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`No man is an island . . .' -- the new isolationism

A FRIEND who canceled his European holiday the week after the F-111 planes bombed Libya is preparing to go on a domestic summer vacation. Probably. He has new fears to replace terrorism, and they may keep him home, if not in his storm cellar.

For one thing, he has been thoroughly intimidated by all the atrocity stories about sunburn. Will even No. 8 screen protect him from those killer rays?

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Then, too, he intends to vacation in a region where water pollution is a problem. He plans to carry bottled water. But lately he has read horror stories about the sordid impurities in certain brands.

A lot of things frighten the man, and he is not afraid to admit it. He has never used Tylenol or Excedrin. But what, he wonders, will the misanthropes slip their cyanide into next?

Our friend makes an effort to laugh at himself. He even manages to turn his anxieties into a sort of Woody Allen routine.

But anxious he is, and he does not seem wholly untypical, if we are to judge by canceled European vacations and all the other popular items on his nail-biting list.

Nor does he seem unrepresentative in the areas where he feels bold -- indeed, practically fearless.

Though he remains frantic about terrorists, he is convinced we were right to bomb Libya -- maybe we should have bombed it harder.

He found reasons to stay indoors the day the cloud from Chernobyl was supposed to pass over his house, yet he supports nuclear energy and feels impatient with those who call for a nuclear freeze.

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This careful, careful person -- exercising, watching his weight, checking his pulse rate -- does not hesitate to recommend ``going to the brink'' against the communists, from Nicaragua to Afghanistan.

He overlooks no health measure, however bizarre, if he suspects it might prolong his life on this earth by one day. But as for the earth itself, he shrugs his shoulders fatalistically at the prospect of a war that could blow the planet up. What's the use of negotiations? What's the good of talk? There's only one language these people -- these communists, these terrorists, these non-Americans -- can understand! About the ultimate gamble, he's practically blithe.

No 10 preventive steps here, like his 101 preventive steps to guard his fitness and health.

In short, where private well-being is concerned, our friend becomes cautious to the point of timidity. But where public policy is concerned, he becomes a ``risk-taker'' -- a term he proudly applies to himself.

In his split personality -- half ``go for it,'' half ``run for it'' -- is our friend the perfect '80s American?

It appears that the world would be a safer place for everybody -- and, in fact, every body -- if our friend and all the rest of us reversed our preoccupations. But as it is, how many of us devote more time and sober dread to counting calories than nuclear stockpiles?

We are not selfish people. We are just a new kind of isolationist. Some sense of cosmic helplessness, perhaps, or misguided fascination has us, for the moment, concentrating on the tiny lonely universe of the body rather than on a universe that unites us all. A Wednesday and Friday column

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