Monday, December 1, 1997

Week of 12/01/1997

The Scaremongers
- by David Matthews 2

The Baltimore sage H. L. Mencken once said that "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." Of course, he said those words amidst the age of Prohibition, when religious crusaders and temperance advocates were declaring alcohol to be akin to the apocalypse.

Recently, though, those words seem to ring true, because there seems to be a new "crisis" every other week. Halloween may have come and gone, but these hobgoblins just never seem to leave. All of them generated by the same groups of scaremongers - the religious wrong, social crusaders, environmentalists, political-correction crusaders, and the Clinton Administration. Their goal is simple - get people SO terrified of this "crisis" that they’ll submit to any regulation or legislation proposed.

Let’s look at some of them, shall we?

The Internet - First, the scaremongers tried to tell us that sexually explicit sites were everywhere, luring kids the minute they turn on their computers. This, of course, was a lie perpetuated by an incredibly flawed report that was almost designed for censorship legislation. It got passed, but thankfully the courts saw it for the fraud it was. But that still doesn’t stop the censorship freaks from playing their head games.

Then the subject turned to encryption. The Clinton Administration, unable to regulate content, now wanted to control how messages get transmitted online. Their hobgoblin? That drug kingpins and terrorists can communicate without them knowing. Horrors! So the Clinton Administration wants to be able to read EVERYONE’S messages at any time, without a warrant. Not only that, they wanted to be able to get into everyone’s computers as well, again without a warrant or even notification, to make sure there aren’t any anti-government messages or drug transactions. Fortunately, more rational people saw it for the fraud it was and shot it down in Congress. There’s a bill pending called the SAFE Act that would kill further encryption hobgoblins, but the scaremongers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are fighting it tooth and nail.

El Nino - HEAD FOR COVER! You mean, you haven’t heard? There’s this big body of warm water called El Nino that will upset the delicate balance of nature! It’ll flood the cities, dry up lakes, cause snowstorms in the south, get drivers to turn without using a turn signal, make your kids watch CNN, and, and… it’ll do some other crazy stuff! Oh, it’s the end of the world!

There’s just one little thing… El Nino is a cyclical weather event. In other words, it’s happened before! We just didn’t have the tools to measure it as accurately until now. So of course we’re going to be startled by the information coming in. That’s natural. But to turn El Nino into an ongoing horror show over this information is paranoid overkill at best.

What does it mean? It means simply making sure your homeowners insurance is paid up, that’s what it means! While you’re at it, make sure your house is properly insulated and waterproofed.

Global Warming - Before El Nino, the masters of scare tactics had another environmental disaster called "Global Warming." The theory behind it, of course, is that all of man’s progress is now coming back in the form of higher temperatures. Higher temperatures mean the icecaps melting in the poles. Melting icecaps mean world-wide flooding. The result? Waterworld, without Kevin Costner.

So now the environmentalists supposedly have "the solution" as presented to the United Nations. A solution that supposedly was endorsed by over TWO THOUSAND SCIENTISTS! And if you question that solution, environmentalists are quick to say that you’re questioning those TWO THOUSAND SCIENTISTS who endorsed this solution.

Of course, the solution is not global, unless your definition of world-wide is only limited to the most industrial countries in the world. Those are the only countries that would bear the burden and responsibility of this solution.

And as for those two thousand scientists, how many of them actually READ the proposed solution? How many of them actually think such a solution would work? How many of those two thousand scientists simply signed off on a document for political purposes?

What’s worse is that there seems to be no concrete, absolute, unquestionable explanation as to how man ruins the environment. One study suggests that volcanoes cause more environmental damage in a short period of time than man ever could during the whole Industrial Revolution. Another study suggested that the polar holes in the ozone layer were a natural occurrence, not caused by anything man created.

Anyone remember acid rain? You know, all the pollution in the northeastern part of the country making the clouds so poisonous that it would rain acid? Remember the hype from that twenty years ago? What happened to it?

There is no doubt that man has done much to poison life for mankind, that much is certain. We have poisoned drinking waters, contaminated lands, and created materials that are not biodegradable and cannot be recycled into the ecosystem. That much is true, and in some cases we are working to change that. But to presume that the industrial man has become the harbinger of doom for the whole world is a bit hard to swallow.

Crime - Have you ever wondered how crime figures seem to drop around election time? Then, by some mysterious reason, they rise just in time to request funding for a new jail or to get new legislation passed?

It’s easy to see how when you realize that reports and studies can be manipulated so that they can provide whatever conclusion you want.

Let’s say for instance that crime reports indicate that the amount of violent crime was down 17% from last year. The local politician running for reelection can proclaim then that his "get tough" policies are working. However, his opponent can say that while crime was down 17% this year, it had increased 125% in the past ten years while the incumbent was in office. The incumbent can then claim that the increase was caused by factors that he had no control over, such as population growth or unemployment. The challenger can then contend that the incumbent has no control over the 17% drop in crime either. Or better yet, the challenger can use those same figures to say that while violent crime was down 17%, non-violent crimes such as burglary and larceny went up 10%.

By far, the fear of crime is the oldest of resources for the masters of scare tactics. And it’s true we do need some semblance of government to keep crime to a minimum. Even most libertarians agree to that, including myself. But to what end? The scaremongers will always push the line as close to tyranny as possible to get what they want.

Social Welfare - So you say times are tough, huh? Want to start a family, live out that American dream, but once you started down that path you realized that you couldn’t afford all the little extras that come with the deal. Having to choose between getting a new bedroom suite and saving for junior’s college fund, it’s just horrible! And you know you could take your kids to Disney World if they didn’t have to be vaccinated or need braces.

Well according to the scaremongers, it’s not your fault. It’s just the collective society not contributing its fair share to make life easier for you. You need government agencies to make things right so you can afford to take your kids to Disney World while someone else pays for your kids’ vaccinations and braces. Of course, it means a slight increase in taxes, but don’t worry because only "the rich" will have to pay them. By the way, politicians define "the rich" as anyone not currently on some form of social welfare.

You know, at one time my father worked five different jobs. This wasn’t because he was a serious workaholic, but rather because he needed the money to pay off the bills to my sister’s numerous eye surgeries. And while he now regrets not being able to spend enough time with my sister and I when we were growing up, he also knew it would have been worse for him if he simply let Theresa to grow up permanently blinded by glaucoma. He didn’t rely on government to pay the bills, he got it done himself.

But then again, that kind of thinking is supposed to be crass and self-centered.

Religion - You haven’t heard the news? We’re supposedly in a god-less society now! You can’t pray anywhere without the "humanist police" coming down on you! The world is spiritually bankrupt and needs an immediate infusion of the "right" kind of religion to save it!

Of all the groups that make up the scaremongers, religious crusaders are the original masters and inventors of scare tactics. Long before liberals ever heard of the word "civilized society", religious crusaders mastered the art of coercing the public to do their bidding. When lightning struck close to the prehistoric cave, the pre-civilized priest would jump up and say that the gods were angry because someone in the tribe wasn’t moral enough, or they didn’t make the right kind of sacrifice. Today’s religious crusaders aren’t any different in approach. Instead of lightning striking close to the cave, it’s reports of criminal activities and the natural overprotective paranoia of parents towards their children.

Ironically, in an overabundance of religious talk and religious zeal, the cry comes from the moralists that we don’t have enough religion. That’s like telling the passengers of the Titanic they don’t have enough sea water! The only reality is that their power base is being questioned, and they don’t like it one bit!

The media, of course, play willing accomplices to the scaremongers. They live for hype, and are quick to point out any deficiency in the human condition as long as it brings in the ratings. The minute any new "crisis" rears its ugly head, the politicians are always quick with some legislation or a new "crusade" to combat it. Their timing is sometimes suspect, and other times it’s a blatant PR move.

But the biggest perpetrators of this sad Barnum charade is the general public. We, after all, fall for this stuff time and time again. It really amazes me how we’re able to let the clown acts run the circus when they pull the same stunts every time. How many times do we have to see the "new crisis" plaguing society on TV and in the newspapers before we realize that it’s just a prelude to a legislative con?

Then again, maybe the public IS getting the message. Maybe that’s why we’ve become apathetic. Maybe that’s why more than half of the registered voters stayed home this past presidential election. Maybe the general public has gotten the message and have decided not to play their game.

One can only hope it is so.

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