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Be Very AfraidThe Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats$
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Robert Wuthnow

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199730872

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199730872.001.0001

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Panics and Pandemics

Panics and Pandemics

(p.120) Six Panics and Pandemics
Be Very Afraid

Robert Wuthnow (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the place of panic in current thinking about peril. Although the actual occurrence of panics is rare, discussions about the possibility of panics are thus rich with cultural significance. Hardly a year passes without some major threat arising that could potentially be the source of mass death, widespread panic, and ensuing chaos. One year it is the threat of a massive collapse of computers and electrical systems. Another year brings fear that millions will die from an unstoppable illness carried by pigs or birds or insects, or fears of an economic meltdown followed by a contagion of joblessness and widespread poverty. As concern mounts, public officials caution against undue alarm but at the same time promote it by publicizing worst-case scenarios and recalling times of devastation in the past. It is difficult for reasonable people to ignore their warnings. The officials, after all, are trained experts; professionals paid to anticipate danger and guard against it. There is in fact danger, they say. “Better safe than sorry,” the adage goes. At some level, it becomes impossible not to think about the impending peril.

Keywords:   panic, pandemic, perils, threats

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