All-time great novelist Nicholson Baker recently wrote a piece for NY Mag about covid. It is 12,000 words. Baker interviews smart people who know what’s up. He tells a story, giving background to the long and sordid history of viral manipulation in the US and abroad. At one point in the text, Baker speculates as to the origin of the virus. His thinking goes like this: Wuhan has labs that experiment with bat viruses. The first people (that we know of) to get sick were in Wuhan. Therefore, is it really that crazy to suggest that the outbreak occurred in Wuhan?
I don’t think this is all that interesting to think about. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where the virus came from. At this point, it doesn’t matter how deadly it is, how transmissible, or even whether or not asymptomatic spread is “a thing” (signs point to “no”).
None of that matters because we, collectively, as a people, have dug our heels in about this thing. Instead of approaching an essay like this in good faith and going “huh…something to think about,” we immediately start talking about how this or that idea is “dangerous” and shouldn’t be published. We’re taking our ball and going home. And we’re canceling our subscription.
Look, do whatever you want, but from an outside perspective (I have thought from day 1 that the measures we took to “combat” the virus were doomed to fail and plunge a significant portion of the world into starvation, but hey) this is becoming a little scary. I peeked at Twitter. As expected, it’s right down the line. On the one hand you have conspiracy people enraged that they were berated eight months ago for suggesting this very thing, and on the other you have snarky shitlibs sneering at Baker (who is better than them) and NY Mag (which could go under for all I care).
The typical petulant teenager snark goes something like this: “Oh, um, I like, forgot that Baker was a virologist.” It’s clever, right? Because he can’t possibly know anything about the science behind the virus’s origins. He’s not properly credentialed.
Except there are some people who are very properly credentialed who would agree with him. But playing this game is destined to fail. At one point, I saw a tweet that dismissed one of the credentialed scientists because they’re a microbiologist…even though that microbiologist’s entire career has been devoted to studying viral proteins. Throw em in the dustbin!
Besides that, Baker also isn’t a military historian, or an expert in WWII, and yet he wrote one of the most powerful, complex books on the subject that I’ve ever read. You see, what a novelist might be good at (if they’re a good novelist, of course), is compiling a timeline of data and reporting on it in clear, elegant prose. A good novelist is looking for the complexity of any given subject, so they might deal in things like subtlety or whatever.
Apparently, journalists, novelists, and other writers can’t report on things they’re not credentialed in. They’re also incapable of independently researching the issue, in order to better understand it. The flipside of this, of course, is that people who are credentialed (and who agree with us) are the only ones allowed to talk about it. Except they’re busy doing science. So we get a few lines from a person in a suit, and then we set about to wishing death upon anyone who disagrees with the person in a suit.
As usual, the cries of the information being “dangerous” is this permanently frustrated caste of losers doing a little something called “projecting.” The idea is that pushing a certain idea can lead to civil unrest, racial violence, and even war. Which is of course deep down what they want…just in their own way, on their own timeline.
The fact is that war and civil unrest only happen with the go-ahead from the higher-ups. It’s controlled within an inch of its life, allowed to continue so long as it is beneficial. Then the cheeto monster sends in the white vans. An article is just going to make each side of an argument angry, which will lead to clicks. Happy advertisters, happy life, as they say.
Then I’ll write about it here on my blog. The circle of life.
Ideas are free. You’re allowed to pose the question “where did this come from?” You’re allowed to be wrong. Science can prove that the virus did not in fact come from China, but honestly I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. I remember the story of the rogue scientist putting a block of infected dry ice on a vent in a city street in Wuhan. I also remember pictures of people falling out in the street, and people being welded into their homes. All of that served its purpose: to royally freak people the fuck out. Then you can pretend none of it happened and move on. Fake? Real? Who cares? It’s not going to move the needle one way or the other. It’s JFK status at this point. Most of the virus narrative is.
From the very beginning of this, I have been alarmed by how intense the backlash is for anyone questioning the narrative. As though you can “control a virus” in a country of people who have built their lives around doing whatever the fuck they want. People who are armed! We’re talking paramilitary-grade armed. It’s impossible.
It’s okay to think about stuff in the meantime. The machine rolls on.