Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

People don’t like Freedom. We talk like we do, and sometimes LARP it by going for a Walk in the Woods, but the moment a deadly virus shows up, it all goes out the window. People are scared and demand that the government Do Something.

Massive lockdowns? Check. Invasive checkpoint searches? Of course. Ministry of Truth to keep people apprised of the situation? Yes please!

Facebook has taken the initiative to remove misleading hashtags about the virus outbreak. Google will boost “reliable” search results related to public health. Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok are all working to “deprioritize” misinformation. Ordinarily we’d complain about such heavy-handed censorship, but this is an Emergency.

Once the emergency’s over, we’ll do a post-mortem. Create a new bureaucracy to figure out how we can be better prepared for the next pandemic. Maybe put out a color-coded chart to tell the public how scared we should be.

The coronavirus may or may not be a Really Big Deal, but it’s nothing if not convenient. Every powerful government knows that if a population starts feeling too plucky and independent, all it takes is a healthy dose of Fear to get everyone cowering in submission. Look, those Hong Kong protesters finally went home.

Hospital construction has been turned into a new reality TV show. Security theater, but literally.

Sometimes I worry about Bitcoin and Self-Sovereign Individualism. A scared populace is a docile populace, and people are awfully easy to scare. During the Panic of 1907, JP Morgan called up all the newspaper editors and told them to run burglary stories as often as possible, to scare people into leaving their money in the banks. It worked. When it comes to Freedom versus national security, security always wins.

See Also: US Department of Fear

11 thoughts on “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

  1. Complete quote:

    “Well, first of all, every American’s heart has to go out to the victims of the coronavirus,” the Commerce Secretary told Fox Business News on Thursday. “So, I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease. But the fact is, it does give businesses yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain.” He added that the virus would “help accelerate the return of jobs” to North America.

    1. It was a Voxplainer :b I’m surprised they didn’t add a line saying we should keep our borders open to make sure there are plenty of immigrants to take all those jobs that will be returning to North America.

  2. Actually, stop and think a minute. China is still an authoritarian state that puts citizens in prison for stuff they said on twitter while out of the country. They have life and death powers over their citizens, vast censorship, the Great Firewall of China, prison camps for Uighurs, harrasment for real catholics, (let’s see where did I put that Yul Brynner clone) “et cetera, et cetera…” You can’t even post Winnie the Pooh jokes because it might be referential to Premier Xi…


    They’re still getting hit, and reportedly hit heavily, by a virus normally carried by bats. (According to the latest story).

    They have all the authority anyone could ask for. The Party has more life and death powers over people than most other equivalent organizations in other countries.

    And it didn’t help.

    Massively powerful governments aren’t good at dealing with these situations because power winds up gravitating to the sorts of people and structures that aren’t good at dealing with these sorts of crises.

    At least that’s the argument I plan on making, if the Kung Flu doesn’t kill me.

    1. Should the government deal with it at all? Even in the case of particularly virulent winter flu (eg 2013, which killed 56,000 ppl in the US), USG didn’t take any proactive measures. Basically advise people to wash their hands, cover their coughs, and let eugenics run its course.

  3. My dad died during that time frame, but I think he must have skipped the viral part and gone straight to pneumonia. If we could have gotten him to go to the hospital earlier we’d probably know more.

    Hopefully the very recent news that some antiviral drugs are particularly helpful against this thing will keep it from becoming a real catastrophe.

    1. I am very sorry to hear about your dad. There were a couple other times (1957, 1968) when the seasonal flu was virulent enough to kill over 100,000 Americans, and over a million worldwide. If any of these cases were covered in real time like we’re covering the coronavirus, everyone would have freaked out.

      If China is accurately reporting fatalities (813 at the moment), then it looks like authoritarianism has sure saved a lot of lives. Even if China is underreporting by 10x or 100x, that’s still better than it otherwise might have been.

      1. It’s OK about Dad, don’t worry about it. I only brought him up to illustrate that the official line between death-by-virus and death-by-secondary infection is kind of blurry.

        At some point about three weeks ago I think someone in power panicked, and I don’t know if it helped or hurt. I suspect a little of the latter, BUT the information coming out of the area is very incomplete. I guess we’ll know more about what’s happening now in about a month.

        In the meantime I am beginning to think the html link format needs a “probability of truth” field as well as the url.

  4. Hi Elaine –
    Saw your reply on Twitter about avoiding hospitals wondering if you have anything more to share. Thanks!

    1. First aid kit: assorted wound dressings, stethoscope, pulse oximeter, antibiotics, painkillers

      N95 masks, surgical masks, toilet paper (everyone else seems to be stockpiling them, so maybe they’ll be good for barter)

      Considering buying an oxygen concentrator just in case I get pneumonia…. kinda expensive though.

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