I realised this morning that coronavirus alarmism is retracing the footsteps of carbon dioxide alarmism and tobacco smoke alarmism, and retracing them very precisely.
Can coronavirus go through walls? Can coronavirus rise five storeys and enter through a window? Can coronavirus adhere to walls, and slowly seep out over centuries? All these questions were asked about tobacco smoke.
From whence have these new terrors arisen? And one answer is that carbon dioxide and tobacco smoke particles and viruses are all very, very small. They are too small to see. And we increasingly inhabit a world that is full of these tiny, invisible particles. The particles with which nuclear physicists concern themselves – protons, neutrons, electrons, and mu mesons – are even smaller.
And the result is that we are now all living in a phantom world, surrounded by powerful but invisible entities. We may as well be terrified of ghosts. Can ghosts go through walls? Can ghosts rise five storeys and peer in through windows? Can ghosts linger inside houses for centuries? Why yes, of course they can.
It’s not that the Enlightenment dispelled the ghosts that terrified humanity, so much as created completely new ghosts, even more terrifying than the old ghosts. Ours is truly a demon-haunted world. And we are filling it with more and more brand new 21st-Century ghosts. Now even our ideas “go viral”.
Coronavirus is aptly named. A corona is a crown, and so coronavirus is royal virus, a king or queen of viruses. And that also serves to amplify its power. And now we have coronavirus sweeping weaponised out of the east like Genghis Khan.
But all our modern terrors are exaggerated. There’s no harm in tobacco smoke. And there’s no harm in carbon dioxide either. And so, most likely, there’s little harm in coronavirus either. Or no more harm than in any other ‘flu virus. But it’s already been pumped up to be the return of the Spanish ‘flu of 1918. Soon, no doubt, it will rival the Plague or the Black Death.
No doubt coronavirus will kill a few million people. ‘Flu viruses kill millions of people every year. But the real damage that’s going to be done lies not in these deaths, but in the response to them.
In the past few days I’ve read that Mongolia and then North Korea and now Russia have closed their borders with China. And now Americans and Brits and French are being flown home at government expense from China. And Chinese people living almost anywhere in the world are being ostracised and reviled and excluded (just like smokers). The virus has now arrived in Britain, in York, and one York university student said she was “totally freaking out.” And if she was, most likely all the other students were as well. We’re on the brink of mass panic. We’re on the brink of mass global panic.
To their credit, after initially playing up the epidemic, the mainstream media now seem to be playing it down. Top news items in recent days have been Donald Trump impeachment fiasco, and now yet another jihadi stabbing people in London. For a few days the BBC, the Guardian, and the Independent started live-blogging the coronavirus epidemic, and then stopped. But how long will that last? We are now in phase 3.
Phase 1 is complete denial, not a word.
Phase 2 is damage control, massaging the numbers downward.
Phase 3 is “close all the doors, not to worry, nothing to see here, we got this, no you can’t come in, too risky!”
What comes next? A stock market crash as global trade turns down, followed by an economic recession/depression. And after that political instability. In China, many Chinese are getting very angry with the ham-fisted attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to prevent the virus spreading, locking down huge cities, and now it seems even locking people in their own homes. China is already facing a huge political crisis on top of a medical and economic crisis. And, as it exports the coronavirus everywhere else in the world, they’ll be exporting their political crisis as well.
A UK headline I noticed a day or two back:
Officials are trying to trace 480 travellers who arrived in the country nine days ago from Chinese city Wuhan.
How wonderful! We have nearly 500 Wuhan citizens wandering around Britain, and nobody has a clue where they are! Perhaps the BBC could try broadcasting in Mandarin, asking “Where are you?” If any of them turn out to be coronavirus carriers, that’ll cause a storm. And why does anyone visit Britain in January? It’s cold and wet, and more or less everything is closed.
It’s getting interesting.