I feel compelled to write about the coronavirus, even though it is not the sort of topic I would normally include in my blog posts. I left the US for my annual two-month stay in SE Asia on February 6. The virus already existed but seemed to be contained to mainland China. Because Americans can be rather paranoid about these things, I was already fielding concerned emails from family and friends. I wrote back, thanking each for their concern, but asserting that all was well and I would be careful. Then I left. (It is important to note for those who don’t know me well, that this trip is not ‘just for fun’, although I love every minute of it. It isn’t a holiday – far from it. I go to SE Asia for two months each winter to meet with my team and help push our NGO, Writing Through, forward into the new year. )
At the end of the 16 hour flight from New York to Hong Kong I was handed a mask by a stewardess who said that I might want to wear it while transiting through the airport, although it wasn’t mandatory or even, probably, necessary. I wore it in the airport, more for the photo op than anything else. Once I boarded my next flight, which was only a third full, I took the mask off and haven’t worn one since.
Since then, the virus has spread. More cases are reported every day. Cambodia, where I am staying, has just accepted a ship-load of tourists as a ‘humanitarian effort’ and we now hear that one of those passengers has landed in Malaysia with the virus, while most of the rest have traveled to other places of the world or remained in Cambodia for an extended holiday. Am I concerned? Not terribly. Am I wearing a mask? No. Nor is anyone else in the cafe where I am eating lunch and writing this now.
This virus is not making me think about global health issues, nor is it making me worry about my own mortality (I can do that quite easily on my own without a threatening pandemic). Instead, I am thinking about mass hysteria. To me, the newly named CorVid 19 seems like a viral representation of a tendency towards mass hysteria which I have been seeing in all too many spheres lately:
* Immigration – ‘They’ are crossing our borders, taking our jobs and bringing their crime! *Democracy – Our systems of government are under threat and totalitarianism is closing in! *Our planet – it is dying and we are doing nothing to stop it!
There is much to be worried about in our world now, for sure. The coronavirus is definitely one of them. We must take care of our health, of our values, of our freedoms, of our planet and our fellow men, women and children. But if there is anything truly worth a mass hysteria now it is, to my mind, a pernicious ignoring of facts. What is true? What is not? Who do you believe and who do you trust? In a world where facts are meaningless and truth can be whatever is convenient to whoever speaks the loudest, we stop being able to differentiate between what is real and what is not. The death of truth is a virus I am more concerned about — and there is no flimsy mask to be worn against that. `