The hysteria business

Welcome to the National Hysteria Museum here in Washington. Our tour will take only a short time. After that you may wander among the exhibits. Or spend time re-examining one of the hysterias we touch upon on our tour. And yes, we will finish at our Global Warming exhibit. Everybody’s favorite.

We begin with our Nuclear Weapon Hysteria section. This stoked up hysteria in this country in the sixties. People in England and the continent went over the edge in their ban the bomb demonstrations. Here we settled for a goal of a bomb shelter in every yard. At any rate, hundreds of millions figured we’d all snuff it within a year or so.

Here we have the Population Scare section. Some of you middle-aged folks will remember this hysteria. Many books. Lots of authors touring the western world and scaring the daylights out of us. One of the more effective hysterias, our experts tell us.

The gist of it was that the planet could not support the teeming billions who were going to be born. Yes, sir, it does seem a bit quaint now. Most of the hysterias in here do. As for population, well, the birth rates are falling dramatically around the world these days. And the percentage of people living in abject poverty keeps dwindling. In other words, the hysteria was unfounded.



In fact, the way birthrates are moving, world population will start to decline in a few decades. One of our directors feels we should plan ahead for a Shrinking Population Hysteria section down the road.

Here is a special room devoted to Howard Ruff. I’m sure we’ll have one for Al Gore in future. Howard managed to scare the hell out of a few hundred million. With his books and tv shows he convinced them America was about to plunge into horrible depression. And hyperinflation. And famine. Within twelve months, would you believe. That man knew how to sell books and newsletters.

He inspired millions to hoard their silver dimes and tablewear and head for small towns. To store up dried food and build shelters. Howard had the number one best seller for a while. That was toward the end of the seventies. Lately he’s been trying to buy up copies to get it off the market. It makes him look such a fool today. We have to keep our copy under lock and key.

Here is a room devoted to predictions from gloomsters. Paul Erlich has his own corner over there. Call it a shrine if you like. He created mini-hysterias in the sixties and seventies. Huge selling book, “The Population Bomb.” Big lecture tours. Millions of followers.

Paul predicted world famine between 1970 and 1985. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over ...” he said. Sounds vaguely familiar these days, doesn’t it?

Anyway, he predicted hundreds of millions would starve to death. No matter what we did to reverse course, it was too late to save them. (He upped this to billions of deaths in another book.) And India would be crushed by its population. He said the U.S. population would fall to 23 million by 1999. And pesticides would lower our life expectancy to 42 years by 1980. And in the meantime we’d run out of everything from clean water to zinc to talcum powder. Paul is in our Hysteria Hall of Fame. It is men like him who have made the Hysteria Museum possible.

And here we keep Paul’s ideas alive. PBS used to maintain a website called “Paul Erlich and the Population Bomb.” They have retired the site. Comedy is not their thing, I guess.

Now in this area you will find sections on global drought, acid rain and...what’s that? No you don’t hear much about acid rain any more do you? Over here are exhibits devoted to bird flu, and mad cow disease. Also global cooling. Yes, cooling. It was all the rage a few years back. Skiing in Hawaii, icecaps creeping over Tampa, ice-skating in Death Valley. That sort of thing.

Finally, the section you’ve all been waiting for: Global Warming. We have most of the scary books, the gut-wrenching articles, video clips of demonstrations. These are the typical tools that get used most in hysterias. There is a special screening of Al Gore’s film at 2 p.m.

This area over here? The empty space? Yes, it is huge, isn’t it? This is for future hysterias. Yes, ma’am, there will be more. You can count on it. We are in the hysteria business and we know what we are talking about. I guess that could be said for a lot of people these days, couldn’t it? About being in the hysteria business, I mean.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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