By now, the Wuhan virus has hit home for everyone. Stores ransacked; schools closed; all large gatherings and events canceled; long-distance travel prohibited; pork-filled stimulus bills written and debated; some major cities enforcing mandatory quarantines. People everywhere now remain anxious in their homes and plan to stay there for at least another month, rationing precious toilet paper and keeping updated on the situation.
While the experts claim that little is known about the Wuhan virus, enough is known to suggest that the response has been excessive. While there is a worrying possibility that the Wuhan virus will make a sizable impact on public health (along with the possibility that it probably won’t), the hype surrounding it has already created a huge imposition on daily life and cost the global economy trillions of dollars. Everyone must “do their part” to confront the pandemic or face the wrath of their conscientious peers.
This kind of hype and the subsequent reaction to it seems to grow worse with each year. Right before the Wuhan virus, there was President Trump’s “historic” impeachment. And before that, there was the death of General Qasem Soleimani and the possibility of World War III. And before that, in no particular order, there was the imminent climate catastrophe, Russian collusion and the Mueller report, the Amazon rainforest burning down, and periodic nuclear threats from North Korea.
People should know better by now, yet they seem to fall for the hype every time—including many conservatives. The promise of the tech age and the ubiquity of smartphones and the internet was that it would arm people with relevant information and rational courses of action. Rather, it has done the opposite—magnifying doubts and fears about everything and everyone.
In most cases, the only thing that information technology has done is cause people to become less tethered to reality. Screens now replace people’s senses, and the algorithms embedded in social media do people’s thinking for them.
As such, most people spend more time in the virtual world and less time in the real one, making them ever more vulnerable to exaggerated doomsday narratives. In particular, this retreat from reality takes a toll on a person’s memory, imagination, and common sense.
Remember swine flu? Or bird flu? Or Ebola? Or Zika? Or SARS? Each of these diseases from the past two decades was arguably worse than the Wuhan virus. In the case of swine flu, more than 1,000 people died from it before Obama declared a state of emergency. Big Tech and the mainstream news will never report this. And yet, for all their distrust of the media, people still seem inclined to believe the pundits and clueless scientists over their own experience.
This then leads to a lack of context. Everything seems new and unprecedented, and therefore unknown and scary—except that this isn’t true. Pandemics have always existed, and there are proven ways to deal with them that don’t involve shutting down the economy and putting everyone under house arrest.
Context Is Crucial
The lack of context leads to a breakdown in imagination, specifically the ability to mentally process the details of a situation. In the case of pandemics and money, people struggle mightily with scale.
When learning about the tiny fraction of people who have died from the Wuhan virus, people envision a barren landscape with corpses lining the streets and soldiers in hazmat suits rounding up hordes of infected people still left. By contrast, when hearing about the trillions of dollars lost or spent in response to the Wuhan virus, people imagine this a small expense, the government equivalent of not dining out on the weekend.
At the time of this writing, the number of deaths from the Wuhan virus is around 30,000 worldwide and just over 2,000 in the United States. This sounds like a large number until one accounts for the 8 billion people who inhabit the globe and the 153,424 people who die each day.
Moreover, the average age of those who die from Wuhan virus is 77 and mainly poses life-threatening risks to those over 60 (earning it the nickname “The Boomer Remover”) or those who suffer from other health problems, which made up 99 percent of the victims in Italy. It is understandable for those who are elderly to fear this disease, as they should fear all diseases, but it makes little sense for everyone else immediately to self-quarantine for a month or more only to still catch the virus right after the quarantine ends.
With people fearing the worst and struggling with math, it is only normal that logic will also fall away. Nothing makes sense. Crowds can lead to the spread of disease, so people congregate at stores to panic buy. Only specific locations (mainly those with large elderly populations like retirement homes and churches) have experienced fatal outbreaks of the Wuhan virus. Yet every place is closed, including schools, amusement parks, restaurants, and bars. Only certain people are at risk of having the Wuhan virus, so everyone and their pet should be tested for it. The abandoned shops and ongoing panic may encourage looting, so cities should release their prisoners and stop arresting vandals. And of course, the Wuhan virus originated in the Wuhan province of China, so it’s racist to refer to this fact.
No Mere Inconvenience
For those insisting ad nauseam that they are taking the virus very seriously, this is not serious. This is panic. This is a “South Park” episode. People are losing their minds because of the media, and the media is losing its collective mind because of the people taking them half-seriously, and politicians and organization leaders are under huge pressure to do something, the more expensive the better.
Further, for those who claim that enduring inconveniences for the sake of saving lives is worth it, the current lockdown is not a mere inconvenience. It is a profound disruption that has already uprooted many people’s lives. Small businesses are closing; people are losing jobs or seeing their hours cut, schools everywhere are canceled for the next month; universities have let out two months early; countless employees need to work from home while watching their children; hospitals are overrun; families are rationing necessities; and churches won’t even be able to hold services for Easter. A nationwide shutdown to wait out the virus is simply not worth all of this.
We can hope people will come to their senses, come out of their houses, and begin to talk over the preppers perpetuating worst-case scenarios on social media. People already spend enough time hovering over their screens, mistaking media gaslighting for reality; they don’t need to compound this problem with a needless self-quarantine. Americans could use a little less “Netflix and chill,” not more.