Summary: In April 2009 I wrote Are Americans easily panicked cowards? I think not, but many experts disagree. It’s still relevant, well-worth reading today. Unfortunately the past 5 years provide evidence I was wrong. We have become easily panicked cowards. Activists and political leaders — on both the Left and Right — see this, and influence us by fear-mongering. Successful websites, like Zero Hedge, gain a mass audience with a steady diet of alarmist spin on the news. Examples of this abound. In the summer it was the Islamic State. With the coming of Fall we have a new excuse to wet our pants: Ebola.
“I do think you have to be concerned. It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch.”
— Dr. Rand Paul (Senator, R-KY), interviewed by Glen Beck, 1 October 2014 — No, it’s not “incredibly transmissible”.
Over 30,000 die by gunshots per year in the US (11 thousand are homicides). Police execute people in the streets. We’re waging war in a dozen nations. An Ebola pandemic sweeps across Africa. But we’re obsessed with the unlikely possibility of an epidemic in the US from a not easily transmitted disease (while doing far too little to help the Africans suffering from it).
As usual, much of the news media swings into action against us, creating whipping up hysteria for their profit: “How the New York tabloids covered Manhattan’s brief Ebola panic” (Washington Post). Our leaders quickly deploy the inevitable war analogy (since militarization is the only way America can relate to problems): “We need to declare war on Ebola” said Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) at a Senate Committee meeting. And politicans exploit our fears for political gain, as described by Alternet:
Blowing the threat of ebola out of proportion and trying to link it to Obama has been a constant theme on the right in recent days. Elisabeth Hasselbeck of Fox News literally demanded that we put the country on lockdown, banning all travel in and out. In a bit of race-baiting, Andrea Tantaros of Fox suggested that people who travel to the country and show symptoms of ebola will “seek treatment from a witch doctor” instead of go to the hospital. Fox host Steve Doocy suggested the CDC is lying about ebola because they’re “part of the administration”. Fox also promoted a conspiracy theorist who is trying to claim the CDC is lying when they caution people not to panic.
Other right wing media joined in. Tammy Bruce blamed ebola on the “Obama legacy”. Laura Ingraham said Obama was prevented from doing more to stop the disease because of his “core ties to the African continent”. Rush Limbaugh even went as far as to accuse Obama of letting the disease spread because he supposes liberals believe “we kind of deserve a little bit of this”.
It’s worse on the political extremes, as described by the Daily Banter:
In just the past 24 hours, the suddenly dangerously irresponsible Fox News has given quack shrink Dr. Keith Ablow a forum to claim that Barack Obama might be subconsciously allowing Ebola into the country because he wants America to suffer; ancient Sumerian curse Phyllis Schlafly told WorldNetDaily that Obama is consciously allowing Ebola into the country because he wants to make America more like Africa; and of course talking penis Donald Trump took to Instagram to lecture Obama about sending U.S. troops to West Africa. That, again, is just the past 24 hours.
But Twitter, that’s truly where the action is. Over the past couple of days “#Obola” has risen up the hashtag ranks, becoming an online clearing house-slash-insane asylum for every imaginable kind of Obama/Ebola-related conspiracy. And what would an orchestra of white noise like that be without a virtuoso conductor to wave his arms gracefully — or in this case, manically — and bring everything into sync?
Enter Alex Jones, whose InfoWars site has, over the last several days, published articles with titles like, “Obamacare Will Help Ebola To Spread,” “‘Apocalyptic Scenario’: Discoverer of Ebola Fears Virus Could Mutate,” and of course “What You Need to Do to Survive Ebola BEFORE THE PANIC STARTS.” … If you think Fox News is capitalizing on Ebola hysteria by trying to create more of it — if you think Drudge’s site looks like the apocalypse is going to happen tomorrow morning at 10am — you seriously haven’t seen anything yet. Jones isn’t just publishing politically motivated Obama/Ebola panic, he’s silkscreening it onto t-shirts and selling it. Get yours while they last…
Our eagerness to be frightened encourages the weird folks to crawl out of the dark: “Former SC GOP director: Execute anyone who comes into contact with Ebola — ‘it’s just math’”
To see the steady drumbeat that arouses these fears, see one day of headlines at Zero Hedge — October 10.
- “The Nightmare Scenario Is Around The Corner… Ebola Is The World’s Next AIDS” — Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (source here)
- “Ebola Pandemic Update: Probable Cases In Brazil And Paris, 7 More Isolated In Spain, WHO Warning“
- “China’s Own “Ebola” Claims Another 1826 Cases“
- “How Ebola Affects The Body” — “70% of those infected with Ebola die”. But not with modern treatment.
- “An Ebola Outbreak Would Be Advantageous For Globalists” — Quite mad.
- “Public Health Emergency Declared In Connecticut Over Ebola: Civil Rights Suspended Indefinitely” — Absurd exaggeration.
- “Passenger With Ebola Symptoms Quarantined At Las Vegas Airport“
Our ancestors dealt with long hard depressions (the 1930s being one of the two worst), fought a civil war to victory, beat back the plutocrats’ rule after the Gilded Age, and suffered through countless epidemics (before modern medicine). I don’t know how we became such easily panicked cowards, but we need not be so. We can find courage in our history, the tools given us by science, and our ability to stand together in the face of far greater threats than those that afflict us today.
Laugh at those who would frighten us. Listen to the voices of reason. Then we can again become exceptional.
(3) Other posts about Ebola
- What you need to know about Ebola. Debunking the myths.
- An epidemic afflicting America: fear about Ebola. Avoid the carriers. Facts are the antidote.
- While Americans panic at shadows, Ebola strikes hard at Africa
- Lessons from Ebola. Let’s hope we learn.
- DoD shows its strength, mobilizing to protect us from Ebola (a sad story about America).
- We awake from fears of an Ebola pandemic in America. Now let’s ask who’s responsible…, 21 October 2014
- Good news about Ebola and its terrifying mortality rate, 5 November 2014
Much of the hysteria results from our loss of confidence in experts; see posts about this problem here.
(4) Rare good sense about Ebola
- “Why you’re not going to get Ebola in the U.S.“, Washington Post, 1 August 2014
- “How calm can counter Ebola“, editorial in the Christian Science Monitor, 3 August 2014 — “Health officials say they must act as much to calm fears of Ebola as to contain the outbreak. Media-driven hysteria about Ebola doesn’t help.”
- “Containing Hysteria About Infectious Disease“, Dr. Eugene Beresin, Psychoogy Today, 2 October 2014
- “Out of control: How the world’s health organizations failed to stop the Ebola disaster“, Washington Post, 4 October 2014
- “In the Face of Ebola, Stay Calm“, Anna Altman, op-ed in the New York Times, 7 October 2014
- “The Ebola alarmists: Stoking panic will not help America fight Ebola“, The Economist, 11 October 2014
(5) For More Information about Ebola
- “Ebola virus and U.S. preparedness: Review of research perspectives“, John Wihbey, Journalist’s Resource, 3 October 2014
- “‘In 1976 I discovered Ebola – now I fear an unimaginable tragedy’“, The Guardian, 4 October 2014 — A history of Ebola, by its discoverer.
- “Controlling Ebola: next steps“, Ranu S Dhillon, Devabhaktuni Srikrishna, and Jeffrey Sachs, The Lancet, 8 October 2014
(6) About what might the greatest foe of America
See all posts about fear, and its grip on America.