Abandoning the Work

The author of the A Pandemic Chronicle wrote a post last night about the demand for 100% accuracy in any crisis. She points out that it is improbable for all workers and aide required to be there in a crisis could provide 100% of anything if they are concerned about their own family and friends, etc.

This is where I imagine the countless films, books, etc that I watched and read for my thesis come in to play. What huge percentage of people if faced against an actual pandemic (something they have yet to be tested against) would walk out, abandon those people they were required to be there to help, to provide with vaccinations, injections, food, blankets, to transport to quarantine —

And I think SZ (the author of Pandemic Chronicle) has a little more faith in society than I do, because she mentions their concern with family and friends rather than the strangers they are there to help.

Maybe I’ve just seen to many movies, but I think when put face to face with a potentially life ending crisis, humans will almost always choose SELF PRESERVATION.

It’s Don in “28 Weeks Later” leaving his wife to be killed by the infected, it’s Robert Neville in “I Am Legend” killing vampires/humans (he doesn’t bother to stop and check) to keep himself out of harm’s way, it’s families written about in Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year who when locked into a quarantine house with their infected wife, son, father, daughter, uncle, grandmother, house servant, always, ALWAYS found a way to get out….leaving their loved one behind.

So perhaps our intial repsonse is to go home to our families and our loved ones. But what do we do when it happens to them? What if there is no cure we can provide and we know that they WILL die, and by staying we also have the potential to become infected? Do we stay and provide them comfort to the end? Or do we preserve our own life?

I’m not saying it’s pretty. And I’m not saying we would all react the same way. And I’m not talking about a minor crisis, or a containable outbreak, here either. I am talking about all out, global decimation from a potentially uncurable disease.

I think it’s hard to reconcile the love we right now feel for our friends and family, with the terror we would feel in a crisis like that. The fact remains that we’ve never had to face an apocalypse before. And maybe we will be able to live our whole lives without ever having to face it, but some generation in the near future will. All the signs point to it. The earth can’t sustain us, we can’t even stand each other half the time — I have this uncomfortable feeling that it’s inevitable. And that it’s soon.

Okay, wow. That was quite a tangent to follow some realtively mild posts recently. I want to hear everyone’s thoughts, as usual. I have a few people I’ve talked to that I hope will add their voices to the conversation.

Back either tonight, or soon with something to say about the Pandemic Conference.




  1. Katie,

    Hey there girl! Ah, the weekend is finally here, and a rainy one it is, so I find myself doing that ‘net thing that I am so addicted to. πŸ˜‰

    Hummm, yes, we disagree [perhaps] on what will or won’t motivate people who find themselves in positions of dangerous exposures during a [severe] pandemic. My POV is informed by those whom I know the best, law enforcement. They operate within “the danger zone” with regularity, and thus as a result they are somewhat immune to the assumption of *personal* risk many times without conscious thought. That is not even considering the “adrenaline junkie” phenomenon that plays no small role. Oh, and then there is the “hero” and the “bulletproof” psychology as well.

    IOW: The psychology that operates within those that report to jobs that are inherently or potentially dangerous are quite a bit different than those that operate in… say… accountants ;). BUT: That acceptance of danger, or one could say a certain degree of craving it, STOPS dead (pardon the bad taste pun) when it comes to exposing their family to that self same danger.

    Bringing infection HOME to those they love will be a far more operative concern than any *personal* danger would ever be. Or at least that is my opinion, which is supported by a number of surveys in various countries when it comes to a potentially severe pandemic.


  2. I admit I haven’t come into contact with many who work in law enforcement, but I can imagine that they are much more immune to dangerous situations. I think with pandemics, however (as it is something we haven’t been tested with in OUR lifetime), that there is a difference because instead of fight a physical bullet, a physical criminal, going out into a hurricane/tornado — that a pandemic is invisible. You can’t track its progress the way you can a hurricane, and its much harder to fight. Like you mentioned in your most recent post, the path and consequently the number of dead are random.

    But I think we both are probably right, just about different kinds of people. And I certainly hope we never have to find out, but I’m just not that hopeful.

  3. Katie,

    I would like to amplify your assessment of invisibility a touch.
    Here’s a link to a blog piece called “The Challenges of Accepting
    Civilization as Unsustainable and Unhealthy” written by Howard
    Duff who trained as a physician and is passionate about systems
    thinking , cultural regeneration and health.

    For me, the key is to see and understand the root causes of
    the unseen or invisible and then really catch the pattern of
    symptom expression. This is epidemiology thinking at its finest.

    I believe your thesis theme of abandonment began to look at
    one of those root causes and the subsequent trauma that ensues.

    What’s your perspective?


    Here’s a quote

    “There are many things within civilization that are difficult to come to terms with due to this triple-pronged mechanism of external obstruction and insulation, internal denial and repetition-induced numbing. We daily fail to flinch at stories of rape, abuse, neglect and other horrors from throughout our society and around the world. But there may be nothing more difficult for most people to accept than the realization that the entire social structure from which these horrors emanate is itself fundamentally and irredeemably unsustainable and unhealthy at its core. Civilization is our ultimate addiction – or as a friend of mine calls it β€œour greatest lie” – and acknowledgment and acceptance of its detrimental nature is the ultimate taboo.”

    Duff further links contagions and epidemics with this cultural invisibility/l denial in an essay about trauma. Here’s a link and a quote


    Cyclical Nature of Trauma and Defenses
    One of the most damaging aspects of trauma and its resulting defenses is that they have a contagious quality. When a person – or human system – experiences trauma and then develops defenses, they may then interact with other people and human systems, especially those closest to them, and with their environment, in ways consistent with and limited by their defenses. This not only continues to diminish their ability to get their needs met, but it also diminishes their ability to help others get their needs met, including those, like children, who are dependent on them, or leads them to overstep boundaries and even prevent others from getting their needs met.

    Thus, intentionally or not, the traumatized person or system then becomes a creator of further trauma to themselves, to others, and to their environment. Their victims then develop defenses of their own and the vicious generational cycle continues, sometimes exploding into an epidemic.

  4. Pamela,
    It’s really interesting the amount of things we can apply epidemic too. How much of human culture and INTERACTION revolves around epidemics, and spreading thoughts, words, actions, feelings, and yes…diseases. It can be used all the way from peer pressure to hatred to trauma and to pregnancy (see most recent post).

    It’s incredibly overwhelming.

    I wish I knew more about epidemiology and as you say, tracking the roots and causes.

    I’d like to look at rage that way at some point. I’ve looked at the spread of it, but not as much the cause of it. That would be interesting to examine.

  5. Wow, heavy stuff y’all.

    What I’m thinking about is the issue of violence and non-violence, self-preservation versus moral high ground. That is, is it a fate worse than death to abandon our loves ones (be they fellow two-leggeds, or our principles) in order just to keep breathing. For a long time, I felt pretty agnostic about the importance of ‘principles,’ and maybe even family, and would not hesitate to advocate for self-preservation as, to paraphrase a comic I read recently, ‘the first law of the universe.’ Reading this, though, I don’t know. Is that cowardice? What does that mean? I’ve read it advocated that, humans aren’t rational beings so much as rationalizing beings. That is, if it makes sense for our survival and perceived well-being, we can find excuses to ennoble anything.

    Also, a nice little factoid from ‘World War Z:’ Decimate has a colloquial definition (to kill in large numbers), but a strictly literal one, too: to reduce either by one-tenth, or to one-tenth of the original size. I thought that was cool.

  6. Rob, that is really cool about the word decimate. I actually didn’t know that and should have considering I use that word a lot when discussing the future of our race. Haha.

    I’m not sure I would deem self-preservation cowardice, but I think it depends on the severity of the situation and the probability of saving others lives as well as your own. Remember the zombie survival quiz! You get points deducted for saying you would try to save a friend or family member who broke their leg or were surrounded by a group of zombies. And to be perfectly honest, looking at humans right now, a pandemic of zombie or uncontrollable rage might not be as unrealistic as everyone seems to think.

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