Governments, and the political parties that shape those governments, have always used fear to get away with things. Fear of foreigners, fear of new and challenging ideas, fear of attack, fear of obsolescence; all have been deployed at one time or another to let that government do what it wants, in the face of all sense.
In the last decade or so, the UK government has really pushed the boat out on the fear front. Fear of foreigners kicked in over Sangette. Fear of differing opinions has lead to bans on travel. Fear of embarrassment has caused it to be illegal to protest outside the seat of our democracy. Fear has lead to an awful lot of really bad and permanent infringements of our liberty.
Fear of terrorism means that all our aviation infrastructure is on an effective permanent war footing – major airports are divided into fire plans and containment areas for police with automatic weapons to patrol while we remove our shoes. The fear caused by less than a dozen attacks has caused our cities to turn into a series of fortified islands in a way that dozens of attacks a year for thirty years didn’t.
To aid in this fear, the government helpfully created a Fear-o-meter, which shows how expected an unexpected attack is. Since no government will ever say that fear is unnecessary, the bottom two levels will never be used; for most of the lifespan of the Fear-o-meter we’ve been in level 4 (“Oh fuck, we’re almost certainly GONNA DIE”).
But the fear bug has moved on. In this case, it’s moved on to an actual bug, to whit, the flu. And it’s a particularly flu-like flu, in that it’s easily transmitted and in the vast majority of cases can take up to a week to get over. But it has the name of an animal in the title, and government has decided that we should fear it like nothing else. All our fear is to be focussed on it; we are not to fear targets, for they will be suspended for the duration. We are not to fear the police state, because they’ll all be either busy or sick. We are not to fear foreigners, because nobody will want to come here anyway because we’re all sick.
Basically, all the fear we have is to be focussed on the flu. And to ensure we get that message, the government is helpfully lowering the severity of the Fear-o-meter (to “Oh fuck, we will quite likely die”). Clearly they’re worried that we’ll just get fear fatigue, and stop paying attention. So they’ve helpfully ensured that terrorism is not to be feared as much.
Convenient, n’est pa?