As a reaction to the kind of "Aaaargh! We're all gonna die!" stuff about pig flu comes this kind of cock from people like Simon Jenkins, who sees this whole business as a big murky opportunity for government to steer people's attentions away from the FACT IT'S KILLING ITS OWN PEOPLE and for the WHO to justify an enormous budget. But is he right? Is the right reaction to this problem not to bury yourself in a bunker but to laugh in the face of a sniffling man under a sombrero and wipe his germs all over your eyes?
What amuses me is the way in which Twitter, for example, has been blamed for whipping up fears about swine flu. Yes, there's a lot of rubbish on Twitter, but then again there's a lot of rubbish in real life, and a damn sight more in the mainstream media. (And what the hell is that website anyway? It looks to me like the online version of one of those suspiciously ever-present English-language newspapers you see everywhere when you're in a developing country, which, when you read them, contain eight billion billion articles on how great US foreign policy is and how everything would be better if only it all got privatised.)
Anyway, Twitter is supposedly the agent of misinformation about swine flu. It shows a new way of easy lazy churnalism from the mainstream media, whereby you simply go onto Twitter, find something as madly insane as you can, and then use it to represent the entirety of Twitter's output. Whereas the press, well they've been completely responsible, haven't they?
Mm. Jenkins is correct to point out that while the screamsheets are mentioning 150 deaths, only 20-odd of these are directly attributable to swine flu; and that no-one has so far died outside of Mexico. But it's what he goes on to say next that sees him veer off the rails:
We appear to have lost all ability to judge risk. The cause may lie in the national curriculum, the decline of "news" or the rise of blogs and concomitant, unmediated hysteria, but people seem helpless in navigating the gulf that separates public information from their daily round. They cannot set a statistic in context. They cannot relate bad news from Mexico to the risk that inevitably surrounds their lives. The risk of catching swine flu must be millions to one.
Ah. Here we go. While others are blaming Twitter, Jenkins is blaming blogs and, rather bizarrely, the 'national curriculum'. Er, what? Well I've looked through the rest of the article and there's nothing to stand that up at all. I guess Jenkins just wants to have a bit of mystery... it's the national curriculum - but why? Ah, you'll have to work that out for yourselves!
I do agree with Jenkins when he points out that avian flu was a lot of fuss that turned out to be about nothing, and there's an element of crying wolf about the whole affair. But on the other hand, that doesn't mean that avian flu is the same thing as swine flu, nor that there's nothing to worry about. The crying wolf, I think, is all the more dangerous because it might induce a sense of shrugged shoulders seen-it-all-before about the public, who've been lied to one too many times - at a time when swine flu might actually be really dangerous. There's no way of knowing. So Jenkins closes his eyes and sticks his betting slip under the window, hoping that he's right. But is that good enough?
He then goes on to mention MRSA and C-diff as being diseases 'for which the government is to blame'. Who knew? People all over the world are dying of MRSA and c-diff, but in fact it's the British Government that's to blame for all those deaths! No wonder the Brits are hated abroad! We're killing thousands of people because our Government is creating these terrible diseases! The Government is forcing - at gunpoint, forcing - people not to wash their hands in hospitals. Can you imagine? Why, that really is a scandal! Isn't it awful that no-one's doing anything about it?
Well, come off it. I'm fed up with the whole "Government is killing people" bollocks that people like to trot out when it comes to c-diff and MRSA as well. It's becoming something of a right-wing meme nowadays - everything ever can be swiftly dismissed with a "Well, thousands are being killed in hospitals every day BY THE GOVERNMENT and those evil bastard nurses, and no-one's doing anything about it". No, they're not. A simple point: if you don't wash your hands when you're in a hospital and you come into contact with someone with a weakened immune system, then you're much more likely to be killing someone than the Government or a hospital worker. But no. Let's pretend it's 'dirty hospitals' and 'the medical profession' that are somehow doing it, all those patients licking the floors somehow creating these deaths, because then we can put Gordon Brown behind it all, the big old Churchill-dog Aunt Sally that he is, and then it's all OK.
As for swine flu, the jury's still out. The real answers will appear in the mainstream media as well as on twitter and blogs, and as with all these things, it'll take a bit of sifting to find out the truth. But we'll find out soon enough. Who knows - maybe Jenkins will be proved right about the whole thing. Maybe he won't.