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Larry Lansburgh: Fear not

I have now successfully operated a sledgehammer!” my friend Buford Runce told me, his eyes shining with enthusiasm. As a flange salesman, Buford sees his share of excitement, of course, but I had never seen him this keyed up.

“I bought the sledgehammer for self defense, because they want to control me.”

“Buford,” I said, “You’re being paranoid.”



“No, I’m not. And they want to control you too.”

“I remember a few years ago when Anthrax, bird flu, and Hong Kong flu made headlines,” I said. “And just a few weeks ago it was Ebola. But we don’t hear about ’em anymore.”

“Who are ‘they’?” I asked.




“SCAG. Sneaky Corporations And Government. SCAG is a conglomerate of corporations that want us to buy stuff we don’t need, media that must sell advertising to the corporations making stuff we don’t need, and the federal government, which has to control us because it wouldn’t be a real government if it couldn’t.”

“How do they want to control us?”

Buford pointed around the café where we were having coffee and bagels.

“They use something even more effective than the wearable technology and smart phones those people have,” he said. “SCAG uses fear! Fearful people are compliant people who will gladly surrender their liberty and their money if they hear scary stories.”

“No way. Nobody’s that naive.”

“Way. Everybody’s that naive,” Buford answered. “SCAG is constantly feeding us scary stories. Just look at television news, or the front page of any newspaper. Mostly we hear about terrorists. We also hear about viruses, which are miniature terrorists. The trick to a good scare story is to use a smattering of facts.”

“For example?”

“The Zika virus. It really exists, but the chances that it will get you are somewhere between zilch and none.”

“I remember a few years ago when Anthrax, bird flu, and Hong Kong flu made headlines,” I said. “And just a few weeks ago it was Ebola. But we don’t hear about ’em anymore.”

“Of course not. You see, eventually viruses and even bacteria get tired of too much media attention. So SCAG has to come up with a new Virus of the Month. Zika will soon vanish from the headlines, and then SCAG will have to start at the beginning of the alphabet again. Anthrax is a qualified incumbent bacterium. No one remembers yesterday’s news, so Anthrax will quickly be back in prime time again.”

“Buford,” I said, “I think SCAG is missing the boat. Last year alone, malaria killed almost half a million people. That seems pretty scary to me. Why is SCAG ignoring it?”

“Almost half a million fatalities a year is a number that any single-celled organism would be proud of,” Buford replied, “But SCAG ignores malaria, since it mostly strikes people in Africa, which the media tell us is a country on another planet.”

I nodded.

“Instead,” said Buford, “SCAG constantly scares us with stories about terrorists. Terrorists are ideal because they really do exist, and the threat is right here in the U.S. of A. We know this because we still can’t take a full-size tube of toothpaste aboard an airliner. On the other hand, SCAG will never try to frighten us with something that is clearly absurd. You won’t see news anchors gravely telling you about obviously fictional stuff like Nazi pharmacists from Mars, or a team of polar bears tattooing people in Miami, or self-driving cars in Palo Alto.”

“So how does all of this tie in with your sledgehammer?” I asked.

“I used the sledgehammer to defend my children,” said Buford. “SCAG spends billions of advertising dollars to make our children consume soft drinks, which are liquid sugar laced with toxic chemicals whose names you can’t pronounce. But at the same time, SCAG’s terrifying us with an innocent protein in wheat. Gluten!”

I looked down at my gluten-free, taste-free bagel. I suddenly wished that a waiter would come up with one of those big cylindrical wooden things and ask me if I wanted some fresh-ground gluten.

“After careful study of the owner’s manual,” continued Buford, “I gripped the sledgehammer at the appropriate end, the skinny end, swung it with all my might, and smashed my television.”

“That must have been very satisfying.”

“It was bittersweet,” Buford sighed. “It was a big, expensive flat screen. All the messages of fear coming into my house were in sparkling color and high definition.”

Larry Lansburgh is a writer and public speaker. He lives in Nevada City.


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