Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For the Love of Fear

Recently, I had an email exchange with a friend that left me scratching my head and unsure how to proceed.

It began when he sent an email to a number of people about H1N1 having a “probable” case in a nearby suburb.

I responded, as calmly and politely as possible, that I felt the swine flu panic was unscientific in basis, fueled by the media and politics. I cited the 1976 swine flu “debacle” as support, and explained that I didn’t really want to be a part of the spreading fear over swine flu. I thanked him for caring enough to send it, but was fairly stern in saying I didn’t want to continue receiving email updates.

What I didn’t say, and wished I had the icy blood to do so, was that, in case everyone forgot, I am a library reference staff member, who is not only self-motivated to know about public threats, but that I’m well-equipped to do the damn research myself, thank you very much.

His response startled me. He reminded me of his family members who he considered at-risk, as well as his own desire to stay informed about a threat to the health of the world. There was something about his choice to walk into his future informed rather completely in the dark, which I resented, but let go. And he ended it by saying he didn’t understand how anyone could say that the swine flu had political ties.

For someone who has a healthy distrust of government, I was shocked he couldn’t see it. So, I enlightened.

We have been ordered by the politicians and the media for a decade to fear a faceless enemy, which always changes. Fear the terrorists, fear the illegal Mexicans, fear global warming, fear the food contaminated with e.coli, fear the collapse of the economy, and now, fear a flu. We are beaten into submission by the instructions to live in fear, and why? Who profits from this? First you have the makers of the flu vaccines making boatloads of cash, then the people who administer the shots, and anyone who can produce an ineffective and paranoia-inducing mask, who deserve to profit on our fear as well. Does anyone know how small a virus is? Think DNA and RNA, people. If the mask could filter out something you can only see with an electron microscope, you wouldn’t be getting any air through that mask, let me tell you. Let’s look at the fact that the people dying from this flu are not in the US, but in a country where medical care is sub-standard, which also happens to be a country that produces people grossly discriminated against in our country. So we are occupied with concern and worry over something we have no control over, but won’t speak up and question anyone when they spend billions of dollars (which also MAKES them billions of dollars) fighting the faceless thing they want us to be scared of. Politicians and the media don’t just make money on our fear, but they make a career out of feeding us fear. And I, for one, won’t be a part of the fear.

Now, I didn’t say this with such hostility to my friend, but I did spell out all these things with clarity. And I closed by saying that people do have a right to their fears, as his are founded in concern for his at-risk family members, but personally, I couldn’t base my fear on speculative media reports and blurbs from people in charge. Until there was some scientific basis for the panic, I chose to not be a part of the widespread scare.

This really seemed to bother him, not only because he couldn’t defend his fear with empirical evidence, but he redefined his feelings as “careful awareness”, and said he put his faith in apolitical organizations like the WHO (ahem!) and the CDC (AHEM!), who had our best interests at heart.

My inclination was to respond by saying that the “probable” cases being reported in the newspaper article he sent me were not facts doled out by these altruistic (ahem!) organizations he held so high. Nope. They were speculative, unscientific, panic-driven articles by local newspapers, and we were warned that someone was 99% probable to have swine flu in our backyard. Remind me never to believe an article that says anything is 99% probable anymore, because that percentage seems to have been made up out of thin air, given that the case in question proved to be negative by that apolitical, unbiased, non-governmental agency, the CDC. *cough, gag, sputter*

No, I didn’t respond that way. In fact, I didn’t respond at all.

It’s painfully clear to me that we have not only accepted the fear tactics used by media and government to keep us homogenized and tuned in, but we defend it and embrace it. We want to be scared. If we’re scared of this faceless enemy, the blame for anything wrong in the world does not fall into our hands and we don’t question anyone for doing something to fight it, even if it’s the wrong thing, because at least THEY are doing something, which I cannot do.

Im scared! I have no power! I can’t stop a plane from crashing into a building, or car monopolies from toppling the global economy, or a pestilence from wiping out all of humanity. I’m afraid! And I’m powerless! And I’m defeated! So, I’m going to allow the government to torture others, and illegally detain people without legal representation, and tap phones without warrants, if it means we might be in the same hemisphere as Bin Laden sometime before I die. Also, I’m going to throw a fit when I see someone Hispanic speaking in Spanish because they’re going to take my job and government benefits. I’m going to die in a hurricane from the melted icecaps way up in Illinois unless I recycle more plastic. And if I don’t get the vaccine for the swine flu – for a mere $25, not only do I get the vaccine, but it also comes with a mask, rubber gloves, and a spanking for not being more careful about spreading the disease, and a set of Ginsu Knives if I act now – I likely will be the first to die from this disease of pigs. Or grow hooves. Or something. Right? Like mad cow disease. And SARS.

On Friday I went grocery shopping with Ann, and before I even knew which side of the hysteria she stood by, I announced that swine flu stood to make me a much happier person. My theory was the global panic would incite an ignorant fear that would cause people to stop eating pork, which would drive the prices down, and I hoped the hysteria had already struck sufficiently so I would be able to stock up on things like ribs, bacon, and pork roasts. Such was not the case so soon at my grocery store, but Ann found my excitement amusing and she cheered me on in the meat department. So you see, I not only refuse to be a part of the fear, but I refuse to fear the fear. Instead, I will take advantage and stock my freezer with pork chops.

Last week someone tried to break into my garage while I was home, with the lights and TV on, windows wide open, and my car parked in the driveway. I think I scared the person off when I turned on the outside light and (don’t yell) went outside to see what the ruckus was. Someone else called the police. The person(s) didn’t get in, didn’t do any damage, and didn’t come back, but I spent the night not being able to sleep, waking every time I heard a frog croak, every time my dog stirred, and for every other noise the night had to offer. When I woke up, I said that was enough. I’ll do what I can, being more careful to lock doors and windows, and I’ll try to be more vigilant about making sure things are as they should be, with outside lights on and the dog downstairs, but the truth of the matter is, if someone really wants in my house, they’re going to find a way in. Glass breaks. Doors can be bashed in. Locks are only as strong as the vulnerable wood we screw them in to. Granted, I would hope that would bring the police again, but as a wise landlord I once met said, “Locks only keep the more honest criminals out.”

An attempted break-in is far more frightening than the flu, particularly when you consider that the interloper might have had intentions far more insidious than stealing my grill out of the garage. What if s/he wanted electronics in the house? What if s/he would kill someone to get what s/he wants? What if s/he was a rapist? What if s/he was an arsonist? Frankly, that’s more fearsome than the flu. Yet, I still refuse to live in fear of what some unpredictable, faceless entity could possibly do to harm me.

Now that more people are speaking out about the swine flu being far less virulent and dangerous than earlier predictions would have had us believe, it seems we have merely opened the door for the next scare to come in.

Do I dare predict what that disaster will be?


Anonymous said...

Bravo! I also thought about filling the freezer with Panic Pig Pork when society goes totally nuts.Mmmmmm, bacon.

Anonymous said...

Well thought out and well said.....

Leelu said...

Aww, man! You would bring up bacon after my doctor warned me against it!


Rachel said...

Honey roasted hams galore! No flu could keep me from it :D
and don't worry about the ignorant masses, because it's the people like us who control them (if you think about it)

heavenlyevil said...

Every time someone brings up the swine flu, I respond with, "Big deal. It's the flu like any other strain floating around out there right now." I get dirty looks, but they stop trying to pressure me into feeling scared with them.

I also went to the store looking for cheap pork. All the bacon was massively on sale, and the processed stuff, but not roasts or hams. :( I was looking forward to crock-pot awesomeness.

Romana1 said...

LOL-the other day a friend of mine said, 'you'll be happy to know the hot dogs we are having are made of 100% beef, not pork.' then we both had a good laugh. Good thing Mad Cow isn't prominent in the news! ;)

Happy Villain said...

YAY, Panic Pig Pork! All that wasteful killing of pigs in other countries pisses me off. We need a modern day Charlotte to save the pigs...or make some hams.

Thanks. I've been preaching this crap to anyone who will listen for a couple weeks now, so I guess I ironed out the details.

Do you run around like the Beggin' Strips dog sniffing for bacon?! ME TOO! ;)

Do we? I don't know. I'm still adjusting, I guess, and accustomed to the last 8 years of idiots being in charge.

That's what I keep saying! It's just the damn flu! But again, I'm hoping for some sales to hit the good meat. Maybe next week. :)

Mad cow, swine flu, avian flu: it's only safe to eat buffalo now. Even vegetables are bad for you because of e. coli. I guess I'll have to figure out how to live on buffalo. WOOHOO!