The First Case of Global Mass Hysteria: Shake It Off or Stay a Sheep

As I write this on April 5, 2020, some of the Trump-hating media are still giving him rare praise for his doomsday warning a few days ago about the “coronavirus” (the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease) and for essentially telling Americans that they will have to live in a virtual totalitarian state for just a little longer. Meanwhile, governors and mayors across the country—as well as political leaders in other countries—are winning media plaudits for saying much the same. And frightened members of the public are trapped in their homes, wearing gloves and masks, spraying everything in sight with bleach, and hoping that their dwindling supplies of toilet paper do not run out. If you go outside your home to do something that you were told not to do, you might get arrested. Welcome to New America.

Mass hysteria is nothing new

But I am sitting in my house in Lockport, Illinois, sipping a glass of blackberry wine and thinking about my college days at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (UICC) back in the early 1980s. I’m also thinking about how I am thankful that I, at least, live in Will County, where people are not quite as paranoid as in Communist-ruled Cook County. You can still see people outside riding bikes and walking their dogs while wearing no masks. And people are still driving around at night. But I wonder where they are going? There are not many places left open anymore. Maybe they are breaking into the 24-hour Walmart, which is now closed at night, to scavenge the half-empty shelves for rare packages of toilet paper and isopropyl alcohol. It’s like the early episodes of “The Walking Dead.”

One of my more memorable and insightful classes at UICC was a social science course on mass hysteria and the behaviors of populations. I remember being fascinated by the several case studies in which the populations of entire cities or other areas were whipped into hysteria and delusional beliefs by exaggerated reports, rumors, and fear-mongering. Everyone in an area—from the average citizens and business leaders to the academic class and government hierarchy—were absolutely convinced that something big and bad was happening. Some kind of crime wave or some disease spreading around or some other threat that supposedly everyone experienced or knew somebody else who experienced. Word was passed from person to person. Newspapers printed story after story. The community became paralyzed by fear, while the government began to consider or institute new laws to address the problem.

In each documented case of mass hysteria, however, after weeks or months of fear and panic, it ultimately emerged that the whole giant thing was based on a tiny kernel of fact (or maybe just a rumor) that got blown way out of proportion into a widespread panic consisting of almost pure fiction. In reality, there was no major crime wave or disease epidemic or anything else that justified the fear. It was all a case of mass hysteria, in which the population of a community became convinced that something bad was happening when it really wasn’t. I recall how I was shocked by the idea that vast numbers of people could simultaneously and almost unanimously believe something that, in retrospect, was obviously not true. But there are numerous case studies throughout history demonstrating this phenomenon.

Mass hysteria—also known as collective obsessional behavior—is characterized by collective beliefs in serious threats that don’t really exist; they are only illusions. Some of the best-known examples from history include the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts during the 1600s; the “Great Fear” at the start of the French Revolution in 1789; the War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938; the “June bug epidemic” in North Carolina in 1962; the “mass drug use” and collapsing among students in Mount Pleasant, Mississippi, in 1976; the “fainting epidemic” in the West Bank in 1983; and the ever-recurring reports of “rashes” of shark attacks during summer. There are countless other examples, affecting populations of various sizes and with varying degrees of applicability to the current coronavirus situation.

This phenomenon is made possible by two main factors—fear and gossip. In all the cases of mass hysteria in history, the fear turned out to be unwarranted. Such are the fascinating ways of human nature in the context of group behavior and populations. Individually, people often base their behaviors on reason and logic. But when in a group, the tendency toward irrational, illogical thoughts and actions increases, especially when concrete knowledge is limited. The tendency to be influenced by, and follow, the herd is powerful and almost irresistible. People are just like cattle and sheep and lemmings that way.

That is one reason why I have always been suspicious and wary of group dynamics, group decisions, group-think, and whatever the latest general consensus is. I usually reject those things, preferring to think things through for myself and reach my own conclusions. This often leaves me in a very lonely place. Fortunately, I have always been a loner, so that suits me just fine.

What is really going on?

I have been repeatedly reminded of that old social studies class many times during what I call “The Great Coronavirus Panic of 2020.” What exactly do I think is going on today?

I believe there is something real at the core of the situation. There is a previously unknown type of virus that has spread around the world, as viruses often do. This pathogen leads to flu-like and pneumonia-like respiratory problems. Based on the number of known cases, and factoring in many potential unknown cases, the fatality rate of the virus is probably less than 1 percent, at least in the United States. That is about the same death rate as the various strains of influenza virus that regularly spread throughout the country and around the globe. The big difference is that there are vaccines available to slow the spread of those flu viruses. With this new COVID-19 virus, by contrast, no vaccines have yet been developed and nobody has vaccine-derived immunity. Thus, the prevalence (or incidence) rate of infection by COVID-19 is greater than your average flu virus—that is, it spreads around more. Consequently, the coronavirus and its “complications” may eventually cause a higher number of fatalities in the United States than is caused each year by influenza, which is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each and every year. Maybe the coronavirus death toll will go over 100,000 this first time around. The latest doomsday scenario from the “experts” predicts a lot more deaths than that. Doomsday indeed. Armageddon. Mass extinction. Anything dark and dastardly may become possible (if not today, wait until they say so tomorrow). But that 100,000 number would be about the same number of Americans who die from complications of Alzheimer disease every year (121,000, according to the CDC). And that number is much smaller than the number of Americans who meet their demise each year from other causes, including heart disease (647,000), cancer (599,000), and automobile crashes and other accidents (170,000).

Another factor to keep in mind is that not all the deaths currently being attributed to the coronavirus in news reports are really being caused by that virus. Early reports are always sloppy and based on faulty information. Many of those deaths are surely more likely to be caused by non-corona flu or pneumonia or other infections or underlying health conditions of the victims. And needless to say—whatever the real fatality numbers are—a vaccine will eventually get the coronavirus death toll under control to a “normal” rate of 30,000 to 60,000 American deaths per year—just like the annual influenza and pneumonia deaths that society has always lived with and accepted.

No matter what else you have heard from journalists, politicians, and epidemiological experts of various persuasions, those are the plain, simple, accurate, non-ideological facts of the matter. I am not a journalist seeking to panic the public so that you will read, listen to, or watch me. I am not a politician seeking to frighten you so that you will let me expand my control over your life. And I am not an epidemiological expert seeking to prove how wise and important I am to society. I am just a guy—with common sense, a reliable BS detector, and substantial training and experience in science (more than 30 years as a science writer and biologist)—trying to clarify a few things and put things in proper perspective for my fellow citizens.

Scared. Little. Sheep.

Unfortunately, I seem to be virtually alone in having this perspective, based on what I see in media reports and what I see my fellow citizens doing. As I watch the media-stoked virus hysteria—and as I try to make sure that I have enough toilet paper, food, and alcohol at home before the panicked public takes it all off the shelves—I am getting increasingly disgusted by the behavior of my fellow Americans. Scared. Little. Sheep.

I have been shocked at how people have so easily and obediently allowed the state and federal governments to strip away their basic freedoms—and take away their incomes. Businesses have been ordered to close. People have been thrown out of work. People have been told that they cannot go anywhere except to stores deemed to be “essential” by the state. (And now Birx is telling you that you can’t even go to the grocery store!) Americans are worried about getting arrested for socializing with a few friends, for going to parties, for going to church, for trying to go to work, for jogging or walking their dogs, for going for a walk in the forest or visiting a park. They are being ordered to wear silly little face masks, which are not even effective at stopping the tiny viruses, or gloves, which can still spread the germs. In some areas of the country, people are being threatened with arrest and jail for even leaving their homes or for disobeying the ever-changing new rules in any way. Worst of all, we are all being subjected to daily self-righteous lectures about what we should absolutely not do, from political figures and medical authorities (like Fauci) who initially downplayed the whole thing—until they realized what a golden opportunity it would be to score political points and grab more power for themselves. That is what really makes me sick—not the virus.

Those very few public personalities who have been brave enough to speak anything close to the truth in the face of this massive propaganda blitz have been quickly silenced and dismissed from their platforms, such as Trish Regan at the Fox Business Network. (I am not aware of anyone else who has forcefully spoken out, other than Rush Limbaugh, who may feel he has nothing to lose at this point in his life. But, then, he has always been a rare free-thinker. There are probably a few other dissenters, but not many.) It seems that everyone knows they must toe the official state-approved line or be publicly shamed and professionally destroyed.

Assault on freedom

This is all an unprecedented and unconstitutional assault on our basic freedoms and liberties—freedom of assembly; freedom of speech; freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness; freedom to make a damn living; freedom to exercise our natural, God-given rights! I used to think that Americans—unlike people in other countries—were stronger, tougher, and smarter than to let the government get away with such boldly fascist actions. But I was wrong.

The government assures us that it is a temporary necessity, to slow the spread of the virus. Do you really believe it will be temporary? Think about it. History strongly suggests that the government will make many of these new restrictions on your life permanent, semi-permanent, or regularly recurring. Once the government gains new powers over the public, it never gives them up. It just keeps expanding them. Just look at the government programs and power that grew out of the New Deal and then the Great Society and then the innumerable subsequent big-government plans to “help” you. The goal is always to make more members of the public dependent on the government for more things that they need to survive. And this time, the bureaucrats have the most powerful weapon of all at their disposal—deep and widespread fear among the public about an “invisible enemy” (as newly converted big-stater, deep-stater Trump repeatedly calls it). Fear that is continuously promoted by the government’s allies in the media. I know it sounds harsh and cruel, but the deep-state big-government insiders are relishing every sickness and every death caused by the coronavirus. Each sickness and each death means more power for them. That is, unfortunately, the sick way that the government stays in business.

Follow the leader

It is no wonder that we see the mass hysteria spreading all around us—going “viral.” The public is terribly frightened by something it does not understand and is not educated to understand, they see basic items previously taken for granted now gone from store shelves, they are told that they can’t go to work or to bars or to restaurants or to their friend’s house, they see their bank accounts and investments rapidly vanishing before their eyes—they see everything in their daily lives suddenly, inexplicitly, and drastically altered.

With such enormous and unexpected uncertainty, people have a natural tendency to follow the leader, to trust in government officials and scientific and medical “experts.” That trust comes despite decades of being misled and lied to by those officials and experts on a whole range of issues—Vietnam, Iraq, post-9/11 threats, Waco, Ruby Ridge, the JFK assassination, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, DDT, climate change, UFOs…. The record clearly shows that people should never trust the government. Power corrupts, and the government lies, and it is lying to us more now than ever right now. It is seizing control over every aspect of our lives and using the power of the media and corporate shills to quash all dissent. The same scenario is playing out all over the world. Governments are growing in power to a never-imagined extent, while public freedoms are being destroyed like never before in country after country. Throughout history, nothing like this has ever happened on a global scale. This is a brand new phenomenon. Future sociologists will marvel at it, study it, and write about it.

Economic destruction with no dissent

Most amazingly, not only are Americans letting the government, media, and academic establishment strip away their freedoms and liberties, they are also letting them take away their jobs and income and destroy an economy that had been the engine of the world. Many people will never get their lost money and their lost jobs back. Do these people think that the government is going to keep sending them $1200 checks forever? Do they think industries that were forced, unnecessarily, into untenable depression-like shutdowns will simply bounce back? Some companies and industries will be gone or unrecognizably diminished forever.

This is economic destruction on the scale of the Great Depression or worse, with the loss of millions of family incomes, massive unemployment, and perhaps permanent destruction of the American dream. Conversely, this has been almost full realization of the long-time Leftist dream, with the establishment and acceptance of a government so powerful that it can regulate every little personal aspect of the citizen’s life and make most citizens dependent on government aid.

And this destruction was all unnecessary—all part of the mass hysteria. Even if the restrictions are lessened in the near future, the government now knows that it can get away with it, so it will undoubtedly do it bigger and badder again, and again. That’s why it is so disappointing to me that Americans have not dissented more about this fascist crackdown on their lives, even if they think the restrictions might be necessary. At least some dissent would have let the government know that if it was going to “tread on me,” it had better tread lightly. Now the government knows it can tread hard, and you will take it lying down.

So, yeah, where is the dissent?? Where is the resistance? Where is the disobedience? Where are the public protests? Where are the voices of rage and reason? Where are the brave citizens willing to stand up for the U.S. Constitution and their natural rights in the face of this irrational fear mongering and power grabbing? Where is the distrust of the Establishment? I guess you cannot find such individuals in a society that long ago became abandoned to ignorance, intellectual laziness, and blind group-think. It makes me sad. And it gets me angry. But there is little or nothing I can do about it—other than to vent my frustrations by writing about it here. And I have disobeyed the restrictions, by going out and getting together with people for “nonessential” activities. But that does not amount to much effective dissent, I know. I am only one person.

Main thing to know

The main truth that people should know is this: There is a virus out there, and a lot of people are dying from it. Lots of people always die from viral and bacterial pathogens. It happens every year. But the government and public reactions to this particular virus are based mostly on fear not facts, and the reactions have not been warranted or logical. In fact, the reactions have been more dangerous than the virus itself.

Furthermore, people need to remember that there is much more to this world than the coronavirus. This is still a wonderful, beautiful world with animals, plants, forests, lakes, movies, music, good food, sexy women, new people to meet, new places to explore, and lots of other things that make life fun and worthwhile. People need to go out and enjoy these things. Stopping people from doing these things is not right and it is not natural. This does not happen in America. Maybe in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or Communist China (where all this crap began)—but not in America. Not for any reason!

Unfortunately, people seem to be afraid to think or talk about anything other than that damn virus. They are obsessed with it. Some of my freelance writing clients refuse to accept any pieces that are not about the virus. That refusal represents the obsession and hysteria more than anything else does to me. You want a piece on that damn virus? Well, here it is. This is all you’re gonna get from me. I’m sick of hearing and reading about the virus!

This virus obsession is, in fact, the first case of mass hysteria on a global scale, and it has resulted from the worldwide connection of the Internet, which spreads propaganda and fear faster and more thoroughly than any previous means available to the powers-that-be. There will surely be additional cases of global mass hysteria in the future, thanks to the World Wide Web. But this was the first.

Only one rational response

There is only one rational response to the situation and only one way to get out of this hysteria. People have to accept the reality of this virus. You cannot stop a virus. You cannot wait to reclaim your freedoms until after the virus is gone. It will never be gone. People have to accept a certain level of death if they ever want to get their freedoms back, and if they ever want their country to be America again. Everyone has to die of something sometime. Do you think you are going to live forever? You cannot do “social distancing” and “elbow bumps” forever—despite what the government may try to mandate. If society wants to get back to living, some people will have to die. That is not cruel, mean, or heartless. That is just reality—the way things have always been and always will be. Life is dangerous. Safety and health cannot be guaranteed. People used to know that—until they got used to the ever-expanding nanny state that promises a life without risk. People have to get back to the attitude of accepting risk as part of life. Maybe that’s the best thing that can come out of this fiasco.

Moreover, people have to understand that viral and bacterial diseases are ultimately good for the human population and for the planet. These diseases and the deaths they cause help to remove weakness from the human population, help to reduce overpopulation, and help to preserve natural resources and natural environments. That is the purpose of disease and death in the Intelligent Design of life, Earth, and the universe. Again, hard to hear, but basic reality and basic biology.

In summary

In summary, enough is enough. It is time to let society get back to normal. But to make that happen, people need to fight back. Resist the restrictions. Work. Go out and have fun. Do what you want to do, and don’t worry about getting sick. Live your life. Shake yourself out of your state of hysteria! We have to do these things, or else the government will never stop with its fascist assault on us. That is just one man’s opinion.

I believe that the loss of our freedoms, the destruction of the economy, and the government threats to keep extending this nonsense because they know they can—these things are far far worse than any stupid virus. This will be the real end of the United States of America if this continues much longer.

The authors of that old college textbook from the early 1980s on population behavior and mass hysteria could never have imaged the insane, socially pathological, science-fiction/political drama we are being forced to live through in real life today. But we do not have to participate in this social pathology or in this mass hysteria. And we can all put an end to it now if we want to. Do you want to? Or do you prefer to stay a scared little sheep?


About the author:

A.J. Smuskiewicz is a freelance writer specializing in science, medicine, history, and cultural issues. The views expressed here are his and his alone. He can be contacted at: [email protected] His website is at:




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