Don't Drink the Urine Water! (and Other Overreactions)

Jun 30, 2011
An empty water reservoir in Portland, Oregon. (bradywahl/Flickr)

We live at a high point in the annals of overreaction. Crybaby Presidential candidates clog political discourse with manufactured outrage and calculated indignation. Moral censorship attends the release of nearly every tween fiction franchise. Paranoia breeds doomsday predictions.

And it's not exactly news that Americans are almost genetically predisposed to all manner of rash and ill-advised behavior. 

But not all overreactions are created equal. Some folks—from law enforcement officials to the hot-headed neighbor next door—are driven by greed, rage, jealousy, myopia—the list of shortcomings and sins goes on. But more often than not, overreactions are the upshot of good intentions: keeping the peace, saving the children, eluding pandemics. (And sometimes overreactions defy coherent explanation.)

Well-intentioned but boneheaded overreaction may have reached an apotheosis with last week's news that the Portland Water Bureau—surely the most progressive water bureau in these United States, no?—spent $36,000 draining a 7.8-million gallon reservoir because a drunken 21-year-old relieved himself in what he thought was a sewage plant.

The phantom micturator, one Josh Seater from nearby Molalla, Oregon, has since apologized for the mishap. But that wasn't enough for David Shaff, the chief administrator of the PWB, who feared that Seater's urine would taint Portland's water supply—as if that's such a bad thing.

So where does this non-scandal fall on the Overreaction Index? Does Seater's (fairly common) ecological transgression merit a "-gate" suffix? (Bummer: Weinergate is already taken). Should we applaud the PWB's precaution(s)? The whole incident has a whiff of Cold War paranoia, if you ask us.

In honor of Portland's war against urine, TakePart presents a few other noble-but-questionable overreactions:

Y2K: Techno-prognisticators envisioned the collapse of Western civilization. We hope it's not naïve to assume that millennial paranoia was born out of genuine concern for the future of the human race—not merely a ploy to get frightened families to clear out Home Depot and stock up on canned peas. But we'll probably never know: Y2K was, for the most part, a colossal overreaction. (Check out this list of other technological overreactions).

2004 Super Bowl: Remember this? Yes, it wasn't suitable for young kids. No, it isn't the first harbinger of sociocultural apocalypse.

Daily instances of political correctness on every college campus: In the last half-century American universities have become markedly more inclusive, democratic, open, and collaborative institutions. All well and good. But free speech is often stamped out in the name of P.C. consternation

Can you think of any other ill-advised overreactions? Let us know in the comments section below! 

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