After 2005 when the Internet developed into a serious repository for human knowledge, and it became accessible via smartphones and near-universal access, I too was tempted by the idea that we would enter into a new age of enlightenment in which mass frenzies would be quickly stopped by dawning wisdom.
You can see evidence of my naïvete with my April 5, 2020 article: With Knowledge Comes Calm, Rationality, and, Possibly, Openness. My thought then was that the evidence of the extremely discriminatory impact of the virus on plus-70 people with underlying conditions would cause a sudden realization that this virus was behaving like a normal virus. We were not all going to die. We would use rationality and reopen. I recall writing that with a sense of confidence that the media would report the new study and the panic would end.
I was preposterously wrong, along with my four-month-old feeling that all of this stuff would stop on Monday. The psychiatrist I met in New York was correct: the drug of fear had already invaded the public mind. Once there, it takes a very long time to recover. This is made far worse by politics, which has only fed the beast of fear. This is the most politicized disease in history, and doing so has done nothing to help manage it and much to make it all vastly worse.
We’ve learned throughout this ordeal that despite our technology, our knowledge, our history of building prosperity and peace, we are no smarter than our ancestors and, by some measures, not as smart as our parents and grandparents. The experience with COVID has caused a mass reversion to the superstitions and panics that sporadically defined the human experience of ages past.
Eventually, people have and do come to their senses, but it is as Mackay said: people “go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”