November 06, 2012

Why Hurricane Sandy Doesn't Really Matter and Why it Does

Presence in the Age of Trivialities
by Quinton Peeples

It came as no surprise that as Hurricane Sandy brought devastation to the Eastern Seaboard, the internet lit up with arguments, tweets and Facebook posts about the Disney/Lucasfilm merger. We are what we practice and we practice trivialization on a daily, almost hourly, basis. We have second screen experiences, scrolling headlines, live “timelines”, niche markets, microbrews and on and on and on. While I enjoy having choices, what has happened along the way is an unintentional and devastating reality: we are unable to stop choosing. We have lost our ability to sit, to simply be present with something painful and discern its relative value. While I am not criticizing a serious discussion of entertainment conglomerates merging, I am concerned that in the current context, it is better suited for a later date. We are limited, finite beings, with limited and finite energies and resources. Our ability to choose, and choose wisely what we think about and engage reveals who we are and what we value. Averting my gaze from people in need to discuss rich people getting richer, says an awful lot about me. Things I might not want to consider. And why should I? Someone just “liked” my post on Pinterest.

The Subjectivity of Horror
by Eric Olsen

Quinton argues that Hurricane Sandy is one of those moments that deserves our full attention. Perhaps because of its cataclysmic nature (and powerful imagery), its financial destruction (~$30 billion), its human devastation (current death toll: 110), and likely also, its placement in beloved New York City. It is unquestionably a tragedy of epic proportions. And yet, like Quinton mentioned, we are limited, finite beings. And we are surrounded by tragedy. There is so much horror in the world that if we choose to focus on it all, we run the risk of being swallowed up altogether - we could mourn with those who mourn until we question whether there is indeed goodness left in the world at all.

So, often without choosing, we prioritize what we allow our heart to hurt for. And Chicago's record homicides this summer (we're on track for 500 for the year) hit me harder than Sandy. Now, I can actually argue that Chicago's tragedy is "worse" objectively. Acts of man, not mother nature. Acts of hatred. Pride. Jealousy. Evil. But, it's probably just because I live here. New York is a somewhat fictional Woody Allen backdrop in my mind - despite having been there. Chicago is real to me. And there will be always be subjectivity in what we find important - what we feel connected to - what we cry for. If my daughter were diagnosed with diabetes, I would likely devote my life to finding a cure. Many in that situation do. The circumstance they find themselves in instantly changes their empathy.

I don't want to live in the trivial world Quinton described. I don't want to ignore the true acts of horror that really exist - to hide in the beauty of the world, of which there is also enough to rejoice in forever. Yet, I don't want to fall in the pit altogether, despite the seeming nobility of lying in the ashes.