Causes, Effects and Scary Scenarios

The two things I’ve been thinking about most: Trump and Tectonic Plates, have been written about so much that I can’t in all conscience add [many] more words into the soup.

But I would say that the juxtaposition of the US election and the Rotherham-to-Seddon [Kaikoura] earthquake does give New Zealanders a unique perspective – metaphorically and geographically – on both issues.

Circuses and Monkeys

First, we understand that an extreme upheaval [such as the election of a right wing extremist] is likely to have cascading effects along a whole host of other social and cultural fault lines in the US, in which anything, anything at all, might happen.

The future is wide-open and Putin’s Russia is probably the best example of what happens next. Worst-case scenario for the world – a Putin-esque cult of personality internally, combined with cynical manipulation of human gullibility by the masters of media theatre. Oh wait – ??  Bread and circuses?

Scary Scenarios

Anyway – at least in the meantime – that is not my circus and those are not my monkeys. But it has definitely changed the way I view probabilities. For instance, when earthquake scientists tell us that some scary scenarios have only a 20% or 30% chance of happening, we now know that’s still a real chance, especially when uncertainty is high.

My daughter, who lived through the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, tells me to toughen up – that such experiences build resilience. She thinks Aucklanders are too soft – we have things too easy – couldn’t cope in a real emergency.

Canaries in the Coal Mine

I think resilience is part of the story of the US election as well. I’m sure many Americans do feel more economically insecure as a result of the global financial crisis, the export of industrial jobs to low-wage economies and the disruptive effect of technology on many others. If you grew up believing in the American dream and the myth of American exceptionalism, you probably did expect a lot more, so you’re kind of sensitive to signs that it’s not going your way. Trump is quite an extreme choice – 21st Century USA isn’t exactly the Weimar Republic after all.

But sadly, these hyper-sensitive canaries in the US coal mine, and their Brexiting counterparts in middle England are tracking reality. The dominant consumer-industrial economic system has begun to implode and it’s taking them with it. I guess the analogy would be of a snake swallowing its tail. Consumers expect things to be cheaper and cheaper, businesses respond by cutting their costs. Because workers are costs as well as consumers, cutting their ability to earn and consume also reduces their ability to support the business model. I’m not sure the new President is up for a makeover of the economic system though. It’s much easier to blame the symptoms.

Watch and Read

I’ll write more about this another day, but to end, a little light reading and viewing for you:

I’ve been watching: this drive through the Hundalees [hills south of Kaikoura] by some local guy who just wanted to see for himself. I love this kind of raw real life footage. It’s a route I used to travel quite frequently – and one the government has spent a huge amount of money upgrading over the years. Part of me, heart in mouth, was yelling at the screen “don’t go round there!” but the rest of me wanted to see.

And I’ve been reading this: New Zealand’s Tectonic Dragon Awakes Sheep references aside, what I really like about this is the way this professor of geology uses everyday imagery to communicate some quite complicated geotechnical concepts. It may not be particularly reassuring, but at least it’s clear.


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