Panics and Pandemics

Robert Wuthnow

in Be Very Afraid

Published in print March 2010 | ISBN: 9780199730872
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199777389 | DOI:
Panics and Pandemics

Show Summary Details


This chapter explores the place of panic in current thinking about peril. Although the actual occurrence of panics is rare, discussions about the possibility of panics are thus rich with cultural significance. Hardly a year passes without some major threat arising that could potentially be the source of mass death, widespread panic, and ensuing chaos. One year it is the threat of a massive collapse of computers and electrical systems. Another year brings fear that millions will die from an unstoppable illness carried by pigs or birds or insects, or fears of an economic meltdown followed by a contagion of joblessness and widespread poverty. As concern mounts, public officials caution against undue alarm but at the same time promote it by publicizing worst-case scenarios and recalling times of devastation in the past. It is difficult for reasonable people to ignore their warnings. The officials, after all, are trained experts; professionals paid to anticipate danger and guard against it. There is in fact danger, they say. “Better safe than sorry,” the adage goes. At some level, it becomes impossible not to think about the impending peril.

Keywords: panic; pandemic; perils; threats

Chapter.  15569 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.