Last week's horripilation over the Mediterranean fruit was a historic event of the first water. It illustrated in gaudy detail the vacuousness of one of the great New Age mesmerizers from the 1970s. It also illustrated the disastrous consequences that will befall the Great Republic if our regulators and our courts continue to be hoodwinked by the mesmerizers' campaigns against science and reality.

Our history lesson began on July 8 when Jerry Brown -- governor of California, sempiternal candidate and oracle of the bizarre -- opposed the aerial spraying of the Mediterranean fruit fly in favor of a small-is-beautiful approach: tree-stripping, by human hand, and ground-spraying. It reached its climax when, facing federal quarantine, he relented -- though he did so only after sending up a volley of characterisically extravagant oratory.

Then, on July 15, came the farce and the preview of the disasters we face if we remain stultified by anti-science trendiness. By then, the medfly was on the rampage, ravening far and wide from its original orgies in Santa Clara County; and the governor was in a panic. No longer was he enunciating heroic remonstrances on behalf of the fanatics who support him and against the pesticide malathion. Now he was demanding that the president declare the affected area "a major disaster area."

Of course, his opposition to the aerial use of malathion was essentially political posturing. In yon decades, a certain breed of grasping politics improved his condition by waving the bloody shirt. Later there was redbaiting and racist rhetoric. Now the pol with his eye to the main chance plays on the hysteria of environmental fanatics and the growing number of hypochondriacs.

When Brown stepped forward to declaim against the malathion cloud, it was all hot air and humbug. Serious reporters craned their necks hoping to hear the particulars of Brown's case against the pesticide. They were left unsatisfied. As with so many of the anti-science cult's enthusiasms, there is no evidence that malathion is a health hazard. You might find a crank here or there who dissents, but the National Cancer Institute has given the pesticide its approval; so has the Environmental Protection Agency.

Even California's medfly advisory panel and the California senate were in favor of giving the medfly over to malathion. But the governor only had eyes for the fanatics in his New Age constituency. Thus, he intoned, "We must draw the line against the further spread of deadly chemicals in our environment and in the food we eat." You know the deadly chemicals we eat the ones that have increased our average life expectancy by 10.4 years over the past 40 years.

Well, by the time Brown finally ordered in the choppers, the medfly had gotten out of hand, and his aerial armada, even armed with malathion, was far less effective than had been hoped. By the end of the week, only about half of the fly-infested area had been sprayed. For over a year, the fanatics had made the elimination of the medfly far more than it had to be, and now California farmers, whose crop amounts to nearly half of the nation's produce, were faced with huge losses. What is more, thousands of Californians had been terrorized for no good reason. Some were referring to its as the Three Mile Island of the Santa Clara Valley. It an apt description.

Both were problems whose resolution fell well within the bounds of modern technology. Both problems posed very little threat to human life, and both were transformed into hair-raising experiences thanks to the political opportunists and to the fanatics whose hysteria has been nurtured and encouraged in recent years.

Brown put on a swell farce last week, and we should all be grateful. We should be grateful also to his supporters. "Stop the death from the sky!" was their battle cry. My only regret is that we did not get to hear from more of his supportes. Who doubts that some of them opposed the spraying on the grounds that it might eliminate another of nature's little friends or on the grounds that it might lead to the stereotyping of all Americans of Mediterranean heritage or that it might give the Pentagon the opportunity to gather information for chemical warfare programs. The governor speaks for a lot of concerned Americans. We did get to hear from Douglas Owen, a father of four who hails from Palo Alto. He was worried. "It's deplorable," he said. "It's like in a gas chamber. It's out of control." Out of control? Now there is a judgment on which all Americans can agree.