Saturday, May 9, 2009

If you're scared you'll give up reasoning and freedom

Panic button malfunctions

"Doctor, is there something wrong with me?
"I don't seem to be able to panic anymore."
"What do you mean?" asks the doctor, one of the world's foremost authorities on anxiety and hysteria.
"People tell me on a regular basis that I should be worried about stuff, but frankly none of it moves me to the expected level of irrational behaviour."
It was true.
When the announcement came that swine flu was poised to grip the Earth and give everyone a terminal runny nose, I wasn't scared in the least.
Nightly news reports about low stocks of anti-viral drug Tamiflu and then the news that swine flu might be resistant to it didn't shock me.
Even rebranding swine flu with its proper, science-fictiony, Andromeda Strain name of H1N1 (presumably because the pigs filed a Human Rights Complaint), didn't scare me.
As a last resort, the media started to toss around the word "pandemic" to get my attention, but with more people dying in Canada from bad clams than swine flu, I just turned the page of my paper.
"And so your problem is you are worried that you are not worried enough?"
"Exactly doc.
"My friends are rushing around building bunkers and stockpiling beans and ammo to survive the H1N1 plague and resulting zombies, and I seem to only be able to go about my day to day business.
"It was the same when everyone got so excited about Bird Flu a while back."
"So why do you feel you can't work up a good panic?" the doc asked.
"I guess I have hysteria fatigue.
"Remember the worldwide food shortage? Nine months ago, the papers were full of stories about how rice was going to be $1,000 a pound and people would be selling their children to get a bag of it.
"There was a run on food basics at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club in the U.S.
"It was the perfect panic story. Global warming was destroying crops, the Third World was arming itself to take our mac and cheese supplies by force and we'd be too weak from hunger to defend ourselves."
The good doctor wrote a few notes.
"So when did you first realize you weren't hysterical?"
"I suppose it was back on New Year's Eve 2000.
"Everyone else was trying to figure out how to work the generators they had just bought for Y2K and filling their bathtubs so they'd have drinking water when the world's infrastructure collapsed, and there I was at a party ringing in the new year.
"When my computer turned on the next day, I realized most of it was just hooey.
"Ever since then, I take every crisis with a big grain of salt."
"Surely the extreme weather alerts scare you a little -- killer storms, stroke-inducing heatwaves, blizzards?"
"I'd be more scared if any of it came true.
"You know, everyone is always surprised when it's cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Weather reporting is just becoming another form of entertainment."
This was indeed a hard case, the doctor though adjusting his gauze swine flu / SARS mask and repeated washing his hands with anti-bacterial gel.
"I'm going to prescribe something for the anxiety -- specifically to make you more anxious about the news. I want you to take two of them every morning and spend at least an hour worrying about West Nile virus and the collapse of the U.S. dollar. We'll see if we can work you into a healthy panic by the end of the week."

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