The Fear of Doing Nothing: Our overarching fear of getting caught with our pants down in an age of hyper-awareness
In 1998-1999, the world was being gripped by fear. It wasn’t the fear of war, famine, uprisings, or a coronavirus-like pandemic, instead there was a growing anxiety over Y2K.
Today, we tend to laugh at how the world was festering over something as trivial as the time clock limitations built into our computer hardware and operating systems, but at the time, it was anything but trivial.
This isn’t to say that there was no underlying problem with Y2K, but it quickly got blown out of proportion and the news media was very complicit in the fear-mongering, with disaster scenarios being played out on the six o’clock news and being repeated by politicians who didn’t want to be viewed as do-nothing officials.
That was only twenty years ago. Today we’re seeing a similar set of challenges unfold surrounding the coronavirus. And virtually every elected official is being gripped by the “fear of doing nothing.”
History has a way of treating officials harshly for making bad decisions, and no one wanted to risk having their legacy ruined because “they did nothing.”
As a result, any work order that came across a manager’s desk saying it would make their system “Y2K-ready” or “Y2K-compliant” was instantly rubber-stamped and given the green light.
To be sure, there were a lot of snake oil salesmen hovering around the tech world at this time, but very few wanted to risk being caught with their pants down.
Few people realize this but all the money corporations freed up to ensure they were Y2K compliant is what fueled the economic boom of the late nineties. This is the money that drove Silicon Valley through the first boom and bust bubble of Internet 1.0.
While Federal Reserve Board chairman, Alan Greenspan referred to it as “irrational exuberance,” the available money floating around the tech world was truly staggering.
We are now caught up in global fear mongering with no end in sight!
The Fear of Doing Nothing
Today’s headlines were dominated by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordering all schools to be closed in Japan for the next month, even though it doesn’t appear to affect kids.
Virtually every headline is about how fast-moving and dangerous the coronavirus is, even though the basis for these claims seem flimsy at best. So far the coronavirus has killed 2,814 people, while a recent study shows the flu kills 291,000-646,000 annually.
In fact, if I’m reading the definition right, the only true pandemic we have in the world today is cancer. The leading cause of death worldwide is cancer, with an estimated 9.6 million people dying annually. Yet nobody is referring to cancer as a pandemic.
Yes, the death rate for coronavirus is estimated at 1-2% while the flu is only 0.1%, but the fear being generated appears to be far more devastating than the disease itself. And let’s be honest, the death rate for cancer is somewhere around 50%.
The latest wave of headlines is being dominated by public officials wanting to “do something,” and the only safe thing to do is to restrict travel and have people avoid other people.
Unlike Y2K, the fallout from the fear surrounding the coronavirus doesn’t seem to come with any type of silver lining, at least not yet.
Complicating things further, there doesn’t seem to be any reliable source of truth about the outbreak.
Information coming from the U.S. government is a mixed bag. The CDC has situational updates that are noteworthy, but not particularly useful, and the CDC states its assessment in rather ambiguous terms: “It’s important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. In that case, the risk assessment will be different.”
For medical advice, the CDC’s says you should wash your hands with soap and water, and to not go near people who are infected. One important factoid is that hand sanitizers are most likely not strong enough to replace thorough hand washing as a preventative measure. So slathering your hands with Purell, in all likelihood, is a giant a waste of time and money.
While all this is interesting, the fact remains that millions of businesses are going bankrupt and people’s lives are being destroyed by the news media’s constant push to sensationalize headlines and drive the number of pageviews.
Global Businesses Collapsing
Most of the world relies on Chinese manufacturing for the products they buy. With over 604 million products sold on Amazon and over 46 million sold at Walmart, a huge percentage of them are made in China.
Millions of companies across China are now in a race against the clock to stay afloat.
A survey of small- and medium-sized Chinese companies conducted over the past month showed that only a third of them had enough cash to cover fixed expenses for one month, with another third would be running out within two months.
With the coronavirus dominating headlines, only 30% of them have managed to resume operations due to a complicated local government approval procedure as well as a lack of employees and financing.
China remains the manufacturing engine for the world!
Despite accounting for 60% of the economy and 80% of jobs in China, private businesses have long struggled to tap into the funding they need to expand and contract during the normal boom and bust cycles. About two-thirds of the country’s 80 million small businesses, including many mom-and-pop shops, lacked access to loans in 2018.
Since the outbreak, the support from China’s banking giants has been piecemeal, mostly earmarked for directly combating the virus.
Many of China’s businesses were already grasping for lifelines before the virus hit, because of the trade war and a lending crackdown that sent economic growth to a three-decade low last year.
Those most at risk are the labor-intensive catering and restaurant industries, travel agencies, airlines, hotels and shopping malls.
Airports have turned into scenes straight out of the zombie apocalypse!
Killing the Travel and Tourism Industries
The global response so far has been isolation, isolation, and even more isolation.
The only known prevention for coronavirus has been to isolate people from any contact with other people. Except, even that is no longer good enough.
U.S. health authorities said they’ve identified the first case of coronavirus that doesn’t have known ties to an existing outbreak, a worrying signal that the virus is circulating in the U.S. despite all the precautions.
The hospital where the patient is being treated at UC Davis in California is described as one of the more serious cases of infection so far in the U.S.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said the patient doesn’t appear to have traveled to China or been exposed to another known case of the coronavirus. Health authorities are increasingly concerned about what’s known as community spread, where the virus begins circulating freely among people outside of quarantines or known contacts with other patients.
“At this time, the patient’s exposure is unknown,” the CDC said in a statement. “It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of Covid-19.”
In the meantime, the fear is causing the travel and tourism industries to collapse.
- France has seen a 30-40% drop in tourists.
- More than 40,000 hotel bookings on the Indonesian island of Bali have been canceled.
- China has experienced a 70% drop in tourists over last year.
- Facebook cancelled their 5,000 person Global Marketing Summit scheduled for March in San Francisco.
- The Tokyo Marathon has been reduced to elite runners only, cancelling the race for 38,000 other runners.
- North Korea has canceled its Pyongyang Marathon scheduled for April.
- Mobile World Conference canceled its February event in Barcelona.
- British rapper Stormzy postponed concerts in Japan, China, and South Korea as part of his world tour.
- Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader announced he would postpone all ordination ceremonies for new monks and cancel all his public duties until further notice.
- Fashion weeks in Beijing and Shanghai, both set to take place at the end of March, have been postponed.
- Venice, Italy canceled its carnival, one of the most popular in the world.
- The Saudi government announced it is temporarily banning foreign pilgrims from entering the country, which is home to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
- At risk are massive failures in airlines, cruise ships, theme parks, hotels, trains, conferences, conventions, and much more.
Have we reached a crossroads in human existence?
151,600 is the number of people that die every day in the world.
Some die from old age, infectious disease, car accidents, cancer, childbirth, heart attacks, suicide, gunshots, or any of dozens of different causes. The ending of human life is a sobering reality, happening relentlessly, every second of every day.
Whenever I get lulled into a false sense of “this will never happen to me,” I realize this same number begins its countdown every morning of every day. There are no exceptions.
“What’s the role of our healthcare and governmental systems in this number?”
Is it simply to rearrange the dead, to change the order of how and when some of us will die?
Every baby that’s born into this world comes with an expiration date. We don’t know when anyone will die, but so far, no one has managed to live forever.
As a society, we grieve all of our losses but we abhor premature deaths, all of the ones that could have been prevented. We go out of our way to guard against disease, mending wounds after an accident, and protecting against those who wish us harm.
In the future it will no longer be good enough to just be healthy. We will demand ways to be physically stronger, more alert, super resilient, exceptionally durable, intellectually brilliant, and so much more.
I normally don’t go off on a rant, but every approach to the coronavirus I’m seeing seems wrong on so many levels.
It’s Y2K all over again but with a demented twist.
So we isolate people for a while… and then what? Every day we’re hearing about new cancellations and postponements… and then what? We’re on the verge of destroying our global economy… and then what?
Are we really waiting for someone to discover a cure? The healthcare industry has a terrible track record when it comes to finding cures. They are far more motivated to find a solution for the symptoms rather than the disease itself, but maybe this time will be different.
Furthermore, isolation does not work. It goes against human nature. Instead of separating people from people we need to start working together and ask the tough questions.
If we have an outbreak of the coronavirus in a large prison, how do we manage that? If we have an outbreak in a refugee camp, how do we manage that? If we have a massive outbreak among the 1.2 billion people that live in Africa, how do we manage that?
Recently, Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch stated, “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.”
Lipsitch goes on to predict that within the coming year, anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses.
It seems inevitable that we will all come into contact with it. But today’s fear about the coronavirus is exponentially worse than the disease itself. Why do we have no checks and balance systems for the hysteria being created?
That said, I’d love to hear your thoughts.