It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Well, actually I’ve got some kind of minor plague in the snurfle-and-sore-throat variety, but that’s neither here nor there.

The sky appears to be falling on Wall Street, and yet…I am calm.

This is no credit to my mastery of Zen, nor, I hope, does it reflect my failure to understand the situation. Actually, I think it’s neural hardwiring.

I was reading this book a few weeks ago called "The Science of Fear" which was about how we get scared of things. Basically, there’s a little trigger in our brains, from way back in the flint-knives-and-bearskins-days, that determines how scared we should be. It operates by example–how easy is it to think of an example of this happening?

"How likely is it that I will be eaten by a crocodile if I drink at this watering hole?"

"Dude, the crocodile got Ugg last week."  Example leaps quickly to mind, ergo it must be dangerous.

"How likely is it that I will be brutalized by this anteater if I attempt to hit it with a rock?"

"Well…um…uh… Ugg used to say that his great-grandfather got savaged by a hyena dressed as an anteater, but he was never right in the head, even before the crocodile got him." Example does not leap quickly to mind, ergo it’s probably not very dangerous.

(It’s a fascinating book, by the way, in that it claims that this mechanism is what’s making us crazy, because the media is constantly bombarding us with examples regardless of likelihood, so that we have no actual idea of what’s really risky or not–when doing our unconscious risk assessment, we remember the serial killer on the nightly news, no matter how statistically insignificant it REALLY is. This is the sort of thing that keeps us from letting kids play outside because there are evil strangers in the bushes, when in fact evil strangers are vanishingly rare, and they’re in far more danger from people they know and childhood obesity from staying inside all the time.)


To get back to my original point, the sky is falling, the financial markets are going down like an off-color analogy…and I am not capable of being particularly alarmed about it.

Is this whole economic crash and bailout a big deal? Yup. Probably. But when my hindbrain does its little risk assessment trick, it can think of no example of a thing like that actually affecting me. The Great Depression, to my brain, is a historical note, a set of photos of soup kitchens, not a guy getting eaten by a crocodile in front of me. I can’t make myself believe that this is a genuine risk. 

It’s not that I don’t want to–I think this probably is a serious situation. For all I know, I’ll be in a soup kitchen line this time next year. But the hindbrain doesn’t believe it. You ask me how likely it is that your apartment will be broken into and your printer stolen, and my hindbrain screams like a kicked seal, with the end result that I lock every door in the house, despite living in bloody Pittsboro* and have seriously considered padlocking Mr. Printy II to the wall. But how likely is it that we will be plunged into catacylismic economic depression? Hindbrain can’t grasp that. Neurobiology fails me. It’s not real to me.

I believe in cats and beagles, in leftover pizza for lunch and a pencil sharpener that screams like the unquiet damned, in black tea and repainting My Little Ponies so they look like tapirs, in birdfeeders and duck decoys and webcomics and blogs and a lot of fairly unlikely things. But I don’t really believe in Wall Street. I’m sure it’s there, I’m sure it’s important, I just don’t really believe in it. It is a vague nebulous thing that exists somewhere in New York as far as I’m concerned. $700 billion might as well be sixty quadrillion-jillion–they’re not REAL numbers that I understand. (I don’t know if economists can understand these numbers either, or if they’re like astronomers using scientific notation–the math says that’s what it is, and nobody worries too much about the inability of the human mind to REALLY comprehend a number like that.) 

So. Just keep on keepin’ on, I guess. If the sky is falling, so be it. My worrying about it won’t do a damn thing to help the situation, my congressmen are well-informed of how the constituency feels about the matter, I certainly can’t avert it single-handedly. You can tell me to panic, and I will nod and say that yes, this is a terrible failing on my part that I am not panicking, but still, there it is. Hindbrain simply isn’t able to freak out about it.**

And the art still needs to get made.

*Crime rate .0001%, and that was when Leroy’s chicken went on a bender and held up the 7-11 for corn money.

**Feel free to text me while I am in the soup kitchen line and say "See, I told you so."

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