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    The Swine Flu – An Anthropological Take

    LET’S FACE IT: It’s not about the flu. No, it’s not about the flu. It’s about fear. It’s about the fear of losing control in this otherwise over-controlled world that we inhabit. How else would you rationally explain why people from all over – though it seems to be mostly a Western phenomenon – get so extremely worked up on a mass scale not compatible with the fact that a mere 16 people have died (as of today, 02MAY2009) from the newly detected H1N1 virus?

    Fear, I tell you, is a very powerful (if very irrational) force that moves people, makes us react, and – as is clearly the case this time – sometimes makes us lose the grip on (rational) life. Not unlike love. But when love takes control, things seem to go hmm and ahh, whereas when fear takes control (in and around us) things get messy, things get ugly, and the mass hysteria that we are witnessing on a global level these days – in the media as well as in the streets – is not pretty and we don’t need it.

    It’s ugly when people look at you like a criminal when you sneeze (because of the aircon, i.e.) in a Mexican convenience store, it’s ugly when the random street vendor you ask for direction takes one step away from you, to cut it short, it’s ugly when humans are not acting human and treating each other as such. And it makes me sad.

    As an anthropologist I see certain strata, certain aspects of human life, and I question and try to understand why people behave and react the way they do. I try to find the rationale when there seems to be none, try to make sense of the senseless, and – to be honest – this pandemic angst is quite senseless when you look at the facts and the what-is instead of the what-if without letting fear rob all human logic.

    As a private person, I’m disappointed with the way we (including the media) have dealt with this flu situation so far. The precautions made globally seem downright absurd.
    I’m disappointed with the ever so greedy sensationalism of the media, but – after all – it’s their bread-and-butter. But do keep in mind, that the media is the biggest hand that feeds the flu hysteria. Not H1N1 itself.

    What disappoints me the most is the complete lack of mental filters, the lack of personal assessment of the situation, of the apparently unquestioned trust we show whenever “experts” have things to say about this and that, which all seems to be the name-of-the-game for most of us in our contact with the almighty wisdom and messages of the media. Most people simply seem to just gulp it all down, uncritically and undigested, and it saddens me.

    There has always been virus around, there always will be. As unsensitive as it may sound, virus (and the deaths caused directly or indirectly by them) are very much a part of life, and this proliferating global panicking, that seems so out-of-hand, shows us that we are not very well adjusted to this fact.

    The difference is that we are now able to detect and track down the origin, the spread, and likely future of the virus. Nothing makes this particular H1N1 virus more lethal than others, but because science and technology now allows us to follow the life of the virus closely – and with the media all too eager to tell us about the possible (and often) horrific outcome – we start freaking out, we start visualizing the worst case scenarios, we start seeing ghosts (when there are no ghosts), and Armageddon days are here. This is out of all proportions.

    And come on, this virus (plus the next ones to come – and, yes, there will be more) only does what virus does. They spread. And they spread some more. And that’s no good, but what is really bad is that the fear of getting infected spreads way faster than the virus itself, that people stop trusting people, and that our minds get contaminated with angst, disbelief, and worry. It’s such a waste of our time and good energy.

    I hope that this Swine Flu-episode will very soon become history, and that we will look back on the whole thing with relief and a was-that-it? feeling. That we learn from this, that history won’t repeat itself, or rather, that we won’t repeat history.

    Stop fearing. Stop panicking. Turn off your TV. Start thinking.


    (from Mexico, the assumed epicenter of the Swine Flu) 🙂

    On this day..


    2 Responses to “The Swine Flu – An Anthropological Take”

    1. Rob Thomson Says:

      Excellently put, Nicolai. I could not agree more.

    2. Fubek Says:

      Seems like you make the mistake of exprapolating what you experience to the whole world. Is the media and the panicking so bad in Mexico? I can tell you that people here in Germany just shrug an go on with their lives. No panick mode here. The media makes a big fuzz about the flu, but it seems that people don’t fall for it.

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