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Aren't Americans said to be an optimistic people?

Modern Americans are certainly less fatalistic and self-doubting than people on other continents. In fact as economic hardships and social restrictions lessen in the world people everywhere grow more confident and hopeful.

But Americans are far from optimistic. Most Americans in fact tend to be crisis oriented. They act like doomsday junkies who seem to need a daily dose of bad news to keep going.

The American news media with the help of everyone churns out one crisis after another and the people as though suffering from a national Alzheimer's memory-lapse respond to each arid every self-manipulation.

Switch back to the 1950s for a moment. America was in the grips of a Communist hysteria. The kind of hysteria you would expect to find among voodoo aborigines who had just been told that a people-eating ogre had been set loose among them.

While the world watched in disbelief America put on a bizarre ritual-dance of panic. A repressive atmosphere swept across this country. People who did not have the foggiest idea what "Communism" stood for whispered the word as though they were referring to the plague. Those suspected of collusion with the "evil godless Commies" were hounded out of their jobs their homes their communities. Tens of thou­sands of Americans were stampeded into building bomb shelters as protection from the imminent Communist invasion.

At first everyone's favorite enemy was the Soviet Union. Then Red China was given the honor of public enemy number one. Every evil intent was imputed to the "hordes" of Communist China. "The U.S. is a superpower that becomes panic-stricken at the mere rustle of leaves in the world—" said Mao Tse-tung.

By the late 1960s much of the world had established diplomatic or trade relations with China and the U.S. had no option but to go along and recognize the existence of the world's most populous state.

Overnight the hate campaign evaporated. The very people who had spoken of the ' 'wicked godless yellow menace'' now fell all over them­selves rushing to China as tourists as campaigning politicians and as business executives panting to close multibillion-dollar deals.

Such overreaction is by no means confined to politics and the inter­national scene. The U.S. seems to go from one "crisis" to another: the ecology scare—the pollution hysteria—the ozone-depletion alarm —the SST furor—the Population Bomb.

The Population Bomb? All through the 1960s and the 1970s neo-Malthusians insisted that the world population was proliferating so rap­idly that "soon there will be no room for anyone to lie down." A Stanford University professor made headlines and best-seller lists with such apocalyptic predictions as: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over ... In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death .... .At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate ..." Meanwhile every global report showed that the world "population explosion" was slowing down.

In the early 1970s there was the "oil crisis." Americans were told that they were descending into a new "Dark Age." Politicians— newscasters—academicians—Nobel Prize winners and other "author­ities" announced that the world would soon run out of oil—that we had "finite resources" and that we had reached the "limits to growth." Over and over Americans were told by the specialists that they would have to make permanent—repeat permanent—adjustments in their life­styles because they would "never enjoy the old levels of prosperity."

"We are probably entering an age of scarcity," Howard K. Smith of ABC Evening News announced in February 1974.' 'But I don't believe that is bad. It is an axiom that disciplined children are happier than nondisciplined ones. The same is true of nations." Did he mean that scarcity is good for us?

The immolations over the "energy crisis" had hardly ceased when Americans were served up a new crisis—the genetic engineering show. Every day newspapers and magazines and television programs carried cataclysmic predictions by opinion-makers—Nobel Prize winners and other "authorities" that the new recombinant DNA technology would produce new forms of bacterial life that would escape from the labo­ratory and "destroy millions of human lives."

This "crisis" was followed by the herpes scare. Americans were told that herpes was more insidious than other sexually transmitted diseases. "Herpes is an epidemic of major proportions and will continue to spread"—that was an oft-repeated news bulletin. Evangelists of doom and other moralists had a field day. "This is God's way of punishing you for your wicked promiscuous ways." For a while many people stopped making love and swimming in public pools.

Next Americans enjoyed the Nuclear War hysteria. Feature films— TV series—radio interviews—instant books—daily newspaper head­lines were all suddenly riveted on only one topic: Imminent Global Nuclear War. While the rest of the world went about its business Amer­ica was caught up in another ritual frenzy. It was widely reported that children all over the USA had recurrent nightmares about the bomb and the end of the world.

Then there was the terrorism panic. While the streets and outdoor cafes of Europe and North Africa overflowed with revelers millions of Americans canceled their travel plans.

Then the Missing Children Panic—the hysteria over drugs—the panic over chemicals—on and on and on . . .

What will Americans be gloomy about next week? What will people beat themselves with? What new crisis? What is the new Saturday Night Horror Show?

Has anybody ever done a study to find out how long Americans could survive without a major "crisis"? Eight minutes? Twenty-six minutes? Would everyone start to panic if no new crisis could be staged? Would the entire country be put on an emergency no-crisis alert?

The overreaction to these "crises" are part of the same psychology as the anti-Communist hysteria. In each case the pattern is the same: Overstate the problem—blow it out of proportion to what it really is —play on people's fears and anxieties. Milk each issue for what it's worth—then move on to another "crisis."

This tendency to fabricate and exaggerate is not confined to any one group in the ideological spectrum. Conservatives are paranoid about Communism. Liberals exaggerate the war issue. Many environmental­ists overstate problems of the ecology. Sunday evangelists put out "end-of-the-world" five-alarms on almost everything. "Primal screamers" are everywhere.

I do not suggest that we are without problems. There are plenty of problems. Industrial pollution is a problem. Alcoholism and drug ad­diction are problems. The nuclear arms race is a problem. AIDS and herpes are problems. America's anachronistic gunboat diplomacy—the heavy-handed intervention in other countries—that too is a problem.

It is the tendency to exaggerate and overplay problems that I find manipulative and in the long run counterproductive. It is the people's gullibility—or is it receptivity?—that is also baffling.

How can millions of people allow themselves to be manipulated time and time and again by such obviously transparent scare tactics? You would think that by now everyone in America would have wised up and refused to go along.

Could it be that people here thrive on such panic-mongering?

Why are Americans—perhaps more than other people—so obsessed with crises?

—Is "crisis" big business? In a country where everything is for profit is crisis profitable? There is no question that a lot of people in this country make a lot of money manufacturing and peddling crises: news­papers are said to sell more briskly when disasters or scandals are hyped up. Films and television reap profits from disaster stories—real and fictional. Religions thrive on people's anxieties and fears. The entire security industry makes billions in firearms and locks—guard rails and electronic alarm systems. Militarism is probably the biggest business of all. Over 30,000 private companies in the U.S. thrive on military expenditures. "Preparing for war" is good business.

—Is this receptivity to crisis-mongering an outgrowth of the old puritanism—guilt and self-hate? At one time Sunday evangelists all over America told the people how wicked they were and scared the hell out of them with graphic descriptions of the imminent end of the world. Today others do essentially the same thing—make people feel bad about themselves and punish them with horror stories. In other words do people here need a daily fix of bad news to keep them going? Is this what people feel they deserve? Is there a pathological need for enemies?

What are some of the consequences of this perpetual atmosphere of crisis?

• As noted earlier a chronically negative environment often leads to loss of confidence in one's self—in society and in the future. This can be particularly damaging to children who tend to take things at face value and do not have the perspective to see that everything is exag­gerated.

• Such a venomous atmosphere causes people to distrust everyone. Individuals and nations with leftist ideologies are considered "evil." Other people are to be avoided because they may carry sexual diseases. Yet others may molest or steal your children. Of course caution is necessary at times but exaggerated distrust may itself create problems.

• Another fallout is the loss of trust in the news media and in public officials. No wonder many people in this country refuse to read news­papers or watch newscasts. "There is nothing but bad news."

• When everything is hyped up it is difficult to maintain perspective and deal intelligently with problems. Because problems are often ex­aggerated the responses are inevitably exaggerated. For example the overkill to the arms race generates nightmares and depression in people—and this becomes a problem in itself. The overreaction to problems of the environment in the early 1970s caused the U.S. to abandon the development of a supersonic passenger aircraft.

• Finally in the U.S. the people's outlook on the future—the mood of the country—is perpetually tainted by the crisis of the day.

"How are you?"

"I am very worried about this terrible problem of the ozone."

Switch forward a few weeks: "With all this terrorism going around—I am really scared to go anywhere."

A few weeks later: "How can one feel safe when they are tampering with people's genetic makeup?"

A couple of months later: "How can I feel good about anything? We are going to blow ourselves up."

We have problems—real problems. We do not need to fabricate crises or exaggerate the severity of existing problems.

Overkill is not an effective way of dealing with anything.

Date: 2015-02-28; view: 844

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