There’s a way to tell if your fear is rational, or indicative of disorder.
If your fear is rational, and you take steps to alleviate the fear, and the fear diminishes — that’s a good sign.
If you take steps to alleviate the fear and your fear remains — or even intensifies — that’s an unhealthy sign.
Throughout the last year, I have watched people go through this pandemic syndrome. This time last year: “I am scared to death. I certainly can’t leave my house, unless I have to.”
What will it take to encourage you to leave the house? “A vaccine,” was the most common answer, in spring 2020.
Now we have a vaccine, in spring 2021. Confidence in the vaccine is so strong that everybody feels compelled to get it, without question — and to have a guarantee that everyone else get one too. The same people who think it’s perfectly fine for the FDA to take 20 years to approve a life-saving drug now suddenly are just fine with bypassing all kinds of approval for the vaccine. Why so trusting?
A year ago, all that mattered was the vaccine. “Once I can get a vaccine, I can mostly go back to normal.”
So what happened? Millions are getting the vaccine. But many, I find, are still staying home. Or leave home, but only fearfully. They project this fear onto the blaming of others. “Well, if everyone would wear five masks, like we’re told to do, and if everyone would get the vaccine, then I wouldn’t have to be so scared.” It’s other people’s fault you’re scared.
But the anger at others is just a mask for the remaining, totally unaddressed fear. And even if it were somehow possible to guarantee that every single person on the planet will get the vaccine, and every single person on the planet can be forced to wear 5 masks, the fear would still not diminish. In fact, it would probably grow.
Self-refuting logic is a sign of irrational fear. If you really believed the COVID vaccine made you safer, you would not feel tempted to stay home; and you would not feel greater fear because some didn’t take the vaccine.
What makes fear of coronavirus so irrational is not the perfectly legitimate desire to avoid a virus, even a virus that is usually non-life-threatening. What makes the fear of coronavirus irrational is the faulty premise we don’t apply to ANY other ailment: a ZERO tolerance of risk.
When you strive to do the impossible, which is what “irrational” means, you end up doing things that only make the fear worse. The quest for ZERO risk, with regard to viruses, is untenable at this point in time. The more people look for that elusive zero risk, the worse the fear will become.
Imagine if an edict were written as follows: “Until we have a 100 percent guarantee that there will be ABSOLUTELY NO TRAFFIC FATALITIES, EVER AGAIN, then all driving must cease.” When, exactly, do you think people would be able to start driving again?
Irrational fear is self-reinforcing. The more steps you take to alleviate the irrational fear, the worse the fear becomes. Each ridiculous and self-refuting step — designed to bring about ZERO risk — leads to an intensification of the fear. The remedies for addressing the fear become more and more irrational, untenable and even unjust.
If you were an evil dictator and wanted to compel a society to bring itself down, turning citizen against citizen, then instilling such irrational fears would be a brilliant, though evil, way of going about it.
Michael J. Hurd, Daily Dose of Reason