Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

If This Is No Time to Panic, When *Is* a Good Time?

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I read you: stay calm. We can’t let our nerves get rattled when we need to stay focused, to find a way out of this crisis. You made that point loud and clear. But I’m wondering when would be a good time to panic, because you rarely hear anyone point that out, and panic just feels right sometimes.

Don’t tell me you don’t know what I mean. Don’t you ever just know when a moment calls for a no-holds-barred bout of thrashing, incomprehensible yelling and self-destructive behavior? It’s not something you can train a person to sense, of course; some of us just have that innate knowledge. Knowledge just begging to be applied.

We evolved as beings with a panic reaction installed. It must serve a purpose in line with our survival – as individuals or as a group – else we’d have ditched it eons ago. If, as you argue, all difficulties are best resolved through sober, rational deliberation, then you’d think that a tendency to panic would hinder our survival, not bolster it. And yet, here we are, homo sapiens sapiens in the twenty-first century CE, with our hard-wired panic-buttons intact. It must serve a useful purpose, or at the very least a neutral one. So when can we invoke it, I’d like to know? It’s you against Darwin on this one, and his track record is pretty good.

Entertainment value, huh? I don’t buy it. I’m with you on the amusement factor of watching certain individuals or groups totally lose it – Martha Stewart and Queen Elizabeth II spring immediately to mind for some reason – but I can’t conjure up a scenario in which the development of the tendency would somehow enhance human survival in an appreciable way. True, it seems from our cultural standpoint that some people cannot live without reality TV, but that’s too recent, in evolutionary terms, to explain anything. Besides, I think it would work the other way around: you and I are hiding from a saber-tooth tiger. It gets so close to me that I drop my spear and scream, running in a random direction and winding up as saber-tooth tiger poop within a day or two. Seeing my reaction and the result, you burst into peals of laughter, revealing your hiding place and following me into the big-cat-poop-afterlife.

Clearly then, some other factor must explain the survival value inherent in panic, and I contend that it goes against the wisdom of evolutionary processes to deny the value of that aspect of our behavior. If you cannot adequately explain its place, I shall be forced to experiment with it, comparing the results against your ostensibly superior “sober reflection” method.

In the meantime, in case you need me, I’ll be curled in a fetal position in the corner over there, waiting for the crisis to pass.

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Written by Thag

June 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm

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