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Terror as a driving force

We fear poultry. We fear cattle. We should fear the fear.


[March 3, 2006] When a dead cat on the island of Rügel in the Baltic Sea makes headlines in the national press, is mentioned on the Dagsrevyen and gets the NTB to send an urgent message, it is fearlessness that rears in the nation. The bird flu may have already reached us. If not, it's just before. Sweden has already been hit and has implemented stringent measures, such as a large security zone around the site where two infected peaks were found on Tuesday. The same is part of the contingency plan in Norway.

Real and irrelevant dangers lurk around the house walls in safe Scandinavia. If the H5N1 virus mutates to infect humans, it could lead to a pandemic. However, at present, the danger is small. The authorities have provided clear guidelines on poultry production and how to deal with the discovery of dead wild birds. In addition, they have tried to curb the fear.

Fear has nevertheless become a driving force in social life. The E.coli bacterium, which has led to kidney failure in children, also shows this. Parents had thrown meat dough for a week when it turned out that Guild was not to blame. Now it is looking feverishly for the source of infection.

Vulnerability is the companion of modernity. German sociologist Ulrich Beck has called it a risk society. We have affected the environment around us in such a way that we are no longer able to see the consequences. Alfred Hitchcock has shown how nature strikes back in the movie classic Birds. Scary news even today, you could say.

At the same time, we have never before had the means to uncover the real dangers as early as now. The Spanish disease probably stemmed from a bird-borne virus, but very few had any idea before it struck. Now we can implement countermeasures.

The problem arises when fear takes over – no matter how real the threat is. For fear can legitimize everything. In the war on terror, it gathers support for measures that restrict citizens' freedom. The varnish of civilization is thin. A dead cat has been found on Rügel, and we stare down into the abyss.

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