Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, available exclusively at VDARE.com
Health hysteria goes viral. There are screaming headlines all over.
- Drudge Report: OUTBREAK OVERWHELMS … DOCTORS COLLAPSE … LOCKDOWN TOO LATE? …
- New York Post: VIDEOS SHOW “DIRE” SITUATIONS AT CHINESE HOSPITALS AMID CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK. That’s the online version. My print edition says: A STATE OF WAR vs. VIRUS.
- Daily Mail Online: CHINA IN LOCKDOWN.
- Guardian: LIFE UNDER LOCKDOWN IN CHINA: HOSPITAL QUEUES AND EMPTY STREETS.
- New York Times: CHINA’S TRAVEL LIMITS NOW COVER 35 MILLION PEOPLE.
- Los Angeles Times: YOU’VE REACHED YOUR FREE ARTICLE LIMIT. Ah, the hell with these paywalls.
So what is the body count here? Twenty-six as I write this; so far as I can gather, all of them in China, all or most in or near the central city of Wuhan.
Twenty-six dead? In a nation of 1.4 billion? It’s too bad for the loved ones of those twenty-six, of course. Send not to know For whom the bell tolls. There but for the grace of God, … and so on. Proper sympathy and respect. But … twenty-six? In Communist China? Prison guards in Tibet probably clubbed twenty-six Buddhist nuns to death over the same span of time.
So what accounts for all the hysteria? A number of things.
First of course there is the folk memory of great plagues in the past: the Black Death in 14th-century Europe, the Plague of Justinian eight hundred years earlier, which seems to have been even worse, and recurring similar but lesser events down into quite modern times —the great influenza pandemic that followed World War One, and killed more people than the war had.
Bear in mind, too, that “modern times” came later in China than in the West. My wife’s home town in Manchuria was the epicenter of the greatest-ever outbreak of pneumonic plague, a close relative of the Black Death. Tens of thousands died. That was in 1911. There must be people my age in that town who heard all about it from their parents.
All right, all right; but with today’s understandings of disease transmission, and today’s standards of public hygiene—yes, even in China, although perhaps not in San Francisco—is all the hysteria really justified?
My guess would be not. Michael Fumento, who knows this territory better than anyone—he’s the guy who debunked the myth of heterosexual AIDS in a book with that title thirty years ago—has a good scoff piece in today’s New York Post. [Don’t buy the media hype over the new China virus, January 23, 2020]
So, dim folk memories aside, why the hysteria? I think that so far as the Western world is concerned, we have caught it from China. The Chinese are hysterical about it and hysteria, like influenza, is contagious. That’s especially true in an age like ours: a hysterical age, with public media hungry for sensation, and the old human fascination for tales of world-wide catastrophe still strong—think of global warming.
But that just pushes the question back one square. Why are the Chinese so hysterical about it?
For clues, look back to the SARS panic of seventeen years ago. I got an interesting perspective on that event from reading a novel about it by Chinese dissident writer Hu Fayun. I not only read the novel, I reviewed it. Here’s a quote from my review:
SARS was much more a political than a medical event. Only a few hundred people died from the disease. As a character in the novel asks rhetorically: “With all the hundreds of millions of people in China, can you name a cause of death that doesn’t kill more people than SARS?” As that character also points out, though, the management of public panic over SARS offered both great dangers and great career opportunities to government officials, and that was always the aspect of the matter foremost in their minds.
You have to read that in the context of medical care in China, which is different from medical care in Western countries in important ways.