Self-absorption in the face of Other People's Problems is not new. W.H. Auden's best known poem, Musee des Beaux Arts, is about just this phenomenon:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.
Or while someone is thinking about planting daffodils.
I'll skip ruminating on daffodils for now. Instead, I'll comment on another particularly human phenomenon evoked by Hurricane Sandy: overconfidence in the face of Nature - the idea that, in a battle between Man and Nature, Man will win. The feeling is understandable enough. We have vaccines. We have air conditioning. We have decaffeinated coffee. Really, when you think about all the ways in which we have tricked Nature and gotten around her (think plastic surgery and Prozac), is it any wonder we feel invincible?
I have a neighbor who never waters her plants. She is not much of a gardener, but she enjoys having flowers around her. She buys what she likes, and then, she tells me, she "gives them to God." Obviously she and I have different philosophies - I like to garden, so I put up a fight - but fundamentally, she is on to something. When it comes to Nature, we might win a battle or two, but we'll never win the war, so a little humility is in order. Today, Hurricane Sandy shut down the New York Stock Exchange. I rest my case.