By Dick Haney
There is now an eighth deadly sin – the sin of allowing ourselves to be fearful because of sensationalism and misinformation.
The seven deadly sins which are anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony have been used to define those human shortcomings and pitfalls that we all face and must deal with in our daily lives. I submit that there is yet another sin that should be added to the list, that is arguably just as potentially devastating as those already identified; that being the sin of allowing ourselves to be fearful.
My article this morning is predicated on a news story put out by Fox News regarding the use of news people being used as human shields by Ghaddafi in the Libyan conflict. The Fox reporter accused the Colonel of using journalists to surround himself in order to preclude the possibility of being bombed by Coalition Forces. Turns out that this Fox newsperson rarely leaves the hotel in Tripoli and doesn’t venture out to get information on a first hand basis. It is interesting that this person was turned into the world by fellow journalists who were upset with her slothful actions. (Yup, that’s another deadly one). It is yet another example of the low level of respect that some people and organizations have for the population at large and the blatant manner that they will warp the facts to get to a desired outcome. It is a grave violation of trust and in many ways personifies the reason that there is so much unhappiness with regard to the institutions that historically garnered respect from the populace.
The good news is that there is an antidote available for the sin of giving into fear and sensationalization; it is common sense and utilizing the variety and scope of informational sources that we have available today. We all must take responsibility for the collection and digestion of information on issues to come to our own conclusions. This requires diligence, dedication, common sense and the self confidence to come to our own conclusions and not rely on others to make decisions for us. Unfortunately, as a population we have had our trust violated too many times. Individuals and institutions earn our trust and when that trust is broken, it is time to reassess and reorganize to find a better way to form opinions and make decisions. I would like to say that this information could come from the main stream media, but we now don’t get the news, we get the sensationalized off the wall emotion based drivel that passes for the news. Was it always this way or are just more aware of the manipulation now than we once were? Remember all those weapons of mass destruction that were hiding in Iraq? Weapons that were going to be unleashed at any moment? Need I say more?
The landscape has changed as a result of the information age. The reality is that every individual and institution must now function with the understanding that anything that happens is potentially open to public scrutiny. No longer is it possible for Political Parties in Canada to give one speech in western Canada, and then give another in Eastern Canada with a decidedly different tone and not have the two cross referenced. No longer is it possible for politicians to carry on like John F, Kennedy with regard to his extramarital affairs without probably being found out. Ask Bill Clinton about the changed environment. No longer is it possible for Politicians to make campaign promises and then not have them show up at a later date with regard to action or non action. Ask President Obama about walking with the Unions in Wisconsin.
With new information sources, it is now possible for each individual to make his/her own decision and come to conclusions based on independent research. But it is going to take dedication and time. My thoughts go back to May of 2003 when the first BSE case was announced in Canada. We were told that this would be a science based approach to finding a workable solution to this problem, and then the world immediately took off on a tangent that was not remotely related to science or rationality. To this day to my knowledge there has not been one death connected to BSE on the North American Continent. As another example it is outrageous that we would continue to allow tobacco products to be sold in Canada, where there is demonstratable scientific proof that people die from their use, but that we spend millions testing animals for BSE where there has not been one recorded death. How is it possible for us as a nation to live with this ridiculous situation? So, why did this issue spiral out of control? Very simply I believe it is because the public has been the victim of unreliable information too often. We no longer know who to trust, or what informational sources to believe.
Add to this problem is the sensationalization of the news by the mainstream media. It would be laughable were it not so pathetic that people in New York are cleaning off the shelves of pills that will thwart Thyroid Cancer as a result of the horrific circumstances that beset Japan as a result of the earthquake. Fear and panic and not common sense and rational thought are guiding those people to the drug stores, purchasing product that is desperately needed by those in Japan. Take a look at a map folks, because you are on the wrong Coast of the United States to be affected. But, keep in mind that fear sells and no one knows it better than the mainstream media.
Another issue that we have to deal with is public policy that has little to do with science or reality, but it allows us to believe that good is being done and we are being protected, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. For instance, in Alberta we have a Fusarium free policy with regard to the sale of Pedigreed Seed. This in my view is a totally unrealistic and unworkable policy. This is a “Feel Good” policy that might score a Politician some points, but has nothing to do with keeping this Province Fusarium free. While holding to a zero tolerance policy on seed grain, we allow feed grain to come in from Saskatchewan and Manitoba untested, we allow straw to be transported down our roads untarped and we allow corn, that is a major carrier of Fusarium to be grown and harvested untested and yet we have a zero tolerance policy with regard to seed grown. So, in reality, we are doing nothing to combat major sources of contamination while at the same time holding another part of the industry to an unrealistic standard. We have a Provincial standard, but leave it up to each Municipal District as to whether or not the policy is enforced. This demonstrates once again a total lack of common sense with regard to public policy. But whoever said that reason and rationality had to prevail?
We have regulations in Canada with regard to the growing and processing of food. I am a firm believer in safe food for the population of Canada. Residents of Canada have a right to safe food supplies. But on that same note, why are we allowing imported food products into our Country that are not held to the same high standards that producers in Canada are held to? A recent television program showed how we are allowing off shore drugs into North America that either are ineffective at best, or toxic at worst. Globalization without world quality standards have definitely put our population at risk, as we are willing to sacrifice safety to purchase more and cheaper commodities. I direct you to another of the deadly sins, that being greed.
So what is the answer? The answer I believe lies in our ability as individuals to do our own research. The answer lies in our Governments to realize that this is a brand new world; it is a world where everyone is under the microscope where things now happen in the light of day whereas they once took place behind closed doors far from the scrutiny of the public. We must hold organizations and individuals accountable. We have ourselves a responsibility to be informed. We also have a responsibility to take the time to do the research, to not allow ourselves to be swayed by those informational sources that would make us fearful, and thereby allow ourselves to be persuaded coerced and controlled. Social media, through the use of uncut, unfiltered and hopefully unbiased examination of the issues of the day will go a long way to unweaving the web of misinformation. But his informational source must be critically analyzed as well. I compare it to the dark ages where due to lack of literacy it was up to the clergy to read and interpreter the scriptures. Now most everyone is literate and can read the scripture for themselves and draw their own conclusions. One only has to look as far as the game we have all played where one attempts to pass a message through a half dozen people. It is hilarious to hear the original message and how it ends up after that number of transmittals. Needless to say there is a great deal lost in the transmission. So, with social media and the web; we no longer need the interpreter to act as an intermediary. We can go directly to the source. If information is power, there has been an exponential transference of power to the masses by the use of social media. It is no longer possible for any group or institution to control the flow of information. By doing this we will be a better informed people and this should result in better government policy and a better environment to live and raise our families in. If informational sources sensationalize and make us fearful shame on them. If we don’t as a population seek to find the truth and respond with common sense and objectivity, shame on us.