"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, March 11, 2011

Power and Powerlessness

We tend to forget the fragility of our civilizations, to take for granted the affluence and relative ease we live in, to dismiss the possibility that it could all fall apart, and quickly.  

Sometimes it's a matter of our man-made social structures suddenly collapsing -- the technology bubble bursting in 2000; the housing market in 2008; sovereign debt in 2010 (and continuing).  We believed the stock market would always go up, our houses would always appreciate, our nation-states could continue financing current consumption (welfare and social security and health care) with borrowed funds.   

Other times it's a sudden lurch into violence and war -- the shock of a European ca. 1914 being suddenly thrust into a World War; or an American waking up to the news on December 7, 1941; or, again an American waking up to scenes of towers burning on September 11th.  

But all of these things are, as it says in the old book, a "vanity" compared to the power and suddenness of natural disasters.   Today's earthquake and tsunami in Japan reminds us how powerless we really are.   (To give a minor sense of the magnitude of the earthquake, the Hiroshima bomb was approximately 12 kilotons, which would be .012 megatons of energy.   The largest hydrogen bombs in America's current nuclear arsenal are a little over 1,000 kilotons, or one megaton, although historically America did produce some bombs that approached 10 megatons in size that are no longer in active use.   But an earthquake that hits 8.9 on the Richter scale, like the one today in Japan, generates 336 megatons of energy.)  

At such points, prayer for the people affected and thankfulness for our own families' safety (however temporary) seem the only appropriate responses.   Tomorrow, and the next day, and possibly weeks and months to come, are for massive charity and assistance, which once again will likely mostly come from America and the American military, especially our Navy.     

No comments:

Post a Comment