Chronicles of Crazy

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Were there not an alternative explanation, I would have to conclude that a certain lady’s theory of the Batflu epidemic is correct.

This is the daughter of an old friend: not, I should mention, a professional epidemiologist. She is left-wing, in a way typical of her “millennial” generation, but like many of the rest not incapable of some independent thought.

Her theory is that the Chinese virus has been misrepresented. Chiefly, it is blamed for respiratory crises among the old with comorbidities, and indeed it seems to have killed more than a million of them, around the world, in the year or so since it was flagged. She doesn’t deny a bit of that.

But she parts company from those who suggest that it has little, and frequently no, effect on most below pensionable age. These, to her mind, may be the main victims; whereas the old, with their pre-existing conditions, were going to die soon, anyway. (This may seem a cold-hearted way to look at it, but many cold-hearted analyses are true.)

Given the extraordinary number of “positive” tests for persons of all ages, and estimates that exposure rates are actually far higher, what can we say about the many, many millions of people who have shown so few symptoms?

It is that they have all gone mad.

Matilda, as I will call her, has been testing this theory among all her numerous friends, and even consulting “the media” occasionally. Her confessedly unscientific survey consists of “just looking at them,” while reviewing their case histories.

According to Matilda, friends who were previously capable of making some sense, and who showed a fairly robust appreciation of cause and effect, now frequently have jumped the rail of reason.

They were re-attributing things that they had previously assigned to demonstrable causes, to unlikely ones instead. They were showing rather obvious signs of morbid obsession, psychotic monomania, and general paranoia.

While the opposite of a Trump supporter herself (did I mention she is “liberal” and left-wing), she has begun to recognize “Trump Derangement Syndrome” – in persons who previously had no discernible political opinions. Some, she thought, might actually require hospitalization.

But the same from the other direction. Her own parents, previously “mildly conservative,” but in a vaguely habitual and apolitical way, would now “crawl over broken glass” to vote for a president they once found mildly distasteful. They now followed him “over the top” of every wild rhetorical exclamation, and could watch him for hours on TV.

Granted, these parents might be getting old, although there was no evidence they had been infected. But some young people, too, who had never seemed exceptionally right-wing, were now ‘spilling their guts with right-wing hysteria.” They were signing up for “Trump 2024 and forever.”

*

Perhaps the contagion was deflected person to person by the Batflu masks. Perhaps the resonance from six-foot distancing made people behave like Mad Cows. Perhaps scientists in the Wuhan laboratories had engineered a virus with psychotropic effects. . . . .“Whatever.”

The whole world was now going, or had already gone, “bat-guano.”

As I said, Matilda’s theory is superficially plausible. My own tests among certain friends, and informal surveys of my neighbors, have tended to confirm her findings. I could also give copious anecdotal examples, but I’m sure gentle reader can supply his own.

My own explanation, from a few months ago, of phenomena from riots and looting, to insane rants in public – was a psychic “perfect storm.” In meteorological terms, a few otherwise modest hurricanes and tornadoes sometimes combine into a monster event, and who could see it coming?

The key was to “lockdown” millions of the young, and the otherwise energetic, for weeks – months – while spreading a superstitious fear of The Plague through all media of information. Then randomly let them out.

In my native country, Canada, the physical equivalent is known as “hosing.” You shake a beer bottle or can vigorously for some time, then pull off the top. What emerges is a powerful liquid spray. But that experiment usually ends more peacefully, with everyone getting wet, who wasn’t wet already. Violence is dampened from what it was before.

The “perfect storm” theory is incomplete, however. In order to account for what came out of it, we must first consider what went in.

This task is easier than may at first appear. The gases that went in were hardly unknown, and their properties were hardly mysterious.

For two generations, at least, America like Europe (for generations longer) has been simultaneously embracing post-Christian anarchy, while constraining it within vessels that are unambiguously bourgeois. Our normal, deep, religious instincts, have been transformed into what we might call “middle-class values.”

Outwardly, we have tried to continue as before, even going to church on Sundays until quite recently. But the reason for doing this had by increments translated God into social respectability. True, religious people continued to exist, and even mystical religion. But in the mass, modern man had become irreligious.

The history is still deeper than I make out. “Secularization” is, to my mind, the essence of modernity; and in being so, the groundwork for our very modern-looking revolutions and wars. To an external observer, as to an internal, they appear merely unpredictable.

Frustrated, pent-up gases, compressed and stressed, are suddenly released.

They come out as mad, ideological explosions. The God who was denied is replaced by people playing God, and whole sections of society become weaponized. “Race,” “gender,” “class,” and suchlike identifiers, cease to work as components within a complex organism, formerly united in its worship of God. Instead, they work like parts of a bomb.

And this is by now an old story, sometimes labeled “popular delusions and the madness of crowds.” There is no “cure” for them, short of recovering religion. The story will play out, on its own absurd terms, until we fall back on the peace of exhaustion.

 

*Image: King Nebuchadnezzar as a Wild Animal by an unknown artist, c. 1400-1410 [J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA]. The image refers to Daniel 4: 25-35: the prophet tells the king that he will lose his mind and live like a beast for seven years. The illustration is from Rudolf von Ems’ Weltchronik or “world chronicle” written in the mid-1200s.

David Warren

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.

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