In early January of this year, roughly around the same time the bogeyman’s spit hit the fan in Wuhan – about 1000 kilometres away from where we are still toughing it out in China – I got sick.
It started with a sore throat and a blocked nose, and soon moved on to fever, chills and a terrible cough. I am not one to run the GP’s office for just any old thing, but it got to the point where I could no longer perform my monkey dance as an English teacher with any form of aplomb. In order to apply for paid sick leave, I had to get a medical note.
Now, while a visit to a Chinese doctor might be an enriching cultural experience, it remains an utterly confusing one. I’ll never be sure of what exactly got lost in translation, but at the end of it all it was concluded that I had some kind of flu. I was sent home with a general antibiotic (prescribed here for anything from a headache to a stubbed toe), “traditional” cough medicine (don’t ask) and orders to rest for three days and drink plenty of hot water (a general panacea for all known ailments). As one does over here, I did as I was told. I felt like shit for a few days, and then it passed.
This sad little story played out long before the current pandemic hit the world stage, but given our proximity to the alleged outbreak at the time, the zillion dollar question couldn’t help but rear it’s prickly little head in the craziness of the last few weeks: did I have covid-19?
I was lucky enough that my immune system, however compromised by the perpetual stress incurred by our Oriental adventures to date, singlehandedly managed to show this grubby little visitor the door. In these parts, where basic hygiene is a mystifying pseudo-science and spitting on the street is a national pastime, that’s no mean feat at all.
All things considered, I’ve since come to realise that it doesn’t really matter if I had the dreaded superbug or not. What matters is that I got better.
What also matters is that, in those early days, whether it was a case of covid-19 or not, dear Doctor Grace (she of perplexing bedside manner and unyielding prescription pad) got it mostly right.
For, as we’ve all been told ad infinitum by scientists, this new coronavirus is, simply put, a brand new upgrade of the flu. Both belong to the same viral family, both have the ability to cause fatal respiratory illness and neither have a known cure.
Still, it would have been kind of cool to be able to say – chin stoically raised and looking wearily into the (social) distance – that I’ve had covid-19. And survived. On my own.
“I had the flu, stayed in bed, and then I got better” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. And sadly, it doesn’t make for much of a Facebook or Twitter post (a la Tom Hanks or Idris Alba), either.
But back to science: we’ve also been told by virologists that the very threat of the new virus lies in its novelty. Unlike known flu strains like influenza A and B that’s been studied for decades, no one can accurately predict how fast it will spread and how many people it might actually kill. Right now, this grim saga – fit only as a bedtime tale for slimy little troll children snuggled up under the bridge of Civilization As We Know It – remains open-ended.
If we could take a peek inside the collective human psyche for just a moment and leave the lab coats (and horror stories) at the door, I think it would be fair to say that all this comes down to our innate dread of the unknown. Which, in turn, translates to our angst when it comes to the biggest unknown of them all: death. As we speak, our already rocky little boat is in unchartered waters, and we might just be edging closer to that big ol’ waterfall at the end of all things. Pretty scary stuff, indeed.
But, with most of the human world already under quarantine or lockdown, I reckon it’s time we just stopped for a minute. And take a deep fucking breath.
For at this very moment, as we’re thrashing about in white-eyed animal terror of the thundering darkness in the distance, there may well be monsters circling right under our feet.
So let’s take the plunge.
Right off the bat, we need to be clear: the loss of life caused by this new virus is tragic. No one can discount that. But while the better angels of our nature are crying out in compassion and alarm, it is also our collective civil duty to look at things a little more objectively. For a start, we have to remember that covid-19’s death toll is still not even close to that of more common flues – it’s more established, and at one time, also “novel”, corona-cousins. Also, like the more common influenza strains, it tends to lead to death in patients with weakened immune systems and/or those battling other diseases. Last, but most certainly not least, we need to keep in mind that, due to the cost, time and strain on healthcare systems involved with conclusive covid-19 testing techniques, many doctors around the world are prone to diagnose patients – mostly as a precautionary measure, one would hope – on symptoms alone. Which is bad science. Sad but true.
(I could also mention that in 2020 to date – in comparison to the 53 000 covid-19 fatalities recorded at the time of writing – there were more than 200 000 global deaths from cancer, road accidents and suicide respectively, but I don’t want to go off topic. I guess the fact that we’re living in a festering mess of tumours, reckless driving and lethal depression is just old hat.)
We should all be forgiven for not constantly keeping the above in mind. It’s hard to do, what with us perpetually being bombarded from all sides by ominous coronavirus headlines, apocalyptic images of masked hordes and soaring death graphs, all of them desperately competing for our clicks.
In addition to this, all doubts cast upon the real-life threat of this terrible new affliction – by wholly objective numbers and statistics that has no agenda and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about our attention – is immediately nullified by the official position that the outbreak is just in its infancy and there’s no way of telling how bad things could still become. Oh boy. We don’t know yet, but… What if it turns out to be the most contagious disease ever? What if it ends up ravaging the entire globe, killing millions? What if Tinder shuts down? What if, what if, what if?
Well, it might be a good idea to stop fussing about the what ifs for just a moment, and take a good, hard look at what already is.
Right now, a huge proportion of humanity is locked up in their own homes under penalty of law. This is a first in the known history of our species. Freedom of movement, the most basic, inalienable right of all so-called free societies has been eradicated in one fell swoop.
If you are concerned about the democratic implications of this – including the possibility that, under a sustained global state of emergency, lockdowns can be extended indefinitely and other forms of draconian legislature can be passed without opposition or popular consent – what are you going to do about it? Mobilize en masse like in the good old days and march on the houses of parliament? Tsk, tsk. All mass gatherings, including peaceful protests in the streets, are currently illegal.
Right now, military troops and riot police are deployed in cities across the world to enforce lockdown regulations and “prevent civil unrest”. In case you were wondering, this means that soldiers of the state has full authority to use their extensive training and excessive weapons against you, an unarmed, taxpaying civilian, if you step out of line. Does fidgety men with assault rifles and batons – assigned to your back yard strictly for your own safety – make you shit your pants? Too bad. Just shove some of that toilet paper you’ve been hoarding down the back of your Levi’s the next time you dare to step out your front door.
Right now, millions of people worldwide are facing unprecedented unemployment, bankruptcy, poverty and debt due to the knock-on effect of businesses everywhere being forced to close their doors. Unless you are a self-sustaining, survivalist commando type who can grow and farm your own food on a fiercely guarded, moonshined mountaintop somewhere, chances are everyone will be hurting in the face of a looming global recession that may well see currencies crash and inflation soar. Apart from a spike in pesky little social afflictions like homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse and crime, an economic meltdown of this scale will also see a further widening of the gap between the haves and have nots, significantly eroding what’s left of the middle class. Hello, Hunger Games. So long, Mom-and-Pop grocer on the corner.
Right now, the vast majority of the global population is completely dependent on the internet for work, commerce, communication, news, entertainment, shopping and even education (basically, your life). Faster than you can say “google”, we’ve been given a huge shove toward the edge of an already looming technocratic abyss. Society as a whole is now living in a complete virtual reality where opinions, preferences and beliefs can be monitored, moulded and sold with an even higher degree of access, manipulation and control. Unlike the natural world – formerly also known as “outside” – which is governed by ethereal, universal laws of a higher substance and source, this virtual world is orchestrated, facilitated and ruled by human beings like you and me. That’s bad fucking news. Speaking of which, does that latest report from your town or city seem too shocking or scary to be true? Well, just go and see for yourself. Oh, wait. You can’t.
Looking at all this, one can not be blamed for wondering whether a growing worldwide lockdown – and everything that comes with it – might just be a little excessive in battling a virus that hasn’t been around long enough for it’s actual threat to be studied, reviewed and confirmed by independent scientific scrutiny. The tail indeed seems to be wagging the dog. And this sorry mutt – much like the poorest of the poor across the world who are forced to violate lockdown rules in a desperate attempt to salvage what’s left of their livelihood – has been beaten into submission so badly it doesn’t know its muzzle from its asshole.
But hey, these incredibly drastic measures are supposedly enforced for our own well-being and the greater societal good.
So please, don’t worry. It’s bad for your immune system.
Now, my immune system seems to be working just fine, thank you very much, and as far as I know, there’s nothing wrong with my capacity for rational thought, either. So I have to ask: if the so-called prevention of the perceived threat has the unchecked potential to cause much more damage than said threat itself, what exactly is going on here?
Whether it’s just flat-footed, bureaucratic heavy-handedness or a finely orchestrated authoritarian ruse, it’s not looking good for us. For, if we take everything into consideration, it would seem that it’s not so much our lives itself that are in danger here. It’s our way of life that’s at stake.
Which leads to another question: in a seemingly free and empowered global society, how the fuck is this being allowed to happen?
The simple, sad answer is that we’re not living in a free and empowered society. Far from it.
We’ve been divided, deceived, distracted and dumbed-down by those in power for so long that we have lost the ability to see the forest for the trees. The once public servants have taken over the mansion many moons ago, and they’re doing a damn fine job of keeping us busy, busy, busy in the boiler room of our fractured existence. Are we honestly being asked to believe that the very same authorities around the world who are free to, among other things, wage war for profit, wreak havoc on the environment, bail out thieving banks and destroy healthcare and pension funds have suddenly been turned into bleeding heart humanitarians by a viral outbreak, sadly and sternly taking the necessary, drastic measures that is best for little old us? If you can find a way to swallow that one whole, please, be my guest. But I don’t like the smell of it.
Now, now, calm down. I’m not a conspiracy nut. Tinfoil hats will not save us here. There is an extremely dangerous virus out there, period. I’m going to, however, stick my neck out just a little and tell you that it’s man-made after all. And while it might not have a catchy name like SARS-CoV-2, this one doesn’t fuck around.
It’s called fear.
Virtually overnight, it has spread like wildfire across the entire world, instantly infecting billions in a pandemic of hitherto unparalleled proportions. The extraordinary speed of human transmission is baffling, seeing as severe physical restrictions on movement and travel only seems to accelerate infection. Mass media and social platforms play a key role in its blistering transmission rate, but whether a clandestine, centralised force sits behind this symbiotic union is in dire need of unbiased scientific study. There is no incubation period and symptoms appear immediately. In some cases, these will manifest as breathing difficulties and tightening of the chest; more common and much more serious symptoms includes a significant reduction in the ability for logic, critical thinking and healthy skepticism, also known as good ol’ common sense. An extremely disturbing phenomenon present in most cases is a sudden blind, slavish, and utterly unfounded faith in authority.
Simply put, if it goes unchecked, it can result in a lockdown of the mind.
As it’s becoming heartbreakingly clear once again in this surreal chapter of human history, if people are scared enough, they will give up anything – including liberties and livelihood, something which better judgement would ordinarily not allow – to feel safe again.
At this very moment, we are paying an extortionate price for the sake of security in the face of a biological threat that has yet to be scientifically established. And I’m very sorry, kind madam or sir, but there are no refunds on this one. Buyer, beware.
For here in China – an overtly totalitarian state that has supposedly beaten the dreaded affliction and which the world, for the most part, is aiming to emulate in doing so – things are far from being the way they were. Even now that the so-called risk of infection is at a minimum, cash has all but been phased out, your temperature is taken by a laser on your wrist (mark of the Beast, anyone?) on every corner and your phone is scanned everywhere you go, thereby tracking your movements with ease. All in the name of public safety, of course. While the threat may have subsided, the control measures – now completely normalised – remain. This game, it seems, is being played for keeps. It has also become devastatingly clear that the true extent of economic damage incurred by a lockdown only becomes clear some time after it has ended. As we speak, I, along with countless other round eyes as well as Chinese citizens, are still unemployed, broke and struggling to find new jobs. When companies start firing employees to survive such drastic times, they don’t just start hiring again a few weeks, or even months, later. So it goes.
And whether SARS-CoV-2 actually came from here, the US, the moon or the Dark Lord Sauron himself, it doesn’t really matter. What is of critical importance is that we, the only ones who have the power to lift our own collective mental lockdown (and have sadly slipped in protecting our physical freedoms), open our minds.
We need to understand the full extent to which the fear of this outbreak, and not the danger of the outbreak itself, can be used against us, the people, as the ultimate psychological weapon. Think about it. Unlike, say, two flaming towers spectacularly collapsing in New York city almost twenty years ago, this new threat is invisible. You can not see, smell, hear, taste or touch it. Barring all empirical verification, we are thrust into the sphere of near religious belief in its effects alone, as displayed by mass media and spread by social platforms. It lurks absolutely everywhere, on the air you breathe, the surfaces you touch, the bodies you brush past, the skin you caress. It knows no borders, age, race or gender. Drastic measures may subdue it temporarily, but what if it comes back next week, next month, next year? As an almost omnipotent pathogenic phenomenon it has the unlimited potential to be the perfect vehicle for fear-based control of a technologically connected supersociety that is already physically confined and stuck to its screens.
So, brothers and sisters, we best be vigilant. For the hour is fucking late.
Now is the time to start asking some serious questions, instead of just accepting official answers. Don’t be afraid where it might lead you. Do your own research, with critical thinking and healthy skepticism as your guiding light. Talk to one another with respect, listen with understanding.
Be open, at the very least, to the probability that global mandatory vaccinations will soon be enforced by governments – if not requested by the public – as the only “solution” to this dreadful contagion. Read as much as you can about patented nanotechnology, microchips, Bill Gates’ ID2020 initiative and other tracking and transmitting devices that can pass through the tip of a needle with ease.
Be open, at the very least, to the probability that – as history has shown before – massive public hysteria is often used by the powers that be to distract people from some other course of action being rolled out in the shadows. Be awake, be aware and educate yourself so you can make informed choices.
Be open, at the very least, to the probability that power always craves more power, control always craves more control.
Now is not the time to blindly dismiss or accept information simply because it fits or contradicts your established point of view. We’re way past that. Where the world as we know it was at a watershed just a short while ago, it has now been torn apart.
And it’s ready to be remade, for better or for worse.
If we can join hands with calm, common sense and compassion, we may just be able to right this beautifully burning ship of fools.
But hey, I know this is a lot to ask. You have more than enough on your plate already, and I don’t want to add to that. You are most likely having a shitty day, being under house arrest for the sole crime of being alive during this incredibly difficult and confusing time. There’s nothing on Netflix, you’re out of beer and your cabin-feverish dog is giving you the evil eye. I’m with you. Last thing you want is to stick your neck out and be chastised as a nutcase for simply questioning the official line, heavens forbid.
And hell demands.
Image © Jac Kritzinger 2020.
* The starving artist thing is a romantic myth. If you could help in any way to keep me going, please, be my guest. Thanks so much.
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