I used to keep marine aquariums, and I freakin’ loved it. Not just fish, no…I kept two different live coral reefs in my own living room. The small one was soft-bodied corals, the larger one was stony polyps. There were fish, yes, little flame hawkfish and small reef-safe coral beauties, and clownfish I had hand-raised from babies.
I murdered them all.
In the aquarium trade, there’s a phenomenon called tank crash. It’s pretty awful: everything seems to be going along perfectly, and then…dead. It’s almost always sudden, and almost always appears to have no cause.
But “appears” to have no cause doesn’t mean there wasn’t a cause. There’s always a reason. Maybe the water chemistry is off. Maybe there’s gas buildup in the water. Maybe a fish wasn’t in quarantine and it introduced a new pathogen to the tank. There’s always a reason, maybe more than one, maybe more than fifty…
A tank crash can be prevented. If you follow basic animal husbandry practices, you can reduce the risks associated with critters; if you monitor the environment, you can reduce the risks associated with chemicals, heat swings, lighting…
I got sloppy, and things got dead. That’s on me. One day, I had two beautiful tanks humming along, and then next? All of these living things were dead. They had died on my watch. I had done this. Worse, while I practiced coral aquaculture, many of my fish had been live-caught from the wild.
I’m now obsessed with system crashes. The idea that everything is humming along, then…boom.
Here we are.
Here we are, living in a country where all of the smart people are screaming as loudly as they can that many of the systems we rely upon are strained to the point of breaking, that there is a finite amount of stress that can be placed on the rule of law before it breaks, that the farmlands are vanishing and those who work them are committing suicide in record numbers, that basic needs like housing and food and healthcare are increasingly crowdfunded…
Of the many, many things which have enraged me during these past two years, I think the one that flips me to the red zone faster than anything is the argument that none of this is really new. That this point in history is no different than any other; that we have been at the brink before, and we have managed to keep on keeping on. To some extent, this is true. It is also an excuse to do jack shit about the current situation. That things have been bad before implies that our systems are capable of tolerating an infinite amount of stress. As I write this, the Senate is involved in a confirmation hearing in which a central question is whether what is lawful can still be immoral. This is in no way a novel discussion, but it is an important one: the fact that we have had it before, and will likely have it again, doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to have it now. Such discussions are a way to monitor the health of our governmental systems.
Right now, these particular systems aren’t doing so hot. When the laws don’t permit a course of action, one response is to ignore them. When the evidence doesn’t support a course of action, one response is to hide it.
Yes, this has been done before under other administrations.
No, this doesn’t mean we should ignore it now.
No, this doesn’t mean the system can’t eventually crash.
We have the ability to prevent the crash. This one is on us.