The Endemic Mindset

There really aren't any more just-the-flu-ers these days.

OK, sure, there are still some solitary specimens sticking to their guns, so please don't send me screenshots of your crazy uncle's Facebook feed. But by and large, over the last several months the just-the-flu Meme has faded, having evolved into another species that is far more well-adapted to our environment. Far more resilient.

The ecological niche in our politics previously filled by the just-the-flu meme has been all but conquered by virus-gonna-virus.

So what is virus-gonna-virus? It is a versatile memetic construction built from some combination of one or more ideas. What are those ideas? That everything we're doing to combat COVID-19 is counterproductive safety porn. That nothing we could have done really would have changed anything about the virus's spread. That every country is going to end up in the same place. That most of the public discussion promoted in the news is designed to support the institution of new social controls and disproportionate criticism of politicians the media do not like.

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  1. The death rate in my county is 5%. 5%. Mask wearing is required, as is distancing. Most people have been pretty good. But despite this our rates are abysmal. Why? Combine a lousy hospital system with an older, much more unhealthy population and you get death printer go brrr. I’ve taken this thing seriously since January. I still do. I’m not fear-based, so I know a lot of what we’re doing (or at least a lot of what we did early on) is and was safety porn. I wish I could care more, but I cannot. My emotional capital has been drained. I’ve done my part. I’ll continue to do my part. But when a coworker decides to jet off to two locations, both of which have almost no real rules, then comes back positive a week later I’m Seacrest out. Tomorrow I start doing something I never wanted to do: working from home. F*ck it, if I’m surrounded by imbeciles then I’ll stay home and be the responsible one.

    That’s where I am. My wife and I will continue helping our older neighbor with her leaf removal, I’ll keep sending checks to the local food bank, but I’m done caring about the numbers. I don’t want to be done, but I’m failing to find the strength to do it. So this note hits home.

  2. aah, the 3rd stage of Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief: Depression & Helplessness. Transitions between mindsets seem to follow familiar patterns. Although some aspect of human emotion is emergent and memetic, it seems that evolutionary design predisposes us to learned helplessness. Will will bargain our way out of helplessness, because unlike dogs, our free will can interrupt conditioning with greater reliability. What i worry most about, is the nature of this ‘bargain’. All systems seek balance, but in a near infinite set of ‘types’ of autopoietic balance, many will have a negative long-term impact on socio-cultural development. If governments create a new set of constraints that, through policy, force vaccinations, create an identity passport, dictate the manifestation of social norms within private residences, or any other form of Orwellian control. Are we to be happy with the ‘bargain’?

  3. The antidote to the endemic mindset is the magic bullet, in this case the Vaccine - with a capital V. In your terms, after advance work by Gates et al., the meme of the Vaccine was drummed into us relentlessly, first by Fauci and Birx, and then by Trump and Biden, and now more recently by Pfizer and Moderna. CNBC banners the 90+% and 94+% effectiveness of the respective Vaccines and then compares them to vaccine effectiveness for smallpox, measles, and polio. The latter benchmarks were for actual prevention of the disease. The Pfizer and Moderna benchmarks are reportedly for mild disease. Hopefully, prevention of mild Covid19 disease is highly correlated with prevention of all Covid19 disease, and the Vaccine is not a just-like-the-flu vaccine but with a much more effective marketing strategy. At least we’ve made some progress; time will tell; and now back to the endemic mindset.

  4. Rusty - always enjoy your writing, and ET overall. This time, I think you missed an opportunity to do what we, as a pack, should always do: teach. Wearing a mask is not enough. We should teach by example by wearing a mask that actually works & is not a fashion statement. According to 3M, a surgical mask is to prevent the surgeon’s respiratory droplets from reaching the patient, and are rated at 100 microns. Drywall dust is about 3 microns and a virus is about .1-.3 microns. Wearing a fabric or surgical mask is like throwing a tennis ball in your open garage and expecting the walls to block it. Wear what works - K95, KN95, rated at 3 microns, and help those around us to obtain them. And we can teach without being jerks. Help our elderly friends & neighbors with gifts of K95-KN95 masks and disposable surgical gloves. Use them yourself when you deliver them, so they can feel confident about getting out of the house.
    Although you didn’t come out & say it in these words, we should live a can-do life, confidently, and try to inspire those around us out of any helplessness they may feel.

  5. Avatar for mckett mckett says:

    I had a conversation with a client exactly like this last week, and frankly it depressed me a bit (he is a biologist). Thanks as always for the illumination

  6. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Barry, I appreciate the feedback. I think we’ve been pretty open about our belief in N95 and KN95 masks, as they represent the core of our affiliated PPE distribution effort. We’re familiar with the literature on cloth/surgical masks against these higher grade options. You’re right that they’re not the same. But the garage analogy provided is somewhat exaggerated. Cloth, especially multiple ply, does a pretty passable job at reducing transmission of >10 micron particles, which remain a mechanism for transmission. Aerosols are less good, but studies certainly indicate a reduction, and viral load continues to be an important factor in outcomes. It matters, and getting people who are ill-inclined to do anything to do something matters. Gatekeeping people we’re trying to get back in the game by being excessively specific here wasn’t really our aim.

    And as for trying to inspire people out of any helplessness they feel…I completely agree! I’m not sure what you meant by me not coming out and saying it, though. That’s the whole point of the piece. That’s the point of the final big paragraph. I’m with you on this! :slight_smile:

  7. Avatar for rwgood rwgood says:

    What if a large number of the dogs receive a shock that is no worse than a little tickle such that that do not even care what section of the box they’re in. No need to whimper. I know of one elderly person who died as a result of her exposure. I also know of a large number of people most between say 16 and 55 who were infected and experienced little or no symptoms. Those people did not learn to whimper in helplessness.

  8. The brutal part of this, as all but said by Rusty, is the complete failure of our politicians: those on one side downplaying it and those on the other using it to advance non-Covid agendas (yes, I’m talking to you president Trump and to you governor Cuomo).

    If there was ever an opportunity to help break the widening gyre - to bring everyone together - this was it. Leaders at all levels - local up to Federal - should have put bipartisan commissions/task forces/etc. in place and told them to work for the best outcome, period. True Republican leaders should have been calling out the BS in their own party’s narrative as true Democratic leaders should have been doing in theirs.

    But no, a global pandemic just turned into another game of “your side is evil.” And let’s not kid ourselves, both sides picked and chose the science it liked.So here we - all normal Americans - are, essentially on our own, trying to decide who has the “right” science. Instead of being able to follow a few government sites for smart guidance on what to do, we all had to become our own Covid-19 experts, which is something, I know, I’m not qualified to do, but I had no choice.

    I get your point Rusty about how now we should be playing defense to a foreseeable goal, but we all have to make that assessment ourselves as no one believes anything any of our politicians say - idiot Rs not wearing masks and holding rallies or idiot Ds not denouncing leftist non-mask-wearing “protests” or telling us to stay home and then going to get their own hair done.

    I’m amazed there is such partisanship in the country as both sides simply make me sick.

  9. Avatar for mwc mwc says:

    Don’t forget, Learned Happiness can be ‘learned’ just as quickly (or gradually) as Learned Helplessness. I mean, the good Dr. has a book on it!

  10. I fear that this is what breaks us – the slow erosion of public spiritedness by watching people around you take more and more liberties. I’ve had the same thing here, to the letter: watching a colleague take their planned international trip the week after I cancelled mine out of desire to avoid being a contagion vector; having to continue telling my friends that no, I can’t to come to their birthday party to which dozens of others are invited; taking my carefully socially-distanced midday walk while watching tightly-clustered groups of young people laughing and playing within inches of one another.

    It’s not the lacklustre official response that breaks us. It’s looking to our left and right and seeing those close to us starting to defect that drives us into a tragedy of the commons equilibrium.

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