I admit it. I’m afraid of Ebola and ISIS, although I don’t think either will directly harm my family. I’m quite concerned about the harm they are inflicting on people, mostly in other countries, and largely due to the bumbling intervention of the U.S. government. But for the most part, what I fear about them is fear itself: a panic-induced epidemic of statism-gone-viral. What I am really afraid of are the emergency state powers that a hysteria-afflicted populace will accede to, and even demand, and that the U.S. government will happily arrogate to itself. Crisis is the health of Leviathan, as Robert Higgs has demonstrated. For more along this line of reasoning, see Steve Chapman’s recent post, “This Is How Ebola and ISIS Could Kill Us All: Irrational fears encourage policies that are more dangerous than the threats they are supposed to defuse.”
The death-dealing duo of enemies foreign (ISIS) and now domestic (Ebola) are a totalitarian scaremonger’s dream-come-true, to a degree not seen since 9/11. The spectacle of ISIS’s execution videos and rapid conquests has already scared Americans into acquiescing in yet another resurgence of the warfare state. And if the situation with Ebola gets much worse, it may very well scare Americans into acquiescing in a resurgence of the police state, in the form of public health fascism.
The media has been exploiting the “synergy” between these two menaces, with CNN even asking: “Ebola: “The ISIS of Biological Agents?” You can imagine the producers deliberating over whether to go with that, or “ISIS: The Ebola of Terrorist Groups?”
Every complaint over a new vast violation of rights may one day be answered with the simple rejoinder, “Sorry, but Ebola and ISIS.” And just in time too, since “we’re living in a post-9/11 world” has started to lose its effectiveness.
Of course, any emergency state powers won’t do a lick of good at combatting either menace, but will far more likely make both worse. And this in turn will be used to scare up support for yet more emergency powers. The state has a way of “failing upwards.”
Indeed, it is the U.S. government’s failures that have brought matters to such a convenient crisis. Just as 9/11 was blowback from American interventions in the Middle East, the rise of ISIS is blowback from the Iraq War that 9/11 was exploited to justify, and from American intervention in Syria.
And the Ebola crisis has recently been widened by the state in a similar manner as the crisis of 9/11 was. The nurse Amber Vinson called the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) several times to ask if it was safe for her to get on a commercial flight, given the facts that she had treated Thomas Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in America, and that she was running a near-fever. Amazingly, the CDC cleared her to board an airliner filled with 131 travelers. And shamefully, that was good enough for Vinson. She boarded the plane, her condition worsened mid-flight, and soon after she landed, she was diagnosed with Ebola. Now the CDC is desperately trying to track the people who travelled with Vinson.
This needless widening of a crisis, due to sheep-like deference to bureaucratic guidance is reminiscent of how the 9/11 tragedy was compounded when hundreds evacuating the World Trade Center heeded instructions delivered by the Port Authority over the P.A. system to return to their offices because the South Tower was “secure”. Also Jim Ostrowski’s list of indictments in his 2004 post, “The Final Victim of 9/11: the Myth of Government Competence”.
Furthermore, another one of Duncan’s nurses boarded a cruise ship, a vehicle known for being floating petri dishes for contagions even in the best of times, presumably with no guidance from CDC not to do such a thing. And military troops have been sent to West Africa, straight into the heart of the epidemic, presumably to defeat the virus with “Shock and Awe”. The National Guard is now being prepped to follow. The mind boggles at the crises that might be caused by such a foolish policy.
But, again, what is most momentous about such screw-ups are not their direct impacts, as tragic as they are to their victims, but the steady flow of talking points they provide to statist scaremongers.
If the public’s faculty for critical thinking had not been decimated by public schooling, it would see these screw-ups, not as further “proof” of how much they need their overlords, but as failed “try-outs” or “auditions” for the police state. Yet, even after such debacles as FEMA’s management of Hurricane Katrina under Michael “Heckuva job Brownie” Brown, crises like Ebola still elicit calls for the central government to “do more,” and for the appointment of yet another “czar.”
In a sane world, every future call for greater centralization and for emergency state powers could be effectively refuted by simply saying, “Sorry, but Ebola and ISIS… and 9/11, and Katrina, etc.”
Given the crazy world we live in, the best we can do is fight the hysteria as best we can, and to inoculate ourselves from it by taking the following pledge :
“I pledge to never acquiesce in a police state, no matter what public health or security crisis the government and media are wailing about, and no matter how high the pitch of their wailing becomes.”