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Friday, July 16, 2021

Moral Panics

The term moral panic implies that the thing being panicked about is inconsequential. It is easy to see with things like explicit lyrics in pop music, or worries about kids playing Dungeons and Dragons. Here the danger does not seem real enough to justify a panic. But if you used the phrase about the opioid epidemic, then people would rightly object that the epidemic has hundreds of thousands of demonstrable victims. We should be morally panicked about that. Drunk driving really does kill people, so to call MADD a moral panic would be crass, even if the dynamic mimics the way moral panics work. Global warming is not a moral panic.  

 A lot of other things are in the middle of these two extremes. They are real problems, even if the reaction might be exaggerated. If you see cannabis as pernicious, then reaction to it is not a moral panic. If you see cannabis as relatively harmless, then panicking about it is absurd. If you describe outrage over street muggings as a moral panic, then a victim of mugging might have an issue with you. If you see education as more or less ok, then the "Johnny can't read" would seem a moral panic to you. If you see the education system is failing, then it is real problem.  

There could be other things that might be deep problems, but that nobody seems to care about. There ought to be a word for that, too.  Maybe we should have more moral panics, rather than fewer.  Or maybe it is a problem with the dynamics of outrage. Only a problem magnified to a certain degree seems real enough to compete with all the other problems.  

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