The shipwreck has happened: Holding onto debris, can you and others make a raft, then convert it into a boat, then build to a better vessel, still using what’s around, including that now of other shipwrecks?

–Has the shipwreck already happened, but we don’t acknowledge it? That is, even though the physical shaking has yet to happen in the Pacific Northwest, is the magnitude 9.0 earthquake a catastrophe unfolding right now, before our eyes up to, during and after the actual shaking?

If state residents are falling short of being “two-week ready” after the quake (in terms of being on their own with two weeks’ worth of supplies), what should be going on in the weeks and months before? For symmetry’s purpose, the events leading up to the quake are part of that unfolding disaster.

–To phrase the challenge this way is to change the usual shipwreck metaphor of being observed from the safety of the shore: Either the ship is constantly rebuilt at sea after a storm when no option to return to port, or those who survive a shipwreck seize whatever is at hand to stay afloat, only later to be tossed up on the shore if at all.

One such recasting of the metaphor is that of German philosopher, Paul Lorenzen:

If there is no attainable solid ground, then the ship must already have been built on the high seas; not by us, but by our ancestors. Our ancestors, then, were able to swim, and no doubt — using the scraps of wood floating around — they somehow initially put together a raft, and then continually improved it, until today it has become such a comfortable ship that we do not have the courage any more to jump into the water and start all over again from the beginning.

To extend this metaphor to the M9 case: Even before the physical quaking, we’ve been and are at sea, tossed about and rebuilding our infrastructures with the debris of previous infrastructure shipwrecks.

Indeed, patching up seems to have become such a longstanding practice we see no reason to cast off and search out new ways of doing things. That is, as long as we use can use whatever better debris is around in order to face the storms and worse ones ahead.

–There is certainly some truth in that. Clearly, there are major occasions when we grab whatever is at hand and improvise solutions. Clearly, we continue to build upon already patched up infrastructures (think of the Y2K fears at the turn of the century related to the millennium bug). We’re good at workarounds–though no guarantees.

What hasn’t got as much attention is how even new construction associated with mitigations, say of retrofitting bridges and levees, are nevertheless still patchwork learned from prior failures. Retrofitting and new construction–really when you think about it–are little or no different from workarounds.

At the larger scale, isn’t that the Anthropocene?

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