In the previous pieces of this series, I’ve attempted to analyze mass hysteria and the witch-hunt. In this postscript, I turn the laserbeam around: how has fighting the COVID monstrosity been gratifying for us? Do some of us need that transient relevance and therefore are sorry to see the ceremony die away?
The mechanics of hysteria can also help us understand yet another curious fact about the COVID debacle: how the histrionic fear of a nondeadly respiratory nuisance has managed to distract and defer reckoning with one of the few serious ethical questions at the heart of the problem: why are we allowing the arrogant virologists who almost certainly engineered this disease to go unpunished? Why shouldn’t "gain-of-function" research be considered more dangerous than nuclear weaponry? Despite a long history of lab leaks, they openly boast of hybridizing smallpox and synthesizing polio as though they were doing the world a favor. There is an extremely plausible reason the COVID virus has curious properties and seems especially virulent: it was engineered to adhere to human lung tissue, tested against one of the more monstrous attractions of the increasingly macabre menagerie of 21st century science - human-hybrid mice with a humanized immune system and human lung tissue. Here is the one and only arena in which a little panic and outrage might actually do us some good: yet as always in a slow moving mass crime, the perpetrators are both absconded and applauded. Why?
Because hysterical dynamics demand that any real external danger be avoided and denied: else the displacing substitute will lose ground and the whole farcical ceremony of fear will dissolve into rational action. The unexciting sobriety of rational action is therefore not something we can expect within the large fallout radius COVID commands. A fictional pandemic is highly desirable for the expression of repressed needs - a real emergency must therefore be suppressed and ignored: that’s the mindjob of COVID.
In COVID a conspiracy is afoot, but not the kind everyone assumes: there is no grand governmental conspiracy, no planned "Great Reset". All such theories are wishful thinking and betray the inability to let go of the comforting notion that someone, somewhere, is in control: the truth is that no one is driving the bus. If only humankind were wicked and motivated enough for a grand conspiracy! …rather than merely clumsy, unconsciously suicidal, and running from its own reflection. The forces of global capitalism do not strictly benefit from lockdown: there was no need for a "Great Reset" because things were already precisely as the elites wanted it. Accelerating wealth inequality was already an extremely well-established pattern - it needed no help although it was happy enough to exploit new opportunities.
The people want oppression because they want relief from the anxiety of individuation: that is the "grand conspiracy" governmental forces are scrambling to keep up with like a Ben and Jerry’s factory in the 90s. That a crowd of political opportunists and the hyenas of global capitalism are circling the bloody scene is hardly surprising - but temple-moneychangers, scalpers, and desperate demagogues should not be confused with masterminds.
I must concede that the awkward facts of sly cooperation between a Chinese lab and the US NIH, where gain-of-function research had been previously banned, obviously motivated the initial coverup and indeed constitutes a minor conspiracy. But there are always minor conspiracies at play at any given time in human history: such is politics and the cleverness of apes. In other words, even if we eventually discover many more conspiratorial forces orbiting this maelstrom of power and deception, it’s irrelevant. It’s much more important to ask: why was the general public so deeply and immediately attached to the pandemic narrative? Why was your neighbor, your friends, your family, your spouse so attached to it? Why did everyone seem so eager to participate in a decentralized, silently scripted, and unconscious conspiracy? Try on this hypothesis: the media sell what sells, not what they are "told" to sell. Despite the appearance of uniformity, there is no smoke-filled backroom where the "elites" and media overlords plan our future with deep cackling laughter: as though Bill Gates, Joe Biden, Oprah, a Pfizer executive, the editors of the Lancet, and Xi Jinping meet in an underground cavern and deliver speeches to a roaring crowd of torch-bearing and hooded billionaires. The human world is not this well-organized, folks: it’s greedy, opportunistic, mendacious, and fearfully conformist, not devilishly determined. The most well-funded military in the world, the American armed forces, can barely keep from shooting itself in the foot and squandering billions in inefficiency… but an unconscious agenda spreading through the most homogeneous elements of the absurdly miserable first world - that’s possible.
Therefore despite all the sloppy mishandling of this obvious coverup, the improvised diversionary tactic of overstating the danger of COVID succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations: like a delusional alchemist accidentally discovering gunpowder, with this fictionally deadly pandemic Fauci and company stumbled upon the right formula for releasing the accumulated frustrations of first world misery. They lit a match in the dark without knowing what that funny smell was…
It seems almost no one has the intellectual conscience to stand these two statements side by side:
- The virus is not deadly and therefore does not constitute a pandemic.
- The virus was engineered and for that reason alone should be taken seriously.
In the case of many of my present readers, who have known for years that the virus is not deadly and who are unspeakably nauseated by COVID hysterics, there is reason enough to ignore statement #2: because if it was indeed engineered, it would seem to contribute to the fearful aura - some of you would rather deny the virus exists at all, than acknowledge that it is a very dangerous precedent and could indeed have curious properties - such as an immunosuppressant function. I myself have experience with "long COVID". The truth is that we were merely lucky it wasn’t something much worse - although forcing experimental mRNA gene therapy on half the world might in the end be much worse…
It would be easy to imagine that among those who lap up COVID hysteria as though it were a steamy bowl of amphetamines, the lab leak theory would be enthusiastically adopted and put to work in generating more fear. But I only see the most entrenched conspiracy theorists taking this route: those who want to believe that the virus was meant to depopulate the globe. I don’t accept the explanation that "the media" is reporting what it’s told to report and therefore the masses fall in line with the natural origin theory. Look more carefully at your neighbor’s attachment to the pandemic narrative and you will discover something else: an entirely fictional pandemic is desired by both the conformist, and the conspiracy theorist… Do not be deceived: the hysterical actor also knows the pandemic is false. Its falsehood is in fact very necessary for ritual efficacy: that’s one of the prerequisites to magical thinking.
The bad news, my friends, is that the conspiracy theorist is also subject to hysterical mechanics: in place of a fictional pandemic he has substituted a fictional grand conspiracy… The result is the same: vicarious identification with the perpetrators, victimhood and justified powerlessness, and the continued belief in guiding authority. Neither has the capacity to acknowledge what COVID teaches, what COVID forces upon our closed eyes: the human world is largely unconscious, largely flailing, largely afraid of its own reflection.
Who is the conspiracy theorist? A powerless nobody, an outsider, someone with surplus intelligence to burn, someone who’d like to prove to themselves and anyone their eligibility for power. A conspiracy theory is a fantasy of power, a steamy novella of intrigue sold to oneself and anyone who will listen. Haven’t you noticed how eager a conspiracy theorist is in spreading his secret knowledge? How being witnessed as knowledgable is central to the whole formation? Moreover, haven’t you noticed how much these guys seem to want a "Great Reset"?
The conspiracy theorist and the evangelizing moralist are locked into a mutually dependent relationship. Who is the mirror image of the conspiracy theorist? It’s not precisely the conformist: the great majority merely seek to get by, wincing and grimacing and seeking to escape notice. Most conformists do quietly question the narrative and already know what’s true and what isn’t: but talking themselves out of their better judgment is a deeply entrenched habit and very easily accomplished - one glance at a life drenched in regret and half-hearted choices should tell us how easy it might be for someone like this to stack merely one more lie atop the pile. The Asch Conformity Experiment should tell us, that the great majority of the human race will betray their own judgment for the sake of belonging, even when almost nothing is at stake, other than one moment of standing outside group consensus. So great is the fear of abandonment.
The twin brother of the conspiracy theorist is the evangelist: he who mines the narrative for all the power it can offer, he who is is wedded to the narrative for the sake of the dowry alone, he who has found in the histrionics of COVID the motherlode of moral-political charade.
But how are these two mutually dependent? Because every evangelist needs his demons: the best enemy of a glaring monumental fiction, is a frightening exaggerated fiction. It’s not that a lie cannot defeat a truth: truth is weak, multivalent, subtle, fragile - almost nothing is easier than displacing truth. A monstrous lie feeds upon truth like merely breathing - it gains no glory from pushing aside this weakling. A monster needs heroes to devour, to stage fictional battles in the sky… In the midst of the monstrosity of COVID on the one hand, and the blustering frantic conspiracy theorizing on the other, haven’t we sometimes felt ourselves slipping into the cracks, into an abyss of the loneliness of quiet and complicated truth?
And does the conspiracy theorist need his rabid raving evangelist? Absolutely: the alternative is retreat into a loneliness and irrelevance which closely resembles that of his brother. Trailerpark all-caps raving about the "Great Reset", and sanctimonious upper-middle class hand-clasping about the necessity of vaccinating children into oblivion: one has a fugitive sense of rugged independence to comfort him, the other has his money and moralizing mien to hide his desperation - but they are not so different.
So what are we? Our critics would like to dismiss us as conspiracy theorists: untangling the Gordian knot of COVID neuroses requires far more psychological acumen and intellectual discipline than is commonly available, so it is hardly any wonder that my wouldbe comrades so often resort to paranoid speculations about what "they" intend and why. Where others cannot help but see agency, I see nonlinear emergent dynamics: all psychology begins as animism, and it requires many years to unlearn the habit.
And wouldn’t it be an immense relief if a grand conspiracy were really at play? If something real and grandiose happened in our lifetime - if something could break the spell of meaningless anxiety and petty bickering? If an unambiguous enemy could for once be identified? As a 21st century American man undergoing the remedial education of offgrid living and incremental independence, I am all too aware of the pleasures of "prepping". We must also admit that the fantasies of global depopulation which have become so popular, appeal to us all at a deep level - and for us avowed misanthropes, this appeal is not nearly so unconscious as with the rest of you.
On the other hand, we too have indulged at times in moral outrage, haven’t we? When I think of the countless millions of children tossed into the pit of COVID, their blood repeatedly polluted with biomedical profiteering schemes, their faces covered as though youth were the problem - my heart aches and I cannot help but want blood in exchange for blood. That this is just another slow-moving mass crime among so many, is too cynical for that moment of genuine recognition: what response do we have but anger? But what recourse do we have but indignant pride? The question is: can we walk the knife-edge of merciless truth? The path wherein no redemption, no solution, no justice is guaranteed nor really likely, without losing our courage and cheer and determination?