[FOUNTAIN]Panic Hits the United States

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[FOUNTAIN]Panic Hits the United States

A phenomenon of collective flight to avoid a situation that might cause harm to life is called "panic" in English.

"Riot," another collective burst of unforeseen actions, is collectively aggressive and centripetal, but panic is a defensive and centrifugal force.

Examples of panic would be moviegoers rushing to escape a theater fire or passengers in a sinking ship dashing toward a lifeboat. A sell-off by investors to cash in amid plummeting trust in financial markets is also a panic.

The word "panic" originated from Greek mythology; it is derived from the name of a half-human, half-goat god. Pan was a son of Hermes and was in charge of breeding livestock.

He had a threatening face with horns and the legs of goat. He was fond of suddenly attacking strangers. A Greek word, panikos, which means fear, originated from his name. The word panikos was adopted into French and became panique. Then it was transformed to panic in English.

Psychiatrists say people in panic normally have a faster heart and respiration rate; they have stomach pains and feel dizzy. People who have experienced panic in a certain place or situation tend to avoid similar places or situations; when that aversion becomes serious, these people can tip into agoraphobia, the extreme fear of open spaces.

A mental health research institute in the United States estimated that 1.7 percent of American adults experience panic every year.

The fast-spreading anthrax scare is driving the United States into panic. A parcel containing anthrax virus was delivered to the office of Thomas Daschle, the Democratic majority floor leader of the U.S. Senate.

Soon after 31 staff members in the nearby Senate had tested positive for anthrax, the American House of Representatives was temporarily closed. It was the first time for the House to shut down since 1814, when the British Army set the Congress building on fire. During the last 10 days, there have been more than 3,000 reports of suspicious white powder that was feared to contain the anthrax virus.

An old saying goes that a person is scared of a pot lid after he has been frightened by a turtle. Now people panic after seeing sugar, flour or coffee creamer.

Though the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the anthrax virus and has a vague suspicion that it might be linked to a terrorist conspiracy, it has not yet found any clues. Still the anthrax scare is spreading even more widely.

Is this now the beginning of a real terror attack on America?

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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