Sunday, April 7, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, excerpt eleven)

from The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis:

But Kim wondered about the wisdom of their new ambition. “It’s hard to talk to dead people about the decisions they made,” she said. “It’s one of the challenges we have. But I was trying to ask what they would do if they’d had more time.” She interviewed survivors in Alabama and Mississippi and came away with a startling insight: time might be beside the point. It wasn’t that people who had apparently ignored the government’s alerts had been oblivious to them. “They were all aware of the warnings,” she said. “It isn’t that people wantonly disregard warnings. It’s that they think it won’t hit them.” The paper Kim subsequently coauthored pointed out that people associate “home” with “safety.” This feeling was reinforced each and every day that nothing horrible happened inside of it. People acquired a “false confidence that they would not be hit.” Some inner calculation led them to believe that, if it’s never happened here, it never will.

The people who had failed to seek shelter in the way that, say, a meteorologist thinks they should have done had one thing in common: they lived in homes that had never been struck by a tornado. They inhabited a region prone to tornadoes; they had lived through many tornado warnings; but right up until 2011 they themselves had been spared a direct hit. They offered Kim lots of explanations for their immunity to catastrophic risk. They claimed that tornadoes never crossed the river they lived on, for instance. Or that tornadoes always split as they approached their town. Or that tornadoes always followed the highway. Or that tornadoes never struck the old Indian burial grounds. People who lived on the west side of a big city felt more exposed than people on the east side: they believed buildings offered protection. A lot of people seemed to believe that hills did, too. “Where tornadoes go is totally random,” Kim said. “The steering winds are in the upper atmosphere. But people are not thinking of the forces of the atmosphere. They are thinking of their place on the ground.” Psychologists have long known that people see patterns where none exist. Londoners during the Blitz felt they’d deduced the targets of German bombers by where the bombs had fallen, when the bombs had been dropped randomly over the city. Americans routinely made the same mistake with the weather.

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