I probably just should have kept scrolling; it’s not my business. On the other hand, if you had toilet paper stuck to your shoe, I’d want to be the person who told you.
This is like that.
One of my Facebook friends, a gentleman whose opinion I value enormously, just re-posted one of those insane memes — you know the ones. This one’s about Fentanyl on a shopping cart. Naturally, I felt compelled to tell him he should take it down. He responded:
“Does this have potential for harm? Doubtful. Does it have potential for good… even if Fentanyl is never present?”
People with nothing better to do with their lives design memes to troll older folks, because they know most of us think like that, like he just explained. And in a sense he’s right; a little extra care won’t actually cause people any problems. Trouble is, this isn’t an actual danger. Mostly because Fentanyl is either on a pain patch, in a pill, or powdered for use as an additive to recreational drugs, so you won’t actually get a drop on you. You aren’t going to accidentally take the random pill, and the powder is either in a baggie or a cutting room somewhere. It’s not at WalMart; it’s too valuable a commodity to slop around on shopping cart handles.
Now, I don’t mind the idea of people obsessively cleaning their shopping carts. It may dry out a hand or two and it might cause an allergic reaction in the sensitive yet unwary, but on the flip side it’s bound to keep one or two people from spreading the flu, and every winter folks die of a bad flu and a thousand times as many people feel like death. So that much is fine.
Today’s rumor is a new one; apparently, we’re supposed to worry about people in white cargo vans being white slavers. Like similar memes, this one’s based on nothing in specific. There’s no crime report, no missing person; it’s just a meme. And on the basis of it, the Mayor of Baltimore has issued an official warning, and 911 call centers in Georgia are apparently being bombarded with reports. And folks who use cargo vans for work are getting harassed.
Much like razor blades in candy, this isn’t a real danger. Alas, someone took that urban legend seriously and actually tried it this past year for the first time ever.
Which is exactly why spreading meaningless fear is a bad thing.
Our society is mentally ill. It’s sick. It somehow produces kids who shoot up schools and adults who refuse to vaccinate because autism in their kids (not a real danger from vaccines) is more terrifying to them than death. I grew up being taught our world is twisted because of the God-shaped hole in it, and even today with my mostly white beard and hard-earned cynicism I still believe that’s a lot of the trouble; as a culture we spent so long with our faith that removing it without replacing it has left us unstable as all get-out.
But a lot of what’s wrong with us is a pervasive meaningless pointless fear, with us every minute of every day — fear of failure, fear of nuclear war, fear of plague or embarrassment or forgetting your house keys. Fear of Trump. Fear of losing our jobs and our healthcare and our security. We are driven by terror, by that quiet desperation that Thoreau referred to. And because of this, we don’t make sane choices.
If an outside observer came and looked at the marvelous intricate structure of our society, they would naturally conclude that we live like this because we want to. We cling to our instant traditions with such dogmatic fervor any time someone suggests change. And yet the truth is that most of the reasons we do things the way we do is that, once upon a time, a person made a panicked decision with not enough facts. Since that time, nobody’s had the leisure time to examine the new normal and rework it to be more sensible. We’re too busy scurrying around terrified of fantastic shadows.
So… no. Don’t spread these memes. I tell you as a friend you’ve never met, but nevertheless as someone who values you a great deal.