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.British beef had lost market share, continental beef had gained some.Furthermore, consumer preferences shifted from beef to pork and poultry.But the pork industry was soon hit by swine fever, particularly in The Netherlands, which had long posed as “morally superior” with regard to cleanliness and hygiene.And the poultry industry continued to be plagued by high percentages of salmonella bacteria, which infected chicken meat and eggs alike, and continued to result in a high numbers of casualties (without, however, attracting much attention or triggering a health scare—so far).Other consumers shifted emphasis from meat to fish, or to nonanimal and mere plant products.Vegetarianism became mainstream, and veggie burgers finally “broke through” in supermarkets.According to Ford (1996, p.109) sales of the best-known vegetarian cookbook in Great Britain rose sixfold in the weeks after the crisis broke, and sale of other vegetarian cookbooks rose threefold.Information demand at the Vegetarian Society doubled, and at one point the society sent out some 200 packages per day.A spokesman for the Soil Association for Organic Agriculture said that the crisis had stirred more interest in their work than all campaigns of the previous 10 years.Shops selling biodynamic food products reported a sales rise of 40%.So, as is often the case, there was a series of dozens of different circumstances, which all look perfectly logical in retrospect, but the exact configuration of which could hardly have been foreseen.Consumers had become gradually aware over previous decades that the idyllic image of quietly grazing cows in large green meadows did no longer hold true.On occasion, they had caught glimpses of a dark world beyond it: of boxed calves and hormone treatments, of incidents surrounding animal-unfriendly transports and large-scale slaughterhouses.Maybe a vague unease or even feelings of guilt played a role.As far as mad cow disease was concerned, the veterinary authorities were soon facing a fatal dilemma and a “no win” situation.At first they sought to minimize the risks and to reassure the public.But this undermined their credibility and trust, which made the ultimate shift even more violent and uncontrollable.In a sense, therefore, the fear of a major image crisis became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because in this type of case, main-THRESHOLDS IN FEAR AND PANIC177taining transparency and public support is of the utmost importance.Otherwise, tensions will build within the system that approach critical thresholds, and may be released by even the smallest trigger.But, of course, a further complication in this case was that it concerned a new affliction of a mysterious nature.So the media hype and the public scare were facilitated by a range of factors.It was a new, invisible, form of contagion that proved hard to trace or demonstrate.It involved meat, which was easily mistrusted.Infection would attack the brain, considered the heart of personhood itself.The frequent reference to a “cannibal disease” did not make things better.The illness and dying were ugly, although it was noteworthy that the media and the public did not tend to focus on its details.The chance of incurring the illness was minimal, but it was always fatal.Almost everyone had unwittingly exposed himself over the previous years; it was not an informed choice that one could still make.The risk seemed primarily related to ground beef, to which certain vulnerable groups were proportionally more exposed: youngsters, the less wealthy, people in institutions.It was not so much the real risk that stirred the imagination, but rather the catastrophic potential—the minute chance of a huge disaster (Gutteling, 1991, pp.15, 31).And there was of course the search for a scapegoat.In England, critics reproached the conservative government that it had done too little too late; also because of its ideological stance on laissez-faire.But the conservative government reproached the Labor opposition of trying to exploit the situation electorally.Apart from that, there was of course the dimension of national pride and foreign criticism.The tug of war about responsibilities made finding solutions even more difficult.Once all these processes were under way, positive feedback loops further reinforced those same processes.This threw the entire perceptual system around beef off balance, and resulted in turbulence and chaos.Even if this stage did not last very long, it caused a considerable shift in certain long-term trends, such as those concerning meat consumption.THE PHENOMENON OF FEAR AND PANICWe have seen in previous chapters that processes within CAS may develop unevenly, and that stages of decelerated change may alternate with stages of accelerated change.One important metaprinciple in this context is that of critical thresholds between such stages.Invisible tensions may build within the system, which remain just below critical values.Relatively small changes in conditions, relatively small events, or combinations of both, may suddenly provoke a “crossing” of the critical threshold, and may thereby initiate an entirely different turn of events.178CHAPTER 8A dimension of shifting emotions where this is clearly notable is that of fear and panic—as in the case of the mad cow disease; it involves a possible endangering of one’s physical well-being.People may encourage each other to take risks and challenges, which may ultimately lead to wounds, illness, or even death.They may embolden each other through mere physical presence, or active moral support.We have seen before (in the chapter on crowds), that mass assemblies of animals or people may have this effect.It is often no more than the feeling that “unity makes power.”The opposite of courage is fear and panic [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]