On Tragedies and Disasters

April 18, 2007

Having worked in news for years, and read news for even more years, there is one thing I am always struck by: Tragedies and disasters are almost never unanticipated. Even the ones that seem to happen out of the blue. The Virginia Tech and Columbine shooters had been identified by teachers or other students as being troubled, and had even been referred to counseling and the police. Documentaries were made about what would happen if a strong hurricane hit New Orleans. Tsunami warning systems along certain Asian coasts had been in the works for years. And we all know that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were not so surprising to far too many US officials.

Of course, we can’t assume that every worry will be actualized, and even when we identify a likely problem, it still takes a huge leap to imagine a plane flying into a skyscraper or the submersion of an entire city (though, sadly, it’s less hard to imagine a massacre of young people given its regularity). And these tragedies get more attention than daily tragedies, such as car accidents or constant youth killings in urban neighborhoods, which happen in front of our collective eyes all the time. Yet, it’s hard not to ask: If there are few surprises, why are there so many tragedies and disasters?

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2 Responses to “On Tragedies and Disasters”

  1. emilyshaw Says:

    I say because of conflicting priorities. Like the privacy vs. security question, society often wants things that are to some degree mutually exclusive. But then, when we choose priority x over y, and a tragedy occurs in connection with our failure to choose y, we retrospectively downgrade our appreciation of x and think, what the hell were we thinking, x instead of y? Then the x supporters are like, no, x really was a reasonable choice, who could have seen y coming; and the y people are all, dude, WE did, how do you like your stupid x now, you insensitive chumps, and the x people say, well I don’t know, there’s still a lot of good reasons to like x (although they may say that more quietly for a while), and so on.

  2. emilyshaw Says:

    oh, and I like yer new blog title. Dunky says hi.


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