The Inevitable Pandemic

Sharing this article because it’s a rediscovered draft I wrote back in 2018, and even though the world is a LOT more familiar with pandemics now, there’s the uncomfortable reality that it’s all going to happen again.

2018 Thoughts on Pandemic Obsession

I’ve often wondered what it is about the apocalypse that’s so captivating, especially these days when there’s a marked increase in books, movies, and video games on this topic. I was surprised to find that I had to dig pretty hard to find any information on the psychology that might serve as a catalyst for this popularity. I had my suspicions, sure, but when I reached out to one university psychologist asking the question and sharing my theories, I got a very curt response; “Have you LOOKED at a newspaper lately?” Maybe she was just having a bad day. 

I had better luck reaching out to author Todd Mitchell, after coming across a more cerebral response to this idea, “What Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Books Say About Us”. Todd had observed the apocalyptic trend in books, and I had observed it in video games. Everyone, at this point, of course, has observed it on television. But why? Why now?

Todd and I corresponded at length about the potential motivators, and we agreed on two likely factors:

  1. We’re awash in technology. Everything’s a screen, everything’s instant, everything’s social media. A part of us wants it all to go away.
  2. We’re no longer self-sufficient. When no one person in the world possesses the full knowledge required to make a pencil, perhaps we yearn for the days of being able to take care of ourselves. I personally think that’s also a motivator for preppers, homesteaders, and other types of “off-the-grid” fans.

Another motivation Todd shared with me was the concept of purpose:

“In survival stories, the characters have a clarity of purpose. They know what they must do to survive, and their actions and decisions have clear meaning and significance. I think we yearn for that pure sense of meaning and purpose—that return to an undeniable reality, because in our ordinary lives, the prevalence of the simulation is all-consuming and enervating. In short, the confusion, disconnection, and denial of modern life often creates an existential crisis (what matters? what is life about? why am I here?), and survival stories that focus on the struggle to exist offer an answer to, or a relief from this crisis (if characters are fighting to survive, then what they’re fighting for must matter).”

I think Shaun of the Dead illustrates this concept humorously, when on the morning of the apocalypse, Shaun doesn’t even notice that the store attendants and public service workers have become zombies. In the daily grind of work, sometimes it feels like that, right? Like we’re just shuffling along, one day to the next, one paycheck to the next, with no real purpose to it all.

Another contributing factor is offered up in a fascinating dissertation by Hyong-jun Moon for the University of Wisconsin, The Post-Apocalyptic Turn: A Study of Contemporary Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Narrative

When I say I dug into this, I mean I really dug into it. 🙂 Moon talks about the role globalization may play in all this, about how a basic fear of others who are not like us drives a yearning to return to a more tribal scenario. That makes sense on a very core human level, as part of our baser instincts.

Now I’m not sure if all this escapism and desire to disconnect applies to why I love day-dreaming about which buildings would make a good zombie base. Honestly I like technology, I like my job, and my fellow human. I guess if anything, the idea of being self-sufficient is what appeals the most to me, and for whatever reason, it has since I was a child. As a teenager, I was an edible wild plant enthusiast, and owned a copy of the US Armed Forces Survival Manual. But I’ve changed a lot since then. I don’t want to be cold. I hate mosquitoes. I worry about being out in the sun. I love the conveniences of modern life, and roughing it would SUCK. I love survival games, but I love them because I can turn them off.


The fantasy of surviving in an apocalypse is fun to imagine. But I also don’t actually think this is purely fantasy. My college background is in biology,and I firmly believe a global pandemic is inevitable

When a population explodes in nature, it eventually crashes, either by running out of food itself, or by becoming food for a corresponding predator population explosion. 

But we have no real predators. That leaves disease. We’ve thwarted those natural mechanics, too, with antibiotics. But with pathogens becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics, that’s an arms race we’re starting to lose. As I understand it, there’s one last type of antibiotics we know of and haven’t really tapped into (something to do with dirt), but even if that pans out, it’s just delaying things. Inevitably, we’re going to run out of options. And with globalization, we’ve broken down all the natural barriers to prevent what would have been an isolated incident from spreading. An outbreak of cholera in Africa can be on its way to Europe and North America within hours if it gets on the right flight. It’s a pathogen’s dream. 

It may sound alarmist and fantastical, but it’s NOT. It already happens, just not to the extent described in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Yet. By the way, I hear a screenplay is in the works, and I could not be more excited…

I’ve listened to Station Eleven multiple times. The thing that finally pulled me to a new audible title was the sort of non-fiction version of Station Eleven, “Pandemic” by Sonia Shah. And it is every bit as captivating. Besides including really interesting history lessons about 1800s New York and the Irish potato famine, several concepts have already stuck with me:

  • 40% of dog owners don’t clean up after their pets when out in public spaces. Thanks a lot, guys; not only is it such a joy to come across on a walk, dog feces contains e. coli and other potentially dangerous bacteria that children are then exposed to. 
  • We really need to keep pigs away from birds. Pigs can catch both bird flu and people flus. A really great opportunity for a bird flu mutation lies in its bumping up alongside human flu. This happened in China.
  • For Frith’s sake, cough into your ELBOW, not your flipping HAND!

A pandemic is coming. We’re simply too abundant, and our behaviors are too conducive to spreading disease. All these mass-farming monoculture food practices we’ve used in order to bring things to scale are going to come back to bite us. Global warming favors insect vectors like mosquitoes and ticks, and you’re already seeing that with the Zika virus and EEE. We watched the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that “ended” in 2015 and forgot about it as soon as that was over, but it’ll be back. 

Citing a 2006 survey, Shah says, “the majority of … pandemic experts of all kinds, felt that a pandemic that would sicken a billion people, kill 165 million people and cost the global economy about $3 trillion would occur sometime in the next two generations.”

Honestly, 165 million people… isn’t that much. At least, it doesn’t really fit the meaning of, “apocalyptic”. My question is, is an apocalyptic pandemic in our future?

Then there’s this other possible thing, do we secretly welcome an apocalyptic pandemic? All these overwhelming problems we struggle with; over-population, of course, but also global warming, pollution, endangered species, war, poverty… all gone, with an entirely politics-free solution. It’s like a giant “reset” button, and, assuming a viable percentage of the population survived, it’s a second chance. That might be the most tempting fantasy of all.

Pandemic by Matt Leacock:

Slugtoberfest: beer traps for slugs

It’s getting to be mid-October here in zone 5b, and where our first average frost date is October 1, the garden is winding down. But the nice weather we’ve been having and the fact that there hasn’t been a frost yet means that a number of summer garden plants haven’t gotten the memo.

Know who else hasn’t gotten the memo? The slugs. This was a very bad year for slugs (or a very good year, if you are a slug). They went after my sweet peppers and the ground cherries, and there were several loitering around in my cabbage this week.

Even though things are mostly over, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to get some more beer traps in place and cull the herd a bit. Because slugs and slug eggs overwinter just fine if they’re in a highly insulated environment that doesn’t go below freezing. Once I prep the beds for winter, that’s exactly what I’ll be creating for the benefit of the worms. So I’m officially declaring Slugtoberfest!

Day 1: Setting the Traps

Day 2: First Tally

In the morning, I went out to check the traps, and each has 6-12 slugs in it. That adds up, but it’s not as many as I expected. And they were all little ones. I know for a fact that there are really big slugs out there. Hoping for better on day 3.

Unfortunately, there were also a total of 5 dead wasps in the traps. Less unfortunate, were the pill bugs, an earwig or two, and one mosquito also taking beer bath dirt naps. I would have nothing against pill bugs and earwigs, except it’s rumored that they take out seedlings and I did have a lot of trouble with that this year, especially the okra seedlings in my in-ground bed.

Day 3

As of noon on day 3, all traps have at least a few slugs in them. The single trap in the side garden bed had 2 big guys in there, too.

I know I could put down Sluggo or some other slug poison, but I got through the entire year without using any pesticides and I’m not going to start now. Besides, Slugtoberfest is more fun to say than, “I put down slug poison.” Next year I’ll be trying copper strips and see how those work to deter the slugs, but if they’re already in the bed, I don’t see it helping much. I’ll probably just start using beer traps more often, because they work, and they don’t do much harm to other more beneficial garden critters.

From the Ashes

Oh man, do I even bother? The old site is gone, all those great stories, all that great content. I’m not even sure I want to put the time into rebuilding it. And after having lived through a real pandemic, imaginary preparing for one doesn’t seem like so much fun anymore.

Last go-around, this site was much more focused on gaming, though I had some great articles about kombucha, beef jerky, and canning. Now I’m more passionate than ever about gardening, dehydrating, canning… but they take a lot of energy. I don’t know if I’ve got the extra energy to rebuild this site, as much as I do want to share those things.

But we’ll see how it goes.