Thrill, Risk and Viola!! It’s a Disaster
Just like the rest of the world, I am spending most of my time deciding whether to take a nap when I am working from home. That’s a whole different topic. In early 2019, I was trying to get a chance to work with a Professor at my university. And we got into talking about climate change, since we shared interest in unpredictable events and studying its effects on spending and consumption. As we spoke, we started focusing on whether policy aimed at low-income households living some of the most vulnerable coastal belts can help them build resilience towards frequent but unpredictable disasters. Unfortunately, I was not able to collaborate with the professor, but I left the room with a bag full of questions.
The situation we find ourselves as I write is a bit different from climate change, since the pandemic can be seen as a sudden shock than a gradual decline. In the latter case, the end state is largely defined, predicted, and grim. But shocks are unpredictable, and there is no attached prior to the nature of the end state: whether one can say with high probability that the shock will leave a us worse off or better off. This alters how we behave. Do we free ride by not adhering to social distancing feeling that others will be contributing their part? Why do we feel the urge to go back home, and put others at risk? As someone who works in the space of behavioral science, I and the people I work on understanding nature of risk, the degree of risk internalization, coping with risk, its relevance, and the norms around risk ( These are not the only set of things we do).
It’s not just the virus that is Novel but the experience as well!
I want to experience it all. It is not just about the novel coronavirus; it is also about the novel experience.
The Hero I have always dreamt to be!
Carl Jung in The Psychology of Child Archetype defines the hero archetype: “The hero’s main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness: it is the long-hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious”. Do disasters then give us the chance to rise, fight and survive, so that we emerge from the ashes as a “hero” and fulfil the deepest of our desires. The triumph of collective human spirit to overcome threat to population preservation. The movies “2012”, and before that “The day after tomorrow” and way before that “Independence Day”, were the Star Movies Sunday matinee regulars. War dramas particularly on World War 2 have been my favorites. I have picturized myself being in one of those foxholes in Foy holding my line, enjoying the camaraderie in Guadalcanal before setting sail. And I confess I derived pleasure by watching the events unfold with so much destruction and loss around, but only because as a child and a young mind, my priors were attuned to an end state that was happy and victorious. In contrast, I have seldom imagined myself in Vietnam, Syria or Congo. My priors in that case have an end state which is victorious but not happy. Despite the presence of these contrasting sets, there is a tendency to be closer to the former type of events and push the latter (Vietnam, Syria, or Congo) away in our sub-conscious. The other aspect being that the risks involved in these movies or in any disaster has always been seen effecting “them” and not “us”. The loss associated therefore has low degree of internalization and temporally the disaster appears to be tagged with low probability of coming to one’s own backyard.
The implication here being, the tendency to sub-optimally invest resources to mitigate disasters, and over-weight gains over losses.
I do not want to be just safe; I want to the Comfortable too!
That is it! No one can stop the inevitable!