The Banned Books podcast has been surveying CS Lewis for several weeks. Much of it has been frighteningly relevant to our current situation despite being composed decades ago, as if we needed more evidence that Lewis was a first-rate thinker.
I have many theories competing with one another to explain the Great Hysteria of 2020. One, which has some strong evidence, is that China used propaganda to manipulate the West’s response to a virus they deceived the world into thinking was far more severe than they knew it was. This, however, only accounts for the immediate efficient cause of everything. China may have lit the match, but they did not cause the powder keg soaked in gasoline stored in a barn full of dry straw.
Another theory is that, with virtue signalling having long replaced truly love for neighbor, and masks, distancing, and bizarre business policies being irritating but easily serving as a proxy for love of neighbor, it was only a matter of time until we decided that doing these sorts of things was a very easy way to feel very good about ourselves. And there is nothing we like to do more than feel good about ourselves. It’s a core part of the philosophy we inculcate into children in our public schools: “you need good self esteem”.
But this, too, doesn’t explain the explosive nature of the Hysteria. There was some competition for gawdy displays of pretend virtue, but why this particular situation (a virus with the IFR of a severe seasonal flu) caused such a reaction is not explained. This is all an effect.
Lewis, writing during World War 2, seems to have gotten it right. We fear death. Not in the way that everyone has always feared death and the pain we often experience before it. We fear death in a more severe way; we fear it as people who never contemplate it. We consume every waking moment and it comes as a surprise that we will die.
Lewis is speaking to scholars of the dangers of war, but this seems appropriate to most in the West today:
The third enemy is fear. War threatens us with death and pain. No man — and specially no Christian who remembers Gethsemane — need try to attain a stoic indifference about these things: but we can guard against the illusions of the imagination. We think of the streets of Warsaw and contrast the deaths there suffered with an abstraction called Life. But there is no question of death or life for any of us; only a question of this death or of that — of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later. What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. It puts several deaths earlier; but I hardly suppose that that is what we fear. Certainly when the moment comes, it will make little difference how many years we have behind us. Does it increase our chance of a painful death? I doubt it. As far as I can find out, what we call natural death is usually preceded by suffering; and a battlefield is one of the very few places where one has a reasonable prospect of dying with no pain at all. Does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of circumstance would? Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason why the cancer at sixty or the paralysis at seventy- five do not bother us is that we forget them. War makes death real to us: and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.“Learning in Wartime”
We forgot that we are mortal, and now, confronted with it, we react with unconstrained hysteria. The president, for all his faults, has said in the past week that we ought to face down our fear. It is telling that our health officials have responded by calling for more fear. Whatever medical training they possess (and many have none), they possess no wisdom, and their philosophy is wicked. This should be no surprise to us, given their rabid defense of the genocide of unborn life.
Nuclear war, global cooling, acid rain, the hole in the ozone, global warming, climate change, and Republicans becoming presidents have all been presented as impending death that can only be stopped by destroying the world. We must destroy everything to save it. But for the first time, we have a situation that has actually resulted in a few early deaths (and from a broadly historical perspective, few is the right word). For all of our pretend fear of impending doom, which is all for political gain, when finally presented with the fact of our mortality, we are incapable of withstanding the truth, and many – maybe most – lose control of their minds.
This is the year of the Post Hoc ergo Propter Hoc. It’s the year of legendary government incompetence. It’s the year of historically blatant hypocrisy.
But it is also the year many people realized they will die. And without Christ, hysterical fear is rational.