So I’m a little behind in reading my subscribed magazines and I’ve just finally gotten to the December 8 New Scientist. In it there is a review by Chris Mooney of the book Shopping Our Way to Safety by Andrew Szasz. The review is interesting for two reasons, the more trivial being that the reviewer likes the ideas but doesn’t seem to like the book (which reminds me fondly of Vonnegut’s alter ego Kilgore Trout, who had wonderful ideas but couldn’t write).
More interesting is the book’s thesis of “inverted quarantine,” which something like economic survivalism. The idea is that we (Americans, at least) have given up on collective approaches to solving problems, and instead are trying to save ourselves by our consumption, i.e., buying hybrid cars, eating organically and locally, using compact flourescent lightbulbs. As I find myself switching over to “safer” alternatives more and more often (Ann got a new water bottle to replace her beloved Nalgene one this Christmas) I can’t help but think that it would be nice if we, as a country, could agree on mandating more things than HDTV switchovers.
As Mooney puts it, “we no longer expect the government to do its job. It can’t protect us from terrorists and hurricanes or even keep our bridges from collapsing. We have entered an age of incompetence and drastically lowered expectations. In this context, individualistic, consumerist responses actually make sense, at least as a last resort – and that is what’s truly scary.”
As I listened to Roger Clemens rant about Vioxx and how the FDA didn’t do enough to protect him on 60 Minutes this weekend, I can’t help but think that we’ve really crossed a threshold if even the super wealthy are feeling unsafe.