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Edward Williams Clay: The Times
(1837 U.S. caricature on the financial panic of that year)
"Being human hardly seems human some days."

Given the choice between fighting or fleeing, few humans seem very interested in winding their watch while choosing None Of The Above. We're suddenly consumed with an apparently urgent need to survive, especially when the situation carries little threat. We seem to be herd animals, sensitive to subtle, even non-existent cues. Someone passes you and you might well feel absolutely compelled to catch up and overtake them, goaded into a curious competition. What might happen if that other arrived at the next exit thirteen seconds before you? Whenever a situation seems to compel me into a life or death contest, I might prove wisest should I turn sanguine and dispassionately evaluate rather than start berating some other who maybe could have been my benevolent brother but which I instead insist upon turning into just another one of those. You know who I mean. A Them.

A poster on the neighborhood listserv invites nobody to panic. "Don't panic," she insisted, "but if you're wanting to stock up on face masks and tissue, you should seriously consider getting to the store before all the panic buying begins.
Others will be buying more than their fair share and though the prices have already started gouging, you would be wise to act now. Tomorrow might be too late." Panic ensues. The fact that those face masks prove useless for this virus matters little. One simply must insist upon getting their fair share, which might mean personally cornering the market on hand sanitizer. First come, most deserving, I guess. The impending mess won't be my fault. Malingerers beware. The first to arrive will determine your fair share.

Fairness has nothing to do with anything when we switch into PanicMode. We're instantly in it only for ourselves, each for each and nobody but number one for good old number one. There's a run on and we're suddenly immersed in a race intent upon saving face. There's so much to lose and so very little to gain, we simply must enter the game. Shame abandons us. Pride presides. We simply MUST survive then, as if humanity's survival somehow depended upon our continued personal existence. We feel most compelled to not end up a loser, a negative-space target most likely to morph into its opposite. So many seem likely to lose, us most prominently included. We avert impending tragedy by engaging in absolute parody, a tragic comedy of fundamentally logical errors. We take advantage of ourselves lest someone else take mean advantage of us first. The only way to win might lie in not swallowing that alluring rubber worm. There's a nasty hook hidden inside it. Such circumspection seems beyond any of us in that first startling moment of recognition. The same-old's threatened. Fight to preserve that revered old status quo!

I might die without that useless face mask. I might not survive running out of toilet paper in the middle of a diarrhea epidemic. It might prove much wiser to lock myself in the basement bathroom until the radioactive mantises have had their way with the town, but I'm much more likely to run around the town square with the rest of the crazed population, more vulnerable thanks to our shared PanicMode. Nobody seems to ever think of winding their watch in response to any provocation. We get our backs up instead and head directly into the greatest possible peril. Watches don't need winding these days, anyway, we rationalize, embracing an explanation that makes perfect sense except that it doesn't. The analysts will advise otherwise, but we're not analysts, but pessimists at heart, jealous of anyone's imagined advantage. We'll gleefully do ourselves in to get even. Being human hardly seems human some days.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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