The Coronavirus hit us like a lightning bolt out of a blue sky. Three and a half months and one world-wide pandemic, economic meltdown, nationwide BLM protests, and anarchy riots later (I live in the Pacific NW) . . . the country kind of feels like an anthill colony that’s just been kicked by a five-year-old boy. And just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, another unidentified virus has struck and struck hard.
We are now discovering that we were recently hit by not one, but two deadly viruses. Reports are still coming in, but we now know that the Coronavirus hit first, and was immediately followed by a second and potentially even more dangerous virus. The second virus goes by the name, Virus X and is believed to target a region of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for affecting behavior on the basis of perceived threats.
While there is still a good deal of mystery surrounding Virus X, experts are reporting that the virus causes individuals to become suspicious and fearful of one another. One notable expert believes that Virus X was responsible for triggering the Salem Witch trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Red Scare of 1950’s America. What is currently known about Virus X is that it is highly contagious (more contagious than Coronavirus) and the symptoms are as follows: fear, self-righteousness, enemy-centered outrage, mistrust and a tendency toward mob justice.
Experts believe Virus X arrived shortly after the Wuhan Coronavirus, and the infection rate has been doubling every 10 days since. Unlike the Coronavirus, Virus X cannot be empirically tested, for the virus is quite literally invisible. Scientists are focusing all their attention on identifying the symptoms associated with infection. When asked about Virus X, Anthony Fauci admits of complete ignorance. And as of this moment, Trump refuses to even acknowledge its existence.
How about CNN, Fox News, or Time magazine? They have been ominously silent regarding the outbreak. One possible reason for media silence regarding Virus X was provided by the WHO which states, “We believe that we have located ground zero of Virus X. It appears to have originated in the production studios of news media outlets.” The statement concludes, “Virus X apparently attaches itself to the images and messages just before they are broadcasted out onto the airwaves. Support for this theory is based on the fact that infection rates appear to be astronomically higher among those who regularly consume news media programming.
Now, in the wake of this second Virus X outbreak, scientists are beginning to share their findings as to how the virus impacts its human host. They now know that this virus penetrates the body through the eyes and the ears. Once the virus enters the body it targets the part of the brain responsible for identifying “friend or foe.” As the virus attacks and stimulates the amygdala, the subject is left feeling increasingly anxious and angry, as well as threatened and fearful.
When you combine the effects of psychological volatility with daily exposure to media narratives, based on an endless series: binary oppositions: left and right, racist and anti-racist, black and white, fascist and anti-fascist, angels, and demons. This binary formulation of “good and evil” is what causes the amygdala region of the brain to inflame. The subject suffering from the effects of an inflamed amygdala, becomes increasingly obsessed with “black and white”, “right and wrong”, “good and evil.”
Virus X ultimately destroys its victim’s sense of security and existential equilibrium and in the late stages of the disease, people infected by Virus X report that they are no longer able to view the world outside of the “good and evil” binary. Other symptoms include an obsession with being “good” as well as a powerful longing to reach and secure the moral high ground over and against “the enemy.” But in order to secure this moral high ground, the infected subject must constantly compare himself to monsters and moral degenerates. This sense of moral superiority in the infected subject is then maintained by “calling out” all “evil doers” and “evil thinkers.”
It is believed that by the end of next week, over 10 billion people will be infected with Virus X. Meanwhile, the effects of the virus on society are already being felt as people are becoming increasingly agitated by the powerful barrage of messages and images arriving in their phones, radios, and television monitors. Gus Williams’ hardware store was recently vandalized by his neighbors who sprayed-painted in big red letters the words,”RACIST!” on his hardware store window (interesting fact, Gus Williams is a 68-year-old black man).
With each new day, evidence continues to point to news media outlets as the epicenter and primary medium of transmission of the virus. With the force of a tsunami wave, through every conceivable form of new media, every hour on the hour, we are being flooded with pedantic and vacuous admonitions: “Don’t be a brutal rapist! Don’t be an evil racist! Don’t be a greedy capitalist!” “Don’t be a Nazi!”. This modern-day inquisition and the fanatical cult of “good and evil” is gathering steam and is threatening to thoroughly decimate what is left of our already broken public discourse. The second wave of Virus X has been unleashed and initial sign are not good. In fact, they are terrifying.
The above report is an allegory, not a fantasy or fiction, but an allegory attempting to describe the indescribable, and critique the unassailable. What is the real name and the actual cause of this social dystopia? You can call it whatever you like. I will call it the primal and all too human instinct to cover one’s ass. I am referring to fanatical moralism and the detestable practice of virtue signaling. I am talking about the baseless authority of those self-appointed “guardians of the good.” And I am talking about our current “medieval justice system” and a culture of “call out” and “cancel.” And I am talking about hyper partisan politics and corruption. We are being divided by our leaders and our corporations whose chief concern is the securing of power and the accumulation of profits.
You may feel tempted to join the infected mob in their blind pursuit of immunity (immunization) on top of Mt. Moral High Ground, but you need to resist. For, it turns out that the more we attempt to claim the ethical and moral high ground for ourselves, the faster the ground erodes beneath our feet. To quote Yeats, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
In the face of this societal and existential crisis, we now have good reason to believe that just like our Milky Way Galaxy, at the centre of our society is a voracious and nihilistic black hole. What will it take for us to repent of our self-righteous, enemy-centered schemes? In the midst of this death valley wasteland, a voice in the wilderness is crying out. “‘Absolutely futile!’ laments Qoheleth, ‘All things are futile'” (Ecc.12:8)? Is this the voice of wisdom or madness and despair? Are you tired of being afraid; tired of feeling threatened? It is for fear of being crazy that we are going insane. So, what do you have to lose? It is “red pill” time! “For you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Who among us can openly admit to losing heart with this “new normal?” Who lacks the perseverance to unflinchingly discharge her duties day in and out in this surreal Twilight Zone episode? Now, we read in Lamentations (what a title!) that the mercies of the Lord are “new every morning.” But the writer of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, has a less optimistic take on things:
“So I considered those who are dead and gone more fortunate than those who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has not been born and has not seen the evil things that are done on the earth” (Eccl.4:2).
In stark contrast to the book of Proverbs, which teaches that there are basic principles governing all of life, the book of Ecclesiastes calls “bullshit” on our winning formulas, our self-assuring morals, and our bumper sticker wisdom. With Proverbs, there is a system of fairness and order. But who among us, without clinging to blind optimism, can still honestly say that they believe in such a system anymore?
Qoheleth is not a peddler of false hope, but neither is he a doomsday prophet. Qoheleth is a man who simply calls things like he sees them – a voice of wisdom, and a “bullshit detector” in a time of unusual and disorienting confusion. Quoheleth, or “the teacher”, does not merely describe the glass as being either half-full or half-empty. Qoheleth tells you what the contents of the glass truly are, “Hey”, says Qoheleth, “this is piss!”
According to Qoheleth, futility is simply one of the underlying symptoms of life on planet earth. You might say that futility is one of our pre-existing conditions. And while Qoheleth teaches that futility is here and it’s here to stay, this is not what he refers to as, “the end of the matter.” To those who are willing to be reconciled to the futility or “vanity” of life, the Qoheleth offers consolation and encouragement. But these precious pearls are reserved for certain people – they are reserved for “those who have ears to hear.”