Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sky not falling. The real lessons of another failed scare story.

sky-not-falling Who can doubt the power of mythology to drive behaviour.  Sadly, the myths of ‘End Times,’ ‘Apocalypse’ and our “separation” from nature (part of the myth of our ejection from the Garden of Eden) have driven several dozen scare stories over the centuries—from the earth running out of sunlight in the third century to it running out of coal in 1860; from it running out of oil by 1990 to it running out of room by 2000; from ice ages to floods; from robins dying of mass slaughter in 1979 to Americans dying of mass starvation by 1980 to England failing to exist in the year 2000 to “the entire world” being under famine by 2010. We’ve heard it all. And it hasn’t happened.

Mythology can guide us.  If we’re not careful, it can also blind us.

This tendency to go moth-like to the flames of self-immolation doesn’t stop with individual humans but can suck in an entire culture. As I have previously shared, perhaps the single best example of that is provided by the ancient Hawaiians who, finding themselves in absolute paradise, set about inventing over 2,000 “kapus” or laws, transgressions of most of which were punishable by death. One minute, paradise, the next....

As you see, this idiocy isn’t confined to modern western man.  Take this dopy quote, for example:

_Quote You must know that the world has grown old, and does not remain in its former vigour. It bears witness to its own decline. The rainfall and the sun’s warmth are both diminishing; the metals are nearly exhausted; the husbandman is failing in the fields, the sailor on the seas, the soldier in the camp, honesty in the market, justice in the courts, concord in friendships, skill in the arts, discipline in morals. This is the sentence passed upon the world, that everything which has a beginning should perish, that things which have reached maturity should grow old, the strong weak, the great small, and that after weakness and shrinkage should come dissolution.

That quote comes not from recent times, but from third century Europe—and we’re still here and we’re still vigorous, and the human environment is now the best it’s ever been! But we’ve been scaring ourselves to death for centuries, literally centuries.

chicken-little-1 The latest “we’re-all-gonna-die” scare story widely embraced by those who can’t see past the myths was H1N1 Swine Flu, about which nearly everyone was all in a lather not so long ago.  Now that the World Health Organization have called off the “pandemic,” two Canadian epidemiologists make a sober assessment of one of the more unlikely scare stories of recent times to have pushed the hot button of mass hysteria.

There are important lessons to be learned here about many of the other apocalyptic scare stories—and people’s too-eager readiness to embrace them.

So read The real lessons of H1N1

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