It’s more than fair to say that we are experiencing a pandemic, but not the one you hear about ad nauseum. No, the pandemic is not a virus, it is a pandemic outbreak of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy which focuses its obsessions on the virus.
Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy is a mental illness in which the sufferer fantasizes that others–usually people in their charge, such as children–are suffering from serious illness and require drastic medical intervention.
Observe what has happened over the last 7 months, and what if anything is increasing in intensity today. The obsession with Covid-19. The monomaniacal focus on “cases” (usually the result of hypersensitive tests prone to false positives), with the belief that people who test positive are sick, and huge numbers of those who become sick will die.
Given the actual experience over the last several months, these beliefs are wildly exaggerated–imaginary, fantasized illnesses, with fantasized severity, just the kind of thing that a sufferer of MSbP does.
And there’s more to the diagnosis. MSbP sufferers subject the people whom they imagine are ill with suffocating attention and unnecessary, and often harmful, health-related interventions. You know, like lockdowns; draconian restrictions on movement, social contact, and other features of everyday life; the shutting down of schools and colleges; and strident demands to wear masks–even between bites of your meal if you are in California.
Look at so many governors and mayors, e.g., Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gavin Gruesome–excuse me, Newsom–in California, J. B. Pritzker in Illinois, or Tim Walz in Minnesota. (I could go on. And on. And on. Believe me.) They constantly invoke their power over you. But it’s for your own good! Trust them! Mommy is protecting you! And if you object, you will be punished! How dare you defy Mommy’s tender mercies, you ungrateful brats? If you do, you will be punished! To get your minds right and realize just what danger you are in, and why you need to listen to Mommy and do exactly as she says!
And if it were only limited to “authorities” who make Cartman look pleasant. You probably have neighbors or co-workers who have the Syndrome. Or you run into them in the grocery store. Or maybe it’s the fatso in the pharmacy checkout line. (Yeah, that’s an allusion to a personal experience, but no worries: I doubt said person can read.)
It was already bad enough before Trump was diagnosed with Covid. Then a super-virulent strain of the Syndrome appeared, through some Darwinian mechanism apparently. As soon as I saw his first remarks from the hospital–that he had learned a lot about Covid, and he was going to share that information and experience with us–I knew he would say exactly what he did say: it can be a serious illness, but the vast majority of people can beat it, and we shouldn’t let it dominate our lives.
And I knew that this would kick the MSbP crowd into apoplexy. They want a narrative of doom and gloom. They want people to be afraid. They want people to defer to them, and to depend on them, and most importantly to obey their commands. You could get really sick–ALL OF YOU! You could die–ANY OF YOU! Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise! They don’t have your best interests at heart, like Mommy does. And put in your earplugs (so you don’t hear the Bad Orange Man), put on your eye shades (so you don’t read the Great Barrington Declaration), you know where to put the cork (aka the mask that makes it impossible for you to speak intelligibly).
So anything that contradicts the narrative triggers a mass attack of the Munchausens.
Is Covid like the seasonal flu, as Trump said? Well, the more data that comes in, the more it appears that yes it is a danger on the order of magnitude of a bad seasonal influenza strain–the kind we have endured multiple times in the past without draconian measures that cratered economies. And ironically, the data strongly suggest that it is less of a danger to children than the garden variety seasonal flu.
But it is beyond cavil that it is nothing remotely like the last great pandemic disease, Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919. But that doesn’t stop severe cases of MSbP like Gov. Gretchen Ratched from justifying their actions by reference to that episode, and invoking laws passed during that real pandemic to control your life today.
In normal times, most of the objects of MSbP sufferers are children, who have limited power to resist. Often medical professionals are the ones who identify a MSbP situation, and intervene to protect the object.
But today, adults are overwhelmingly the objects. And too many medical professionals enable MSbP (and may indeed be sufferers themselves–just look at the lunatic Twitter timelines of many medicos FREAKING OUT over Trump’s remarks and behavior, i.e., acting like someone suffering the flu, or a cold).
Given the coercive powers of the most important MSbP sufferers, the said governors, mayors, bureaucrats, etc., this pandemic–the MSbP pandemic–is wreaking untold havoc. We need more people to say we aren’t going to take it. We need more people to push back. We should not be in the thrall of the mentally ill.
But alas, we are. Because there are so goddam many of them, and they infest the executive branches of government at every level.
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Dr Pirrong is Professor of Finance, and Energy Markets Director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. He was previously Watson Family Professor of Commodity and Financial Risk Management at Oklahoma State University, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University.
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