The reason you can't stop watching the lava

Lava exploding as it pours into the sea. Cars engulfed in a molten torrent. Steam billowing, cloud-like, as inner Ear...

Posted: May 23, 2018 2:48 PM
Updated: May 23, 2018 2:48 PM

Lava exploding as it pours into the sea. Cars engulfed in a molten torrent. Steam billowing, cloud-like, as inner Earth meets ocean.

There is something mesmerizing about the sheer power of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, magnificent and malevolent all at once, a reminder that for all of our modern-day progress, nature possesses vast powers we cannot tame. Around the world, but especially in the United States, people are watching, rapt.

It's almost a relief, this showing of natural fury. Oddly, it touches a different but equally cathartic point as last weekend's royal wedding, another much-needed opportunity to turn away from the social and political chaos inundating our news feeds.

As Harry and Meghan wed, we marveled at the touching and decorous show of genuine love, of African-American traditions blending into the stodgiest of British ones -- a biracial American divorcee marrying a real-life prince; a promise that progress does happen and the world does change for the better.

Kilauea is not a show of love, for sure. But it is equally awe-inspiring. And it's a necessary reminder that despite incredible human advances, we are very tiny, insignificant and, ultimately, existing at the pleasure of Mother Nature.

There is a kind of psychic salve in this. As we spend our days clicking from political scandal to mass tragedy back to political scandal, creating temporary diversions with online quizzes and social media scrolling, there is something transfixing about the heavy, steady creep of lava.

In our hyper-anxious world, we try to control all that's around us -- we sweat if our phone chimes with a text and we can't immediately look; we curate Instagram and Facebook feeds to present an image of ourselves that is #authentic but in reality filtered and Facetuned; some of the richest men in America spend their billions trying to live forever.

At the same time, those of us who are paying attention are starting get a fuller picture of just how much this control is an illusion, with powerful tech companies increasingly in charge of the news and information we consume (even if we think we're choosing with our clicks), and our current political reality laying bare just how fragile American democracy might be.

Lava rolling into the ocean, obliterating everything it passes, sending toxic spume into the air, is cataclysmic -- a feral threat emerging from the inner belly of Earth. It is oddly unifying, sparing nothing and no one in its path. It's in charge.

We sometimes think much of what happens in the world is out of our hands, that it's up to God, or that the answer is prayer, or that what will be will be, or that everything happens for a reason. Usually, this isn't true. The truth is political policy shapes the way we experience the world every day -- everything from crime to addiction to economic mobility to physical health to the environment.

For many of us, anxiety comes from knowing things could be different. We worry that we lack control over a disastrous political situation, and are hoping that someone competent is steering this ship -- and increasingly seeing that they are not.

With our smartphones and laptops shaping so much of our lives, we have long assumed that the people and institutions directing our connections with each other are benevolent figures who simply offer us greater choice. We are increasingly seeing that they are not, and that we do not fully grasp the scope of what our technological age has wrought.

Kilauea doesn't care.

It lets us turn our attention to an indiscriminate force that we can do nothing about. Except watch (and close geothermal power plants), staring in awe at this mighty force of nature breaking through the surface of the world we share. In today's America, it's a curiously comforting respite.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 15229

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds99925
Lauderdale73561
Madison72023
Scott65012
Neshoba63038
Jones59825
Forrest55338
DeSoto5337
Rankin4217
Leake42112
Holmes39728
Copiah3104
Jackson30513
Attala29216
Yazoo2734
Newton2714
Leflore25831
Harrison2577
Lincoln25628
Monroe25525
Lamar2355
Oktibbeha23512
Lowndes2119
Pearl River20931
Pike20211
Adams19615
Noxubee1856
Wayne1771
Warren1719
Washington1687
Covington1652
Bolivar16011
Jasper1574
Smith15011
Lee1496
Kemper14411
Clarke14318
Chickasaw13312
Lafayette1314
Coahoma1214
Carroll11711
Marion1159
Clay1124
Winston1121
Claiborne1112
Lawrence1021
Simpson1010
Yalobusha905
Hancock9011
Tate891
Grenada893
Wilkinson889
Itawamba877
Union835
Marshall833
Montgomery831
Sunflower813
Jefferson Davis772
Tippah7311
Panola703
Webster691
Calhoun644
Humphreys607
Amite601
Walthall550
Tunica543
Prentiss523
Perry503
Choctaw432
Jefferson421
Tishomingo320
Pontotoc323
Stone300
Franklin282
Tallahatchie271
Quitman260
George251
Alcorn171
Benton150
Greene121
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 17359

Reported Deaths: 618
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2191115
Jefferson1780102
Montgomery163238
Tuscaloosa73814
Marshall6879
Franklin5457
Lee54033
Shelby50319
Tallapoosa42364
Butler40217
Chambers35325
Walker3442
Elmore3398
Madison3274
Baldwin2839
Dallas2603
Morgan2511
Etowah24811
DeKalb2433
Lowndes23812
Coffee2291
Sumter2206
Autauga2164
Houston2094
Bullock2034
Pike1980
Colbert1782
Russell1670
Marengo1636
Lauderdale1612
Hale1598
Calhoun1543
Choctaw1518
Barbour1501
Wilcox1447
Clarke1422
Cullman1260
Randolph1257
Marion12111
St. Clair1181
Pickens1114
Dale1100
Talladega1093
Chilton1001
Limestone940
Greene944
Winston880
Covington771
Jackson772
Crenshaw763
Macon754
Henry742
Bibb721
Washington686
Blount611
Escambia573
Lawrence480
Geneva400
Conecuh391
Coosa381
Monroe372
Perry370
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar230
Fayette150
Cleburne141
Unassigned00
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