If the 1931 classic film Frankenstein were filmed in the United States today, the villagers storming the gates of the castle would not be carrying torches and pitchforks, but instead wearing HAZMAT suits, spraying cans of Lysol in the air, and demanding that the mayor do "whatever is necessary" to protect them against the possibility the creature might harm one of them. Of course, these marching villagers would be the few who actually dared venture outside their cottages with barred doors and shuttered windows.
So here we are, not in 19th Century Transylvania, but 21st Century America. As of writing this, there have been no new Ebola cases in the United States for several days (and the total number of cases before this can be counted on a single human hand), and most of the 48 people in forced quarantine in Dallas are once again free to go about their daily lives. Glancing at the media coverage of America’s so-called “Ebola Crisis,” it appears we may have progressed from “spiraling out of control” [WIFR, 9/16/14] to being now “cautiously optimistic” [Yahoo News, 10/20/14]. Still, it was only a few days ago that a Maine school district placed a teacher on leave for merely having visited the city of Dallas.
Lost in all of the uproar was the fact that only two people, in the whole of the United States, actually contracted the virus domestically, and both were contaminated while treating an already sick patient.
A lack of education on how the virus actually spreads, the mainstream media’s sensationalism of the outbreak to generate ratings, and mistakes of supposedly “expert” health officials, are just a few of the many factors contributing to the public’s Ebola panic. Additionally, the vacillating nature of the federal government's response to Ebola -- whipsawing between the CDC’s delayed response to the first Dallas case, to the sudden formation of an Ebola “rapid-response team” by the Pentagon -- further confused an already chaotic situation.
However, it is the post-9/11 mentality, in which we are in a constant state of fear of “immediate harm,” which truly has transformed the American psyche from a people once not only unafraid of taking a risk, but who gladly assumed risk as a necessary component of forging a nation and an economy that became the envy of the world, to one more akin that of an abused puppy jumping at the sudden appearance of his own shadow.
It is this pervasive and perverse fear that makes our default response mechanism a call for government officials to do “whatever it takes” to protect us, even if that means surrendering basic liberties to get the job done; something government officials from the president down to the local police chief are all too happy to do (especially if they are awarded the expanded budgetary resources to do so).
The threat of Ebola in the United States prompted calls for the U.S. government to implement bans on citizen travel, and has resulted in the appointment of yet another Obama Czar -- all because of a virus that spread to just 0.000002 percent of the U.S. population, including those who contracted it in a foreign country. Considering that the response by government to a crisis -- real or concocted -- is rarely rapid but always outlasts the incident giving rise to it, there certainly is more to come in the weeks and months ahead, regardless of whether there is even one more case of the dread disease.
The door to government infringement of our liberty once opened, is rarely shut.
This is exactly why the fear instilled by whatever threat plagues society at the moment is often far more dangerous than the threat itself: fear of gun violence leads to increased gun control; fear of terrorism leads to abuses at the airports from the TSA, illegal government spying of phone calls and emails, and violations of due process rights; fear of “global warming” leads to expensive environmental regulations that inhibit economic growth. Yet, even with all of these examples as evidence of why not to rush to government in a panic, we rush for more.
We now have the president and his Secretary of Defense ordering our troops and taxpayer dollars into foreign lands to stop a disease ravaging three small countries in west Africa -- countries afflicted because of conditions in those nations that do not exist even remotely in our country. We have our military becoming heavily involved domestically in league with state and local governments in apparent violation of the posse comitatus law; with hardly a question raised about such actions, because most citizens accept as fact when told such activities are "necessary to make us safe."
These actions remind far too few of our countrymen that, as warned by John Adams in the seminal year 1776, "fear is the foundation of most governments." The corollary is that fear is the catalyst for increased government power.