The Problem with Storms is that We Need Them

Walter Isaacson on Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes:

“Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban Short Hills, N.J., on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon?” Percy wrote in one of his essays. “Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?” Part of the answer is that when a hurricane is about to hit, we no longer feel uncertain about our role in the world. Everyone is focused, connected, engaged. We know what we’re supposed to do, and we do it.

Things are different when something is at stake: You stop the petty fighting, you get rid of distractions, and you begin to do what’s right.

How do we know what’s right, though? I’m currently reading Gerd Gigerenzer’s take on risk and intuition, and I wonder whether a hurricane situation allows us to act more intuitively. Needless to say that hurricanes can be all kinds of things: In any dramatic situation, we either unconsciously bypass our rational routines or we allow ourselves to ignore them – opening a pathyway for our intuition to take over. Maybe this isn’t a complete picture of the magic that’s happening, but I would guess it’s a part of it.

“The problem with storms is that they pass”, says Isaacson. He’s right, but it’s worse: The problem with storms is that – despite all their downsides – they need to occur in the first place. Because if they don’t, we simply get stuck in what Percy calls “the malaise”.1

One of my big questions since starting this blog: How can we act better without suffering from the hurricane in the first place?

  1. See also, likeley related: Bad Faith. The New Escapologist once dedicated a whole issue to the matter! []