Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Under Control

“This is a dramatic event, therefore a dramatic response is required, so that leads to people throwing money at things in hopes of protecting themselves.”
Coronavirus: The psychology of panic buying
This drama was in full effect over the weekend here in the Seattle area, with people rushing to local stores to buy up bottled water, rice, chicken, toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitizer and, judging from one cart I watched being pushed out of the local Costco, Jack Daniels. It all struck me as more than a little nuts. But if University of British Columbia professor Steven Taylor is correct as I've quoted him above, then it kind of makes sense.

Interestingly, for me, anyway, there didn't seem to me much of a middle ground between "Keep calm, it's not that big a deal" and "Oh my God, we're all going to die." I have several good laughs with store employees, as we wondered together just what all of the fuss was about. There was a consensus that it was too bad that aliens weren't invading; that, at least, would have resulted in an interesting show. To be sure, I live not far from "ground zero" of the local outbreak. The old-age home where residents and staff alike have become ill is only about five or six miles south of where I live.

But there's a part of me that wonders if there isn't something bigger at work in all of this. According to the BBC article I was reading, panic buying, ironically, is something that people do for feel in control. And while the coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak seems tailor-made to trigger people's fears that an out-of-control epidemic is about to sweep through their communities, perhaps there is a greater feeling of being out of control that people are attempting to manage. Of course, panic buying doesn't seem much like being in control, hence the irony, but people cope with things in the ways that make sense to them, not to observers.

I was curious about how much of the food that was being purchased, especially the fresh food, would end up in a landfill when it was all said and done, and the general consensus was "a lot of it." On the other hand, however, I did learn that there are places that will accept returns of unopened nonperishables. Presumably, the once-common fear of food tampering has abated.

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