News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Face-palming the apocalypse

Given the extraordinary speed of modern information exchange, it can be difficult to properly triage the many hundreds of crisis declarations demanding our immediate and undivided attention. Hyperventilating for attention is no longer just the brief of a four-year-old who doesn’t want to eat his asparagus. It’s everywhere.

Just this morning, for instance, while doom-scrolling over a cup of tea, I struggled to triage the Debt-Ceiling Crisis, the Ukraine Crisis, the Climate Crisis, the Opioid Crisis, the Migrant Crisis, the Dead Bodies on Everest Crisis, the Bud Light Beer Can Crisis, the Popocatépetl Eruption Crisis, the Mummified Remains of Senator Feinstein Crisis, the Adidas-Yeezy Sneaker Fallout Crisis, the Joe Biden Falls Down Again Crisis, and any number of apocalyptic developments from Kashmir to Kentucky.

Of course, the problem isn’t with perpetual crises — not really — because human history is essentially a scary ghost story, the long-form narrative of our ancestors pinballing between dire predicaments.

Instead, the problem we have today seems to be the sheer volume of incoming conundrums that confront us, the rolling barrage of alleged calamities that come in from every platform imaginable. It can be exhausting to sort through the rack and ruin pumped into our consciousness by lampreys of the administrative state, social media “influencers,” the Vampires of Bilderberg, and the various Titans of Crisis walking the earth disguised as journalists.

We can’t do anything about most of it, of course, which is part of that inarticulable frustration many people feel, and which presents in various ways — from explosive road rage, to save the sea-ice drum circles, to people throwing soup, and then paint, and then soup again on the Mona Lisa.

And if we are being honest, we aren’t really being asked to do anything about all of these emergencies except give our undivided attention to each new train derailment and chemical fire. The crisis industry wants our attention because they have a financial interest in keeping the idea of extinction-level threats running in our consciousness like hamsters on a wheel. The longer a crisis spins, the more money sticks to it, and so the industry is forever hunting for the next “edgy” story to stamp with the crisis label — because hyperbole is the only way to get anyone’s attention. It may also help explain, to some degree, why so many people seem to be, in fact, so very edgy.

The crisis industry is good at making every crisis feel like your immediate problem, but most of them really aren’t. And it’s also true that locally, where we might be able to do something to affect an outcome, we can probably focus better.

The most critical threat we face in Sisters isn’t from traffic, monstrous gas stations or, egads, even wolves. The most critical threat we face is from wildfire. Full stop. A wildfire in Sisters could destroy the entire town in short order, as it did in Paradise, California, or closer to home in Blue River. One might think that the on-going threat of a truly catastrophic wildfire might jump to the top of our priority list and stay there, banging gongs and blowing whistles while engendering real action to do everything that can be done to prevent one.

But it isn’t at all clear that is the case.

One might think, for instance, that someone, somewhere, in some official capacity, might take a more serious approach to the dozens of people living illegally in the public forest whose caravans or campsites may suddenly erupt in flames, as they recently have.

As ever, predictable remains preventable, but it’s doubtful that anyone in an official position to do something will do too much. Not because they don’t want to — these are usually good people just trying to make a living — but because the model of governance they work under requires that decisions about who gets to live on public land, and for how long, be made 2,710 miles away in Washington DC.

The stakeholders, of course, don’t live in Washington DC — we all live here — but don’t let that irritate you, because these days policy often replaces the law. Maybe that’s because we have bad laws, or maybe it’s just because it’s easier to hide behind policy. Maybe it’s both. Either way, it’s certainly the way things are, and nobody seems to know how we got here. And not much changes in that arrangement until it’s too late — when the predictable-preventable eventually causes a catastrophe.

It would be wrong, of course, to lay human-caused wildfire threats solely on homeless people dwelling long-term, and maybe forever, in the public woods. Having a mortgage doesn’t make anyone a saint, and this space believes that any homeowner who abandons a campfire or walks away from their debris burn — as they recently have — should be placed in stocks on Cascade Avenue. Would that prevent a wildfire? No. But in the age of “raising awareness,” an edgy TikTok video of good-neighbor Ted dangling in the stocks might make some waves about how seriously the stakeholders of Sisters Country take the wildfire issue.

Maybe that’s too much. It might be. It’s just that in a world of things to worry about, where an entire nation seems to be grasping for relief from the relentless shelling of the crisis industry, it might be helpful to start by properly triaging our concern for the very real problems closest to home.


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