Monday, May 04, 2009

Panic Pays

I heard a term today on the radio. The discussion was about the current malady of the month-"Swine Flu". The gist of the conversation was that on one hand, we should be prudent, pay attention to good hygiene practices and stay home when we are sick. Those are givens. But the disconnect is that the CDC is saying schools that have cases of this flu should stay closed for two weeks. If this is a serious disease, then why hasn't the Government ordered the borders closed? If it's not serious, why the continued media flourish over cases and numbers? Or is this just more smoke and mirrors?

Think back a few years to the first Swine Flu epidemic. There was a much hyped vaccination program. The side effects were actually worse in some cases than the virus. And the head of the CDC was unceremoniously ousted for the campaign. But at whose behest did this man work?

Then when I was in high school, the discussion was about the Population Bomb and ZPG-Zero Population Growth. The news touted the coming of the Next Ice Age and the end of the World as we know it. There were countless books about these topics. People believed them because they sounded viable. They made sense to them on an emotional level rather than a rational level. People also read "Chariots of the Gods" and believed in aliens, but then if you have people who will beleive anything if you have a good enough yarn to go with it.

Think back to the first discussion of crack babies. They were supposed to be borderline burdens on society for years to come. But despite this, parental poverty and lack of education is still a more telling factor in the academic achievements of children.

Think back to the early discussions of AIDS. At one point we were told that it impacts everybody. Really? It impacts my Mom who was married to my Dad for nearly 50 years? It affects my then toddler child? Isn't the absolutism of "everybody" just a little over the top?

Think back to SARS-to Legionaires-to countless other scientific sounding menaces including Global Warming, and now this Nu-Flu.

What do these hold in common?

First, whoever the spokesperson for the related cause can garner fame, money, attention and the illusion of authoritative presence. Al Gore was on his way to political oblivion before Global Warming. But he managed to get the right format of panic and defeat to capture the imagination of those who seek out this kind of doomsday scenario. By presenting something that appears scientific on the surface, most people being ignorant of the scientific process believe the big words and the shiny images. Hint to the masses, any time you hear people saying "everybody believes this" or "all scientists agree" be very wary of what comes next, because the next reach that is made is for your wallet. Secondly, these "panics" cloud the areas of real concern. Notice how the media's attention has drifted away from the bailouts, away from the spending and into this Neverneverland of impending doom in the form of Nu-Flu? What is being hidden? And more, who is hiding it from us and why?

The media goes along with this because bad news sell ads. In a way, it's ironic that some of the most liberal papers are currently going out of business because they have hyped the liberal view so much that they cannot very well justify saying anything is bad or wrong. But next time such an event comes along, read the other headlines, seek out the secondary stories because more often than not, those are the real issues that should keep us awake at night.

Never forget: Panic Pays

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