.....“It will go away like things go away.”
— Donald Trump
......“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
— Bhikkhuni Pema Chödrön
...".Last week we looked a the physical side of Covid. This week we’ll explore the mental side. According to a study published in Lancet Psychiatry
, 39 of 125 hospitalized Covid patients in the UK had altered mental status, although only 16 showed brain inflammation or swelling. Of those with no physical signs of brain damage, 92% were new psychiatric diagnoses: 43% had new-onset psychosis, 26% had a neurocognitive, dementia-like syndrome, and 17% had an affective disorder. While most of those who experienced a stroke were over the age of 60 (82%), about half with an altered mental state were under 60 (49%). About 26% of patients with new-onset neuropsychiatric disorders were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.
.......In another study in Spain neurologic manifestations were seen in 57.4% of 841 patients hospitalized in March and 4.1% of their deaths listed neurologic complications as the primary cause. Disorders of consciousness (hallucinations, loss of senses, or cognitive deterioration) were nearly twice as high (38.9%) among patients with severe Covid-19. 14.9% had delirium and 9.4% went into coma. While coma and stroke emerged in later stages of the progression, decaying neurologic symptoms emerged throughout all phases of infection.
The mere fact of being in an ICU can also lead to cognitive impairment. The effect of more than a week in intensive care is comparable to that of a major head injury. The problems are linked to the delirium people often fall into when severely ill and heavily sedated in an unfamiliar environment. Delirium is a particular problem with Covid-19, says Dale Needham of Johns Hopkins University. Patients spend a long time in the ICU during which they see no one they know — and the strangers caring for them in heavy-duty protective wear “look like aliens.”
The mental impairment brought on by Covid compounds
the problems of coping with the pandemic, and also with the many other crises that pre-existed Covid. It is similar to the compounding problem of lead poisoning
in Ancient Rome that reduced mental capacity at a moment when the Empire was increasingly under siege. High-born Romans sipped beverages cooked in lead vessels and channeled spring water into their homes through lead pipes that likely increased lead body burdens by hundreds of times
. This disproportionately struck the wealthy, Senators, courtiers, and others of elevated social rank. By making their leadership stupid, the Romans essentially decapitated themselves. From about the first century BC, the culture lost its progressive edge and fell into wine, orgies, and watching cooking show reruns on TV.
Various cultural critics have associated the start of the USA’s social collapse with Ronald Reagan’s dismantling of the fairness doctrine at the FCC, allowing Fox Corp, MSNBC, and other agenda-driven “news” outlets to ramp up fake news into ubiquity. How often have you had to endure a propaganda stream worthy of North Korea while sitting in the waiting room of your dentist or a public health clinic?
Other historians have flagged Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America
that brought scorched earth policies to the Grand Old Party and replaced collegial compromise with Mitch McConnell. Costly government shutdowns for no apparent reason apart from a test of wills became de rigueur rituals of manliness. Governance by uncompromising partisanship was, to governance, “as miniature golf is to golf,” a senior congressional reporter
said at the time.
....For my part, I’d place the USA’s descent into the present internecine bloodbath squarely along the timeline of any post-classic civilization at that precise point where a gentle glide path from complexity to simplicity becomes Lord of the Flies.
...Enter the plague. How an organized, well-educated, science-based culture deals with a relentless zoonotic outbreak is very different from how a pack of gibbering Spring Breakers or Xanax-swigging couch potatoes do.
......The seeds of American dysfunctionalism were planted when English settlers arrived in Jamestown and Plymouth and later took the remaining parts from the Dutch, French, Spanish and Russians, oh, and not to mention the indigenous peoples. Their perverted strain of brutal exceptionalism has been described with an equal measure of admiration and horror by historians from Alexis de Tocqueville to Sarah Vowell.
...But the cancerous product of digital media we see today is not confined to the US. It’s spreading seen and unseen everywhere, even to Wuhan. Social media, going back to the Zuckerberg/Winklevoss origin story
from Harvard in the 00s, is based on remorseless, non-human algorithms that exploit confirmation and normalcy biases, tribalism, discount factors, and hunger for approval, to generate ad-revenue-generating page-views.
Positive feedback mechanisms are always dangerous because they can and will spiral out of control. Pandemics, defense budgets, and climate change share this attribute with Twitter, Face, WeChat, WhatsApp, Instagram, and all the rest. They are gremlins that should never be fed after midnight. But clandestine social engineering, intended or unintended, corrupts the foundations of the growth that sustains it. It gnaws away at human potential and faith in empiricism the way acid rain erases hieroglyphs in Egypt.
....Covid is swarming with positive feedbacks. A dearth of tests allowed unconfirmed cases to create still more cases, defeating contact tracing and flooding hospitals, which ran out of beds, masks, and protective gowns. Social media amplified Trump/Johnson/Lopez-Obrador/Bolsonaro misleading messages, which elevated fear and anxiety, which caused people to spend more time scouring for information on social media, much of it false or misleading.
....In some warped sense, digital mass communication might be viewed as a balance nature has supplied that will eventually restore the proper order of things; an over-arching negative feedback. Whether it ends the world by zoonosis or by a nuclear exchange based upon divergent readings of the footnotes in the Muller Report is not yet knowable.".....
Clear distribution of accurate information is among the most important defenses against an epidemic’s spread. And yet the largely unregulated, social-media-based communications infrastructure of the 21st century almost ensures that misinformation will proliferate fast. “In every outbreak throughout the existence of social media, from Zika to Ebola, conspiratorial communities immediately spread their content about how it’s all caused by some government or pharmaceutical company or Bill Gates,” says Renée DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory, who studies the flow of online information. When COVID‑19 arrived, “there was no doubt in my mind that it was coming.”
Sure enough, existing conspiracy theories — George Soros! 5G! Bioweapons! — were repurposed for the pandemic. An infodemic of falsehoods spread alongside the actual virus. Rumors coursed through online platforms that are designed to keep users engaged, even if that means feeding them content that is polarizing or untrue. In a national crisis, when people need to act in concert, this is calamitous.