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Lev Raphael Headshot

Massive Michigan Power Outage Reveals Some People's Dark Side

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In case you missed it somehow, half a million people in Michigan lost power this past week after a horrendous ice storm. Not only was it the Christmas season, but this was after 300,000 had lost power less than two months ago in another storm.

We were lucky at our house. Fifteen minutes into the crisis, we made a hotel reservation someplace where we could bring our dog, and were packing up our fridge and whatever else we thought we'd need. We helped out older neighbors in the next twenty-four hours before they left for warmer climes (Ohio!), and we waited.

The emergency was exacerbated by Consumer Energy's incompetence. Their call center couldn't handle the volume of calls -- just like last time. And their website was wildly inconsistent and difficult to navigate. Also just like last time.

But when people complained about these things on the Consumers Energy Facebook page, and the lack of preparedness, you could have thought we were back in the era when criticizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was slammed as undermining our American troops.

The venom spewed by people who acted like apologists for Consumers Energy was surprising. Many responded as if those who complained were denigrating the linemen, which was a ridiculous attitude since nobody was critical of crews in the field. The target was always the management of Consumers Energy, its flatfooted response to a second crisis in two months, and its lousy web site. BTW, I've been told by someone from this power company that the web site is being redesigned. A bit late, huh?

The basic response from way too many posters to anyone expressing frustration or even justifiable anger boiled down to: STFU. The lack of empathy expressed on Facebook was nothing more than blaming the victim and contempt for anyone who's suffering, the dark response that's all too common in our culture. You see it in the people who don't care about the uninsured; the people who think cutting Food Stamps and other social net programs is a good way to balance our budget; the people who think that women need "rape insurance."

George Eliot wrote that cruelty "like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself; it only requires opportunity." The massive power outage gave those misanthropes plenty of opportunity to express who they really are. But I'm glad that nobody I met or talked to here in mid-Michigan during this outage was remotely hostile, negative or vicious. They were many sources of light in a dark time. My thanks to all of them.