Friday, August 26, 2011

Inflated Sense of Self Importance

This has been a crazy week for my friends and family back East. On Tuesday (8/23/11) there was a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Virginia that was felt widely throughout the Eastern part of the country. Friends in Connecticut and State College, PA felt it, and I even heard that people in Boston felt it too. In addition to the earthquake, the whole East coast is bracing itself for hurricane Irene, which should be going through my home state of CT over the weekend.

I don't like natural disasters, but as a geologist I have a weird sense of disappointment that I have never been through an earthquake. I'm not trivializing it, I have an idea of how dangerous and scary they can be. That's not the point. Earthquakes and other major events are demonstrations of the amazing power of natural forces, and I'm fascinated by any event that show that the Earth isn't just a static piece of rock floating through space. By the end of the weekend, people back East will have experienced two powerful forces in a one-week span: a fairly large earthquake and a pretty serious hurricane.

The only thing that is kind of getting under my skin about all of this is the reaction that people are having, specifically "Why is this happening?", or "What did we do to deserve this?" As if there is some reason these things happen beyond chance and the physical sciences. I'm hearing things like "this is because New York legalized gay marriage", or "this is because of Obama". Seriously?? That's not how the Earth works. There are reasons for all of the events that happen, that's for sure. But they have nothing to do with petty human social affairs. When I hear these kinds of things, I feel like we've stepped back into the Dark Ages.

Maybe it's because people feel like bad things need some kind of moral reason for happening. But bad stuff happens all the time, to all kinds of people. We're so absorbed with ourselves, that when something like this happens it feels special because it's "happening to us." But these kinds of things have been happening for as long as the Earth has existed, and they'll keep happening once we're long gone.

My suggestion is that if you want to know why stuff happens, spend some time reading about the physical causes and the science behind it. I know blaming it on "divine retribution" might be easier and make you feel better, but it's total and complete crap. Knowing the real how and why behind things like earthquakes is fascinating. But it sure as hell isn't all about you.

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