Catastrophes in Human Memory

Sunday, January 2nd, 2005

Back today to devastating tsunami flooding off the Indian Ocean, with hundreds of thousands dead. Wait: no, I’m not referring here to the tsunami flooding of Boxing Day, 2004. I’m referring to the cyclone-driven big waves that inundated Bangladesh back in 1991, killing around 135,000. You say you don’t remember that disaster? Well, that’s the point here: what makes you think that you’ll remember the Boxing Day 2004 tsunamis for very much longer as Time resumes its inexorable advance? You may be concerned and alarmed now, but who (or what) is to say that for most of the world’s population (except those who have suffered losses, of course) this event in short order will simply be relegated to some list of disasters chronicled on an obscure (and, perhaps, a bizarrely olive-drab-colored) webpage?

Yes, as US Navy helicopters and other assorted equipment finally start moving in aid to those in Sumatra, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, etc. who need it, some of those of us left behind here in the West, with little else left to do to help (presumably after giving money), have already taken up the intellectual exercise of trying to assess the likely place of the Boxing Day floods within the world’s historical memory. Here EuroSavant once again resorts to Denmark’s excellent commentary newspaper, Information, and specifically to Mette-Line Thorup’s recent article The Catastrophe’s Metaphysics. (more…)

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