You Aren’t Going to Get Ebola, But that Doesn’t Mean You Won’t Suffer


Photo Courtesy of Presidio of Monterey

You aren’t going to get Ebola. The chances that anyone you know will get Ebola are exceedingly slim. The chances that you will know someone who knows someone who gets Ebola are small. Even if you live in West Africa, in the heart of the worst outbreak of the disease in the history of the world, your chances of getting it are low. So, trust me, if you live in a small town in Nebraska, you’re all good.

(If you doubt me, listen to this great episode of The Survival Podcast where Jack lays out the numbers)

All this doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from the national convulsion we’ve been going through over it. Indeed, there are a couple of important things to notice, but neither has to do with the disease itself.

Let’s reflect a minute on the role of the media. The spread of Ebola into the United States has been an exciting drama millions have watched unfold live on cable. Media people have all kinds of motives for pumping up this story, ranging from a sincere desire to arm the populace with necessary information to a desire to send ratings soaring. Either way, the attention given to it creates the feeling that your doom is pretty much at hand and you better go get your affairs in order before your eyes start to bleed.

More important than the media in this case is the audience. People respond to this kind of story because we are primed for disaster. The ongoing sense that things are going to fall apart is pervasive. Everybody who thinks about it has a feeling that things can’t go on as they are.

And everybody is right. Even though Ebola isn’t going to wipe out the population, all the attention paid to it has exposed weaknesses in our system. Too few hospitals are ready for Ebola patients. The guy in Texas who died from the disease was initially sent home from the hospital even after telling hospital staff that he had been exposed to the virus.

The point is that the overwhelmingly complex systems in which we put our faith as a society are inadequate. Moreover, these systems are breaking down, and that erosion is not limited to our medical system. Everywhere we see signs that the complex systems that support our way of life are faltering. This shift from complex systems to a world made up of simpler, more locally-based ones accounts for the latent anxiety that makes us all so sure the world may be ending any minute now.

Panic is not the right response. A better response is to choose, on an individual level, to simplify wherever we can. We must all either choose simpler lives now, or have simpler lives forced upon us in the future. However painful choosing to simplify now might be, doing so will be much less painful than having such changes forced on you as larger cultural and economic shifts accelerate.

Concrete suggestions for simplifying are myriad, but here’s a good first step: stop watching Ebola coverage. Pretty much, stop watching everything. If you want to watch television, get a Netflix account and watch repeats of stuff from thirty years ago. Magnum P.I. is still good.

Think about how you can set yourself up to flourish in tough times. It is indicative of so much wrong with American culture, that we have millions in a lather over Ebola who haven’t taken even minor steps to prepare for a serious snowstorm in their neighborhood. Don’t be one of those people.

The purpose of this post isn’t to tell you exactly what steps to take to become more prepared for system breakdown large or small. There are plenty of resources for that. The point is to tell you to not to be led astray into panic over the possibility of disastrous, sudden calamity but to focus instead on the certainty of slow, constricting circumstances as the complex systems on which we depend erode a bit at a time.

In short, you aren’t going to get Ebola, but that doesn’t mean you won’t suffer. Everyone is going to experience some discomfort as the transitions the world is undergoing continue. How much you pain you experience is going to depend, in large part, on how active you are in preparing for the inevitable changes. Adopting an overall attitude that values self-sufficiency and preparedness, in other words, is going to do a lot more for you than freaking out for a few minutes inside your stylish new HAZMAT suit.


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