Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fear in the time of Ebola

Yesterday, Shepard Smith dropped the mic on the Ebola hysteria.

I expect that many people will accuse Smith of lowballing the threat of the deadly virus. They’ll accuse him of wishful thinking, delusions or even conspiracy. But that says more about us than about him.

To be sure, no one wants to catch Ebola. It’s a brutal virus with little recourse. An epidemic would be disastrous.

But after a week or so of hearing south Louisiana friends fret over how close Ebola is to them (“It’s one state away!”) while my Dallas friends and family have been mostly mum on the matter, I think there is another epidemic that is a far more immediate problem in the United States — lack of perspective.

Ebola is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids and needles. It is contagious only when a carrier shows symptoms. The amount of people who have tested positive for the virus in America can be counted on two hands. All of them had close contact either with the man who died in Dallas, or with another patient in a country embroiled in an epidemic. Apparent chaos and sloppy handling procedures at the Dallas hospital likely played a part in the viral spread there.

In other words, there is a very obvious logic to the spread. And with awareness bringing investigation and tighter medical protocols, it’s even less likely now to spontaneously pop up in every American.

Of course, that’s exactly what they want you to think, right? Smith wants you to calm down precisely because they’re hiding The Truth!

This mindset speaks to something wider I've had on my mind for awhile.

We're believing too much in what we want to be true, as opposed to what actually is.

Everyone has a primal desire to know something no one else knows; to be prepared for the the possibility of the deadliest threat; and to feel superior to someone who dropped the ball. They are sugar, salt and fat to the human mind. Mix them in the perfect ratio, as restaurants and snack makers do, and it’s hard to put down the fork. (It’s no surprise that such a diet breeds junkies — when it comes to conspiracy theories, no one can eat just one.)

The Ebola scare is a particularly potent recipe: “What is Shepard Smith hiding? I don’t want to die! Close the borders so this doesn’t happen again!”

Calm reassurance and appeals to logic face an uphill battle once that sweet spot’s been hit. Anyone convinced that teetering on the precipice of fear at all times is the only way to steer clear of violent death is not going to be talked down easily.

Many people say you can’t be too safe. But if an obsession over safety is crippling your ability to function or to think critically, you’re doing it wrong. Arming yourself with the facts and a healthy sense of perspective is the best recipe for genuine vigilance — not to mention health. 

Side effects include thinking like Shepard Smith.

1 comment:

KBliss said...

And people are listening to a journalist who can't even deliver a proper quote? "Nowhere."