COVID-19: Mass Hysteria

The pandemic spread of COVID-19 has sent humanity into a state of mass hysteria. In my recent post, Pandemic Xenophobia, we briefly explored the possible social and political implications of the coronavirus hysteria, namely a rise in xenophobia and the potential for national socialism to take hold in the US at the peak of crisis. The initial xenophobia was (still is) towards Asian Americans, but has now spread to target LGBTQ as well.

The current state of affairs has led to Italy shutting down all of its’ schools and universities and making a plan to quarantine 25% of their entire population. In the U.S. there has been an emergence of violence against Asians and empty shelves of critical products like medicine, water bottles, and food in grocery stores. Italy’s quarantine plan has led to hysteria and chaos, people swarmed to escape the cities and the impending quarantine. During the chaos there were also prison riots. The global death rate is currently listed as 3.4% on WHO’s website. This is as high as 15% for the elderly. The U.S. is now considering shutting down schools, which Stanford already has been shut down for the rest of the quarter. San Francisco has cancelled many public events as warnings and fears increase.

hysteriacorona

UPDATE: UC Berkeley and UC San Diego have both shut down now. Harvard has not only shut down but also evicted all of the students living in the dorms. Many other schools are taking similar measures. In backlash to the growing xenophobia, Asian Americans have started stocking up on guns.

Italy is devolving into chaos as reports of supermarket raids have emerged. Italy is now facing the collapse of their ICUs as the health systems are flooded, leading them to call on retired doctors and accelerate the graduation of medical students. In 24 hours, Italy faced almost 200 deaths from the coronavirus. This has prompted Italy to begin rejecting treatment for the elderly to prioritize on younger infected individuals. An Italian doctor has come out suggesting we should panic rather than minimize the virus.

These headlines and timestamps look incredibly concerning side-by-side.

virusheadlines

The implications of this virus on culture could be massive. But we might be able to contain some of these implications if we recognize and address our hysterical state.

The mass hysteria that has emerged in these moments of crisis has become very prominent. There has even developed reactionaries who resist the hysteria and attempt to reduce viral panic. The notion that mass hysteria is simply dismissible is a foolish one, it can actually be quite dangerous. Much of humanity is built on nonsense and religion or religion-like structures. Consider the economy: it doesn’t truly exist. Theoretically we could just call off our money systems and change it, but of course culture is not so easy to abandon. Nazism was likely an overreaction to the circumstances due to hysteria as well and this is what scares me today.

Culture isn’t such an easy thing to pull the brakes on.

Update: Oh no, it’s getting worse. Nazis have emerged to promote the spread of coronavirus to police officers. Trump has decided to change the name of the virus to ‘Chinese virus’

First let’s explore the potentially frightening implications of COVID-19. As we do this, notice the hysteria in yourself and recognize how a society of people thinking this way could get problematic quickly. On the other hand, if we consistently dismiss the severity of our situation, then we will find ourselves unprepared and self-destructive.

Imagine that 15% of the old people in your life die. Consider that if this really does occur, almost all of us will know people who recently died in a short period of time. This will influence our moods, which will contagiously impact society. We will probably grief together or potentially turn to blame people, notably Asians, something we are already seeing despite very little deaths yet in the U.S. Once people we know personally start dying, the picture could quickly change. This may breed nationalistic rhetoric as a response to contain future crises that are blamed on immigrants.

Pandemic Xenophobia covered this descent to Nazism that could occur in the U.S.

Here is an expanded-upon passage from the article:

Violence against Asian Americans has begun. There have also been fraudulent WHO fliers warning against going to Asian restaurants. In another recent case, someone on the subway sprayed an Asian man with Febreze. An Asian man was even stabbed in a suspected hate crime. The rationalization of the xenophobic people may be to scare Asian Americans from entering public space, due to threats of violence, thus reducing contact with imagined potentially infected peoples. It is assumed that the Chinese population would have more contact with Chinese foreign nationals. Since the virus has spread far beyond Asia, now in much of Europe as well, it is no longer reasonable to assume that the virus is localized to the Chinese population.

These paranoias I’m about to express may be a bit preliminary at the moment, especially with the ongoing mass hysteria afloat, but it is a concern we should keep in mind because we can’t let it progress too far. It’s been noted that the U.S. may struggle to deal with the virus especially because of the faulty health care system and class division. If the working class gets sick and they can’t work, all of the higher class that depends on the working class to function could be destabilized. The poor won’t be able to afford health care and the hospitals may fail to keep up with infections. 44% of Americans have reported that they would not be able to afford a minor 400$ emergency and it’s been reported that hospital stays due to the virus can cost thousands even after insurance. The hysteria could send us into a drastic situation, because of the flawed health care system in the US. Perhaps China realizes this exploit and has hyped the virus in order to make U.S. society collapse under the unfolding mass psychosis. Perhaps this is distracting us during election times, with impeccable timing.

Could you imagine if the country suddenly adopted a socialist leaning health care system during this crisis? Can you imagine if Trump (or other) tried to take dictatorship of the country by offering closed borders (nationalism) and then health care for all (socialism) in order to cope with the pandemic? National Socialism is what Nazism means. Such a radical move would almost undoubtedly send us into WW3. Perhaps as people continue to get sick, increasingly in-need, an antihero will emerge to take advantage of the desperation, offering savior. For the sake of the speed needed to radically alter the government, dictatorship would be granted. This is all probably very unlikely, just fear-mongering, at least let’s hope so.

Just to note, it has already begun as the Trump administration is now considering treating uninsured patients who have the coronavirus and they are considering sending 1000$ checks to all Americans in order to mitigate the damages from the virus. Speaking of this, if we run out of vital medical resources, that is when the situation gets really rough. In the same way Italy is prioritizing the young over the elderly, we might see other forms of discrimination for treatment of the coronavirus in America. One hopes that it won’t get that far and that it won’t manifest subtly through systemic bias like it has with Black Americans already. In the peak of chaos, we might see stories of armed Asian individuals entering hospitals begging for their dying wife to be treated. Proceeding incidents like this, the hospitals may begin to militarize and be guarded by police.

If hysteria kept increasing, we might take more drastic measures to enforce quarantine, as people already don’t seem to take it seriously. The national guard has already been sent to New York in order to help with containment of the coronavirus. The progression of the pandemic to the rest of the less travel-oriented regions of the U.S. might be quite slow, which might change their attitudes once more and more people in the travel-oriented spaces of the U.S. start to panic or die. People may be increasingly afraid of the virus in uninfected areas of the country while the already infected may be in a disturbed chaotic state or grieving over the recently dead. People may turn to scapegoat Asian Americans in the heated situation. 

If resources are bought out from all of the stores, people may begin turning anarchic in response and start fighting over resources, like seen in Italy. This has already become a meme as videos of people fighting over toilet paper in Costco have gone viral. These moments may make us extra prone to tribalizing and expressing xenophobia.

costco

If these patterns get normalized during the crisis, then U.S. society (and the world?) could devolve into chaos. Our freedom in the U.S. may be a critical error in the system that allows these problems to thrive. WSJ has claimed that democracy is on trial in the face of China’s success at quarantining the virus. Individual freedom gives the masses the power to disregard the minority of people who are most vulnerable to the virus, especially if the virus doesn’t impact their lives. People have already been breaking quarantine, in one case to go to a work party of all things. Trump has suggested that people may be able to continue working during their sickness while Rick Santelli suggested we just get everyone infected, to get it over with and help protect the economy (which he has since retracted the statement).

Pandemic Xenophobia

My friends have experienced the xenophobia first-hand and so I am going to share some of their experiences with you.

Friend 1: “I will cough and people move out of the way. Also had several people in the student government I work with say they’re avoiding all Asians on campus and saying ‘If they speak or look Chinese they’re staying away.’ It made me kinda angry because someone chimed in agreement and said ‘It’s better to stick among our kind anyways.’

Friend 2: “Yesterday I faced my first encounter with overt racism this year right before entering this subway station—a disappointingly expected act since I was an Asian wearing an N95 respirator.

A quick “Do you even speak English?” as we passed by each other. By the time I realized he wasn’t talking on the phone with anyone, the moment was gone since we were both in a rush. But yes, I do speak English. Majored in it, in fact.
If we’re going to play the stereotyping game, he was a pale, short, balding, overweight white male wearing only black; does he only speak his mom’s basement’s dialect of 4chan?

Still, this is a game not worth playing because it’s simply wrong—I was born in the US & wearing the respirator despite being perfectly healthy because I didn’t want to risk being an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier when interviewing at @jasaseniors the next day. And, of course, still a native English speaker last I checked! I don’t know this guy at all so maybe the stereotypes I mentioned here DO apply in this case … but I can’t assume that. And neither can he with me, nor anyone else. So I guess here’s a daily reminder to not make an ass out of u & me [/vent]”

Friend 3: This isn’t a first hand account, but a close friend of mine who is Chinese American is working on developing treatment for the coronavirus and he was followed by a car full of white males who were taunting ‘corona’ to him and another Asian individual as they were walking on the streets of Boston. Quite a strange situation since he is trying to help solve the problem yet being blamed for it based on identity politics.

Solutions?

These solutions may be a bit absurd, but it isn’t clear that any ‘reasonable’ strategy would work during such an absurd crisis.

It is said that we should focus on reducing the rate of infection just enough that the health systems can manage to treat patients. Once hospitals are overloaded, that is when the death rates for COVID-19 begin to spike.

We could attempt to turn off society for a month or so and let the virus fade out in the ones who already have it. This is essentially what quarantine is, but we could try to demand that everyone in the world does this. We could find ways to disburse food, possibly for free, in a temporary socialist system. If we freeze society like this and assign temporary workers for allocation of food and resources, it shouldn’t be too costly either. People don’t have to let the economy die because of the virus. Someone could make a detailed plan and communicate it to the public of every nation.

Using digital social technologies could make doing such a task possible. This may give us an opportunity to rewrite the nature of our society. This could be a step towards a peaceful global society. We may not even need leaders to enact these kind of plans, we could simply collectivize and assign healthy people to allocate foods. Wealthy people could help with paying these individuals to shop and spread food for all. Many may find this strangely libertarian strategy better than a government ceasing of resources and distribution.

Large technology companies like Facebook and Google have great power in controlling social information and global communications. They also have massive amounts of money and the highest ability to function without human contact, since it is mostly digital. They could use the EULA or ask consent of users to bypass legal restrictions involved in the plan. The EULA could become a new constitution of sorts. They could come together in massive collaboration, like Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google, and ‘save the world’ from the virus, but also begin a new world and rapidly accelerate the correction of many of the world’s problems, if done correctly. 

With our consent, these companies could fully track all of our timestamped location data, whether we are infected or not and help contain the spread of the virus. People could be scheduled different times to enter grocery stores or other public spaces, which are then cleaned after high-risk individuals enter. Food delivery is a much better alternative though.

Let a new society birth from the ashes of our fallen state.

It almost seems absurd that people would be so inflexible that we would let society die out because we feel urged to continue working and engaging in public space. It is because of the way money and economy functions but for this to be our demise seems like a mistake. Smart thinkers should start strategizing social or financial strategies for saving humanity from this pandemic situation. This may be the time for a societal reboot.

Could this be the beginning of a global socialist society? Italy has already suspended mortgage payments for all, giving people a taste of what the future could be like.

Veganism?

There is an emerging rhetoric from the vegan culture that meat-eaters have brought the coronavirus to us. This rhetoric seems to be climbing the social ladder and creeping its way into public visibility. It started with blaming wild animal markets in China. This had me wondering if this would be a baby step towards veganism, because most epidemics, such as bird and swine flu, have emerged from animal agriculture. 

What if this is even an ecofascist strategy by China to curb climate apocalypse and promote a change towards veganism (conspiratorial, yes)? It might start with pinning the blame on the consumption of strange animals like bats or dogs, which many people will detest regardless of how hypocritical. After this rhetoric takes off in the population, the blame may shift not just to consumers of strange animal products, but also consumers of normal animal products. Perhaps they may even eventually trace the initial spread of the virus to a common animal of consumption, like cows. The virus seems to infect cats, dogs, bats and humans already. The people who blamed the pandemic on the consumption of bats will be forced to concede if the blame is shifted to animals they consume. This may provoke self-change among the public. Even if the origination of the virus in bats, the blame is already being placed on factory farming of other animals, due to the impacts of the expansion of farms on biodiversity causing bats and rats to thrive in place of more complex ecosystems. 

Each mainstream article may slip closer towards the vegan rhetoric over a period of time, until everyone becomes aware of the possibility that meat consumption has brought about the most traumatic event that humanity seems to collectively experience in their lifetime. If this notion of blaming animal agriculture does seed into the zeitgeist, we could expect that those who wish to continue to consume meat will not be able to do so confidently. Those who confidently proclaim pride in consuming meat in front of someone who has lost family members to the coronavirus crisis might be looked at as nearly psychopathic and inconsiderate. This new sensitivity that develops might allow veganism to become mainstream.

Resist Fascism

Don’t let yourself fall into the xenophobic panic response. We can rebuild our world if things get truly devolved. Even after all of this trauma, we may find that society is more flexible to positive radical change. We just need to get past these rough parts. It may radically change how we operate society, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. People have been decrying capitalism and the American government for some time now, so once we cope with all of this we may be able to more easily shift into a better way of life for all. This may correct our healthcare system flaws, for example. It may force us to fix economic disparities as well.

Finding a common enemy in Asians might entice some people as a scapegoat for this crisis, but it is truly irrational, especially since the virus has spread to most of Europe now too. Being racist won’t help fix anything. We need to remain vigilant of our emerging Nazistic tendencies before it gets out of hand and people lose touch with reality.

This article will be updated as the situation changes and as I think of more implications.

Special thanks to the two patrons, Abhishaike Mahajan and Charles Wright! Abhi is also the artist who created the cover image for Most Relevant. Please support him on instagram, he is an amazing artist! I’d also like to thank Annie Vu, Chris Byrd, and Kettner Griswold for making these projects and the podcast possible.

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2 thoughts on “COVID-19: Mass Hysteria

  1. Wait a second, hold up. Just because Hitler gave National Socialism a bad name (thanks to his racism against Jews) doesn’t mean that it’s a BAD thing. It’s perfectly possible to have a functioning national socialism system that doesn’t do racism or death camps. There is no aspect of nationalism or socialism that is inherently discriminatory. The Roman empire was highly nationalist but was very egalitarian in terms of race and sexuality. The Nazis are only one example of national socialism in action.

    As long as xenophobia and hatred can be focused along the axis of CULTURE rather than RACE, it can be a very useful tool for any politician. For example, pointing out (quite accurately) that women are treated far better in our culture than in other cultures does not provides an excellent moral case to invade other societies and impose our own civilization and cultural norms. With the recent developments in AI, this can be done very efficiently and with a minimal cost in lives.

    We need a more unified global government in order to solve coordination problems like the environmental crisis, and annexation of other countries is a time-honored way to achieve unity. In the past, we possessed the resources to take over other countries but lacked the technology needed to maintain control. AI permanently solves that problem. All we need is a good casus belli, and cultural differences provide a very valid pretext.

    We need to stop seeing war as this awful unspeakable thing and start seeing it more accurately as just one more useful tool in our toolbox to achieve strategic and tactical goals. Let’s face it, our whole species is going to go extinct from climate change unless we can rapidly solve global coordination problems. War (and the annexation of less developed countries into giant superstates) is a tested and proven way to achieve this goal. Instead of bleating about the failed Paris agreement (which never worked and COULD never work according to Game Theory) we should be evaluating alternative methodologies to save the planet – such as war driven by AI propaganda and automated with AI technology.

    Liked by 1 person

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