One of the craziest pieces of media I’ve read lately was posted only a couple of days ago, in the very political and left-leaning website Politico. Titled Biden’s Twitter doc army turns on him, it goes on to describe the influence and potential conflict between the Biden administration and various members of the epi-Twitterati. What exactly this conflict is is hard to determine. Every single one of them is essentially a ZeroCOVID advocate. Most are full-on nutters. And some, like Peter Hotez and Leana Wen, are openly pathological.
The piece attempts to paint the administration voices as more reasonable, and the epi-Twitter voices as more strident, and that is likely the case. The list of actors are people who have, one way or another, called for censorship of voices not repeating the ZeroCOVID message, as well as either “soft-glove” laundry listing endless NPIs and vaccine/booster campaigns (Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University medical school) or calling directly for banishment/punishment/containment of people not following their advice (Leana Wen, CNN commentator.) Every single one of them is anti-democratic and mandate oriented. Not a single one of them has even posed a meaningful off-ramp for ending the pandemic, nor will they in the near future, until they sense their vampiric influence is on the wane.
At the same time I was reading this article, I was also listening to selected episodes of Paul M.M. Cooper’s Fall of Civilizations podcast. In his series, he marches down through history, across the globe, and through the ages of civilizational collapse. I’ve been interested in the Inca and Aztecs, so I listened to those episodes first. They are striking in their similarities about what causes societies to disintegrate. The Incas were fraught with fratricidal conflict for control, that spun out of failed inheritances and gave the pathological a leg up in achieving short-term consolidation, but long-term collapse when external forcing (in this case, the Spanish conquistadors) showed up with their better weapons and their own monomaniacal drives.
But once again, the Aztec story rang most true, at least from a pandemic perspective. The Aztec elite, headed by Moctezuma, had relied on their priest caste to inform them of the nature of the external threat, as well as what future actions should be taken. Cooper dispels many of the old myths of the Conquista regarding the Aztecs assuming that Cortes was held as some kind of deity. In fact, Cooper encyclopedicly documents that this was not the case — that Moctezuma had spies and runners observing Cortes, who would paint pictures of the Spanish ships and bring them back to Tenochtitlan. His priests simply could not make sense of any of it, because, of course, they had filled their own heads with distorted battle aims. The Aztecs so dominated the regional tribal battle space that they had moved away from killing neighboring tribes, and merely capturing them so they could be sacrificed on their pyramids. And I wrote in this last piece, they induced mass trauma in their own citizenry, keeping them in a state of both limbic fear and ecstasy, through daily human sacrifice on the pyramids to their Hummingbird War God, Huitzilopochtli.
The differences between Biden’s epi-Twitterati, and the Aztec high priests are vanishingly few. Both cadres sit in denial of obvious physical reality — the Aztecs, that the sun would rise whether they would kill anyone or not. They had an elaborate belief structure behind all of this — that a piece of everyone’s heart came from the sun god, and by returning that piece, lodged in the heart, back into the ether, the sun would continue to rise. Biden’s own chosen high priests sit with fragmented evidence of their non-pharmaceutical interventions in much the same way. Abundant evidence in the physical universe exists that masks don’t work, that models are obviously wrong, and that social distancing matters not a whit — look at the endless numbers of packed football games played that demonstrate no difference in pandemic behavior. Yet this group of frauds still chant the same songs, still hold up the same incantations and models, and insist that the crowds, and their leader, self-flagellate in their honor.
It all works, just like it worked for the Aztec priests, until the scaffolding all this nonsense is built on comes undone. For Moctezuma and his cadre, it was the arrival of Cortes. For us, it is the erosion of robustness of modern systems that keep the grocery stores full of food, and water and electricity arrive at the houses, or at least at the houses of the elites. And just like the Aztec priests could count on the hundreds of thousands of peasants and slaves to provide their every need, today’s priests, wearing their very non-ceremonial pajamas, can count on magical Visa cards, Amazon delivery, and Door Dash to bring to their door the literal riches of the modern world.
Such environments and the calls for censorship, inherently create a memetic narrowing of information flow. If you are locked in your house with your computer and your models, and the drivers of the vehicles bringing you your food present themselves masked, and with neatly wrapped packages, it’s easy to rationalize that you are championing the greater good. These magical spells, uh, computer models are really what is needed to keep the empire together, no? And if you are preserving the old in your society, in denial of death, and even go to the extreme of insinuating that people never should die, then you indeed are a holy man, or woman.
And how could you not convince yourself you are on a holy mission? If you are a high priest, you get to scream your beliefs from the pinnacle of the Pyramid of CNN, or next to St. Joy Ann Reid or Ellen — as exalted a position as exists in our modern society. The bullshit forms a self-reinforcing, narcissistic loop, which in turn creates in the high priests their own version of delirium. You don’t see the family restaurant down in the strip mall shut down, nor note the extra, older private vehicles now being used to deliver packages to you. That would be, shall we say, inconvenient.
You’re fundamentally ungrounded. I’ve talked about how ungrounded systems, which turn into what we call in system parlance, “floating ground”, suffer reality drift in this piece. It’s five years old, but still correct. If your distance from reality is too far, your civilization collapses. And as I mentioned above, there are a ton of examples of exactly that in the podcast referenced above.
Whole nations can become ungrounded — much to their citizens’ detriment. China was the one that foisted this lockdown garbage on all of us, through a dedicated gaslighting propaganda campaign, that featured video clips of people collapsing in the street from COVID, foggers in Tyvek suits, and apocryphal physician victims like Li Wenliang. It’s highly likely that Li Wenliang never even existed — his death was announced by a Beijing youth group known for fanatical devotion to the CCP, in the context of a group of pneumonia deaths in the Wuhan area — 29 in a population of 6 million. Yet he lives on with his own Wikipedia page. He is very likely not real. But he certainly is, in the minds of millions.
But by engaging in the campaign to foist shutdown of Western economies through extreme COVID countermeasures, including welding people into their apartments, the same memetic narrowing of information foisted on Western democracies has now infected the Chinese mainland.
Of course, ZeroCOVID is simply impossible in China, even with their rigid authoritarianism. And the end result is China, in order to save mianzi (面子), is now committed in their own country to a series of continuing lockdowns, as a promise to their citizenry, for containing an RNA virus that simply morphs into other forms as the calendar rolls along.
The idea that such measures might work in China (and ostensibly did work in Wuhan), while not working in modified form anywhere else, is farcical. My own father-in-law, who is Taiwanese and works in China, was trapped in quarantine in an apartment complex of 100K individuals for 2 weeks because of potential exposure during a visit to Guangzhou for a minor eye surgery. For those unfamiliar with Chinese geography, Guangzhou is a long way from Wuhan. Shanghai Disneyland shut all its visitors inside its gate and literally tested everyone when a COVID case was found.
And it just gets more socially disruptive. To even get into the country requires a quarantine of 2-3 weeks (it seems to change, and I’m not going to keep track of it). That is a powerful disincentive for many of the U.S. high tech firms, already tired of dealing with Chinese IP theft, for re-shoring their facilities, if not in the US, around other countries in the Pacific Rim, like Malaysia and Singapore. Chinese people have the expectation that the propaganda is true — that getting COVID is lethal, and that it is the government’s job to protect you against it. Most people misunderstand authoritarian societies, thinking somehow that it means the government ends up with no obligation to its citizenry. So, like it or not, because the CCP gaslit the world, they’ve now made their bed in a policy that denies physical possibility.
The idea that now, the Chinese government, because they are authoritarian, can do what they want is simply not true. Authoritarian societies, both explicitly, and inherently destroy agency in their populations. When you infantilize people, even to the point of expecting them to be slaves, their expectations may shrink. But they also harden in their victimhood. And it’s not pretty when the propaganda turns out to be wrong. Memetic narrowing also drives stepping backward in social evolution. And people go tribal very quickly, with the same incumbent lack of fear of violence or loss of life.
The result of this nonsense is countries like China (and likely Taiwan, and NZ and Australia) are locked in endless cycles of social disruption. China, through its actions, may have buried its culpability in the likely bioweapon lab leak that led to the pandemic. But memetic narrowing, and the simplistic narrative creation that is driven by constricting information supply, will come back to bite you — especially when entire societies, with literally billions of people are in play.
What has saved us now, and will save us if we manage to contain the authoritarian forces bellowing for censorship, is social media. All these alternate, and in the end, validated truths originated and were broadcast with social media. Are there problems with social media? Of course. But the example of China above is that once memetic narrowing takes hold, and even worse, whole societies accept what is a collapse of the truth, the fact that the sun demands human sacrifice in order to come up in the morning becomes the least of your problems. You devolve your population to the meta-structure of information in your broadcast bullshit. Differing views, even if they’re wrong, demand your society’s brain to work to reconcile them. And that’s almost always a good thing. Censorship immediately imposes a loss of information on a society that required those differing views to run itself, with a given population and sophistication. Killing that doesn’t work.
So here we are. From COVID origination, to lockdown, mask and vaccine efficiency, the only reason we have any hope of knowing the truth is social media. Remember that the next time someone demands social media be shut down. It’s not exposure to information that’s the problem. It’s the exact opposite.