Mike Davis is a born and raised Californian. I have been to California once, for three days in Los Angeles. He knows more about this than I do. But where Mike Davis is dissecting the Ecology of Fear in Los Angeles, I am dissecting his dissection. Much of what he writes refers directly to Los Angeles or to fear caused by California’s appetite for natural disaster (by way of earthquake, mudslide, or wildfire). That isn’t to say that there aren’t themes to be taken away from this. When Davis refers to the disastrous events that besieged the area during the 1990’s he makes one point which I would like to pull form the burning wreckage. In a word it seems there is a lot of importance in our expectations.
It seems according to Davis that we are the ones to blame for many of the problems which we find ourselves faced with. In the Ecology of Fear, Davis says “Paranoia about nature, of course, distracts attention from the obvious fact that Los Angeles has deliberately put itself in harm’s way” p9. Whether this be through building in flood plains, or turning historic wildfire corridors into view-lot suburbs, and in general through failing to conserve its natural ecosystems it has squandered its charm and beauty. It is where he plants the seed of expectation that I feel a comparison can be made to the subject of this Independent Study. Davis states “the social construction of “natural” disaster is largely hidden from view by a way of thinking that simultaneously imposes false expectations on the environment and then explains the inevitable disappointments as proof of a malign and hostile nature.” p9. The question I pose is this; in terms of our own safety, are we not sometimes recipients of similar thinking? What do we base our concepts of safety on? When was the last time we had a reality check? When was the last time we questioned the numbers?
Davis points out the use of statistics and historical precedents used when calculating worst case weather scenarios for preparation against disaster. His argument is that the data we use today is far too new and short to generate reliable patterns to base anything on. This faulty evidence in turn is used to prop up our expectations and when they are proven to be incorrect, our expectations and plans are dashed. When Davis refers to a “natural” disaster he is referring to what we see as slow moving, evolutionary, gradual, something that happens over thousands if not millions of years. What we need to get used to, is dramatic change.
Dramatic change, Davis argues, is indeed natural as well. While we should be accepting of the events themselves as they happen, I think we should also be accepting of their consequences. I’d like to call attention to occasions where after traumatic events there have been positive reactions and more importantly healthier expectations and predictions of similar events occurring. Things like the fire/building code, zoning laws, and increased security measures have all been responses to great fires, earthquakes, floods and terror attacks. (I’m not arguing that all of these have been applied with appropriate levels of restraint). These have all been the result of GOOD expectations. Situations such as mobile homes in tornado alley, houses perched on mudslide prone hills or in the paths of wildfires are demonstrations of BAD expectations.
Its true I think that there are certain things that we just can’t foresee. I do think after reading Davis though that much of what happens to us we could have seen coming. Like he said, its about our expectations. Once we have GOOD expectations, we are prepared and when we’re prepared, we’re generally safer.