War. What is it good for?
My four year old fell asleep surprisingly quickly. Especially when viewed through the lens of ‘Dad, I’m not even tired’. Imaging this was going to be a long haul event, I suddenly found myself with an unexpected time slot available for… well, initially, I must honest, scooching the Basset hound over and embracing the suckatude of television.
After briefly attempting to expand my horizons with something new (and failing) I defaulted back to the first episode of Stranger Things, the first season of which is truly masterful. The subsequent seasons, less so, but then again, I’m quite difficult to placate.
I wasn’t quite ready for bed and so in a manner that I like to think demonstrates enigmatic-ism… ha, I selected a (random-ish) book off the shelf, opened it somewhere near the middle and started reading.
Damn, I’d forgotten what a good book this was… eh… is. Wait… let me scowl for the camera.
I loved this book when it came out… as is evidenced by my tired and graunched* dustcover. (and also the fact that my hardcover is signed by the author… although I have no idea if this means a premium in the price paid for said literature)
*my spell-chekcer feels this is ‘informal British’. Who knew.
In any event, soon after its release this book (and its author) hit the podcast circuit. The Tim Ferriss Show (is that still a thing?) etc, mainstreaming its brilliance to a wider audience. Which means, of course, that now I loved it less, ha ha, and I dutifully trundled off to go find newer, shiner things that I could keep to myself and feel smug about.
But really, I think this book changed my life. Or rather, seriously adjusted my outlook on… well… everything really.
This is one of my favorite passages…
The question of societal breakdown in the face of calamity suddenly became urgent in the run-up to World War 2, when the world powers were anticipating aerial bombardments deliberately calculated to cause mass hysteria in the cities. English authorities, for example, predicted that German attacks would produce 35,000 casualties a day in London alone (total civilian casualties for the country were not even twice that). No one knew how a civilian population would react to that kind of trauma, but the Churchill government assumed the worst. So poor was their opinion of the populace – particularly the working-class people of East London- that emergency planners were reluctant to even build public bomb shelters because they worried people would move into them and simply never move out. Economic production would plummet and the shelters themselves, it was feared, would become a breeding ground for political dissent and even Communism […]
Throughout the Blitz, as it was known, many Londoners trudged to work in the morning, trudged across town to shelters to tube stations in the evening, and then trudged back to work again when it got light. Conduct was so good in the shelters that volunteers never even had to summon the police to maintain order. If anything, the crowd policed themselves according to unwritten rules that made life bearable for complete strangers jammed shoulder to shoulder on floors that were at times awash in urine [..].
‘Ten thousand people had come together without ties of friendship or economics, with no plans at all as to what they meant to do’ one man wrote about life in a massive concrete structure known as Tilbury Shelter. ‘They found themselves, literally overnight, inhabitants of a vague twilight town of strangers. At first there were no rules, rewards or penalties, no hierarchy or command. Almost immediately, ‘laws’ began to emerge – laws enforced not by police and wardens (who at first proved helpless in the face of such multitudes) but by the shelterers themselves'[…]
On and on the horror went, people dying in their homes or neighborhoods while doing the most mundane things. Not only did these experiences fail to produce mass hysteria, they didn’t even trigger much individual psychosis. Before the war, projections for psychiatric breakdown in England ran as high as four million people, but as the Blitz progressed, psychiatric hospitals around the country saw admissions go down. Emergency services in London reported an average of only two cases of ‘bomb neuroses’ a week. Psychiatrists watched in puzzlement as long-standing patients saw their symptoms subside during the period of intense air raids. Voluntary admissions to psychiatric wards noticeably declined, and even epileptics reported having fewer seizures. ‘Chronic neurotics of peacetime now drive ambulances,’ one doctor remarked. Another ventured to suggest that some people actually did better during wartime.
-Tribe, Sebastian Junger, Hachette Books, 2016
I tag this under my libertarianism schtick. Mostly because we humans (being the cynical types we are) often live in doubt as to our ability to co-operate with each other without an ‘effective’ government and ‘leadership’ caste. And that everything will just look like Mad Max… or ever worse… Seattle if we try and do it ourselves.
I’m not sure I believe that. I think we could do it. We just need… eh… a war… or a natural disaster to refocus us and bring us together. Not a pandemic though. Clearly disease is not the great unifier we expected it might be.
Which is sad. Maybe this will be the great missed opportunity of our species.
I blame the liberals! Or maybe the conservatives. One of them is definitely to blame for this though.