The Real Reason Not to Panic about Ebola

The headlines read: Man falls ill with Ebola after arriving in Texas from Liberia.

A reader and Facebook friend of mine wrote on her timeline:

I’m not panicked about this, because I think the reason this disease spreads so far in Africa is because of poor hygienic conditions, substandard medical practices and facilities, and ignorance and superstition on the part of some of the population.

So far, Ebola is only transferred (they tell us, and I believe them) by contact with bodily fluids, and only when the person is actively ill.

This comment got me thinking. Most of us don’t appreciate what we have in America, and the Western world more generally. We tend to take for granted things like clean water, plentiful food (including junk food), access to basic medical care (Obamacare aside), and a whole host of rare, incredible things relatively recent to human history.

The important thing here is not to attach too much importance to a headline. News websites and TV stations utilize headlines as an opportunity to grab your attention. It’s what they do. If you owned a newspaper, a website or a news station, you’d do the same. There’s nothing inherently wrong with their doing this. But the onus is on each of us — for our own sakes, most of all — to keep perspective.

“Man in Texas has Ebola virus” could mean the beginning of a historic and tragic outbreak, resulting in the deaths of thousands or more. Or, it could mean a relatively contained problem that won’t get out of hand.

But it occurs to me: You can’t gain or keep rational perspective simply by saying, “Get a hold of yourself.” Or: “Don’t panic.” Nor do reassurances from the federal government provide me any aid or comfort. The federal government? You can’t be serious.

If the United States dodges this latest bullet known as the Ebola outbreak, it will be no thanks to the things most of us will credit: Luck — which is nothing more than random chance; supernatural powers — the same powers which presumably gave rise to the disasters in the first place; the government — which, while necessary to restrain violent criminals, otherwise creates more problems and disasters than even outbreaks of diseases ever could; nor compassion — which, while nice in a crisis, does nothing to cure the illness or alleviate the painful events requiring compassion in the first place.

So what do you think the reason will be that we survive this latest crisis, assuming we do?

Think of what happens when there’s an earthquake of a certain magnitude in the United States. Then compare the effects of a similar magnitude earthquake in some place like Mexico City, Haiti, or the Middle East. In first-world countries, the damages — while very real, especially to those who lose property or (worse still) life — are nevertheless minimal when compared to the widespread, epic and catastrophic consequences we routinely see when an earthquake hits somewhere else.

Why is this?

The answer is objectively right before our eyes. It has nothing to do with fate, fortune or accident. It can’t be the work of an all-loving God, either. An all-loving God who allows disaster in one part of the world while minimizing it in another part is not an all-loving God, not by any definition. Religious people struggle with this issue all the time. They never find an answer other than, “Trust and have faith,” or, “There ought to be a law.” Faith or socialism — or both. It’s all they’ve got.

The real answer is that in some parts of the world, freedom, innovation and — at the root of it all, rationality and reason and science — have made the world an overall more comfortable, objectively safer place than parts of the world where these systems of thought, attitude and government (i.e., economic-political freedom) have not (for whatever reasons) yet taken hold.

The Facebook reader I cited above said it well. It reminds us of how the truth is simpler than most of us realize. In places like third-world Africa, conditions are not the same as they are in nations or cultures where technology and for-profit enterprise have, at least to some extent, been permitted to prevail.

The reason so many Americans fall into a panic about things like Ebola is because they don’t grasp why it’s safer here than elsewhere. No, we don’t know for certain that the outbreak of Ebola will not occur on a wide scale in America. But what we do know is that it’s a lot less likely here, and lots of experience tells us this. And we also know that however bad it might get here — with Ebola, or anything else — it won’t be nearly as bad as places, like Africa, where it was much easier for the disease to take off and spread.

Not so long as freedom, innovation, capitalism, and rational science remain as dominant as they have. If those things go — then we will be in serious trouble, just like most of the rest of the world, and just like nearly all of human history prior to the last century or two.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with racism, nationalism or anything of the kind. It has to do with the economic and cultural conditions most suitable for humankind. Freedom and reason are the keys to human success and happiness. They will work for people of all colors, backgrounds and gender. Similarly, their opposites will fail each and every time they’re tried — even in America, as we’re starting to see.

Plainly put, economic freedom grounded in rational science makes life better and longer — and safer — than it otherwise would have been. If your heart bleeds for the rest of the world, then wish for them what has worked so well for us. And if you fear for our own well-being and safety, think about what actually keeps us safe, in the end.


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