Suppose that for some reason – let us say that you are looking to graduate with a degree in Mad Science from Evil Genius University and are required to demonstrate that you can practically apply what you have learned in theory - you wanted to create a shortage of essential goods during a crisis. How would you go about doing so?
The simplest way by far would be to get people to panic over the very shortage you wish to create. Start spreading the word that due to the crisis we are facing an impending economic shutdown and that everybody should grab as much as they can while they still can to prepare for the days ahead. The word would spread like wildfire through the masses, who, despite any number of sober, sane voices warning them to keep calm and behaver rationally, can be relied upon to do their part by rushing to the markets, hording everything in sight, and creating the very shortages you have warned them about.
Bada bing, bada boom. You are now able to pick up your degree, rub your hands, cackle maniacally and say “Fools! I’ll destroy them all!” Although you might wish to express that infamous sentiment in the perfect tense.
That the masses can be depended upon to do their part in the above, not so hypothetical, scenario is due to one of the quirks of fallen human nature, the one we normally think of in terms of crowd psychology or, if we wish to use a more pejorative expression, mob mentality. People, when they act together as a crowd, mob or mass, do not act in an informed, rational manner, regardless of how educated or intelligent they may be individually. Every demagogue, that is to say, every would-be tyrant hoping to be swept into power on a wave of popular support, knows this to be true, and seeks to capitalize on it.
There is a saying of Edmund Burke’s that Russell Kirk was fond of quoting that could be taken as a contradiction of this if misunderstood. The saying was “The individual is foolish; but the species is wise.” By “the species”, Burke meant the human race considered collectively, not just at a moment in time, as in the phenomenon of the masses, but over the course of generations. His point, which is a very true one, is that the judgement of such a collective as it has come down to us in folkways and mores, habits and customs, tradition and prescription, is far more trustworthy than the judgement of any individual. It is helpful to consider Burke’s original statement, in its original, unabridged, albeit less pithy, form:
The individual is foolish; the multitude, for the moment is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and, when time is given to it, as a species it always acts right. (bold added by myself for emphasis)
What, one hundred, two hundred, or five hundred years down the road, will be the judgement of the species, upon us who are alive today, for how we have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
If you have not already figured it out from the question asked in the title of this essay, a paraphrase of Our Lord’s biting judgement on the generation that saw His earthly ministry and rejected Him, I suspect it will not be a favourable one.
Those who will receive the least condemnation from this assize, that of the collective judgement of the human race over the course of human history, will be those who are receiving the largest share of the blame at the moment, namely the hording masses, who have descended like a swarm of locusts upon the shelves that once contained toilet paper, medication, canned goods, and other emergency supplies. It is not in the nature of crowds to behave in an informed, rational, manner, and so they can neither be expected to do so nor held accountable when they fail to do so.
Far greater condemnation will fall upon those who generated the panic in the first place, namely the mainstream media. Ever since they learned, in December of last year, that a new strain of coronavirus was behind an outbreak of respiratory disease in Wuhan and the surrounding region in China, they have bombarded the public with non-stop coverage of the disease, irresponsibly focusing on the unknown rather than what is known – namely, that the majority of people who are infected with this virus experience only mild symptoms similar to a cold or the flu and that those most at risk for experiencing the disease at its worst – severe difficulty in breathing, organ failure, intense pain and death – are the same demographic most at risk of dying from seasonal influenza or, for that matter, any other infectious disease, those over the age of 65, those who have pre-existing medical problems, and most especially those who fall into both categories. The mortality rate for this virus appears to be about ten times higher than for regular strains of the flu but this does not mean that everybody is ten times more likely to die from it than from the flu. Those who belong to the at-risk demographics are more likely to die from this virus than they are from the flu but this does not mean that this is true of everybody else. It also does not mean that those in the at-risk demographics are more likely to die than they are to survive. Even for those in the most-at-risk demographic, the survival rate is still much, much higher than the mortality rate. For people under fifty, the mortality rate is below the one percent that represents the ten times worse than the flu figure. Eighty percent of fatalities have been among people sixty or older, and over ninety percent of fatalities have had other, complicating, medical conditions. Note, that since most who contract the virus experience mild symptoms and many experience no symptoms at all, the total number of people who have been infected is much higher and consequently the true mortality rate much lower, than what is reflected in the official statistics.
These are the sort of things – the facts, what we do know – that the media should have been emphasizing, especially the fact that the vast majority of those who contract this virus experience nothing worse than the average cold or flu. Instead they focused on what we do not know and so, when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, they generated a panic. .
The worst condemnation will be reserved for those who are most responsible for behaving in a calm, rational, manner, those who have a duty to set an example for the masses and provide them with leadership, rather than following them into an irrational panic or, worse, exploiting that panic for their own ends. Here I refer to our civil and ecclesiastical leaders.
With regards to our ecclesiastical leadership, allow me to remind them that Our Lord calls us to walk by faith not by fear – except the “fear of God” which is something entirely different from the kind of worldly paranoia we see on display in those Churches that are shutting their doors. Advising those most at risk to stay home is one thing. Cancelling all services in entire dioceses is another thing altogether. There are plenty of other ways to reduce the risk for those attending public worship. I refer you to the recent article “Keep The Churches Open” by R. R. Reno, editor of First Things, for an excellent discussion of this matter. I refer you to A. N. Bethune’s Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan, the first Bishop of Toronto, in particular the account of his heroic efforts during the choleric outbreaks of the 1830s for an example of what walking by faith rather than fear in a time of plague looks like.
As for our civil leaders, there are no words strong enough to express my contempt for their exploiting this mass panic to impose what is essentially Communism on us. Here is what a rational response to this pandemic would have been:
A) Quarantine all that we know to be infected for the duration of the period in which they are contagious.
B) Quarantine all who are at special risk.
C) Quarantine anyone coming into the country for two weeks.
D) Advise everybody to take the same special precautions that they are normally advised to do during flu season. Make an extra effort to impress upon people the importance of this. Recommend frequent handwashing, sunlight, fresh air, Vitamins C and D and the like.
E) Otherwise let everybody continue their normal affairs.
The preceding is what a government truly concerned about the health and welfare of the country they are supposed to be leading would do. Instead, they are exploiting the situation to gain a totalitarian level of control over our countries.
Do some research about what life was like in the Soviet Union prior to perestroika, glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall. You needed the state’s permission to go anywhere. Large meetings, other than the events organized by the Communist Party that you were required to attend, were forbidden. There were shortages of essential goods. You had to wait in line for hours to get a loaf of bread. The state promised everything to everybody but failed to deliver. Churches were closed. Any form of social organization that was not under the control of the omnipotent state was actively discouraged. Friends, neighbours and family members were encouraged to spy on each other and report if the rules were being broken.
Does any of this sound familiar?
The SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease COVID-19, has come and it will go. Will we ever regain the precious freedoms that we are sacrificing in order to fight it? It took seventy years before the Soviet regime loosened its iron grip on the Russian nation and empire.
I do not wish to create a different sort of paranoia. Perhaps, and let us all hope and pray that it turns out this way, the “curve” will be “flattened” as appears to have happened in South Korea and as the Chinese, who are probably lying, say has happened in their Communist hell-hole which begat the whole problem in the first place, and within weeks – a couple of months at the most – the government will loosen its draconian controls, and we can return to some semblance of normalcy. Let us hope that the “months” that Prime Minister Trudeau has been talking about mean “two at the most” and not the “eighteen” as some have been recommending. Let us hope that this is not the beginning of forcing us to live this way on a permanent basis, as is desired by the climate change alarmist lunatics. Let us hope that nobody listens to those bat soup crazy individuals who are already claiming that the government is not being draconian enough.
If however, the aforementioned desired outcome does not occur and we end up living under this kind of totalitarian control for the long haul, past generations looking upon us from beyond shall condemn us for having thrown away the heritage of freedom they bequeathed to us, and future generations shall condemn us for leaving to them nothing but a heritage of Communist slavery.
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