Most normal people have always known that there are people in the world who are just on the edge of sanity. Maybe it is the nutty aunt who is always into some cause, a cause that changes with the news cycle. Perhaps it is a friend who knows a bit too much about conspiracy theories. Of course, everyone has been cursed to know someone who thinks Hitler is hiding under their bed or in the fine print of the Republican platform.
Up until fairly recently, it was possible to get along with the crazy aunt or the old left-wing college buddy by avoiding certain topics. The cost of tolerating these mentally unstable people and keeping them from going berserk was to walk on eggshells around them in normal conversation. If you avoided their trigger topics, their insanity was for all practical purposes a private affair. It stayed in their head.
Social media changed this. One reason liberal democracy finds itself in a crisis is normal people have discovered just how many nutjobs there are in this world. Worse yet, we get a daily reminder on Facebook or Twitter that many of the people in positions of authority have heads full of nonsense. No man is a hero to his valet, and we have all become the valets of our ruling class through social media.
In the old days, it was possible to avoid mentioning a trigger topic around crazy Aunt Betty, but now your social media timeline is full of these people. They are like a plague of lunatics with infinite triggers. A mild joke about a politician can quickly become a three-hour argument online. The mass media age has made it almost impossible for normal people to avoid the insane.
Mencken famously said that “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Social media in particular and mass media in general have made this a permanent condition. The constant interaction with the mentally unstable keeps everyone on edge. Instead of living lives of quiet desperation, the soundtrack of our lives is our revenge fantasies.
Of course, you could unplug, which is becoming a thing among people who are waking up to the reality of hyperreality. A big part of the dissident right is the process of separating from the Potemkin reality of liberal democracy. Cut the cord, drop off the mainstream social media platforms, and disconnect from the media. The new countercurrent mantra is “Turn off, tune out, drop out.”
The problem is, Covid has now allowed virtual madness to leave the matrix and invade the physical space. Everywhere you turn when out in public, you are reminded that there are many people with a tenuous grip on their sanity. For going on two years, the harridan with a mask has been stalking the public square, hunting the barefaced like she is rooting out the agents of Old Scratch.
The ceremonial face covering has become the mark of the beast. Everywhere you go there are people wearing a mask, often multiple masks. Talk to one of them and you quickly learn that they are not motivated by bad information. Instead, the masks and the other performative gestures are emotional support items. Instead of carrying a plush toy around for support, they are performing Covid rituals.
It is no longer possible to ignore what used to be private madness. A bit of carny trash assaulted an old man on an airplane who was trying to eat his dinner. Her reason for assaulting him was that he did not have on his mask while eating. This woman tested herself mid-flight, got a positive test for Covid, then locked herself in the toilet for the remainder of the flight. For the passengers, there was no escaping her madness.
These are entertaining cases, so they get lots of attention in the media and online, but the media is also pushing the madness. Whether it is crazy people taking over the media, or the media being told to trigger the deranged, the mass media now feeds the lunacy of the Covidians. They claim the health care system is about to collapse and society is on the brink of destruction due to Covid.
Most people had hoped that this madness was just a panic and that it would pass once people realized Covid was not an extinction event. It was just another relatively mild pandemic that has been a part of human existence since the beginning. Once the reality of Covid was made plain, so the thinking went, the panic-stricken would get back to normal, maybe having some anger at having made fools of themselves, with the encouragement of the mass media.
Two years on and this is clearly not happening. The Omicron variant is about as harmful as the common cold, but it is causing another wave of mass lunacy. There is increasing evidence that many of these people are hooked on panic. Their lives have become defined by this crusade against an invisible villain. The Covid rituals now define their lives. They were told they could never live with Covid, but now they cannot live without it.
As a result, America is separating into two realities. In a place like Florida, people are going about their business. Covid is a minor nuisance for most people and Covid theater is nonexistent. In a place like Massachusetts, this is the long dark winter promised by Joe Biden. The faithful wait for hours to be tested and then spend their days hiding in their homes. Red states and blue states have been replaced with normal states and Covid states.
These two realities are showing up in population movements. Normal people are fleeing the lands of the Covidian for places like Florida. For sure it is not just the lunacy of Covid theater, but it is playing a big role. We now live in two separate cultural and psychological spaces. There are those with triple masks, barrels of hand sanitizer, and a full booster card. Then there are the purebloods with their bare faces and their increasing impatience with the Covidian.
What Covid has done is bring two important questions to the fore. One is a question about the cause of this madness. Have we always had this number of crazy people, but they suffered in private, or has something caused many to go mad? It is possible that mass psychosis is an inevitable end to mass society. Perhaps knowing so much about the rest of us drives many humans insane. Ignorance really was bliss.
The other question is how can we ever go back to normal knowing that so many people are on the edge of madness? Even if we could turn it all off, can we forget that on every plane is a young woman ready to lock herself in the toilet or ready to pounce on the elderly at the first sign of the sniffles? Will normal people forget and forgive the obnoxious harridans harassing people over masks?
Like a marriage headed for divorce, Americans may be at that point of no return where one or both sides realize it is over. Normal people could tolerate the goofy politics and weird social fads, but Covid is the breaking point. Normal people are not just out of patience, they want out of this dysfunctional relationship. Normal people want a divorce from the mentally unstable. This relationship has reached its end.
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