Diary

Ebola and the Fear of Flying

aborted flight

A pervasive attitude

It’s incredible to me how reflexively, head-pattingly dismissive government health bureaucrats, their apologists in the media, and their left-leaning Twitter friends are in discussing Ebola in the U.S.

At least in public.

Here’s an example from the other day—

National Journal, Sam Baker: An Ebola ‘Czar’ Won’t Stop Ebola. But What Can He Do? Czars and travel bans won’t prevent another Ebola case in the U.S.

So far, each new Ebola development in the United States—from the first two American aid workers flown here for treatment, to the infection of two Dallas nurses—has set off a new round of panic. And there were real shortcomings in Dallas—substantive problems that allowed the disease to spread when it shouldn’t have.

I notice two things first off:

  1. There’s an acknowledgement of “substantive problems.”
  2. There’s use of the ever-popular descriptor “panic.”

Why “panic”?

Personally, I haven’t met anybody who’s particularly panicked.

Even online.

I’m pretty sure they’re out there, but panicky people are just not the kind of people I hang with, I guess.

You see, “panic” is an infantilizing word. A passive-aggressive way of not having to explain anything or take responsibility.

Here’s another one—

This one is designed to shame us out of our alleged panic. Anybody who’s been married for awhile recognizes this as something (unwise) husbands do to calm their wives. (“Now can I get back to the game?”)

Has anyone ever known this to work?

An actual grownup writes

Here’s a piece that underlines a point the experts aren’t making in public, although it leaves something unsaid that rings clearly in my mind.

Business Insider, Shane Ferro: Nassim Taleb: Here’s What People Don’t Understand About Ebola:

Multiplication — that’s what people don’t understand about Ebola, according to Nassim Taleb, the author of “Fooled by Randomness” and “The Black Swan.”

More specifically, Taleb explained to Business Insider that many people talking about the disease don’t “have a grasp of the severity of the multiplicative process.”

The argument that the US should be more worried about a disease like cancer — which has more stable rates of infection than Ebola does currently — is a logic that Taleb calls “the empiricism of the idiots.”

The basic idea: The growth of Ebola infection is nonlinear, so the number of people catching it doubles every 20 days. Because of this, you have to act quickly at the source of infections, he says. “The closer you are to the source, the more effective you are at slowing it down … it is much more rational to prevent it now than later.”

Taleb targets the imperative of killing a breakout before it gets started because that is the time it is most manageable.

After that, each generation of infection gets more unmanageable, and with geometrical growth in intensity.

If that nurse had started sneezing or throwing up while on that plane, potentially scores of people would’ve had to be watched.

And, so far, we haven’t done a good enough job at that, even while in generation 1.

Taleb pivots to the global origins of the disease, but politically we cannot sustain a global effort at the cost of vigilance at home.

There’s more, and this is what the “experts” and their apologists in the pundit class don’t grasp:

People understand purely natural diseases that broke out generations ago.

They have a sense that it is what it is and that those genies are unlikely to be forced back into their bottles.

So we are cognitively and emotionally immune to faraway states and people being infected, even dying, there.

We think of them and we are sad.

But we don’t think about them long or often.

However, we absolutely will not be charitable in the event of even one death that is caused by governmental or technocratic incompetence.

So saying that there are hundreds of perils more likely to strike me as an individual than Ebola—

That isn’t going to fly.

Nor should it.