The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, June 04, 2021


I encountered a new word today. But more on that in a moment. 

The United States and many other countries are starting to return to normal after the mass hysteria caused by 15 months of often dishonest and always catastrophist reporting on COVID-19. As a consequence,  serious study of the societal and emotional effects of the resultant mass hysteria has begun. Kelley Williams comments:

The coronavirus panic shows again that computer models say what they are programmed to say.  And that many experts say what they are paid to say.  And that the “news” is mostly narrative and spin and occasionally factual and often politicized.  And that regulators gonna regulate.  And that politicians gonna pontificate.  And that the virus is gonna do what it does naturally regardless of masks, lockdowns, and social distancing.  And that it didn’t notice or care last year when we tried to flatten the curve to conserve hospital capacity.

And that government actions and edicts in response to virus fears may help but can hurt too.  And that less government seems to work better — for both people and politicians (e.g., see Florida vs. California).  The California Governor may be recalled over his extreme virus edicts.  People there are harassed and hurting.  The Florida Governor may be President.  People there are living almost normal lives.  And then there is the Governor of New York.  He’s also known as the “Granny Killer” for his nursing home policies and record deaths.  He’s under investigation because of them.

I read a paper this week on COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria.  It was written by three credentialed academics from Spain and Peru and published by Juan Carlos University in Madrid.  It was the first such paper I’ve seen.  I expect there will be more.

The paper’s thesis is that politicians and bureaucrats (the state), news media and experts exaggerate the risk of the virus vs. other well-known diseases.  And that pervasive social media and internet interests amplify their message.  And that all this has a nocebo effect (new word for me). Its world-wide effect has produced mass hysteria.

A nocebo effect is the opposite of a placebo effect.  A placebo makes you get well because you think you will.  A nocebo makes you get sick because you think you will.  Both work if you believe authority figures (doctors and experts) who say they work.  The mechanism is imaginary or psychological.  But the effects are real and physiological.

The authors cite several cases.  One was a patient in an experimental drug trial who didn’t know he had been given a placebo.  He tried to commit suicide by overdosing on the drug.  It was harmless.  But his symptoms showed he might die anyway — until the doctor running the trial arrived at the hospital and revealed the drug was a harmless placebo.  The patient quickly recovered.

The authors don’t suggest COVID-19 is harmless.  Just that its risk has been and is being over-hyped.  They say the resulting mass hysteria is contagious.  And its over-reactions are harmful.  They suggest reasons for the over-hyping: “It lies in the interests of a government to emphasize citizens’ vulnerability to external and internal threats, because the state’s legitimacy and power rest on the narrative that it protects its citizens against such dangers.”
The word is "nocebo," and that's exactly what was given to the hundreds of millions of people who had trouble understanding the statistics surrounding COVID-19, who believed a media and many politicians in blue states that were not only dishonest but worked hard to terrify the public. Many, many people had trouble thinking critically about the information and misinformation that they were given. The result was worldwide mass hysteria, catastrophically bad decisions that did far more damage than expected, and a loss of freedom that was abominable.

None of this is meant to minimize the damage done by a virus that was likely modified in gain-of-function work conducted by the Chinese at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and then released by mistake (we think) into the population. None of it is meant to disregard the 3 million who died. But all of it is true, and it's important that we understand what nocebos can do when they are used as a weapon.

And make no mistake, some politicians and much of their media used the COVID-19 nocebo as a weapon. It worked to defeat a politician they hated, and if the side affect was hysteria, lockdowns, school closures, business defaults, and ruined lives ... so be it.