Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Sanity and Salt

The most recent bit of craziness to hit China is a panicked run on salt.  Why?  Radiation in Japan. 

Apparently, the Internet rumor mill has been saying that if Japan's radiation floats over here, iodized salt can help protect the thyroid.  This is in spite of multiple government and medical bulletins informing the public that this is not true -- you can't safely eat enough salt to get enough iodine to benefit you.  Nonetheless, people have stripped most supermarkets of their entire salt supply.

These photos and more can be found at The Shanghaiist.

I think this type of fear-driven, mob-mentality illogic can happen anywhere -- remember gas stations on September 11? -- but I think Chinese culture is particularly prone because it magically combines two mentalities:  Follow the crowd and Beat the crowd.

There are voices of reason in China who will try to speak up when things get crazy, but most people seem content to spread the crazy around as fast as they possibly can.  When there's crazy on the loose, whether the stakes are low or high, no one is afraid to throw a few punches to stay on top of the crowd.  And Chinese crowds are, if nothing else, excitable.

In my uneducated opinion, this mentality is responsible for small insanities (frantic salt runs, building moats around universities during the SARS crisis, leaping over benches to be near the front of the pack at the train station) and big insanities (the Cultural Revolution, to name one). 

I sometimes wonder if any big insanities will break out during my time in China.

POST EDIT:  I don't feel right about mentioning Japan here without expressing my sincere sadness for the tragedies upon tragedies that have struck them this week.  At the time of this writing, the nuclear situation is deteriorating in Fukushima, and the eventual outcome is unclear.  Let's pray for miraculous intervention.

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