Swine flu. Two words that by now you've seen and heard a thousand times. And you'll probably hear them a couple hundred more, at least until the next big fear that comes along. You know, that next big disease, animal, insect or chemical that just may kill us all.
It's tiresome. The disease threatening to take down or disrupt the modern world isn't swine flu or any of these other "threats." The disease that threatens us is sensationalism. It's fear. It's over-protection. Frankly, the biggest disease threatening the modern world is the modern world itself.
So far we've seen press conferences, school closings, outreach to the Hispanic community and masks given out to prisoners. For what? A strain of flu that very few people have contracted and even fewer have died from.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying H1N1 is not a health concern. It is. But it's just that — a health concern. And a relatively minor one at that. Doctors, nurses, those who care for the elderly — these are the types of folks who should worry about swine flu. Steps should be taken to prevent the spread in populations that where it could actually cause multiple deaths but we blew past overkill on the side of the road doing 90 mph a long time ago.
As far as we know, this swine flu is not discernibly different than the regular seasonal flu that comes and goes with each passing year, the flu that kills some 36,000 in America (700 in Tennessee) each year. Now, the numbers for swine flu will no doubt increase. Hell, they might even surpass the regular flu. But the point is, they haven't yet. Not even close. But despite this, we have wall-to-wall coverage.
Really, it's par for the course. Whether it's killer bees, shark attacks, SARS or peanut butter recalls, we seem to thrive on being scared. Alarm bells go off constantly. Everything's a crisis. As a result, we overprotect and we overcompensate.
Children are essentially shrink-wrapped and sanitized before they are sent out to go play. They are bundled up and padded up to protect them from injury and the elements.
To prevent disease, we hand out antibiotics risking the creation of super-germs. To prevent wars, we preemptively invade nations, causing blowback and resentment.
We have become a soft and fearful nation. Our technology and medical advances have made us one of the safer civilizations to ever exist. Diseases and injury that would have resulted in a slow death back in the day now are quickly fixed by one trip to the emergency room or even a pill. Certainly we have not eliminated danger from our lives but we have minimized it quite a bit. And yet, we fear this swine flu.
We used to be a nation of hardy people (or so I've heard), a people who were not consumed with fear and death even though their fears were far more real and their deaths far more imminent. Now we're a nation treating a flu like it's the plague and a recession like it's a depression.
Again, don't get it twisted. The economy is just as bad just as the swine flu is real. But we have to a large great extent become a nation of whiners. Most of us have the necessities of life. We may want for much but we need for little.
If we wig out when a few folks get the flu or when the stock market corrects, what are we going to do if a real prolonged disaster strikes. Are we strong enough to take a real punch as a people? September 11 was devastating and we came together nicely but how many more real hits can we take like that? How many sustained legitimate crises can we withstand?
We take a lot of things for granted in this country. Our health and wealth are, in comparison to the rest of the world, very high. But it ain't forever. Nothing is. A movement towards a new stoicism would not be out of order in a country running scared from a few folks with scratchy throats from an exotic flu bug.
If you cry wolf enough, you not only alienate those looking to come to your aid, you fool yourself into thinking you have been confronted with a real danger. Then, when a true threat presents itself, not only do you have no one at your back, you yourself are not prepared.
Is America prepared for real danger? After a week or so of swine flu hysteria, the prospects do not look promising.
Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com's political blogger. Visit Post Politics at http://politics.nashvillepost.com/