So argues Brendan O’Neill at Spiked (November 7, 2011):
… the tragedy is that moral panics have been replaced by something even worse – by panics underpinned by science rather than by morality. And these new, post-moral panics are having a seriously detrimental impact on society.
After the Lib-Con government published its report on the August rioting in England, which revealed that 42 per cent of the rioters had received free school meals, some clever members of the Twitterati started tweeting: ‘Oh I bet I know what the Daily Mail’s headline will be. It will be “Free School Meals Cause Riots”.’ Hilarious, right? But what these Twits forgot is that actually that panic has already been done. Over the past few years, respectable publications like the Times Higher Education have published articles with headlines like ‘Unhealthy school dinners linked to anti-social behaviour’, a fancier way of saying ‘School meals cause rioting’.
… Today, there is no real constituency for traditionalist moral panics – it’s the new post-moral, pseudo-scientific panics that make a big impact.
But not an impact that makes much long-term difference because there is no coherent vision behind it (except maybe materialist atheism):
There is one really key difference between old moral panics and the new post-moral panics. Where the old moral panics were attempts to express or enforce an already-existing moral outlook, the new post-moral panics are a substitute for any coherent moral outlook. Today, fear is used not as a complement to morality but as a stand-in for morality. We have a situation today where society tries to reconstruct something approaching a moral outlook through fearmongering.
If O’Neill is right, we can better understand public skepticism about a variety of claims backed by “research”: Many wonder, for example, why Western lifestyles are supposed to be killing us when longevity keeps rising, to the point where it is a headache for pension plans.
There is no coherent framework, just the “science” Panic of the Month, in the shadow of the overarching Panic of the Year, and looming beyond that the Panic of the Decade. Interesting.
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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose