Thursday, May 16, 2013

Society is Fragile - Deal with it.

It has been awhile since I wrote so I felt it important to write a significantly disturbing entry. Don't get me wrong, I have studied global maps and found some cool places for humanity to lay low while Zombies march unstoppably across vast continents of people/lunch. I have a number of locations picked out, and I hope to start a weekly series soon outlining these safe(r) havens. If you have a site you would like investigated for its survivability, just message me with the location and the coordinates for a Google Earth search and I will check it out. Lets go ahead and worry about all that later as I start on today's topic - how frail civilization really is.

Civilization exists in a careful and complex balance. Our society is a long line of carefully timed deliveries of raw goods and products that can be broken in a single spot with disastrous consequences for everything else. While this system works well and have some measures to maintain equilibrium - the system as a whole is very delicate. This is a natural tendency of any system geared towards greater complexity that homeostasis is more difficult to maintain. For those of you not familiar with the term - homeostasis is the ability of a system to maintain itself against changes circumstances. For example when it is hot out you sweat to keep cool. All processes have some level of capacity for adjusting to changing circumstances.

Our society though, can fall apart more quickly than other systems that exist if pressure is added in just the right spot. Since my generation loves lists - let's make one with the soft points of society.

1. People: Humans are the very creature that made society - however we are not the only animals on this planet to create functioning societies with different levels of success. There are birds and small mammals that engaged in group activities for safety - Meerkats watch out for predators and warn their group of danger. Some species of bird sound alarms to their brethren to avoid danger. No one can doubt the organic avoidance of predators by flocks of bird or schools of fish as they move around. My favorite society building creature of all, the mighty Ant, is it a stable practice of some species to farm livestock in the form of aphids  or grow their food (a specific type of mold) on the rotting mass they purposely create inside their hive.

Humans are a weak point because we can be confused, we can become diseased, or used against our peers in many different ways. Additionally, we are very apt to throw our peers to the wolves if we think it will save our own hide. We rob each other - even more so to survive in a disaster. Fact is, once something doesn't go a certain way we will stoop to utterly depraved levels of violence to finish the job of destroying society in record time.

2. The Digital Age: You I-Phone or Android device will be the death of us all. Not directly, but your reliance on technology is a very disturbing aspect of a both the help and the danger technology poses. You see, every time we develop a tool or a piece of technology that does a job for us - we take away the need of that knowledge ourselves. This is not a specifically bad process - by centralizing water processing we can clean a lot more water, and free me up to work harder at my job. And maybe not so hard boiling water to avoid dysentery. I have had it - it sucks. The reason that technology is both a help and a bane is that it because we no longer need to do certain tasks - we are losing the ability to do them at all.

Just as a test of this, attempt to recall the five telephone numbers for the first people you would call in an emergency. Don't use your phone, your Facebook, your Google Account, MSN, or anything else. Just from memory. Chances are you see these numbers every day when you call them, text them. Maybe even when you post to their wall online. Recalling phone number in the apocalypse will be a moot point - but the point of  losing skills that were once used every day is. I have great respect for anyone who seeks to maintain a basic skill that technology cannot take away - that person is worth their weight in gold in any disaster because they become more resistant to harmful circumstance. I have some basic wood working skills - I just recently made a gorgeous table. However in an apocalypse I understand enough to build things, to repair wooden structures. I have relatives who are plumbers, electricians, masons - the works. That skill set means that I have less to relearn in case those skills are needed. Tell me: what use is Paris Hilton in a disaster? Not a damn bit of good.

3.  Oil/Fossil Fuels: This is not just a general "fossil fuels bad" comment. In fact Fossil Fuels are incredibly useful - it is why their products have pervaded our lives. Coal is powering large swaths of our country. Oil is responsible for the plastics age. Trouble is that it took a REALLY long time to develop the system that uses oil. Coal is hard to transport without other fossil fuels. Without Oil - Coal will only move slowly and in much smaller quantities to where it would be burned. Without a lot of that coal - there is very little power to make more oil into fuel. Hell, a lot of the easily accessible oil that can be reached without power is now gone. We are now using fossil fuels at a higher rate to get more fossil fuels - I think you start to see the cycle here. Take out a refinery in a hurricane, or an Earthquake and instantly millions of dollars in costs will appear. First the repair of the facility, then the market shortage, more fuels need to be used to get back to the original production point. It just keeps adding up.

At the end of the day what is even worse - These resources are humanly finite. The amount theoretically produced in a human lifespan is so much smaller than what a single person uses, let alone an entire planet. Not mention that these fossil fuels are created from the plant and animals we already paved over with cement - how can more oil or coal be made unless we have swaths of forest and animals being buried to become the coal and oil?

4. The Internet: Humans are social creatures - but we are also animals. We are the dominant animals of the planet because we developed certain tendencies that kept us alive in dangerous situations. However these genetic traits are now also very dangerous because they can be triggered at a much faster rate. Herd animals will stampeded if provided the right circumstances - it is a flight response to danger. Humans are also prone to a fight or flight response - both of which can reach so much further with technology than without. In 1950, if a person was paranoid that someone was watching him and lost his mind as he started to run screaming down the street chances are no one would ever hear about it. Maybe a few people were get scared and run with him or in another direction.  The Internet allows what can be called the Fight or Flight response to be sent out to every corner of the Earth in microsecond. One persons panic can suddenly become the panic of a planet. It is like triggering a stampede across the planet instead of an isolated valley - because of a terror that is still the same size.

Additionally - the Internet is so widely used and manipulated that it is as dangerous as many other elements of our lives. Stocks can plunge on a rumor started by some stranger spouting off in a chat room in Pakistan. Armies can come to blows and riots start because of a fake news report sent out to an email address. Who here can count how many times Morgan Freeman has died this year alone because humans can be sent along delusional paths so easily. Maybe this should be rolled into Humans as well - but it still is important on its own for the havoc it can cause.

Are there more" I can certainly guarantee that there are. Civilization is only as resilient as its subsequent parts - and we are really flimsy at times. One single point of pressure, if pressed at the right moment *cough* Solar Flare *cough* can send everything we know into a tail spin. Don't panic, but be aware that as Atlas stands there with the Earth on his shoulders, that sometimes the strength of one person is all that stands between you and the collapse of civilization. IF that doesn't make you thankful for what we have - I am not sure what else would.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hyperactive Agency Detection

I know, another wonderful entry that revolves around, dare I say it, science explaining fear. specifically in my case, a fear of Zombies. I was inspired earlier today by web comic artist Maki Naro of Specifically his comic on "Things that go Bump in the Night". Yes Maki, I plugged you. Deal with it.

What is the Hyperactive Agency Detection? (also known as HADD in some circles) According to wikipedia and a short google search into it - it is a part of the brain that give humans the capacity (and propensity) to assume that some unknown noise or movement is a specific acting agent. Example - you see a shadow and think someone is after you. Believe it or not - it can be mathematically shown to be more valuable for our brains to keep this biological instinct than to let it go away. Case in point: ancient man assuming a Sabertooth is behind a bush and being wrong is a lot safer than not assuming a dangerous animal is there and being eaten. The guy/gal that was paranoid lives while the hopelessly-safe-feeling idiot is lunch.

Why should I include this in a blog about zombies? For this part of the brain to actually affect human behavior, it has to activate a fear inside the mind. One that will shock and terrify and really grab the attention of the poor soul having the reaction. I make it no secret to those who know me that I have very few fears - I am concerned about certain things, but real active fears are very small for me. I have been through a lot of hells - physically, emotionally - all of it. I have looked on the face of evil and have been tempered by it in some ways.

More simply put - my mind has to seek out the best way of scaring me to react and zombies happen to be it. They are a fear that circumvents all of my knowledge, personal strength, and capacity to rely on others in any form - they call into question my capacity to survive unlike anything else out there. Demons? Dragons? Robbers? Some super-villain?  I am not that concerned - I create this stuff for fun inside my mind. Sadly, my brain has created my zombie fear in order to maintain the ability to spook me into acting safer. Of course it sucks that when I am out at night I am watching for the start of the zombie horde, any staggering individual is gauged for optimum response while avoiding being scratched or bitten or breathed on. This is the price I pay, in some ways, to stay sane.

And that - is just a fascinatingly crazy fact about the human mind. Sometimes crazy helps it maintain a grip on reality.