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why covid is catnip for karens
and what to do about it
a friend of mine (an epidemiologist on puerto rico) sent me THIS intriguing piece from a psychology professor in belgium. he essentially describes the societal response to covid 19 as a form of mass hypnosis. i tend to resist stretching such ideas into great, overarching historical explanators, but i think the basic underlying process and pathology is sound.
it goes like this:
desmet calls this “mass formation.”
honestly, it sounds a lot like scientology. they approach you on the street and ask a question like “do you ever feel sad or anxious for no reason?”
if you do, they start in on you and explain that these are “thetans,” the shadowy residue of aliens that cling to you and make you unhappy. there is a whole laundry list of increasingly pricey and subjugating “work” you can do to “audit” this and rid yourself of it. (i used to work near one of their centers and enjoyed winding up the barkers they had outside on the street to bring in the rubes.)
they basically prey upon the anxious and desperate. they are screening for those whose lives have no meaning and offering to give them one and provide not just an enemy to blame, but a group to feel virtuous about having joined. you gain special knowledge and signing up and submitting to increasingly bizarre strictures just makes you believe more deeply.
it becomes the axle on which your sense of self turns.
is this starting to sound a bit familiar?
have you, perhaps, seen any folks like this lately whose sudden devotion to performative pretext and ritual has become all consuming and ruthlessly evangelical to the point of jihad in its application?
have you seen them adopt behaviors and attitudes they have never held before as though they are some sort of bedrock canon that was always true despite literally everyone knowing it wasn’t just 18 months ago?
it’s a sort of stunning transition and the speed acts like some sort of state change. one second, it’s water, the next steam.
many have been startled, but i would argue that this is not really that suspiring when one looks at the underlying etiology rooted in the base state of modern life and the new and potent contagion vectors for memes.
the base state is that at any given time, modern society has a great many people feeling anxious.
it’s a low grade fug that surrounds us and gets intensifies every time you see someone on instagram who is better looking or more successful or popular than you are or every time you see friends out having fun while you are not. you have to post and get judged on everything from your morning avocado toast to your clothes, cars, vacations, and careers.
this rolls off some like water off a duck’s back. it drowns others like a “welcome to guantanamo” waterboarding.
the need and ability to signal have never been higher while, at the same time, the ideas of basic morality and virtue and social structure have never been more fluid and poorly defined. it’s a recipe for neuroses and the only thing keeping many people out and about despite their fear of it is that they fear being judged for NOT going out even more.
imagine the pain of such a situation. every choice is a lesser of evils, an anxiety minimization equation.
even those who ARE socially comfortable get endlessly anxious about status. is my kid keeping up with your kid? is my life? how do i remain above thee on the greasy pole of social climbery?
we all know people like this. it’s certainly not all of society, but it’s a meaningful subset and it tends to skew rich and educated.
is it any wonder that such people, when faced with a set of choices like covid pounce on them like a starving monkey leaping into a banana truck? nope.
it’s the perfect confluence of means and justification to stifle lives of meaning and give meaning to stifled lives.
this is what they always wanted. to stay home more, to throw sand in the gears of everything and see life slow, to have a simple scapegoat to blame for their generalized anxiety and insecurity, and to get simple demands loudly shouted by authority figures to let them know how to “live correctly.”
it’s structure. it’s easy answers. it’s a clear external enemy upon which to blame their unsettled senses of self. it’s like having the parents they never really outgrew again as they work from home in their jammies. generation infantilization is in the house (and does not want to leave).
it was enabled by the very technology that spreads the virtue signaling virus. zoom calls did not allow us to cope with lockdowns and business closures. zoom calls CAUSED lockdowns and business closures. (excerpt)
it’s not just a groovy little staycation, it’s the alleviation of social anxiety and a massive de-escalation in the rodent-race induced competitive disquietude from always looking over your shoulder to see if the other rats are gaining.
they found stillness they were too insecure to adopt on their own and they liked it.
this is not a choice they could ever make on their own but is a choice they desperately wanted to make. so the only solution is to force you to make it too.
that clears all the boards for them. they get to drop out of the competition that so stresses them but not lose the status they crave too much to stop making themselves insane over.
this is why this has all boiled down, over and over, to this idea of freedom. to keep this dream of not having to compete but still getting to win alive, you cannot let others be free. if you do, they might start doing better than you.
the cure for not being able to manage your own emotional life is to prevent everyone else from having a life too.
this devolves into the adoption of performative ritual to signal which class you are in and to facilitate the monstrous ethical inversion of elevating bullying and dominating others “for their own good” to not just a virtue but a duty.
you get to avoid anxiety AND justify your basest desires to be in control (because you have generally felt out of control). that’s potent psychological liquor. is it any wonder they are drunk on it and have, perhaps, become outright alcoholics, addicted and dependent on this emotional firewater to get through the day?
the endlessly insecure have finally found their happy place.
it’s catnip for karens.
so what are we supposed to do about this? how do you change the mind of someone who desperately does not want their mind changed? how do you overcome cognitive dissonance you could bend an iron bar around and emotional commitment to a set of precepts that grants such seductive pretext and power?
nothing. the simple fact is that this cannot be fixed. no cunning new rational argument nor pattern of facts will do it.
we can do this all day long. it will not change anyone’s mind.
but this is not the dire news it might seem. these people have always been like this. we used to manage a society in spite of them. we can again.
they are really not that big a group and their phase will change right back the minute the balance of fears is altered and they begin fearing missing out more than going out.
desmet posits that you have 3 groups: the mass formation, the awake, and the middle. how he gets to 30/30/40 is anyone’s guess, but it does not seem unreasonable to me and seems in accordance with the lived experience of the last 2 years.
it’s not the mass we need to reach, it’s the middle. it’s the gang that goes along to get along and just sort of follows the narrative. as they wake up and shift back into their natural alliance with the folks who would seek the freedom to live their lives, freedom becomes the ascendant virtue again.
and let’s face it, the “old normal” is a far better value proposition…
so how do we reach them? it’s not by hectoring. it’s not by force or diktat.
we reach them first by example. “hey, look, 100,000 people went to a football game and nothing bad happened.”
we do it next by exposing the fraud of the narrative. it’s already begun. everyone now knows people who got vaccinated and got sick. every time they hear the vaccines stop spread, they’ll grow more dubious of the speaker.
they see half the country unmasked and out and about and nothing bad happening. the summertime tales of “those foolish floridians” vanish as covid season ends there and moves to the allegedly virtuous northeast. and it looks bad.
it looks like it could be worse than last year and this year, it will be hitting depleted hospitals who are short-staffed because they fired the doctors they would not trust to make their own personal health decisions.
this year the vaccines were supposed to protect us. instead, they are failing and the side effect prevalence is getting too big to hide. the intensity of the big lie is getting too big. it’s all jumping the shark.
it may not feel like it because so much of what you hear is from the ~30% under hypnosis and like any religious cult, they get more shrill and more devout when the world fails to end according to prophesy.
this is exactly what will alienate the middle. it’s bridge after bridge too far.
and the deceptions keep coming to light. even that most astonishing and un-killable cockroach of public health tony fauci is suddenly looking vulnerable as his tapdance and perjury cannot stay ahead of the avalanche of revelations on just what naughty boys he and peter were being.
i see more and more middle every day reaching out and saying “wow, how did i ever listen to these snake oil selling charlatans?”
the middle’s inherent trust in authority and technocracy has been shaken. it’s falling apart and the truth is getting too plain to ignore. add in the spiking inflation, out of control borders, scarcity of goods, and failing supply lines and trust in letting one’s betters run the world is just not going to be sustainable.
it’s all going to come unglued this winter and the hectoring heralds of societal subjugation will try to up their game once more only to turn around and see that the people are not with them.
so welcome their shrill and implausible takes.
and welcome the center back into the ranks of free people.
the time of the karenocracy is waning and will leave liberty in its wake. (and hopefully some durable antibodies against tyranny)
the drumbeat of fear and dictatorial imposition is ending.
it’s time for a new song and time we got our own catnip back.
and it’s going to be good.