Facsimile – The Birth of the COVID-19 Crazies

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The insanity that comes from the fear of death is a potent reminder of how fragile we are. 

That hysteria is understandably contagious. No-one can “train” themselves to handle the threat of death.

Unless of course, you are one of those survivalist-types who like to prepare for the absolute worst.

But the majority of people out there, handle “death” very poorly, especially in wealthy countries.

When death is the exception, not the norm, suddenly facing your mortality is psychologically scarring. You’ve lived your life, fearing the next paycheck, what will happen on your favourite Netflix show and what you are going to wear for your next Friday night out.

To have all of that rendered “unimportant” because of a deadly disease, is bizarre to say the least. To have your livelihood taken away, access to emotional support stolen (friends and family) and your faith in uncertain leadership destroyed is catastrophic.

How do you react to such an emotional shift?

(Be warned, this is a long post)

Well, you turn to your good friend, the computer and log on.

But before I address the social media aspect, I would like to touch on common behaviour seen during “near-death” mindsets: fiscal irresponsibility, procreation and substance abuse.

Fiscal Irresponsibility 

Recently, in Australia, I’ve read that thousands of people have withdrew their superannuation. This “retirement package” that they always dedicate a part of their salary to, with each paycheck, is now being kept somewhere else, or being spent.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. It indicates that there is a strong portion of the population that is either stricken by the huge shortfall of jobs, and thus need the capital quickly to continue surviving, and maybe even a small percentage of that group who decided enough is enough, now is the time to be irresponsible.

Of course, this is all speculation, but during crisis, it is not uncommon to see people act upon desires that they’ve had for a long time.

That huge LEGO set that you’ve always wanted? Now is the time (this one I am definitely guilty of).

How about that tempting 4K TV you’ve been putting off? Quarantine is the perfect excuse for such reckless spending.

I don’t any evidence to really support this of course, but from a purely anecdotal and “supply” point of view, I can see this trend spike, and strangely keep retail businesses alive.

My retail store is close to Rebel Sport, JB Hi-Fi, and I am on friendly terms with an EB Games manager. When the first lockdown occurred, Nintendo Switches and Playstation 4s came flying out of those stores. Fathers bought them for their children, and stupid boyfriends like me, grabbed Switches for their girlfriends along with copies of Animal Crossing: New Horizon.

I couldn’t get my hand on a Switch for 2 months, and had to preorder extremely early. When mine arrived at the EB Games, the manager said my order was 1 of 10. 10 for a console that was literally flying off the shelves. Nintendo couldn’t keep up with orders.

The number of TVs and gym equipment that also sauntered casually past me was high. Things that people normally would never invest in, suddenly came high on their radar and these extravagant purchases meant that people were keen on maintaining a high standard in their new quarantine lifestyle.

This also lead to what I call reactionary buys.

My own LEGO purchase, a highly expensive UCS Lego STAR WARS Star Destroyer, was made because people were snatching these rare models up left right and centre. Orders at places that usually had heaps of stocks, disappeared within weeks.

I couldn’t really afford the model, but it was a childhood dream of mine to collect every single Original Trilogy ship model, and when I saw my chance to get one was fading quickly, I went in and got it before I could regret it.

I ended up regretting the purchase slightly anyway. The expense could have been placed better elsewhere. There is a rueful feeling I experience when I look at the giant box.

I wonder who else has felt that, over their reckless purchase?

Procreation

Procreation is the next interesting reaction.

PornHub, the legendary host site, offered free premium membership for a whole month. Sex stores reported record sales, as people bought all types of toys and items for months of lockdown. Porn films even showed with how people could remotely pleasure one another via a good bluetooth/internet connection.

Impressive to say the least, how the sex industry is truly one of the most resilient and profitable trades ever designed.

Sex is such a common method to relieve stress and also provide a basic biological function, to please the ticking clock that everyone has in their head. Total strangers have had relations in the aftermath of a traumatic event (plane crash, bombing etc). It is normal to desire intimacy, as a way to carry on your lineage, when you feel death is or was close. This is well documented and obvious from a mental and physical standpoint.

However, what is interesting, is the sheer number of couples who have broken it off during lockdown. Not just because of dull sex, but also because they can’t stand one another. Working from home has created friction in the environment that is supposed to be comforting and relaxed. Wives have found their husband’s habits grotesque. Husbands have discovered wives’ complaints annoying.

Forced cohabitation is suddenly responsible for a jump in divorce rates.

It is extremely fascinating to see how shoddy and shabby a relationship can be, but is continued because both parties work far from each other. Now when forced to confront each other for the first time in ages, they hate each other.

Splitting apart, whilst in lock-down is amazingly difficult. With jobs, rent, mortgage, and a whole host of other issues that COVID-19 has bought about, it is not uncommon to see exes still reside in the same house, their toxicity, bitterness and anger unable to escape and find an outlet.

Hate-fucking might just be more prevalent than ever.

Speaking of toxicity, now is time to discuss substance abuse, and then social media.

Substance Abuse

Australia, is known for its’ heavy drinking. A pivotal part of our culture, alcoholism is highly prevalent at all ages and social strata. It doesn’t matter if you are a tradie enjoying a stubbie after work, or a socialite living for the champagne in a club, alcohol is a universal element in Australia.

Should it shouldn’t be a surprise that alcoholism spiked during COVID-19, with more people buying their own supply to keep their habit happy or deal with increased loneliness.

Loneliness … it is a rather unique feeling that everyone has had to grapple with since the outbreak of COVID-19. The irony of drinking alone to deal with such a complex emotion, is that the sheer act of doing something so social as drinking, is that it enhances the feeling of loneliness.

Drugs use also has spiked, with more and more people, spending time at home, smoking up and recreationally passing the time with hallucinogens and other substances. After all, it’s a lot harder to be caught, and if your supplier is well established, getting some isn’t difficult.

It’s one way to pass the time …. despite being utterly pointless and a waste of a day.

But such self-destructive isn’t just restricted to substance abuse.

No, because now it is time to address the proper crazies. The one that can’t be rationalised with.

People who are reliant on social media (the real issue I want to discuss).

The real reason why I wanted to write this ramble.

Social media is often parroted as a “good” thing. Faster communication, the ability to utilise and harness your network for business and more global outreach are some pretty common benefits touted.

My question to all of that is … why do you need it?

The most apparent danger of social media, is the sheer ego driven into developing your ideal echo chamber. Every day, you scroll past things that only you agree with, find content that only you find agreeable and lack the vision to see beyond your own bubble that you’ve created.

It is this psychological bubble that has given rise to a whole host of issues, that previously were much smaller and less unified across the globe. The concept of “cherry picking” content that only suits you, and is enhanced by algorithms is highly unhealthy.

A small example in my own small world, is Formula 1. I am a die-hard Ferrari fan. I tend to make excuses for my favourite team, and feel very low when things aren’t going well, and experience euphoria when the team is triumphing.

Going through my Youtube recommendations, I came across a video that discussed the recent crash between Charles Leclerc (my favourite driver) and Sebastian Vettel. It was a painful moment for me, and I wanted to avoid any further news about this incident.

It took me 3 days, to keep seeing that recommendation pop up, until I finally clicked on it and to my surprise, it was a good video, with excellent clarification of the incident and great analysis on why it happened.

I ended up subscribing to the Youtuber, because he developed good and clear, objective videos regarding Formula 1.

But the fact remains, that I avoided his channel. All because I thought it didn’t agree with my bubble and how I wanted to view things.

How often do we engage with topics that we disagree with?

Should we explore more about the side we dislike?

The answer to both, should ideally be “More often and absolutely yes”

Whereas before, people had to actively search and truly find those who have similar viewpoints, now there are forums and groups that allow easy access, as long as you have suitable credentials.

Now it is even easier to surround yourself with equally crazed nut-jobs with the same crippling ego and desire to prove themselves against something.

Regardless of whether you believe in the 5G conspiracy, the COVID-19 hoax, or whatever else theory that has been thrown around, there has been a worrying trend to find an echo chamber in a world that has IO (Information Overload).

I, myself, am of the belief that COVID-19 was manufactured in a lab although this is with a healthy amount of skepticism and desire to see evidence against or for such a claim. The symptoms, rapidity, strange death rate and bizarre 14 day incubation just seem too bizarre in relation to other viral behaviours.

But the key point here, is that social media, globalism and hyper-connectivity has created this situation, where the news is no longer trusted (rightly so), people have more fragile egos and global issues explode, without any proper context.

So I will break this down, in relation to social media and COVID-19. Social media itself, is not inherently “bad” just like a firearm is not either. They are tools. Highly effective and efficient. But when wielded destructively, it is potent and should be handled with more care, in the hands and minds of individuals.

3 issues – globalism, information overload, and algorithms.

Globalism

Globalism is an inherently noble ideal.

But like communism, it doesn’t work very well. The idea that entire countries will work with each other, without ulterior motives, towards a common good, is naive and oddly unrealistic. Look no further than the UN, a shadow of itself. China, Russia, US, UK are all at loggerheads with one another. To get them to agree on one thing, is to threaten them with alien invasion or complete annihilation.

Progress gets stalled at every level, whenever these governments fight one another. Whilst the world languishes behind.

Meanwhile, the tech and corporate sector become ever stronger, becoming these enormous mega-corporations that have the power to sway the political and ideological landscape with their products. More powerful than governments, with more resources than many countries, these global players have such incredible outreach to change and sway lives to their cause if they want to.

It is oddly better that countries stay more isolated and confined to the context of themselves. One such issue that has bothered me, is the Black Lives Matter movement. It is too catchy to be regarded as a proper movement, and I feel, it is a distinctly American issue. There was an attempt to start this movement here in Australia, but it fizzled out quickly.

The reason being, is that Australia is inherently a highly successful multicultural country. The idea that racism is a extremely awful issue here is marginal and much quicker to be resolved than what is being seen in the U.S. I am of an Asian background, working in a Asian retail store and never had a single racist remark thrown at me, throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Sudanese refugee intake is high, and have integrated really well into the Melbourne populace, as has the Syrian, Lebanese, Chinese, and dozens of other ethnicities.

The idea that racism needs to be debated to the point where “black lives” are being killed everyday, here in Australia is ludicrous. We pay respect to the original owners of the land, our Aborigines at every important function. We adore all types of cuisines, and loves to fuse them together.

The vast majority of Australians I’ve met, have been the most relaxed and casual people. This is in stark contrast to the Asian populace, which I will definitely proclaim is one of the most racist in the entire world. They just hide it better.

But because of globalism, the BLM movement came here and doubtlessly contributed in some form or another to a 2nd lockdown here in Melbourne.

Globalism is not working out very well. When a country as wealthy and affluent as mine, end up on its knees because we rely too much on a foreign country for …. basic production, I find it troublesome.

We should be able to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, before exporting our resources to others. There is nothing wrong with manufacturing as a job, and it is time we’ve had a hard look at ourselves and question why should we be held hostage to a country like China, when we should be able to stand up for ourselves.

Australia-made needs to be a thing again. It will help us forge an identity for ourselves, a curious issue that is only made worse by globalism. Being a young country, it is difficult to pinpoint, what makes Australia … well Australia.

In the recent years, I’ve seen a huge influx of American values, and media come our way, at the cost of our own. While our countries are alike in many ways, I can’t help but think that Australians should consider themselves as slightly better, not Americans 2.0.

But the more we hear about American politics, and be fed their content and values, the more Americanised we become.

This isn’t good. I firmly believe that every country should have its own unique identity and cling firmly onto that. It is this diversity that makes humanity as a whole stand out and be interesting. To have a strong national identity is inherently good. It can be wielded in the name of patriotism, and nationalism, but such matters can be tempered and pushed aside when needed.

People need to have a strong conceptual idea what are the core values that your country stands for.

I myself, think that we suck up to America and China too much. We are at the moment, wasting our potential, playing coy with the world powers. We keep being minnows in a pond, when we could be a much bigger fish.

That’s our core value. Being too lazy to be better.

It is why countries that have such proud identities and cultures flourish and can export themselves successfully. To look at an American, you can instantly say that they value “freedom.” Their symbology and media content expouse that value. The Constitution is clear and revolutionary in changing mindsets around how people should behave and express themselves.

To look at an Japanese, you identify that they are a “honourable” country. Their people are unfailingly polite and clean up after themselves to not be a burden to their society. Everything has that extra effort put in, that is unmistakably Japanese. They clean up after themselves at World Cup tournaments. Their products are beautifully understated and minimalist.

It is why people love to be a part of these cultures, because they have values that people look up to and why they are so marketable.

Countries need to be embrace their identity more, in lieu of something bland and generic, like being “pan-European.” I like to see English people getting alongside French people. Germans joking with Hungarians, Austrians playing music alongside Russians.

Each country should celebrate its differences. It’s not particularly nice when you group them all together as “Europeans” when there are such marked differences in language and culture between them all.

Not to mention how each country handle their own economy.

A less global approach to things allows better context and control of issues like something as fundamentally wrong as the BLM, which is extremely important for America to face, but not the entire world. A more individualist approach will also help curtail the effect of social media, which has a terrible habit of exploding things out of proportion and providing misguided solutions to a very clear answer.

I dislike social media immensely when it comes to important social issues. It is so easy to just change your profile picture or repost a hashtag and think you’ve done something to change the world, when really it has meant nothing at all, because your mindset and actions haven’t impacted anything.

Slacktivism is such an apt term. Too many people feel the need to engage in it, and call out strangers for no apparent reason than to stroke their ego. The irony of it all to me, is that the true activists out there, are some of the most quiet and humble people I’ve ever come across, volunteering their time and effort and energy into endeavours that genuinely change lives.

They will be the last to call out strangers for racism, doing too little or for more money. Simply because they are too busy genuinely working to do something.

Social media, in times of crises serve little to no real purpose, beyond adding stress and hope to your mental health in equal doses, making you more emotional.

It is also a terrible haven for some of the worst communication I’ve ever seen. But more on that at the end.

Information Overload 

Information Overload is such a unique 21st Century issue. It arrived with the onset of the internet and like a lot of things, the issue was never really addressed on how people should deal with this onslaught of information.

Suddenly, you could hear news about a new fancy restaurant in England, a bombing in Pakistan, a new disease in China and the latest UN resolution.

Whereas before you were happy just knowing that there was another One Day International Cricket match coming soon to the MCG and that Australia would triumph over South Africa again (my childhood coming through there).

With all this information, what do you actually do with it?

How do you interact with this information? Do you tell your friends about what you’ve learnt? Do you do something with it?

Or do you simply emotionally react to it, and then move on with your day, bringing it up only in a random conversation somewhere in the future?

Then there is the obvious question of, what is factual and what isn’t?

Add on top of that question, that few people seldom ask is …. are your facts outdated?

Your social media feed is packed with information. Much of it useless to your actual lives. You don’t need to know what Harry and Meghan are up to, the minutiae of COVID-19 viral genetic code or the plight of the film industry in a pandemic.

The cruel twist of it all, is that technically you chose to have these items populated on your feed, because this is the information you want to have. You plugged in your interests, you liked this post and you shared a video. Your friends like this and that, you felt compelled to comment on it.

Suddenly, what was once a calm, clean, slate becomes a personalised informative mess. It’s horrible. you are tugged this way and that on Facebook, desiring to see that little red 1 to boost your ego or worse give you more information about something.

What happens though, when you get the inverse of this problem? You get the older generation, whose ignorance is obvious and the sense of curiosity is sadly lacking. Not much of a compromise is it? You get grown men and women who can’t seem to grasp the present and keep up.

Blame cannot be put solely at their feet however, after all, their primary source of information were newspapers and television. The news.

Which, has rapidly found its relevance in today’s information-soaked world, diminished. In order to keep up with social media’s “clickbait style” they’ve turned political.

The guard that once guarded against biases and ideologies, turned into the very thing they sworn to defend against.

You get concepts that certain media is “left wing” and “right wing.” As a journalist student in university, the fact that these terms even entered the discussion when it came to news-reporting alarmed me. I didn’t even know what those wings meant.

Subconscious bias is something I have longed fought to control. I knew that my reporting had to be factual, which was amusingly aided by my science degree earlier. People didn’t really want to hear my opinions. They just wanted the evidence and be allowed to come to their own conclusions.

At its purest, that is what good journalism is, to me. Being able to distil a complex topic, normalise and make it understandable and report it without any spin.

But that doesn’t sell apparently. Even though there are thousands of people out there who want their news like that, and millions more recognise that, when they acknowledge what good journalism is.

Journalism should be scientific and evidence-based, just without the jargon that hold scientific writing down.

But how can you tell!?

The sad truth is, you can’t, not really anyway. There will always be this slight sense of skepticism to it all. Whatever you read in the news, you have to learn to filter out the bias and seek the facts. You have to be open to disagreeing with the news you read, and agreeing with it as well.

Not all of it are lies. Most, if not everything, has a kernel of truth.

You just have to seek it out. Unless of course you are searching for something that validates your world-view. Then please stop.

This leads to the crux of dealing with “information overload” and its sibling issue “disinformation.”

I wish it was taught in schools on how to interact with information. This is a crucial skill that so many people lack. I only learned how when I began to selectively filter and remove pages and people on my Facebook page and actively cut out a lot of fluff in my Youtube subscriptions.

On top of actively purging a lot of content out, I also have to be aware of my ego and bias constantly. Allowing your mind to reset and consider what is important and what is useless is an important exercise in allowing you to distil what is good information and what isn’t.

The sheer amount of information out there, has had people thinking COVID-19 is a hoax, finding flawed evidence for it and genuinely believing in it. Dangerous and ego-driven, this hearkens back to substance abuse, when you find yourself emotionally backed in a corner and unable find an outlet for all the stress you are experiencing.

Imagine if you’ve lost your job and support network. You are stuck at home, alone and stressed. Logging on, the closest comfort you’ll find is in a Facebook group that says that you lost everything because of a conspiracy theory, that directly targeted you.

This is of greater comfort, because it assuages your ego more, telling you directly that you are of importance, because you found the “truth” and that out of everyone who got hurt, you suffered more than everyone else.

Driven by fear and validation in this new-found “knowledge” and with a few algorithms’ help, suddenly your entire feed is inundated with this type of disinformation and your belief in it, is only stronger. Anyone who says otherwise is automatically wrong, because this is your mental defence kicking in. You were scared but now you are strong. You have purpose. Your mind cannot be torn down again.

This is in stark contrast to someone who, if taught properly about the consequences of their emotions and ego, would regularly jettison such vitriol and if they did buy into such disinformation, they would be more open to discussion about it, then automatically assuming everyone was wrong from the get-go.

Social media is just a tool. It has proven, alongside globalism, that if left unchecked and uneducated on its handling, it can bring about a lot of destructive qualities in us and really halt progress that is currently being made and advances that already benefit us.

Algorithms

Out of all the pretentious, revolutionary ad consumer unfriendly advances to come out of the tech sector, the worst one are algorithms that essentially predict us, as human beings.

Not only do I find it morally reprehensible, I also feel it is what has truly bred and garnered strength for a lot of these large movements, like incels, SJWs, etc.

With the power of social media, you can now have an Australian young male connect with a Russian male about how much they hate women and their shared experiences in rejection. But it is what the algorithm provides that makes it even worse, because the algorithm takes it a step further, and provides even more of a platform to supplant evidence in these misguided fools’ heads.

Recommendations should not come from a virtual program, but an actual person. Not only does an actual person have obvious validity, it also helps you from going down a rabbit hole you never wished you did.

It is always a bad thing to develop an echo chamber. Or at least, have one so strong that not even a single criticism can enter it.

There’s a genuine need to revitalise the sense of curiosity and breadth of interests and topics in people’s lives. You should never allow algorithms to dictate what is interesting, and close the app satisfied that you have seen all the content you want to see.

Curiosity should always drive you to explore more about topics you’ve never thought you would learn about. Say what you will about older generations and how they sourced information, but an old-fashioned newspaper, read end to end, has an incredible range of topics that could pique your interest and allow you to learn more.

Algorithms have us trapped in a cycle of narrow-minded focus. Once you’ve discovered all the content creators of a certain topic, you should start seeking another topic and devouring that avenue. A personal example for myself, are Youtube film analysts.

All the common ones, from Nando v Movies, Mauler, The Critical Drinker, Filmento, Captain Midnight, if they’ve made a video on Superhero films, I’ve probably seen it and rewatched them for entertainment value. This is what is good about the algorithm, allowing me to explore more and seeing who else has made videos about Batman v Superman, or The Last Jedi.

But I also became trapped in that cycle and never really got recommended anything else, until I found a new topic of interest. I would log onto Youtube, scroll endlessly for 5 minutes, before shutting it off and refreshing it, hoping something new would turn up. But I inevitably watched something I’ve already seen.

Recommendations should be a bit more outlier, a true breath of fresh air to keep your mind active and ticking.

Falling further down the rabbit hole, when all you wanted was to scratch the surface, is not a welcome feeling. It leaves you feeling listless, like there is nothing else out there for you to enjoy. How often do you genuinely scroll through Netflix, only to turn it off or rewatch something instead of actively trying out something new?

The death of curiosity, because of globalism, algorithms and information overload is a terrible fact for humanity.

Without curiosity, without new and diverse interests, you run the risk of becoming stale and stubborn. Reverting to nihilistic thinking and defensive mental behaviours.

This is why social media may not have created these crazy COVID-19 theories, but they definitely perpetuated them.

Curiosity and Communication … Conclusion

This is probably the longest ramble, because I’ve had a lot on my mind about this whole thing, and why we’ve come to this state. I will touch on the failure of our infrastructure both from a individual mental state and government’s set ups more in the next ramble, but for now this was me exploring why I think all these crazy theories appeared and the reason why they did.

At the heart of the social media issue, is the death of curiosity.

Globalism has made the world smaller, less interesting and more “terrible” when in reality, it has been this way for generations. But you don’t find yourself wanting to find out more. You already know what is going on in Europe in regards to its’ struggling finances. So you ignore it. I can’t be bothered to visit Greece right now, because its’ economy is in shambles you say to yourself.

But don’t you wish to visit and learn more about the Pantheon? Discover how the Greeks created and guided the development of philosophy and democracy?

You can’t dismiss an entire nation, because you’ve read some news about it, that was terrible. But we find ourselves doing just that because of the effects of globalism.

And no, wanting to travel is not a result of curiosity. True curiosity is exploring the unknown, the strange and the potentially dangerous. Wanting to visit a shrine where an Instagram model took a photo, isn’t curiosity, it’s a desire to be part of a trend.

It can inspire curiosity, but it isn’t the proper definition of the word. If you avoid all the tourist traps, then yes, the travel trip can be defined as such.

Algorithms stifles your curiosity and leads you down rabbit holes that can dangerously validate disinformation and justify extremist beliefs, that information overload can guide you to.

With curiosity in such short supply, is it really out of the realm of possibility that communication has become so terrible?

When you see the interaction on social media, it is undeniably toxic. Strangers can lambast and judge each other with impunity. Horrible comments can be viewed, whether they are honest or made to incense people, is unknown.

Even in our “messenger world” it takes a huge amount of skill and emotional restraint/clairvoyance to convey extremely complex emotions via a simple line of text and to not take things personally when our message is left on “read.”

(A topic I will discuss in infrastructure)

Communication without a voice, without a face, without proper context will always inevitably become terrible. Unless you are a savant when it comes to tone, or know the person receiving your messages extremely well, poor communication will only be exacerbated by a lack of curiosity.

It is so rare to see proper debate on the internet, because curiosity is so rare itself. To be curious, is to see the other point of view, and allow it to colour your own.

To be curious is to hear out the other side, allow them to defend themselves and be respectful.

COVID-19 has displayed to me, more than anything about all the crazy theories, and people, that we have a fundamental problem in how we communicate in the 21st Century.

People aren’t curious, the crazies out there don’t want to learn more about COVID-19. They are so wrapped up in their own ego, have such a detriment of curiosity in them, that they cannot see the disease as anything but an assault on their id.

That is what saddens me the most … knowing that the world is no longer properly curious about things anymore.

Without curiosity, how can there be progress?

~ Damocles

P.S. Thanks for somehow making it to the end of this ramble. It sits at 5452 words.

2 thoughts on “Facsimile – The Birth of the COVID-19 Crazies

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