The Problem with Paranoia

With all the talk about whether or not radiation from Japan is affecting what scale of the population and food, it is hard to know what to think. Too liberal with worry, and you fall into the "paranoid public" that is so disapprovingly chided in newspaper article after newspaper article. Authorities on the subject (which authorities, one might ask) continue to insist that whatever radioactivity exists is in low quantities, and for the most part, is completely harmless.

"Totally harmless" seemed a bit overstated last week, when two of three workers in one of the plants were hospitalized for exposure. At the time, we were told that it was no worse than a sunburn, and the other worker was only being hospitalized as a precaution. For those of us who have been living in the wintry North, let me remind you of the pain that is a--and let me emphasize this--MILD sunburn.

 Now, for those of you that know what radiation does, just skip over the next bit, but for the rest of us, I'd like to give you a simplified description. Radiation exposure does exactly what the sun does. It radiates you. Radiation is found in many things naturally, such as sunlight, potassium-40, and carbon-14 (remember carbon dating? Carbon-14 is one of the ways we're able to do it. Because we measure its rate of radioactive decay). All of these, however, are in such low quantities that they can't possibly harm you--right?

I'm not going to upload a picture of 3rd degree sunburn, but if you've never seen it, or if you need a refresher, go ahead, take a minute to google it. It's not pretty.
I am not trying to suggest that the amount of sunburn-like damage done was equal to the worst kind of sunburn, but instead I want to show the enormous variability in that sort of statement. Variability that is made even worse when the next thing we hear is that two of these workers are now being treated for internal damage.

The problem with paranoia, my friends, is that it seems to become necessary when dealing with anyone trying to keep the crowds ignorant. Ignorance keeps riots from happening. It keeps people happily buying their eggs and dairy from animals who live lives covered in shit (don't be turned off by that last statement--I'm not even arguing the fact that they deserve better lives, I am arguing that I don't want to eat food that has sat in weeks-old poop). Ignorance keeps people happy, because when you don't know any better, you don't rush to the store to stock up on iodine tablets, or to the bank to take out all your money before your neighbor does it and the bank collapses. Ignorance keeps the masses from making a mess--but it also keeps individuals from making their own decisions based on the most up-to-date information.

Will your sushi kill you, because it has eaten fish that have eaten fish that have eaten contaminated fish or algae off the coast of Japan?

Probably not.

But when things are always worse than reported, you put yourself at risk by not being paranoid. The old mantra of "hope for the best, prepare for the worst" keeps you ready for whatever happens, and when it is something as simple as ordering a bottle of potassium iodide, which have shelf life of six to seven years? Why not? Why is the media painting the enormous buyout of these tablets as stark raving mad?

Perhaps they are angry that they did not think of it in time to buy some themselves. Step one in feeling making yourself feel better than everyone else is mocking them. Perhaps they really do believe people to have gone crazy, when we fear radiation leaks from something that brings so much electricity and wealth to a country!

Whatever the reason, it becomes justified to think ahead, and read past the "it's totally fine, our explosive (insert noun here) is definitely stable, don't worry about anything!" experts, and possibly think for ourselves. We'll just have accept that "paranoid" has become another way of saying "prepared"--but then again, those of us who aren't either will have to just accept that "totally fine" could as easily be another way of saying "internal organ damage".


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