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FEARING EBOLA
FEARING EBOLA
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FEARING EBOLA 

Day by day the story gets much drearier
If you live in Guinea or especially Liberia.
But in America few cases have been verified
Which doesn’t seem to stop our being terrified.

            Terrorism. ISIS. School shootings. Porous borders. Globalization. And now
 
Ebola. So much to be fearful about.

            Of course, it’s perfectly rational to be concerned about such an appalling disease. And the first cases to be recorded in this country are properly headline news demanding an exemplary response from our hospitals and public health services.       

            Still, the polls reveal a degree of anviety bordering on terror that has provoked some satirists to sardonic wit. The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz suggested that “There is a deep-seated fear among some Americans that an Ebola outbreak could make the country turn to science”. He has an anti-science activist warn that “if you put them under enough stress perfectly rational people would panic and start believing in science (which) leads to a belief in math, which in turn fosters a dangerous dependence on facts.”

            The Onion framed the issue in mock racist terms, citing leading medical expert opinion that “an effective, safe and reliable Ebola inoculation unfortunately remains roughly 50 to 60 white people away, if not more….that while progress has been made over the course of the last two or three white people, a potential Ebola vaccination is still many more white people off,” And Latest.com offered a political interpretation, suggesting that “the entire Republican midterm strategy is based on creating a perfect storm of fear in the U.S. combining over-reaction and panic over ISIS with growing fears of an apocalyptic Ebola epidemic sweeping through the nation’s gun shows… I’m seeing us riding this wave of paranoia and hysteria all the way.”

            Inevitably cartoonists rushed in with ghostly and skeletal depictions of menacing Ebola figures – one shown defeating a hapless World at chess, another wielding an Ebola container and asking: “Remember when your biggest fear was flying?” But cartoonists also suggested that there was plenty of blame to go around.  One accused the world at large of not doing enough, with an overwhelmed fire fighter battling an Ebola inferno with a household fire extinguisher. Another jibed at Congress for going into recess, ignoring the issue. And the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), surrogates for the Obama administration, were frequent targets They were shown, panic-stricken, shouting at us that there was “no need to panic”, or insisting, despite accusations of crude initial mistakes in Texas, that there was “nothing to worry about.” And the reluctance to take draconian measures to keep out travelers from the afflicted African countries was mocked in one cartoon by a skeleton on horseback carrying a scythe with the inscription “Political Correctness.”     

              Public health experts insisted that, while Americans have cause for concern, the only way to bring the danger under control ultimately was to attack it in the countries where it had erupted and where it had already killed five thousand, with many thousands yet to come. And that reality, too, was being illustrated by satire of a particularly gruesome kind including a “fake news” site: “ Ebola victim rises from the dead in Africa” – a gross joke apparently taken seriously by many users of the social media.

              Eventually the disease will be brought under control and science, after all, will be seen to prevail. But along the way there will be enough irrational fear to provoke abundant skepticism about the reasoning capacity of our species.


Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 (Archive on Monday, July 24, 2017)

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