Ebola + the Theory of Relative Panic

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Why you should care

Because a persistent state of fear can be dangerous, too.

We understand anxiety. And paranoia. And even, on a really fundamental, animal level, panic.

Panic keeps us sharp, awake and paying attention to various and sundry threats to our assorted pursuits of happiness. But you don’t have to be a genius to appreciate that 100 percent Defcon Level Red is not possible 100 percent of the time. Not without losing your mind. The trade-off has to do with us picking and choosing which things to flip out about.

Bears? Yes. Unless you live in a penthouse. Tsunamis? Of course. If you live in Banda Aceh.

So it goes with Ebola — super-serious and significant if you have it, but for the majority of Americans it may simply be detracting from issues that we need to be much more concerned about, like global warming, HIV and even crossing the street safely. There are greater threats than this month’s flavor of danger.

So our word of caution today is: Beware the news cycle. And SARS. And the knockout game. And swine flu. And … well, you get the idea.

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