Imagine a variant of the flu that is four or five times more lethal than the common flu and it is spreading quickly. The experts are not sure exactly how lethal this new flu variant will be, other than it will be considerably worse than the common flu that hits every fall and winter. Further, they are unsure of the origin or how to combat it with drugs and therapeutics. Before long, it is a serious problem. This new influenza is a pandemic spreading rapidly all over the world
Now, you don’t have to imagine it, because you lived through it. The Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 infected about a billion people worldwide, according to most estimates. As is always the case with these things, the number of infected is always a best guess, as many are infected but are never confirmed. The death toll is a little easier to grasp, as it is hard to ignore a corpse, but many flu deaths are classed as other things. It probably killed half a million people.
The salient thing about the Swine Flu epidemic is that no one remembers it, until someone mentions it. Even then, most people probably think it killed pigs. While it caused lots of disruption and killed up to half a million people, most people did not notice it. No one remembers the SARS outbreak, which was way back in the dark ages of 2002 or the MERS pandemic in 2012. Both of those were much more lethal than the current virus spreading around the globe.
This is a good thing to keep in mind when watching the panic ensue on-line and in the mass media. While these virus pandemics are serious, they are not uncommon and they don’t usher in the end times. Human society is actually quite resilient to these sorts of pestilences. Sure, it is very serious, but it not the plague. That was many times worse than the worst case scenario for the Covid-19 pandemic. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population.
The Covid-19 pandemic is serious, especially if you are very old or have respiratory issues or you smoke. Like the common flu, the most vulnerable are always those with the weakest immune systems. For everyone else, the risk drops considerably, as our immune systems can fight off the virus. As was true of SARS and MERS, the spread of these potent strains of flu tend to stall with public awareness. We don’t give ourselves any credit for reacting sensibly to these things.
A big difference this time, of course, is the political situation. In 2002, when SARS appeared, the Left was wrapped up in anti-war hysteria. When MERS appeared in 2012, the sainted Obama was on the throne. Now, the evil Orange Man and his Russian handlers are wrecking our democracy, so the Left is going all in on the Yellow Panic, hoping to make this his Katrina. This is magnifying the normal racket that comes from Doomsday Inc., whenever there is a scare like this.
Of course, this is a boom time for Doomsday Inc. There used to be an old joke about these guys in the financial world. The line was, “the bears have predicted 10 of the last two market crashes.” It is a variant on the old line about a stopped clock being right twice a day. For Doomsday Inc., all signs always point to the great calamity they are sure is right around the corner. Past performance, of course, is never an indication of future events. This time it is different.
It says something about modern times that a significant portion of the public thinks the whole thing will come crashing down at any moment. The evidence is strongly against that view. Just a decade ago the financial system faced the greatest threat since the 1929 market crash. The mortgage meltdown was supposed to be the big one, but it was not the big one after all. The Y2k scare was another boom time for the doomsday business, something similar to what we see now.
Doomsday Inc. seems to feed on a sense of detachment many feel toward modernity and its consequences for society. There’s fellowship in telling scary stories about the looming disaster. It feels good to be scared. In fact, one feels most alive when scared, so that’s part of the rush these people get from indulging in these fantasies. It’s like playing a live action video game. The doomsday enthusiast gets the exhilaration of being in real danger, without actually being in danger.
In fairness, the doomsday fan spawns an on-line adversary that gets a similar emotional rush from these events. The dismissive cynic relished these times, because he gets to pretend to be the cool, level-headed guy when everyone is panicking. These guys show up in comment sections and in response to twitter posts. They take pleasure in telling the doomsday types that they are a bunch of hysterical sissies. These are great times for the dismissive cynic. It’s their time to shine too.
There is third type that comes out at these times. This is the person, who is sure everyone is panicking except him and everyone they know. There’s an urban myth quality to him. “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw people in hazmat suits down at Costco buying all the water.” He would never panic like that, but he is sure everyone else is ready to go bonkers.
What ties all of these types together is a sense that the current arrangements are simply too fragile to last much longer. Something is going to pull the wrong peg out of the pile. Like the kid’s game, the pile will collapse. Maybe it will be a collapse, maybe a panic that causes a collapse or maybe just a panic that unleashes the stupid on the rest of society, which in turns causes a crash. Somehow, someway, the stupidity of mankind will overrun the system and we reach the end times.
None of this panic, counter panic and so on should diminish the reality of this Covid-19 virus that is turning up all over the West. So far, it looks to be much more serious than Swine Flu, which killed a lot of people. Those in poor health or with pulmonary issues should exercise extreme caution. This is especially true if you have old and frail people in your life. You could have the virus and not know it, so assume you have the flu when around older people or people in poor health.
Part of that caution is avoiding the scare mongers, who relish these times. They can be quite convincing. What most people are going to experience from this is inconvenience, things like cancelled events or an extra hassle when traveling. There is a great swath of area between the scare mongers and the smugly indifferent. That is the zone of prudence, where sensible people take steps to deal with what is a serious issue. In these sorts of crises, the prudent shall inherit the earth.
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