Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Fear Factor

One of the things I discovered when I started to write non-fiction books was the huge difficulty there is in finding the truth about anything.

For example, I'm old enough to remember a time when full-fat milk was not only good for you, but actually compulsory. They supplied it free in my school and made all the pupils drink it. Just a few years later, somebody decided it wasn't good for you at all. Whole milk, along with other delicious dairy things like butter, cream and cheese, helped make you fat, gave you cholesterol and raised your risk of a heart attack. Later still, a medical practitioner told me the amount of cholesterol attributed to diet was tiny compared to the cholesterol manufactured by your liver and high cholesterol was generally caused by worry rather than foodstuffs. When I eventually discovered my own cholesterol was raised (possibly caused by worrying about my fondness for whole milk, butter and cream) the technician who took the blood sample mentioned that according to latest research, high cholesterol wasn't always bad for you. When I did some research myself, I found there were two different types of cholesterol and one of them was positively good for you. (The other, unfortunately, was still considered lethal.) Then a friend of mine told me on her ninetieth birthday that she'd lived to her disgustingly healthy old age by drinking milk and eating lots of butter and cream. The day after, my wife, who's training to be a Master Herbalist, told me milk products are mucus-forming (which sounds revolting) and thus to be avoided.

I can also remember a time when flouride added to drinking water was wholly beneficial, when Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction, when the CIA did not have secret prisons scattered throughout the world. Now I'm reliably told it wasn't, he didn't and they have.

Once I clung to the idea that if truth was sometimes buried or distorted by the popular media, you could at least trust the scientific community. That was before I discovered scientists sometimes falsify their experiments, misinterpret their data, follow career paths dictated by current fashions and fear to rock the boat with new ideas because that might cost them their grants. Not all scientists: some. But some is enough. In fact, some is too much.

Once I listened to the experts, who interpret difficult scientific findings and political events for the rest of us. I especially listened to the experts who confirmed my own prejudices. Now it seems to me that the vast majority of experts consider it their duty to convert raw data into fear. So on top of my concerns about whole milk, I've been variously told I should worry about the Communist Menace, nuclear warfare, the exhaustion of fossil fuels, Satanic child abuse, the resurgence of Fascism, the Millennium Bug, anthrax, the Terrorist Threat, the abuse of our civil liberties, bird flu, global warming, young people in hoods and Armageddon.

I sometimes yearn for simpler days.


The-Best-Bird-Flu-Blogs-Team. said...

Sorry to have to burst your bubble, but unlike most of the rest of your "Fears" the Bird Flu virus is very NOW and very REAL and is currently growing at more than twice of the rate of the last year.

It may not be a "Pandemic" as yet but there is an increasing possibility of it actually mutating in to a human virus. That would be a major threat to all of us every where.

There have been 143 deaths related to the Bird Flu virus to date, that we know of.

The last 3 human fatalities resulting from the Bird Flu virus, were announced last week!

We expect more such announcements shortly.

The point is that this is a BIRD virus and is not supposed to be killing humans!

I hope that the powers that be, are taking this global threat to us seriously enough, to try and prepare for the worst case scenario.

I am sure that every one hopes that this virus does turn out to be nothing more than a "a lot of the hype".

It would be very foolish to not assume a worst case scenario though.

I would recommend that you look up some serious and focused sources of news, regarding the bird flu virus.

We have today added "The Fear Factor" entry of your blog, to The-Best-Bird-Flu-Blogs section of our site, in order to be able to provide a balance against those with an opposing view.


Mike M said...

Look out, people! Run to your houses, barricade the doors and hide when the black angels of pestilence come for you!
Bollocks. Bird flu is the new millenium bug. Far, far more people are killed each day by polluted drinking water, malnutrition, environmental degredation, unexploded cluster bombs, and the toxic stew left behind in poor communities when multinational petrochemical companies set up shop there. What possible good is worrying about bird flu going to do? The so-called cure vaccine, Tamiflu, isn't even proven to be effective. The best thing anyone can do for their health is to ignore the fearmongering in our media and try to concentrate on the important things in their lives – ie, the things they can control.
Think globally, act locally, as the saying goes. What affects YOU right now? What can you do this instant to make your community better, to enrich the lives of the people around you? This the way to tackle even the biggest problems, because it's the only way that people will avoid throwing their hands in the air in despair when the latest, greatest crisis hits. Can any one person halt global warming? No. Stop worrying about it. But DO recycle, reduce and reuse what you have. DO think about the amount of petrol you use each week and find ways to conserve it. DO use less electricity and consider getting a solar hot water heater. DO think about the greening of your neighbourhood and ways to plant more trees. If everyone acted like this, in concert, the world would be a much different place very soon. Education, not fear, is the answer.
Unfortunately TRUTH is a very subjective thing, as I've learned working for newspapers all my life. Herbie, I'm not sure things were ever simpler, but we sure weren't as awash in 'information' as we were twenty years ago. Sadly, information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. And wisdom, I believe, is gained through experiencing and examining life rather than vicariously supping on a stew of conflicting stories all of the time. Context is king.
Nice post, I love your writing and your blog.
Cheers, Mike

Mike M said...

Oops. I meant to say "we weren't as awash with information twenty years ago as we are now." You get my drift.

charmagick said...

How about a dose of common sense? Simply prepare and take the drama out of it. There are naturally occurring emergencies in almost every place we live. So food/medicine/water stocking is not a wild idea. Adding some masks to that mixture is not alot to ask. I live in a blizzard/earthquake zone and have things stocked that would double for a pandemic. I pray I don't need any of it, but if I do, I sure will be glad and much more comfortable for having made preparations. No fear, no panic...and certainly no 'bunker'.

kevin said...

Hm... I absoulutely agree. I may not be old yet... but I do believe the truth may be critically distorted and occationally changed. What you have said was very, very accurate!

Andy said...

Hello Herbie.

Reading this post on your blog has finished a slightly odd chain of events. I'm an young(er) author who has just got the time to write for the first time in my life.

I was so annoyed at journalism, authority and the fear factor that I decided to make my first project a series of gamebooks. To keep away from so called 'reality'.

Then I looked back at my 80's favourites for research. FF and Grailquest.

Then I checked if you, Livingston or Jackson had blogs while on a break one day.

Then I arrived at your blog to find a post on - the fear factor.