When and how did we Americans cross the line into crazy? Why do we continue to put up with this absurdity?
This rant has been building for a while now. Every time I see an article about yet another mother who was arrested for allowing her child to play in the park alone or walk to a friend’s house a few blocks away, I cringe. New products come on the market continuously, proudly touted as the next best thing to keep our kids safe. CPS, it appears, is now regularly called in response to parents choosing an alternate, but very loving and safe, lifestyle for their kids.
We Americans have developed an unrealistic and irrational fear of the boogieman.
And the worst part is that the boogieman has more faces than the proverbial Hydra. Each time we figure out a way to reduce the fear of one head, two more grow.
I’ve been involved in a few discussions on Facebook about this issue lately. On the one hand, many parents feel that the danger is too great and their children too precious to risk. If they can keep their children safe by not allowing them to leave the house unsupervised, that’s better, no? Other parents feel the long-term harm that comes about as a result of over-protective parents negates the feeling of safety, and then some. I tend to side with that latter group.
But lately I’ve been trying to figure out how we, as a society, have sunk so low. How has this culture of fear developed? When did this happen?
I will freely admit that I’m an old lady, but when I was a kid just a few decades ago, we kids roamed the streets. My parents headed out every morning to go to work; we kids roamed freely until dinner time. During the summers, we walked to the local swimming pool if we felt like it. Or the library. Or maybe we just stayed at home. Our parents spent their days blissfully unaware of where we were, but knowing that we were safe.
And yet now, a mother is arrested for leaving her 11-year-old daughter in the car while Mom runs in to buy a few items. Hello? I am reasonably certain that 11-year-old girl was perfectly capable of opening the door if it got too hot in the car. What has happened to common sense?
I was out of the country for most of the past three decades, so was not here to see the rapid freefall from a prevalence of common sense to where we are today. I don’t claim to understand how it happened, or when. But I have my suspicions, and I think I’m right. If you have a different opinion, please do chime in down below in the comments.
I suspect if we follow the money, we’ll find our answer. This ridiculous situation is in nobody’s best interest except for corporate America. If they can foster and perpetuate a culture of fear, they stand to make money. A lot of it.
Right now, I happen to be in Toledo Ohio, dog-sitting for my sister for the weekend. We woke up this morning to find an alert that the water supply is unsafe. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Lake Erie led to a harmful algae bloom, which causes an unsafe chemical imbalance in the water.
My sister raced down to the store just a few hours after it was announced, but the shelves were already empty. Not a bottle of water was to be found. We are just holding tight, drinking soda (blech!) and juice for the day, hoping they get the issue figured out. Or, at the very least, stores can get truckloads of water shipped in so we can buy a few gallons later today.
I, naturally, posted this on Facebook. It’s a nuisance, but nothing to freak out about. We’ve dealt with no water before, and I have no doubt we’ll deal with it again. This is not something to panic about. And it most certainly is not something to “prepare for.” Or at least in my mind it isn’t.
A friend feels differently. “If people prepared for events like this,” she wrote, “they wouldn’t need to buy out the store when it happened. ALWAYS keep two or three days’ worth of water, food, etc. on hand. Silly Muricans.”
Really? REALLY? Let’s walk through that scenario… While I will agree that it would be nice to have two or three days’ worth of water on hand right now, at what expense would that come? Let’s just say that I always keep 20 gallons on hand – that’s really a small amount. A VERY small amount, but let’s go with it. So I go buy 20 gallons of water and shove it under the house for “just in case.”
Because the water will not stay fresh forever, I would not want to use water stored longer than about four months. So four months later, I need to go buy another twenty gallons, to the tune of $20. And now what do I do with the old water? Heck – I’ve got a perfectly good supply of water coming out my tap; I really don’t see any reason to use this old water. I dump it out, throwing away twenty bucks. But… well… you know… it’s only twenty bucks. What’s twenty bucks so you can be prepared for “just in case?”
Fast forward another four months and repeat the process. I dump another twenty bucks down the toilet.
And four months later, yet another twenty bucks. In one year, we’ve dumped out $60 worth of water.
Granted, I have not lived in the USA for much of the past few decades, but the last time I remember not having potable water in my tap was on our wedding day – August 31, 1991. A water main broke, and we were without water for ten hours.
According to my friend’s reckonings that I need to always maintain a few days’ water supply, and given that it’s going to cost me $60/year to do that, I would have thrown away $1380 on water between when I could have used it in 1991 and now. And for what? So that I wouldn’t have to drink juice for a day or two?
Because, let’s be real – this issue is unlikely to last longer than a day or two. The city engineers will figure out something to address the issue. And if they can’t? If Toledo ends up going weeks or months without potable water? Then would my pitiful 20 gallons really help? As it happened, within 12 hours, free water was available at all local fire stations – we just had to take containers there and they would fill them from their truck.
Follow the Money
In the end, who benefits from this fear-mongering? Corporate America.
Within a few minutes of posting about the water situation here in Toledo, somebody had shared my status. I clicked over to see what they were saying, and found this:
Oh yes, indeedy! Let’s use this unfortunate algae bloom to sell people filtration systems that most likely would be ineffectual against this problem anyway!
I am fully aware that this is a greater issue. I know that most likely the algae bloom was caused by corporations dumping their waste in the lake. I know that there are ways of maintaining a reserve water supply that does not involve gallon jugs. But for now, let’s just pretend that the algae bloom was just a random unfortunate event, and let’s look at the mindset behind preparing for an extremely unlikely event to occur.
* What forces would be at play to encourage one to always maintain a water supply, when chances are so unlikely that it would be needed?
*What kinds of thought processes would one have to go through to deem that a worthwhile way of spending one’s precious time, money, and energy?
First, one would have to be convinced that it’s likely to be needed. When we lived in Ethiopia, we only had running water a few hours per week. It was in our best interest to have a series of tanks set up to store water since we rarely had water coming from the tap. When the water was running, we diligently filled all our tanks, hoping we would have enough to get us through to the next time the water came on. That made sense. In most of America, it doesn’t.
In our cottage, we have a system set up to collect rain water. We can only store 550 gallons and we hope that rain will come to replenish our supplies before we run out. Still, we are fully aware that we could go weeks between rains, and will be getting another small collection site set up next year for a 50-gallon barrel “just in case.” That makes sense – there is a reasonable chance that we will need to tap into that barrel, so it’s worth the hassle of maintaining it.
But in our house in Boise? No. Not worth it. While I will agree that it’s possible that we might have our water shut off, it’s highly improbable. Maybe the water supply will be tainted like here in Toledo. Maybe a water main will break. There is a whole host of things that might go wrong that could lead to a few hours or a few days without water, but so what? Is it really worth “preparing” for that? Is that a good use of my time, energy, and money? And yet it’s pretty easy to run a campaign to make people think it’s necessary.
I cannot figure out why an individual person would think it is a good use of resources when it’s so unlikely to occur, but it doesn’t take long to see how corporate America will benefit. If corporate America can promote that culture of fear, they will profit in many ways. They’ll sell plenty of jugs of water and filtration systems. They’ll sell barrels and pipes and pumps. Get Americans to think that some highly improbable event might actually happen, and they’ll buy anything – and corporate America laughs all the way to the bank.
It’s not hard to see how corporate America is selling fear. How many readers of this post have installed a home security system? How many refuse to allow their children to walk to the park to play? How many cross to the other side of the street when they see a black or Hispanic teen walking toward them? How many religiously get flu shots every year? How many carry a gun “just in case” they meet the boogieman in real life?
After the Sandy Hook shootings, we saw the emergence of bullet proof blankets and backpacks.
Whenever a child is kidnapped (most often by a family member), we see ads touting child id bracelets or tiny gps trackers.
After too many children (but still very few) died in hot cars, we see companies developing systems to help us remember that our children are in the car. At what cost will those be added to cars, knowing that the vast majority of us will never need it?
There is no end to the plethora of ways that corporate America dupes us into handing over our money. They prey upon our fears, and we fall right into their hands. I propose we stop allowing them control over us.
What we can do
1) Read all media reports with an eye on perspective. In today’s age of instantaneous news coverage, remember how rare each event is. If it made it onto the news, it is most likely a very rare occurrence and one we most likely don’t need to worry about. The Dalai Lama once said that the very prevalence of bad stuff in the news indicates it’s rarity in real life. When all we hear about in the news is good stories, then we need to fear – that will mean that the bad has become the norm. Until then, remember to put it all into perspective.
2) Consider the propaganda. Remember that corporate America wants you to fear. The more you live in fear, the more money they stand to make. Just as we teach our kids to see through marketing messages when it comes to sugary cereals or silly toys, we need to see through the marketing messages that are targeted for us adults. Accept it for what it is, but don’t allow their hype and hysteria to make you freak out.
3) Be on high alert immediately after some unlikely event. Just as the marketer above jumped in immediately to cash in on the water situation here in Toledo to sell filtration systems, they will take advantage of every unlikely event. Is there another school shooting? Look for marketers out there selling absurd gadgets to protect your kids at school. A hurricane hit the coast? Somebody is sure to try to take advantage of that to sell something. Put your internal snake-oil-salesman antenna up and ask yourself if you truly need that item.
4) Trust in your fellow man. People are good – they really are. People will go to great lengths to help one another. Don’t discount that and think you will need to everything in case the unthinkable really does happen.