Madness spreads much faster than viral infection

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Image credit: Levi Saunders on Unsplash

We humans are a credulous lot at the best of times. Our long history on the African savannah and in the primordial forests of Eurasia contained no selection pressures that would have resulted in us developing a significant capacity for reason, nor any capacity for consistency-checking. Added to this was a great deal of selection pressure to conserve scarce and unpredictable calories, which means that we’re actually hardwired to do as little thinking as possible. This is because an active brain can consume up to 30% of the body’s blood glucose, and that’s energy that was much more frequently needed by our muscles to enable us to escape from predators or forage for food.

And that’s why we so reliably fall for absurdities like religious mythologies, astrology, Tarot reading, Power of Attraction, and an uncountable number of other infantile ideas. Our brains aren’t adapted to see past simple ideas, no matter how absurd they may be. This problem is compounded by fear, which causes shutdown of the prefrontal cortex and thus deprives us of what slender reasoning resources we may have once possessed.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that during times of mass hysteria such as the one we’re presently living through, social media should be a cesspit of idiocy. Thanks to the BBC, I’ve belatedly discovered what a great many of my fellow-humans have been latching onto in recent days, and I thought it would be illuminating for other media-hermits like me to see just how silly things can get.

First of all, there’s the myth that cocaine can ward off the coronavirus. I presume this was started by our dear friends in Colombia. Then there’s the myth that if only we avoid ice-cream we won’t succumb to the illness. It’s not clear who started this one; perhaps strident vegans who oppose what is now fashionably termed “lacteal rape?” Personally, I’m a bit disappointed as I do think this particular myth could have been refined, so that (for example) we can eat vanilla ice-cream with impunity but salted caramel-peanut will result in death from coronavirus within hours of polishing off the wafer cone.

Or perhaps even better: eating ice-cream made from cocaine will be the best of all possible worlds, confusing the virus so much that it leaves us alone?

While the ice-cream myth may be a bit disappointing, I’m delighted by the myth that drinking bleach has apparently gained many adherents. Now that we’ve engineered out the consequences of stupidity in so many areas of contemporary life it’s wonderful to see something that helps natural selection do its proper job once again.

Sadly less lethal but still rather amusing is the myth that continuously drinking water will magically keep the virus at bay, by “washing it through our system.” Once again I’m a little disappointed that this wonderful advice isn’t supplemented by the injunction to add plenty of liquid soap to the water we’re supposed to keep swilling down. After all, if washing our hands is good then surely washing our intestines will be even better?

Continuing the loony notions that are spreading throughout the interweb, hairdryers have been proclaimed as a way to save ourselves from instant death. Presumably the idea is either (a) the dryers blow the virus away, or (b) the dryers disintegrate the virus like a Star Trek ray gun. I can see the manufacturers of hand-held hairdryers getting solidly behind this one; hopefully we’ll soon see a new range of dryers coming onto the market that feature flashing lights and which make impressive zap! noises when activated.

It was inevitable that the “essential oils” brigade would seek to cash in on the current scare, but as yet we aren’t being advised to immerse ourselves in leakproof sarcophagi for 72 hours. Speaking of immersion another myth proclaims that if we can hold our breath for 10 seconds this is proof positive that we aren’t infected. I’d like to combine this with the essential oils idea and say that if we can immerse ourselves completely in essential oils and hold our breath for 72 hours without drowning then it definitely proves (a) we don’t have the virus, and, far more importantly (b) we don’t have a functioning brain.

The last myth to be included in this brief sampling is the notion that if we eat Chinese food we’ll contract the coronavirus. This is an excellent myth perhaps originating in the marketing departments of the large corporations that own McSlop and Kentucky Fried Cancer. I hope we shall see more of this kind of thing, claiming that (for example) avoiding Italian food will ensure immunity to the virus. In fact I’d like to see a myth that states we’ll definitely catch the virus if we utter words such as spring roll, sweet-and-sour pork, mu-shu, pizza, pasta, and Valpolicella.

Of course when it comes to Valpolicella, coming down with coronavirus infection may well be preferable to being forced to drink it…

I’d like to propose here and now that each and every one of us contributes to this important work of spreading madness across the interweb. If every person coming to Medium can contribute even a single crazy idea we can guarantee the continuing march of folly around the globe.

How about: “You can’t catch the coronavirus if you only use your right leg!”

Or: “If you can’t see the virus, it can’t see you, so duct-tape your eyes shut for the next six weeks!”

Or even: “Eating someone who has the virus is just like getting a 100% effective vaccination!”

Let’s all use our imaginations. Now that we’re all stuck indoors, we have to find something to pass the time…

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