frightening challenges. We will identify many of those challenges throughout our series and reveal alternative choices which will help the reader to prepare for the worst of what might appear to be an unfolding catastrophe.
Some recent examples might help at this point. Many of us may remember reading recently in The New York Times about the comments of the retired flood control manager of Norfolk, Virginia. Referring to the rising ocean level on the east coast of the U.S. due to global warming he offered this advice to those residents of Norfolk who lived near the beach. He said he might advise some people to move their car, others to put their washer and dryer on cinder blocks and still others to get the hell out of town.
One resident of Norfolk, unable to pay her rapidly rising flood insurance and finding the mortgage holder unsympathetic to discussing refinancing, simply walked into the bank, placed her house key on counter and told the teller, “You can have it back, I’m outa here!” Was this homeowner in a state of panic or was she simply a realist? We will answer questions like these in forthcoming essays and we urge you to tag along on this journey. We are confident that you will find some support and comfort as we explore the distinction between reality and illusion. The key question to ask ourselves as we look deeper and deeper into the unfolding events reported by the media is: What is really happening here?
Most Americans would probably say that they are realists rather than people who don’t want to face the truth. They would be sadly mistaken. Another example of how most Americans are in a state of denial when it comes to admitting what is really happening in their communities and in their personal lives again takes us to the east coast. Notice that many people when facing one of those fundamental choices we are talking about choose to ignore the reality of rising ocean levels and the inevitability of increasingly severe east-coast hurricanes. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose (2017) are the most recent evidence of the consequences of global warming that we tend to deny. We would do well to begin a discussion of the long-term weather patterns occasioned by global warming.
Again, let’s take an example of what’s happening as you read this essay in an area not too far from Norfolk, Virginia. The behavior of these Americans is far from panic, quite the opposite in fact. After the panic of living through Hurricane Sandy in 2012, some people of Ortley Beach, New Jersey along with quite a few new neighbors are surging back to this beachfront town. All but 60 of this beach community’s 2,600 houses were damaged or destroyed in 2012 but don’t forget the human capacity for denial.
American taxpayers, perhaps generous to a fault, are paying for new boardwalks, parks, roads and beaches in and around Ortley Beach. “By the end of the year, 11 million cubic yards of sand will have been pumped from the ocean’s floor onto the coast, creating a 150-foot-wide beach and building 22-foot dunes along the 14-mile stretch between Point Pleasant Beach and Island Beach State Park.”
Not only are the returnees rebuilding but they are not satisfied with the modest summer cottages that were washed away. “Before Sandy, area homes averaged about 4,000 square feet, according to Jeff Childers, a real-estate agent with Sotheby’s International. Now the average is 6,000 square feet.” Not only are the homes currently rising up out of the sand bigger, they seem to be expressing bigger egos than the former community owners needed to express. “One is trying to outdo the next with architectural design and features.”
This essay is about all of us, not just those people in Virginia, Texas, Florida and New Jersey. What is going on here? What is happening and why is it happening and is there a reason for the rest of us to be experiencing anxiety? Tune in next time and we will continue adding more pieces of some pretty interesting if puzzling human behavior.
Insight # 1: In order to distract ourselves from our existential anxiety about what we at some level know is happening, we are capable of denying reality and can choose to engage in self-destructive behavior. We can avoid an unacceptable panic and choose the experience of short-term pleasure—for example, an ego-enhancing mansion on the Jersey Shore—a delusional pleasure to be sure. We can all ask ourselves: What short-term pseudo-pleasure are we choosing today to distract ourselves from the panic we feel beginning to grow deep within?
- Capuzzo, Jill P. “Jersey Shore Aims Higher.” The New York Times. June 18, 2017, page 8.