By: Mark Swint
(I was just a few paragraphs into this essay when I realized that this was a MUCH bigger subject than I had at first supposed, Hence, the subject will be covered in three separate postings. I hope you enjoy this first one.)
What are you afraid of? Oh, you’re not afraid of anything? I beg to differ. You see advertisers, news outlets, big business and big government are all united in trying to scare you so that they can sell you something or get you to give them something that they want. This is how the world works. It is how the world has always worked. Fear has always been the great equalizer. It has brought disparate families and individuals together to form communities for the common protection of the whole. It has given rise to armies and navies throughout time to provide for the common defense of the people. On a much more benign level it is a subtle fear of being left out or left behind that creates in all of us that need to ‘keep up with the Jones’. Perhaps fear is too strong a word but the idea is valid that we are often driven to action because of a deep seated need to be a part of something; to not be an outcast; to not be cool, or…to not be left behind.
In the beginning fear of predators both animal and human caused societies to band together and to form cities and build walls. All ancient cities were – and many still are – protected by high walls that kept enemies at bay. One of the still extant Wonders of the World is the Great Wall of China, an accomplishment so great that it is visible from space. Walls and safety in numbers was the rule of the day and for many centuries that was sufficient for most people to live and go about some semblance of normal life. Thankfully, people became somewhat more civilized as time went on – well that and the fact that weapons were devised for which walls were no defense – and the walls came down. Still, armies were mustered and navies were built to project power and invincibility to all who would molest or make afraid. It worked a little bit – but warfare has been the common pattern of the world ever since. I cannot think, as I sit here right now, of a time ever in my life when there has not been a war going on somewhere in the world (Or multiple wars for that matter). And so, like everyone else, I look to my government, an organization I have ceded much of my personal power to, for the common good of me, and my family, and those around me. I have essentially told the government to do whatever is necessary to protect me from invaders both foreign and domestic. As a result I pay a significant portion of my income to them each year because I know they will wisely and efficiently employ that money to protect me, (at least that is the theory right?).
Threats come in many forms. Invaders from other countries is but one. How about the threat posed by polluting the environment? Or maintaining proper water standards? Or common educational goals, or dangerous workplaces? I am afraid of all of these things but I know I am safe because my government has established – with our tax dollars – the EPA, the FDA, OSHA and a host of other agencies, some of whose functions I cannot explain.
And then there are the diseases! The one in the news cycle right now is Ebola, a horrifying disease that has afflicted many unfortunate people in Africa. But have you noticed? There is always a disease to be afraid of. Did you or anyone you know of contract SARS? Or H1n1? Or Bird Flu? Or Swine Flu? Or Asian Flu” Or or or. The list goes on. These are and were maladies that when compared with other much more common but much less sexy diseases had virtually NO impact on our daily lives and yet somehow dominated news channels far out of proportion to what they merited. For each of these diseases the big pharmaceutical companies were able, nay impressed upon, to sell millions of doses of vaccines (at incredible profit) to the government for our common good. Those doses lie dormant somewhere in some undisclosed warehouse where they will stay for who knows how long. I am willing to bet that they will never be used. You see, they were never intended for public consumption. They just needed to be bought. The pharmaceutical companies understand that old adage of business ‘find a need and fill it” and have bumped it up a notch to “create a need and fill it.” It’s not about saving lives, lives that were never in danger in the first place, but about selling product…creating a need.
September 11, 2001 was a horrible day in the lives of all Americans. I have personally flown the United Airlines planes used in that attack and I have flown those routes. I lost personal friends who were at the controls that day. Nothing will diminish the impact of that day. Nevertheless, after the passage of a decade plus, I sit back and wonder at the changes that have occurred since then. As a pilot I am subjected to the indignities of the TSA almost every day. The body scans and the pat downs (NO, they don’t cut pilots any slack) not just here but in other countries as well. It seems England and Australia are particularly zeroed in on American pilots (I recently had Australian authorities take a pair of scissors from me because they were a threat even though they were ‘giving me the keys’ to a Boeing 777 with 290 souls on board. I guess taking the scissors from me took away all the opportunity I might have to do something bad with the plane. The bottom line is that it was our fear of terrorists that caused us to turn to our governments and say ‘DO SOMETHING”. The patriot act came into being for good reason but look how much freedom we voluntarily gave up for an enhanced sense of safety and protection from the thing we collectively feared. And it is not just terrorism or the patriot act that takes our freedoms. It is a general need to feel safe from whatever we fear that drives governments to encroach ever deeper into our lives. The recent disclosures of NSA spying on Americans would have, just a few years ago, sparked outrage, but not now. “Eh” we say, “that is just the cost of doing business” and we go on with our lives.
It is not just big government either. Did you ever imagine that you would one day pay much more for water that your do for gasoline? Why is that? “Pesticides you say! Someone has convinced you that our municipal water systems are incapable of cleaning pesticides and fertilizers from our water sufficiently for human consumption. Oh really? But Coca Cola (Bottler of Desani) and other American corporations are…for a profit of course? And for those unfortunate individuals who are still foolish enough to drink from a tap or a water hose or, gasp, even from a mountain spring…are they falling over dead in droves? Are they growing extra limbs or third eyes? Are they experiencing stunted growth or renal failure or liver diseases? I think not. Every generation before us must be rolling over in their graves!
It seems now days all one has to do is merely raise an issue, buy some time on TV for an infomercial and suddenly we have a new threat to our health and happiness. Take for example sunlight. Now keep in mind that this is the same sunlight under which ALL life on earth has evolved and thrived since time immemorial. It is sunlight that gives us the very best source of vitamin D, essential to ward off several maladies including rickets. First we were educated about the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays (true) and then we were told that the Ozone layer, that 3 inch thick layer of O3 Oxygen molecules that blanket the earth way up on top of the stratosphere was disappearing and that we were all going to die of terminal sunburn and skin cancer and then corporate America miraculously gave us salvation by providing an artificial concoction of chemicals that we are to slather upon our skin to block the Sun’s harmful rays. You see, dermatologists always knew about skin cancer but every bit of research ever conducted on the subject clearly stated that skin cancers were most commonly caused by severe sun burns IN EARLY CHILDHOOD. Pretty soon corporations convinced the public discussion to drop the ‘severe sun burns’ thing and the ‘in early childhood’ thing and redirect the conversation to “The sun causes skin cancer! Here buy our stuff and put it on you every day for the rest of your life.” No discussion was every made about the body’s built in defense of tanning for protection. Our ancestors never had the rate of skin cancers we have today. Why? Because unlike us, they weren’t afraid to go out into the sun. In fact they had to go out into the sun to work the fields and the crops and the herds. They were tanned and while tanning does indeed age the skin prematurely to be sure, they did not get skin cancers like we shadow dwellers do today. The body knows how to protect itself. “But wait!” You say. “We are destroying our ozone layer with our Freon and other chemicals. Just look at the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica!” with just a little digging you will find out that scientists have known about the hole in the ozone layer for over a hundred years. You will also learn that the hole is a naturally occurring phenomenon that happens every year during the Antarctic winter, and while it may fluctuate from year to year, there is absolutely no evidence that the hole is continually getting bigger or that the total amount of Ozone present is irretrievably diminishing. Ozone is not, in fact, a finite quantity. It is continually being made, or at least when sunlight is present. The Ozone molecule has a life of just about three weeks and then it returns to the much more stable O2 molecule. The media would have you believe that once the ozone is gone there will be no more ozone. This is simply not true. Do a little research for yourselves and check UV levels year over year for the last twenty or so years. You will see very minor fluctuations but no negative trends. You see, the same lack of sunlight in the winter that causes ozone levels to drop also means that UV levels for sunlight drop commensurately. How cool is that? If you don’t want to do the research then just watch the evening weather girl tell you what the UV index is for tomorrow and watch that every night. Right now the indexes are about 5 or 6. They are 9 or 10 in the summer and 2 or 3 in the winter, every winter and every summer! They haven’t changed and they will not change, but this doesn’t change the fact that the sunblock manufacturers will make several billions of dollars this and every year selling you goop to put on your skin. Companies survive by selling stuff, and to sell stuff you must create a need. It doesn’t matter if that need is real or perceived as long as it spurs people to buy buy buy. Governments cannot grow without creating a need to grow so they present us with threats and promise to protect us…for a fee. Churches remind us constantly of our sinful state and promise to be the palliative that will cleanse our souls and allow us to enter heaven. They really believe this. In fact they believe this so much that throughout the ages churches have killed and oppressed non-believers and waged war against other churches that preach the very same thing but under the banner of a different denomination. Ironically, they call them Holy Wars.
So, how long do you want to stay afraid? Me? I live each day realizing that life goes on and that I am doing just fine.