The Icelandic Ash Cloud provides a textbook example of the way civilization deals with encounters with reality. For a short while, the implications of a surprising event break through our delusions and the consequences of business-as-usual appear in all their precarious, dangerous fragility. Then economics – the practice of putting willful desire ahead of reality – goes to work. The economic costs are tallied and pressure builds to return to “normalcy” at whatever cost – in “externalities.” The dynamic of delusion that allows us to ignore such frightening glimpses of just how brittle and unsustainable civilization leaves us, re-assumes its Right to Gain at the cost of all else.
When it’s convenient to do so, risks are hyped out of proportion to justify radical consolidations of power. At other times, like this, risk is downplayed. Economic power passes on its risks, both physical and financial, onto the public. People will now fly with a narrower margin of safety, and the expectation that industry’s losses in the face of this totally unforeseeable calamity – where have we heard that before? – will need to be covered by society. The press, who for a few brief moments in the over-all surprise, behaved as their avowed purpose would state they should; now close ranks and put out the line they are paid to toe. Risks will be shown to have been silly panic – notice how that never applies to campaigns to ramp up the need for flexing top-down power – and the paid mourners will wail at the losses of yet another behemoth that’s Too Big to Fail.
The scar tissue will grow over this most recent intrusion of reality into the delusional system of civilization. Its touts will close over the raw gaps quickly and we’ll all breath a sigh of relief.