The media are bursting with reports of disorder, like cells unleashing ripe viral particles. It’s as if the emperor’s clothes dissolved overnight—at least in the eyes of elite bloggers and reporters who thought till now that half-dressed sounded better than half-naked.
Foremost are big-media reports that “a shadowy group” of antivaxers (whose name the government doesn’t even want to disclose!) has threatened to unleash a doomsday denial of service attack on the Internet unless the world’s governing bodies agree to answer a very long list of questions about H5N1 vaccine research and development. If this is true, could a group of techies break the Web?
Skip the somber expressions and corporate blather on TV and watch this lively discussion of how a catastrophic Windows blowout, a denial-of-service attack on the DNS system, or even general failure by a key ISP could impose a global blackout on all human systems. In theory, nothing might work after such a collapse—not even telephones. Unless our leaders can rehabilitate the carrier pigeon, they might have to meet up in person to begin talking about how to restore the Web. How would their flights even take off and land without the Internet? (Don’t miss the ending, in which three visionaries try to keep straight faces while they try to imagine that the American Internet Czar saves the day.)
Until a digital cataclysm takes place, we‘ll all just surf a tsunami of stories about crime. Heroic accounts of medical workers and bureaucrats scrapping to keep us alive have been replaced by yarns about opportunistic criminals, smugglers, black marketeers, thrill killers, and especially that Oklahoma mother who advertised on Craigslist for someone to infect her children because she thought God wanted them more than her husband did. Suddenly people are the problem, not some virus.
Mayors and governors are issuing shoot to kill orders. San Francisco ordered that its citizens be gunned down after the Earthquake of 1906 (which real estate promoters quickly rebranded as “the Great Fire”). During a smallpox outbreak six years earlier, San Francisco authorities moved to quarantine only Chinese people. They forced Chinese-American travelers to undergo an experimental vaccine.
But why are grim tales replacing promises of aid and vaccine distribution? Is it because no one wants to read about things that never happen? Few believe the government’s claims and promises these days.
Fear is the ticket. Immigrant bashing is Page One. (Make that home page.) I’m less scared of desperate foreigners than I am of American citizens who work so hard to make aliens sound worse than H5N1.
Souls on Trial
The state is reacting to stress like a bad immune system, breaking out in hysteria and hives instead of solving problems. We get mobilizations, rules, uniforms, complaints about enemies near and far. People become uneasy. This is what Germany must have been like in the 1930s.
I wish Tom Paine were here. This great revolutionary—who gave our country its very name—began The American Crisis with the chilling line: “These are the times that try men's souls.” He went on to argue that “panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before.”
God, I hope he’s right. An uh, esteemed Congresswoman from New Jersey just condemned me as one of 10 “extremist antivaxers” on her shortlist of Americans who ought to be silenced. This rabid Stalinist robot disguised as a conservative compared me to that loutish character Alan Krumwiede, from the movie Contagion. She didn’t even read what I said about H5N1 and vaccines. Antivaxers who sent me angry emails at that time will recall my saying that I looked forward to a vaccine. You might want to forward her a friendly copy of your irate email. Better yet, call her up and read it aloud. She may need the help.
I’ve heard from Nina’s friend from Tennessee. It turns out that she was laid off months ago, so my plea for help was sitting in the bank’s voicemail system until a friend who hadn’t been purged hacked her accumulated messages as a favor. Evidently everyone at the bank was so stressed and scared by the pandemic (plus cascading market crashes and layoffs) that no one noticed Nina was breaking down until her paranoia erupted at work. She accused her boss of poisoning the weekly cupcake harvest.
After 46 minutes of her wild talk, the bank escorted Nina out of the building. (It dumped the rest of her group two weeks later, keeping only the sweet-toothed boss.) Nina has since called her friend twice, saying very little from an untraceable phone. I’m told she doesn’t sound better but hasn’t gotten worse. She’s said to be “certain about all the wrong things.” It’s horrible and sad.