Depending upon when you mark the start of the Covid mass hysteria, we are either coming up on the one year anniversary or have just past it. Panic was setting in as early as January, but that was mostly with people who saw a profit in it. It was in February when the mass media started picking up on it. For example, no one was wearing a mask at CPAC 2020, which was in February. By March you could not buy a mask anywhere, along with toiletries and paper products.
A year on, we are getting a better picture of what happened in what may go down as one of the great mass panics in human history. Given that the panic is still with us, the picture that is emerging is blurry and incomplete. In parts of the US and Europe, Covid has turned into a weird religion. It is not just a public health issue to be managed and navigated, but a stand-in for Old Scratch. The faithful are not only vigilant, they are Covid vigilantes, minding everyone’s business about it.
One thing we are seeing is a collapse in the number of confirmed cases. This is in line with what we know about past pandemics. The number of cases is slow at first, often because we have no way of testing for the new bug. Then the number of cases rises quickly, partly due to awareness and partly due to panic. In the mass media age, the need for attention surely drove the case count. Contrary to media narratives, the drop in cases has nothing to do with government efforts.
In fact, there is no evidence that any of the measures, public or private, had any impact on the spread of Covid. The fact is the only way to slow the spread of a virus like this is what the Chinese did and that is lock everyone in their homes. Even the Chinese found this to be close to impossible. What the West could do and is doing is theater. It is about protecting the political health of the ruling class, by convincing enough people that the government is doing something about the virus.
Political theater is an essential element of liberal democracy. We live in the modern version of a Dionysian age. All public acts are public performances, and all public performances are part of the larger morality play of politics. Facts and the discourse upon facts is purely a private affair. It is why everything about Covid has been politicized and only came to our attention when it could be politicized. For a year we have been watching Covid theater, rather than a public health response.
Once the drama runs its course on the big stage, and it seems to be reaching that point now that Mumbly Joe is staggering around the White House, it will go off-Broadway and then close up shop entirely. The mass roll out of vaccines with highly questionable claims to effectiveness looks like the way out for government. Once the old people are vaccinated, they can then claim herd immunity has been reached and the rest of the public can get the jab at their leisure.
One caveat to that prediction is that the Covidians are getting worked up over the new strain of Covid. This is the super-Covid that the oracles prophesied back in the before times when this all started. This one is “armed with enhanced capabilities.” Apparently it has infrared vision and portable drones. Additionally, the Nth wave people will be with us forever, it seems. Then you have the Covid industrial complex that has invested heavily in lockdowns and all that surrounds it.
Assuming that the panic does end, and this drama moves off the stage this year, we will also start to get a sense of the degree of madness we have witnesses. For example, we are already getting a hint in the annual flu numbers. In Britain, the number of influenza cases was zero this flu season. Maybe we have witnessed a miracle or maybe Covid kills the influenza virus. Most likely, the flu numbers have been re-classed as Covid, which appears to be the case in the US.
The truth is most cases we call the flu are caused by unknown pathogens. In fact, only about 20% of flu cases treated by the medical system are known to be the flu. The rest are from something else. Since the medicines for treating the symptoms do the job, no one really cares what caused the symptoms. It is why we do not mandate testing for the flu or the common cold. Up until the past year, we just accepted the fact that people get sick in winter and sometimes need to be treated for it.
Once the dust settles and the sober minded can begin to look at the data, what we will find is that the number of deaths was wildly exaggerated. Similarly, the number of people needing hospitalization was also exaggerated. This is common to all pandemics in the modern age. Even the Spanish Flu was exaggerated. A lot of the deaths attributed to it were from other factors, like poor hospital conditions, poorly trained doctors, bad nutrition, and other pathogens.
Another lesson will be that modern government is not capable of managing a genuine crisis, even a mild one like Covid. The story emerging from New York shows that the people making the decisions not only lacked the basic skills to manage a crisis, but they were obsessed with the politics of the moment. Like everything about partisan politics, everyone chose sides. The left-wing states chose first, so the right-wing states were left with the right answer by default. That is no way to run a country.
It is not just a partisan political problem. It is a systemic one. This paper examining the political economy of this panic looks at the role of mass media. The initial reality of the virus was amplified by the mass media, which the decision makers in government rely upon as their primary information source. They acted on the exaggerated claims, which had the effect of confirming those claims to the public. This was picked up and magnified by the media and we had a vicious cycle.
The interesting bit in that paper is the parallel between how a virus spreading faster in a dense population and how panic spreads in a media dense population. Before the mass media age, most people were outside the media environment, in the same way most people were outside urban areas in agrarian times. Just as a pathogen needs a network of people, bad information needs a way to pass from person to person. Our connected age is now a breeding ground for informational pandemics.
Another aspect to this is a growing number of people seem to need the emotional energy that comes from crisis. We saw this in the early days of Covid. The auxiliary volunteer army of scolds were suddenly swarming the public square. That energy eventually transferred to fighting the virus that they call Trump supporters and insurrectionists but is now looking for a new host. They will need another panic this spring and you can be sure one will be supplied.
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