There’s a virus going around. I can safely assume you’ve heard of it already, because you’re reading this post and thus have access to at least some media. (Even if you avoid the news, disease mentions have thoroughly infiltrated commercials and have started to crop up in songs.)
The disease is made more annoying by the fact that we know so little about it and how best to deal with it.
We have only a vague idea of how many people it has killed so far, for instance – you’d think that would be a solid statistic, but various governments have been accused of over-reporting and under-reporting virus deaths for various short-sighted and unsavory reasons. We can be pretty sure it isn’t zero, though. (When this argument plays out on social media, repeatedly, someone usually cites some viral hotspot where the number of deaths from all causes has gone up.)
And that’s more than we know about how deadly it is, AKA how likely you are to die if you have it. It’s hard to divide X by Y if you don’t know what Y is, and since most people haven’t been tested and many people couldn’t be tested if they wanted to, we have no way of knowing how many people have caught it.
This hasn’t stopped people from guessing, though, based on some tentative-at-best local or regional data set. According to them, the virus is fatal 1% of the time, give or take an order of magnitude.
We shouldn’t worry, though. We don’t know much about the virus yet, but we know just what to do about it. Just ask any politician.
- We need an all-hands-on-deck societal response to this global emergency! (“This is a merely regional problem” and “worrying about the virus is just anti-Chinese racism” are no longer operative.)
- We need social distancing! Stay six feet apart, everybody! (“Three feet” is no longer operative, and “12 feet” and “universal house arrest” are being reserved for possible later use.)
- We should all be wearing masks! (“We shouldn’t bother wearing masks” and “save the supply of masks for hospital staff” are no longer operative.)
These vary from place to place. My local technocrats, for instance, have settled on “six feet,” banning “non-essential” employment (here, have a depression to go with the pandemic!), strongly discouraging “non-essential” travel and in-person socializing, occupancy limits on those businesses that are still open (enforced by threatening to pull business licenses), and a mask mandate with (as I write this) no enforcement mechanism beyond the panic reflexes of “essential” business owners.
Other jurisdictions have banned international travel, interstate travel, and/or any travel outside the home (I’ve seen anecdotes about people being beaten for daring to go buy food). There have been price controls, curfews (because the virus is only contagious at night?), roadblocks, governments stealing shipments of face masks from each other…
It all makes for good newsfeed drama. “When will our rulers reopen the economy?” “Is so-and-so overreacting in ineffective ways?” “Is whatsisface endangering lives by pandering to doorknob-licking populists?” And the talking points change every few days…
Speaking of talking points, the populists are the technocrats’ main opposition, but they aren’t exactly doing well:
- “Blame China!” (Maybe, maybe not. And how is it relevant to our response, anyway?)
- “The virus is weak! It’s all exaggerated!” (I mentioned “deaths from all causes” already.)
- “FREEDOM!!!!!” (That’s a worthwhile goal, not a magical mantra.)
The only one the populists are getting any traction with is pointing out the mind-boggling number of times the technocracy in general and the World Health Organization in particular have changed their talking points.
So for now, the technocracy is winning. My local technocrats, for instance, get to “close” and “reopen” parts of society based on evidence we’re expected to presume they have, enact new sartorial and movement-restriction laws by executive edict, and no one without technocratic credentials is allowed to question them (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen “are you an epidemiologist?” and similar sneering dismissals thrown around on Twitter).
So much for politics. I didn’t expect much from them, anyway. How has the business sector been handling the emergency?
Some of them have tried to profit off the initial waves of panic. Some of them tried to finagle “essential” status for themselves, however spuriously. Some of them have lobbied the technocrats for permission to “reopen” their part of the economy. Some of them have probably lobbied to keep their competitors closed longer, and we just haven’t heard about it yet.
In general, the business sector has been self-interestedly backing the populists, hoping for permission to revert to the status quo ante, unless they think they have a chance to profit from the pandemic. Meanwhile, they’re trying to portray themselves as the voices of community solidarity, hoping that we’ll all “stand together” for the duration of a commercial…
So the pillars of society are mostly rotten and/or on fire. The inhabitants, though – how are ordinary people coping with all this?
“That woman was talking about hazard pay and the virus and buying a pack of cigarettes. I just find that ironic.” (small chuckle)
– a customer at work, about another customer
That was a mild example of wannabe technocracy (“why isn’t she letting her betters make all her health-care and lifestyle decisions?”). More extreme examples include people who call the cops when they see someone walking or exercising outdoors. Or the douche who roamed across four states buying all the hand sanitizer he could find, hoping to resell it at nosebleed prices later and profit off the scarcity he helped create. Or the asshole who shot a store employee over that store’s mask policy.
And in general, people are more stressed and more suspicious of each other…
And let’s not forget: there’s still a virus, and it’s not going anywhere.
The technocrats’ methods are too little, too late, when they aren’t outright security theater. If they wanted to make a difference with mask mandates, for instance, they would have issued the mandate a couple months earlier; as it is, it just gives them something else to control, compensating them for the possibility that they may have to let parts of the economy reopen sooner than they’d like (because the longer they maintain the lockdowns, the more likely they are to be blamed for deaths caused by poverty).
Businesses have done a few useful things, like ramping up production of hand sanitizer – though the issue of whether hand sanitizer is worth using has been surprisingly complicated – and a couple of them are starting to research a vaccine, but mostly they’ve been selling security-theater props.
The scientific community, the part of it that isn’t supplying the technocrats with fresh talking points, is also reportedly working on a vaccine… which is years, if not decades, away.
The media is gleefully helping every malefactor it can, whether it’s fearmongering or drama-amplifying or advertising. Special dishonorable mention goes to the pundit industry, which has produced a stream of drivel about how “the new normal” must include their pet cause or preferred lifestyle.
I try to look past all this self-serving noise, and I don’t see much hope. In the pandemic’s early days, a few people acknowledged that – for instance, the idea behind “flattening the curve” (before it became another mantra) wasn’t to keep us all from getting sick but to keep us all form getting sick at once and having to draw straws for access to medical equipment.
What I’m left to hope for is that maybe I already got the virus, didn’t have any symptoms, and am no longer contagious.
If I haven’t had it yet, I will. Most if not all of us will. And some of us won’t survive.