Milling Time – First Doubt, Then Resolve

July 4th 2019

I was watching a video on YouTube, made by the Truckee Police Department, called Wildfire 2.0 . If you live in an area susceptible to wildfires (which is some 150 million people in North America) then it’s important viewing.

But it gave a name to a phenomenon that I had not only seen many times before, but have experienced personally. There comes a time during a major, rapidly evolving emergency such as a wildfire or a tornado or a volcanic eruption where authorities or neighbors or someone approaches you and tells you you have to get the hell out, now. The danger is immediate, it is real. You can’t save your home and your belongings, just what you have in the car. Any pets you can’t find are on their own. (And boy, is that a soul-ripping decision to make!). You may perhaps be in your car already, and a cop or firefighter comes up to you and tells you the roads are blocked, just get out and run for it.

But your car can go zero-to-sixty in five seconds. You know you can outrun the fire. On foot…? Abandon the car and everything in it? You have to think about that.

Or you know the cat has to be hiding in the bushes out back. Yeah, it’s only a cat, but you’ve had that cat for ten years and the kids love it.

You hesitate. You dither. You’re not ready to commit.

All your neighbors are in the same circumstances, and they’re all doing the same thing.

Evacuation experts and emergency personnel have a name for that: Milling Time. People are in shock. They are numb, confused. Some become angry. Some panic. Some cry. Some just stare blankly. All are normal human reactions to a shocking and sudden emergency.

Fiction writers like to dwell on the deniers, the people who resolutely believe the fire will miss them, the tornado will disperse before it reaches them, the mountain will settle down, or they’ve seen dozens of hurricanes as bad as this one. These literary redshirts make for good drama, but the reality is the deniers don’t die in numbers anything like the loss of life caused by Milling Time. “He who hesitates is lost.”

Emergency evacuation personnel would love to come up with a way of eliminating or lessening Milling Time, but they haven’t had much luck. It’s just a part of human nature, and the best they can do is include it in their plans and train for it, so they don’t themselves experience Milling Time while trying to deal with it in an emergency. Yes, the guys with badges can experience doubt and confusion, too.

As we slog through what might be the most grotesque Fourth of July in the history of the United States, the country at large is experiencing Milling Time. People are facing a surreal situation in which everything they thought they knew about themselves and their country are under sudden threat. The Land of the Free has concentration camps housing thousands of innocent children. Some of those children are dying. Possibly even worse, family members and others who they once liked and respected are growling that those kids got what was coming to them. The president, and guys with badges, joke about the kids in concentration camps.

The government, once the champion of human rights and freedoms, suddenly is at war with both. Scientists are being expelled from the centers of power and sent to the hinterlands, the equivalent of Stalin sending intellectuals to Mongolia. Indeed, the president recently sent an aide who fell out of favor to Mongolia. Apparently he has read up on Stalin, along with Hitler.

There are tanks in the street in Washington, and while the turrets aren’t pointed at anyone, most people have realized that this president wouldn’t hesitate to give the order to aim if annoyed enough. Millions of Americans who used to watch the Washington Fourth of July celebrations are turning their backs this year, sickened by the lurid partisan spectacle promised by the president.

One vignette that tells it all, the corruption and disregard for American values. The president promised the biggest fireworks show ever, and he may get it. When he slapped his tariffs on China, he had a curious exemption: fireworks. China’s biggest fireworks manufacturer showed its gratitude for this display of favoritism by donating $755,000 worth of fireworks to the trumpaganza.

A furious judge discovered yesterday that this president wants to defy the Supreme Court and explicit language in the Constitution in order to further his low and thuggish bigotry against non-white Americans and residents and tried to unilaterally rescind a direct ruling by the SC on the census.

The VP, himself a bible-pounding monster, did a strange pirouette, supposedly leaving for a symposium in New Hampshire, then coming back for an emergency. Or maybe he didn’t go, there was no emergency, and the administration will tell us what happened in a few weeks. This opaque and corrupt government has turned us all into a nation of Kremlin Watchers, desperately scanning for clues as to the intent of these dangerous autocrats.

Concentration camps. Deep corruption. An outlaw president.

Milling Time does resolve, one of three ways. Either the danger engulfs us and we are lost, or we panic.

Or we realize, “Oh, fuck, that’s not going to miss me!” or see the numb fear on the faces of the people around us, and something clicks in our heads.

And the doubt and confusion vanishes, replaced by steely resolve.

We will live to fight another day. We will come back and vanquish the threat. We will prevail.

Americans have been in Milling Time, threatened by the shocking rise of fascism and neo-Nazism in the country they love and thought they knew.

But there’s no longer any doubt the danger is real. It won’t miss us. We talk to others, facing the same threats. Even the deniers are starting to admit it isn’t just a fabrication by fake news.

Now, Americans have three choices: they can succumb, they can panic.

Or they can fight for their country.

It’s time for resolve.

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