This was written April 4, 2020. I post it in full: judge for yourself how it has aged.
The Comeback of Ancient Superstition and Self-Flagellation
In the ancient world, people dealt with the unknown future by bribing the gods, offering up children and animals and crops in order to purchase a better outcome. In other words, they pre-emptively accepted punishment in order to limit the total damage. It sounds crazy and irrational, of course. But I think we are seeing precisely the same thing right now.
I see people in my community, city, and across the world telling themselves and everyone else that what is needed most of all is self-sacrifice. The more we isolate, the more we become impoverished, the more we suffer and endure, the better the outcome will be. The bogeyman Corona will spare those who suffer the most.
To me, this is human nature reasserting itself after all these years. We make fun of ancient peoples, sacrificing virgins and goats and undergoing needless suffering just to appease the gods. But they were dealing with the unknown – and we have the very same fear right now. Whatever Corona may or may not be, the most repeated – and terrifying – phrase is “we don’t know.” Indeed, even when we do know things, people insist on remaining in the dark: it makes the wallowing that much sweeter.
So we find ourselves in a situation very much like the Ancient Greeks: by all means claim that we are enlightened and logical and rational – but don’t forget to pay off the gods. Find ways to suffer, so that they do not strike us down.
To me, this helps explain why people are spending comparatively little energy focused on solutions, like treatments and mass testing and getting to Herd Immunity. Instead, we have a collective that is wallowing deep within the morass of our own misery and fear. In the streets I see people who are deeply afraid to show happiness or joy; any who stand out from the collective are inviting the Evil Eye, virtually begging to become struck by The Bug.
Indeed, the entire saga has become a massive opportunity for social shaming. I think at a primitive level, most people think they deserve the misery. Freedoms? Pshaw! Never in the history of America has the citizenry been more happy to accept a dictatorial government. We have it coming. The gods must be appeased. We must suffer, as enduring the suffering is our great test.
Perhaps if we are able to recognize the deeply irrational responses to Corona for what they are, then we can lift ourselves out of a self-inflicted situation. We are in the midst of a crisis of confidence, but it is more than that: The Corona Panic is rapidly becoming the case study in how people, faced with happiness and hope and prosperity, instead choose to give into their fears and, like a superstitious primitive tribe living in the shadow of the Volcano God, seek a safe and oppressed misery by suffering for the sake of not incurring the god’s wrath.
If we do not put a stop to this madness and soon, then we are threatening the future of our civilization. Thousands of years may have passed, but mankind is still haunted by the very same fears and superstitions that have always been with us.
In order to survive and prosper, we must deflect those fears and turn them into positive actions and outcomes.