How Did Everything Get So Weird?

In January a friend messaged me and asked me if I’d heard there was a new virus in China. Since we’ve had a new virus about every two years that, so far as I can tell, did not affect my life in any way whatsoever, my instant reaction was that it was a load of old clickbait bullshit that the drug companies would magically have a vaccine for almost as soon as we first heard about it. Indeed, I seem to remember this happened with the Swine Flu outbreak, which I believe both myself and brother contracted and which turned out to be little more than three days of the sweats.

I felt sure news of this new virus was little more than hysteria, but I went looking at the Coronavirus hashtag on Twitter anyway. Among the videos I saw were large trucks fumigating streets in China, people who were suspected of being sick who were barricaded into apartments, and body bags piling up in hospitals. One commenter said he felt sure the video of the trucks spraying the streets was from a few years ago when the Olympics was on and they were trying to counteract smog, and this sounded reasonable. I saw videos of people collapsing in the streets, of being arrested for not wearing face masks, of people being forced into vehicles by men in full outbreak gear. But I doubted all of it. The internet is full of people putting up so much disinformation that I think we all view everything with suspicion nowadays. In fact, even once reputable media outlets have slipped into the habit of sensationalism, likely due to the click dependent revenue that internet sites are desperate to grab a slice of, and so many people do not trust them either. Statistics here put Ireland’s trust in the media at only 48%. Indeed, it’s hard to trust anything that’s driven by advertising revenue as such media is essentially controlled by its sponsors and so even those claiming to be “Independent Media” are really being dishonest because, while they might be independent of state funding, they are not independent of funding and so there are limits placed on them by those that provide advertising revenue. The old adage “He who pays the piper commands the tune” springs to mind. But I digress.

My point is only that people’s trust in every source of media is generally so low that when news spreads of a new killer virus many of us, including me, are inclined not to believe it. As I recall there has been around 10 different killer viruses in the past 20 years alone and none of them, in spite of alarming media headlines, had any effect on my life whatsoever, and so I, like many, thought that the Coronavirus was more of the same old “Fake News” that Donald Trump is always banging on about.

As news of the Coronavirus heightened, the number of conspiracy theories escalated. Now, I am quite partial to a good conspiracy theory myself, they’re often quite interesting, and often contain a certain degree of truth – but so too does every form of madness. But while I enjoy conspiracy theories and am open to the possibility of them being true, the nature of them is such that one can never really know if they are true or not as they are impossible to prove in any meaningful way. However, they tend to connect dots in such a way that makes them seem plausible.

Many people on Twitter were of the opinion that the virus was created in a lab in Wuhan and is a biological weapon designed to bring about the New World Order. “Isn’t it funny,” many said, “how this virus is bringing about all the demands of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion”. Another theory going around widely was that the virus would be used to bring in Martial Law, which, in case you don’t know, is a situation where the populous is controlled by military force. One of the more interesting ones was that it would be used to instigate a cashless society which is what “they” wanted all along. Now, I didn’t quite get this last one, but the idea is that if we live in a cashless society then the state has absolute control over our lives. My first reaction to this theory was that a cashless society would be no harm unless you were a coke dealer, or something like that, as there would be a clear record of your transactions and so criminality would be a lot more difficult.

So, with early videos from China seemingly showing that a deadly virus was sweeping the lands, and fascinating conspiracy theories cropping up like mushrooms, I found myself quite entertained in the manner of someone reading a fictitious detective novel or someone playing Cluedo. “He killed him in the kitchen with Coronavirus,” I mused. But then, a week and a half ago, everything got weird.

“We’ve just gone into lockdown,” a friend messaged me.

“What?” I promptly replied.

“Dude, turn on the news,” he said.

Since I was about to go shopping I decided I’d listen to the radio en route to the supermarket and sure enough it was announced that all the schools and universities were being shut.

I arrived at Dunnes and there were people grabbing trolleys and walking at a hurried pace. There was an anxious electricity in the air. Grabbing a few steaks, some olive oil, and some butter, I had my shop done in the space of about 5 minutes. And by the time I was being served at the till there were massive queues behind me. People had trolleys bursting with excessive amounts of soap, bleach, bread, tinned food, and everything else to the point that it was obvious the shop would have nothing left in an hour or two. It was like a nuclear war had just been announced and everyone was hurrying to the shops to get supplies for a year long stay in their underground bunker. Wild.

Shortly thereafter I went to pick up my little fella from school. He came out and said, “Oh, man, I got a buttload of homework” but was quite cheerful about the prospect of unexpectedly having a couple of extra weeks off of school.

On the drive home from school I spotted no less than three ambulances whizzing around, sirens blaring. I also saw several instances where cars very nearly collided with each other. Within one hour it was like everyone in the whole town had descended into a panicked frenzy the likes of which might be comparable to adding a few gallons of LSD to the water supply.

***

Well, it’s been ten days since everything went a bit crazy. Myself and my son have done more gaming than either of us has ever done in a week in our entire lives, and it’s been quite enjoyable. Personally, I feel kind of guilty about gaming at any time of the year other than at Christmas, and so it’s been nice to have some guilt free fun.

I’ve been enjoying lots of great memes and videos on social media. I’ve laughed a lot. But now I am getting a bit bored of the whole thing. I had two marathons booked this year and was going to do a few sociable ones as well, but they have all, bar Dublin marathon, been cancelled or postponed.

I have developed a new hobby of checking the death rates around the world on worldometers.com and it really is quite alarming to see the numbers rise in each of the countries, particularly Italy which took only a month from the first diagnoses to get to the terrible situation it now finds itself in.

My brother, having just finished a stint as an entertainer on a cruise ship, went to Manchester to start a career and has found himself without a job before he even started on account of school closures.

Many are anxious about their elderly relatives catching the virus and kids are separated from their grandparents, and even their parents in some instances, which is a difficult situation for all concerned.

People cross over to the other side of the road to avoid each other as anyone and everyone could be a source of infection.

Outrage is spewing out all over social media towards people who refuse to observe social distancing and are congregating in large numbers in public spaces.

Uncertainty is widespread and many are anxious that we are facing the biggest economic crisis that has been faced in the lifetimes of anyone alive today. I am no economist, but the general feeling is that many businesses will close their doors and never open them again.

Many criticise people for not observing the lockdown while others see it as a futile exercise that will not stop the spread of the virus, and will only, at best, stagger its transmission. Since it is literally only two months from the first people diagnosed to being a pandemic, it is doubtless impossible to stop, since all that’s needed is one single person to have the infection, and so even if a whole county is locked down for weeks then one infected person coming in from another country will start the whole cycle off again. And so what do you do? Shut down airports permanently and quarantine everyone who comes for two weeks?

Many say that this virus will change the world forever, and it’s hard to see how it could be otherwise. The widespread air travel of people around the world has meant that the possibility of such a pandemic has been looming for quite some time. 24 hours is all it takes for a disease to get from one side of the world to the other. It shouldn’t really be a surprise that we find ourselves at this juncture. Rather, it should perhaps be a surprise that it took us so long to get here.

As I write this I am filled with uncertainty about the future, but then isn’t everybody uncertain about everything all the time anyway? Life is about how much you can suffer and still keep going. A positive disposition is a bonus. I’m still quite bewildered about the whole thing and still can’t quite get my head around how everything got so weird so quickly.

 ***

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