(Notes on) Panic & Plentitude

"American citizens in particular are encouraged to fracture their self-conceptions on the hard edges of panic and plentitude, suspicion and sympathy, particularity and universalism."
--Castiglia and Castronovo, A "Hive of Subtlety": Aesthetics and the End(s) of Cultural Criticism
Way back in the 1870s, an Italian geologist named Antonio Stoppani proposed that people had introduced a new era, which he labeled the anthropozoic. Stoppani’s proposal was ignored; other scientists found it unscientific. The Anthropocene, by contrast, struck a chord. Human impacts on the world have become a lot more obvious since Stoppani’s day, in part because the size of the population has roughly quadrupled, to nearly seven billion. ‘The pattern of human population growth in the twentieth century was more bacterial than primate,’ biologist E. O. Wilson has written. Wilson calculates that human biomass is already a hundred times larger than that of any other large animal species that has ever walked the Earth. Elizabeth Kolbert. “Enter the Anthropocene—Age of Man.” National Geographic, March 2011.
[President Obama] initially faced pressure to label the bombings terrorism to strengthen law enforcement powers, and he made that declaration before a national audience. Now his administration is being asked to state the opposite to save businesses along Boylston Street from a serious financial hit. Casey Ross. "Boston merchants hope bombing not labeled terrorism." Boston Globe, May 11, 2013.
Robert F. Sisson and Donald McBain, National Geographic, March 1957. “Apprentice air traffic controllers train with model aircraft at Andrews Air Base in Maryland.” (via)

Robert F. Sisson and Donald McBain, National Geographic, March 1957. “Apprentice air traffic controllers train with model aircraft at Andrews Air Base in Maryland.” (via)

We only dimly realize how dependent we are in every way in all our decisions. There’s some sort of link-up between it all, we feel, but we don’t know what. That’s why most people take the piece of bread, the lack of work, the declaration of war as if they were phenomena of nature: earthquakes or floods. Phenomena like this seem at first only to affect certain sections of humanity, or to affect the individual only in certain sectors of his habits. It’s only much later that normal everyday life turns out to have become abnormal in a way that affects us all. Something has been forgotten, something has gone wrong … It’s because people know so little about themselves that their knowledge of nature is so little use to them. Bertolt Brecht. The Messingkauf dialogues (1965).
For the first time in history, a massive, media-driven political awakening has been occurring — spurred by the advent of the Internet, social media, and cable television — that can, on the one hand, motivate universal respect for human rights while, on the other, enable, say, Muslims from Borneo to sacrifice themselves for Palestine, Afghanistan, or Chechnya (despite almost no contact or shared history for the last 50,000 years or so). When perceived global injustice resonates with frustrated personal aspirations, moral outrage gives universal meaning and provides the push to radicalization and violent action. Scott Atran. “Black and White and Red All Over: How the hyperkinetic media is breeding a new generation of terrorists." Foreign Policy, April 22, 2013.
With the passing of each tragic event, Americans say they are more angry than afraid, vowing to defy the randomness of violence. Michael Tackett. “Boston Bombings Bring Americans Closer to Living on Edge.” Bloomberg.com, April 18, 2013. See also: “Everything Seemingly Spinning Out of Control.”
Ten years of war have brought details of attacks like these to our towns through news, images, and the soldiers who saw and encountered them. Almost every hospital has a surgeon or nurse or medic with battlefield experience, sometimes several. Many also had trauma personnel who deployed to Haiti after the earthquake, Banda Aceh after the tsunami, and elsewhere. Disaster response has become an area of wide interest and study. Cities and towns have conducted disaster drills, including one in Boston I was involved in that played out the scenario of a dirty-bomb explosion at Logan Airport on an airliner from France. The Massachusetts General Hospital brought in Israeli physicians to help revamp their disaster-response planning. Richard Wolfe at the Beth Israel Deaconess recalled an emergency physician’s presentation of the medical response required after the Aurora, Colorado, movie-theatre shooting of seventy people last summer. From 9/11 to Newtown, we’ve all watched with not only horror but also grave attention the myriad ways in which the sociopathy of killers has combined with the technology of inflicting mass casualty. Atul Gawande. “Why Boston’s Hospitals were Ready.” The New Yorker, April 17, 2013.
It was just something that technology made possible and it became possible for me to do stupid things. I mean, the thing I did, and the damage that I did, not only hadn’t it been done before, but it wasn’t possible to do it before. Anthony Weiner, in Jonathan Van Meter. “Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin’s Post-Scandal Playbook.” The New York Times Magazine, April 10, 2013.