Only God knows the full explanation, and He’s certainly been using it to His own good ends, but I have a few ideas as to why The Great Hysteria happened this year in particular. I had intended to wait until the end of the year to write something like this, but the election is next week, which is a more fitting moment to consider the conclusion of at least the first wave of madness. Let the reader understand.
Americans can’t do math. We may wisely blame this on the government-run schools, but regardless of cause, it remains fact. And this fact has greatly contributed to a crisis that is, at the end of the day, a mishandled math problem.
Americans overestimate their risk of dying by up to 500 times. For Americans under 70 years old, the risk of dying from the coronavirus is the same as from the seasonal flu. Those under 30 are far more likely to die from the flu.
Inability to do math (and similar inability to reason with data) has led to people misunderstanding the efficacy of various interventions, as well. Even our “experts” suggest that masks are more important than vaccines.
In reality, there’s scant evidence supporting this. The strips of cloth people wear have failed in study after study, even though the CDC has pushed their use. There’s no correlation between mask-wearing and lower case rates at all. And while a correlation does not entail a causal link, you can’t determine a causal link without correlation.
Many have tried to claim that charts like this simply show that people are no longer abiding by the orders. This has universally been called “covid fatigue”. Problem is, the rates among populations that aren’t masking are better, and if that explanation were true, we’d see them performing poorly with places experiencing “covid fatigue” rising to join them. That’s not what’s happening.
It also stretches credulity to think that everywhere around the world, simultaneously, is experiencing “covid fatigue” in the same way with the same effects.
Mathematically literate populations with even a small amount of knowledge regarding seasonal viruses would conclude from the data that (1) the virus is seasonal, and the seasons are changing, (2) masks don’t do anything over whole populations.
You can almost discern which party a state votes for by their oppressive laws. New York, Illinois, and California are run like Communist dictatorships and, unsurprisingly, vote Democrat. Republican states have light burdens. For anyone unsure on how to vote in November, this is an interesting study in which party supports liberty and which one supports oppression. The rhetoric of both parties won’t get you there, but when you see their policies, it becomes clear. The Democrats will assure you that their oppressive regimes are “for your own good”, but all tyrants have always believed this.
There are more overt instances of Democrats taking advantage of the situation and, in so doing, admitting more than they realize. The governor of Michigan recently declared that “a vote for Biden is a vote to end restrictions”. This is not an isolated incident:
Fear is a contagion like any virus. As a social contagion, it can spread any time we spend time with other people. Sometimes, there are antibodies in the system; people who refuse to be afraid and so who are able to talk sense into those who don’t. These people also don’t spread fear.
What happens when you skip those personal channels? What happens when everyone is shouting at the same time? Social media gives us an idea. Every negative story, every personal tragedy, every terrifying speculation is distilled into a refined stream of terror.
The result is that everyone who could be terrified is terrified, all at the same time, with no mitigation.
Someone wisely said that maybe human beings weren’t designed to take the sum total of the world’s problems into their minds every day, carrying the weight of every bad thing that happens in the entire world on their shoulders. Social media not only allows this; it encourages it.
This is the first pandemic in history with social media. It’s also the first to lead to worldwide “lockdowns”.
The examples here are legion. Sufficiently so that I don’t think I need to provide any directly. The endless stream of profile pictures featuring masks is enough to make the point. Doug Wilson’s repudiation of mask hypocrisy is worth reading here.
The fact is (and this was especially true as The Great Hysteria really revved up) that everyone wanted to show off how much they cared, and they refused to be outdone.
Your store has signs for social distancing? Well my far more empathetic store has arrows down each aisle so you can only go one way.
Your church is requiring people to sit far apart from each other? Well my far more Christ-like church won’t even meet. That’s how much we care.
Your school is requiring students to wear masks in class? Well my school is making kids wear masks while they run cross country.
Organizations began competing very early for the most virtue points. It’s a quest that continues to this day. Despite the constant appeals to The Science (TM), the irrational virtue signalling has grown more intense all while the actual threat of the virus has waned significantly.
In most places, masks became more common after seasonal effects reduced the spread of the coronavirus to low levels. Rates have increased as the season has changed, but the virtuous qualities of mask-wearing have not.
With notable exceptions, Christian churches have done little to fight the oppressive state this year. I know of a handful of local churches that shut down for a day; the rest shut down for weeks or months. Some are still shut down now, and that may be for the best.
Christianity, like many of our institutions, is filled with weak, effeminate, indecisive men and it has been abundantly obvious this year. While Christians of the 18th century fought to the death to defend liberty, and while Christians of the 19th century ended slavery, Christians today won’t even fight to keep their churches open.
This is an area especially important to me, as I’ve found American Christianity to be increasingly hostile to godly masculinity. We see one of the many horrible consequences of this in the response to the coronavirus this year.
I’ll defer to Edward Feser on this, but suffice to say, the assumption that we ought to submit ourselves to the whims of “scientific experts” is in total contradiction to our form of government and of our natural rights.
…[T]he notion that science has a special method that justifies giving it a privileged place in society is, in Feyerabend’s judgment, simply a tendentious philosophical doctrine, to which the citizens of a pluralistic democracy owe no more allegiance than they do to any other such doctrine. So too, he argues, is the claim that science produces results that are superior to those of any other practice or system of belief.
Society…practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.
In the past sixty years, what has been the most deadly pandemic the world has seen? The answer, it may surprise most, is not The Great Hysteria of 2020. As it turns out, the Hong Kong Flu of 1968-1969 was deadlier. There was no shut down during that outbreak. No mask orders. No distancing rules. No oppressive government interventions. No contact tracing. It was a bad flu season, and the world moved on.
Historical illiteracy has meant a total lack of perspective this year when it comes to the coronavirus. People have assumed this year to be unique in all of human history and their situations special. As it turns out, anything different this year is limited to our response; the nature of the virus is so common in the scope of human history as to be mundane.
William Briggs did some great analysis on this early on in the pandemic. The numbers are a little outdated, but the proportions are still close enough. Had the world only been even mildly interested in grounding themselves in the past, we may have had entirely different results.
Businesses, schools, and even many churches have concluded that their declining visitors must be a sign that people are increasingly afraid of the virus. Many of the people avoiding these places, however, simply want to avoid arbitrary, draconian, oppressive rules.
Because these organizations have misdiagnosed the problem, they believe the solution is to further develop arbitrary, draconian, oppressive rules. This creates a vicious cycle.
At one point this summer, I received a questionnaire from our local school district asking what our thoughts were regarding the school’s response to the coronavirus. One question was “do you feel comfortable sending your children to school?” Because of the bizarre mask rules, I tried selecting “no”. The following question was “why?”, but none of the options allowed me to indicate that it was the overzealous response of the school, not some lack of zealotry, causing my previous answer.
Fear of Death
America and much of the West is post-Christian. We are like a camp of wanderers perched on the ruins of a great civilization. Our institutions bear the mark of Christendom, and our culture echoes the golden ages we’ve long since forgotten. We remember that human beings are valuable and have “rights”, but we’ve forgotten that “right” also means “in alignment with a standard”. We’ve forgotten that our value comes from God.
Maybe most of all, we’ve forgotten that we are mortal. In our age of seeming technological miracles, it’s not unreasonable to think that many people imagine a time in their own lifetimes when we will conquer death through medicine. At the very least, we are distracted by our technology enough to avoid death altogether. Where as our ancestors were reminded by death almost every day as they farmed, we who buy our food in packages from a climate controlled mega market can avoid all of those painful thoughts.
But this year, we couldn’t avoid death. The mortality rate of the coronavirus approaches a bad flu season, but the reality of death has been hammered into us day after day by a media desperate to keep the panic alive. People who had previously contemplated death a handful of times in their whole lives were now reminded of it every time they checked the weather.
Fear of death seems rational, but requires us to ignore the immortal nature of our own souls. It grips the world now because the world has abandoned Christianity. Plagues killed entire quarters and thirds of the whole world, and yet the world continued on as normal. Yet today, many of our “experts” declare a “new normal”. For the first time in generations, the world knows that death is inevitable, and we are hiding from that fact by pretending we have power over death.
Early this year, I made some predictions based on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and the spread of the virus in Asia. My predictions of the severity of the virus and how wide it would spread were dead accurate. I wasn’t alone; many people made similar predictions. The Diamond Princess cruise ship was a profoundly fortuitous situation. Had more people considered it, The Great Hysteria might have been delayed. I don’t say “avoided” because, given the reasons above, I think we were eventually going to get into this situation.
However, I am not a prophet, and my predictions are merely predictions. Every prediction I made about human behavior turned out to be wrong.
I predicted within two weeks, people would be sick of the oppression. Instead, they wore their chains proudly.
I predicted that by summer, the handful of people wearing silly masks would stop because the heat would make it difficult, and the cases were going down without the help of masks anyway. Instead, masks became mandated, with shrieking banshees everywhere waiting to confront the mask heretics.
I predicted that with Sweden outperforming most of the rest of the world, more countries would jump on board. Instead, only a handful have; the rest have doubled down on oppression.
I predicted that when cases began rising in the fall because this is a seasonal virus, that people would realize their virtue signalling this summer had not accomplished anything. Instead, people blame universal, simultaneous “covid fatigue” for the universal, simultaneous spread of this virus.
Given all of that, I probably shouldn’t venture an optimistic guess, but like a gambler with a poor grasp of probability, I figure I’ve got to get one of these right eventually.
My, hopefully last, prediction is this: after the American presidential election, things will get back to normal. Not necessarily the day after. Not even a month later. But by January or February, the world will move back to its normal patterns. I see two possibilities:
- Biden Wins: In this scenario, there’s no way Harris, who will certainly be the actual president if Biden wins, will want to be known as the president of the “new normal”. She’ll want things back to normal, and she’ll get her media allies to give her credit for it.
- Trump Wins: With the eminently competent Scott Atlas at the helm and without an election compelling the media to keep up the panic, the narrative of imminent doom will collapse. Some states (California and Illinois in particular) may continue their oppressive, totalitarian declines into hell, but the rest will begin to open up. The media will move on.