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 The Age of Omniphobia 

August 3, 2004 
Michael Moore didn’t dig deep enough. The Iraq war is not about oil. This war is about duct tape.

Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.I am confident that a thorough investigation would discover covert ties between the Bush family and the duct-tape industry, for which the War on Terror has been an enormous windfall. Every time the administration issues another terror alert, the bloated duct-tape tycoons count the swag, as desperate Wall Street bankers work frantically to seal their vaults against chemical agents, biological weapons, and second-hand smoke.

The connection between second-hand smoke and terrorism has yet to be explored, but it must exist. Both are evils the government has assumed the duty of protecting us from in recent years, lengthening a list that wasn’t short to begin with.

Today the government protects us from countless evils our grandparents never had to worry about. In fact, it protects us from evils our grandparents never even heard of or had no names for or wouldn’t even have considered evil. My grandfathers never spoke of “second-hand smoke”; they called it “smoke.”

My father smoked cigars. I liked the smell. As a small boy, I didn’t think of it as something the government should protect me from. Little did we dream, fifty years ago, how many things the government would one day be protecting us from: the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe.

Consider Professor John Banzhaf of George Washington University, a well-meaning man who is often described in the chilling words public-interest attorney. Professor Banzhaf has been a leading figure in the movement to ban smoking wherever possible, in the name of saving us from second-hand smoke.

Now he has branched out. He wants the government to protect us from obesity, so he is filing suits against the fast-food industry. Never before have our waistlines been thought of as a concern of the state, but times have changed. Just about everything anyone can construe as a menace is now a concern of the state.

[Breaker quote: Danger: You are being protected.]In short, we are being protected to death. A friend of mine has coined a word for the mentality that sees dangers lurking in every hot dog: omniphobia. Who knows how many more perils Professor Banzhaf may yet call on government to banish from our lives?

Omniphobia isn’t confined to the United States. Last month, when I sent an Australian friend the joyous news that one of my gerbils had given birth to a fine litter, he informed me that Australia has banned gerbils and hamsters. He’s not sure what he’s being protected from, but whatever it may be, I daresay he’s not properly grateful.

Omniphobia, of course, suggests another recent neologism: homophobia. This is yet one more evil which our grandfathers never heard of, but which it behooves an enlightened government to protect us from. Odd that it went unnoticed for so many centuries, but that’s true of most objects of omniphobic dread and dismay.

Terrorism is made to order for the regime of omniphobia. Unlike so many of the invisible and even metaphysical evils we are said to be besieged by, you can actually see instances of it with the naked eye. But it also offers plenty of scope for fantasy about unseen “terrorist cells” and “threats” lurking around us. After all, duct tape is useless against such impalpable scourges as homophobia.

Whenever government wants to claim more power over us, it assures us it’s for our own safety. Hence, in the age of omniphobia, the incredible frequency with which we hear the tell-tale words protection, defense, safety, security, and of course health, usually preceded by the words public and national.

It’s no accident that Hitler was a health nut — a nonsmoking vegetarian. He also wanted to protect good Germans from Jews, whom he called, in a significant metaphor, vermin. Stalin likewise protected the toiling masses from capitalists. Franklin Roosevelt protected us from Depression and “Japs.” His successors have protected us from Communism, Saddam Hussein, and Manuel Noriega, along with domestic evils (at least they are defined as evils) such as poverty and discrimination.

Is there any limit to these protections? I keep waiting for Professor Banzhaf to tell us when we’ll be sufficiently safe that the government can stop grabbing power and stabilize, leaving us with a little freedom. But I’m afraid he’d see the last remaining freedom as the final danger to be removed — for our own good, of course.

Meanwhile, omniphobia is well-nigh omnipresent — and threatens to become omnipotent.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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