This is not fine

by Pete Mazzaccaro
Posted 9/17/20

 

The boiling frog is a well-worn metaphor for the remarkable ability of living things to adopt to their environment, even to the point where that environment becomes fatal. The frog in water …

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This is not fine

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The boiling frog is a well-worn metaphor for the remarkable ability of living things to adopt to their environment, even to the point where that environment becomes fatal. The frog in water that is heated slowly will continue to be content until the water becomes too hot for it to survive. While it would react painfully if it touched boiling water, it can’t detect the gradual change.

The metaphor was smartly captured by the “This is Fine” meme in which a cartoon dog drinking coffee in a room on fire smiles and says: “This is Fine!”

Scientists have shown human beings are the same and for pretty understandable reasons. Acclimating to our environment is an important way to avoid stress and get on with living. We can be remarkably resilient, adapting to war conditions, extreme cold, etc. If we didn’t have the capacity to adapt – to go with the flow – we’d have a real hard time surviving. So we’re wired to persist as circumstances change. This is especially true when the changes feel gradual. Like the boiling frogs, we often don’t perceive the changes at all.

We’ve seen that with Covid-19. Many people around the country refused to even take the pandemic seriously. In places where it was taken seriously – where stay-at-home orders were issued and businesses closed – people are again beginning to move on and get back to some semblance of normal, returning to restaurants and schools, cautiously hoping to get on with life despite the risks.

Covid has not touched most of us directly. In Philadelphia, the nearly 35,000 cases account for only 2.3 percent of the city’s population. While many of us might intellectually know it’s dangerous, we have to be careful not to get too relaxed.

In Philadelphia, and other major cities, we’ve become very used to living with extraordinary levels of gun violence. In Philadelphia, year-to-date homicides as of Sept. 13 were up 32% with 319 killed compared to 242 in 2019. That number has been going up every year since 2016 after a long period of decline. Again, homicide does not impact a vast majority of people in the city or in the greater Philadelphia area. We can ignore it, consider it a scourge of “poor neighborhoods” and go about our business.

We can also largely ignore the fires consuming California, Oregon and Washington state. In California, 3.2 million acres of land – the size of Connecticut – have burned. And yet, it’s not that much hotter here in Philadelphia and our skies aren’t red and choked with soot.

While that instinct to keep calm and carry on is valuable, it’s important to make sure we don’t become so used to the changes around us that they don’t register. While not everything we see or read in the news affects us directly, the larger implications of climate change and American gun crime are not abstract issues experienced only by others. They – and so many other problems – are faced by us all. To solve them, we have to recognize the pot is boiling and we’re all in it.

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