Political philosopher H. L. Mencken said “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins.” However, politicians do not want people to get so alarmed that they panic, stop going to work, riot or try to overthrow the government, for obvious reasons. This leads to a deceptively simple contrary indicator: “Everything is under control” means something is terribly wrong; “panic” means everything is fine. Don’t believe me?
This was the slogan of the british government during WWII when Germany was actually bombing their cities. Compare that to the American rhetoric of the last few years:
- SARS will kill you! BE AFRAID
- The Bird Flu will kill you! BE AFRAID
- OBAMA’s death panels are coming for Grandma! BE AFRAID.
- The Muslims are coming to kill you! BE AFRAID.
- The New Black Panthers are coming to kill you. BE AFRAID.
- Mexicans are beheading people in the desert! BE AFRIAD.
Detect a pattern? Authoritarian governments and their agent constantly menace the public with imaginary and ginned up threats, but when things actually get out of hand, they switch to trying to keep us calm.
For more than a week now, the Japanese government has urged its people to stay calm as, while grave, the situation is under control. Think about that.