In Part I of this series we looked at the stages and attributes of a moral panic and how this applies to COVID-19. In Part II we will examine how to address this issue properly and ideally how to end a moral panic.
Once the phenomenon surrounding COVID-19 is seen as predominately a moral panic rather than a pandemic the next step requires changing how we talk about these events. To speak about data, studies, figures, and graphs is ineffective in breaking the spell that those who believe in the official narrative are under. They have their science, or lack thereof, and are sticking to it so by continuing on this path we are essentially attempting to communicate in two different languages. This is obviously not productive.
But, by changing how we look at the problem, we can get to the heart of the matter and end the moral panic. To do so let’s reexamine the stages and attributes of the situation and propose some solutions to better communicate with those still caught in the grips of the terror.
Stop Playing The Role Of Folk Devil
If you are one of the people refusing to follow the official COVID-19 narrative then you, even more so that the virus, are the folk devil in this moral panic, the one who people will blame for society’s current predicament. To avoid persecution the best bet is to be able to demonstrate that you uphold the same values as your accusers.
For example, you could argue that by keeping your immune system fortified with regular exercise, a nutritious diet, good mental health practices, and restful sleep you are actually doing far more to prevent the spread of a disease than someone just wearing a mask. Or, when you are told that you don’t care about others by refusing a vaccine, hopefully you will have any number of examples of times that your actions supported your community, friends, and/or family.
During these times it’s best to completely avoid those who’ve sadly become unhinged but, wherever possible, it is worth trying to show those who will still have a conversation that you are actually after the same thing as accuser. Most everybody wants businesses, restaurants, borders, parks, and society as a whole to reopen and while you might not be in agreement on every point of how to make this possible put that aside and work with what you’ve got. At the very least you can probably find some way to agree that the government has overstepped it’s bounds or that the ethical track record of pharmaceutical companies isn’t that impressive.
Reclaim Signs and Symbols
There are many established signs and symbols at play in the coronavirus drama which means there are as many opportunities to reclaim their meaning. As consensus is reached the so-called folk devils are weakened but this is the time where you can hijack the mainstream’s messages to use their own symbols against them to end a moral panic.
As discussed in Part I, those standing in defiance of the official narrative are demonized and mocked in the press and by the public. Anyone standing in front of a state house in protest of lockdowns or entering a grocery store without a mask are depicted as a Trump supporting, flag waving simpleton not capable of “trusting the science.” In such a politically divided country those sorts of symbols (E.g. flags, guns, Q, etc) don’t send a message that resonates with anyone on the other side of this divide. Either there need to be no signs or symbols associated with any groups or movements, it’s the message that’s important not the politics, or they need to be politically neutral. As was seen in Idaho in recent days assembling in groups is still crucial in pushing back against lockdowns but the optics needs to be handled correctly.
Another obvious symbol in all of this madness is the facemask. There is no way to don a mask and use it as a meaningful symbol of protest. Cutting holes over the mouth, wearing mesh masks, or printing slogans on them does nothing to undo the symbolism of the masks as a means of silencing people. So first off, do not wear one. Be mindful of your facial expressions if you’re in a tense situation. Say you’re getting menacing stares from everyone in the grocery store. In that sort of situation remember to smile, be polite if anyone approaches you, and otherwise remain at ease to reinforce the message with your mind and body that you are doing nothing wrong.
The act of removing your mask in and of itself can be a powerful symbol to others who, like you, do not want to wear one but are afraid of the consensus mentality. Sometimes they just need to see someone else take the plunge before they too drop the façade.
If you are a business owner, print signs or otherwise make a display which shows that you will not be enforcing mask mandates in your business. Keep it simple, there’s no need to bring politics, religion, or anything else into the conversation, just convey that you are allowing people to choose whether or not they want to wear one.
It’s all well and good to promote these counter signs and symbols on the Internet through posts, memes, photos, etc but more importantly they need to exist in the real world. Stickers, clothing, flyers, booklets, and billboards with messages reminding people that humanity is not a virus are great ways of spreading these signs and symbols in the real world. The White Rose has materials available for purchase.
Tune Out The Media
The mainstream outlets play three key roles in the flourishing of a moral panic according to Stanley Cohen in his work, Folk Devils and Moral Panics. First, they set the agenda by identifying deviant behavior they claim is newsworthy. Secondly, they broadcast the claims of claims-makers, a sociological term for those who reinforce that the deviancy is real and needs remedying by authorities. Their third role is to “break the silence” and become claim-makers themselves.
But what does this look like in the context of COVID-19 without the sociological jargon? Take The New York Times, who perfectly embodied the role of media in this moral panic. Early on stories portrayed anti-lockdown protestors as violent and fueled by conservative funding acting against the best interest of society. Opinion pieces also circulated calling these people ignorant, selfish, and racist for good measure. Puff pieces fawning over Andrew Cuomo and Anthony Fauci’s so-called leadership and asking that other authorities follow suit appeared. Along the way The Editorial Board itself chimed in with a call for a nationwide lockdown to avoid catastrophe.
You can mimic these results with any other mainstream outlet of your choosing.
The good news is that the solution here is simple: turn off the television, shut off the radio, close the newspaper, and block them on social media. This is also arguably the quickest, easiest way to end a moral panic or at least see it start to retreat.
For decades now the mainstream media has proven itself not worthy of the public’s trust and the time has long since passed that we let them wither and die. There are excellent outlets like OffGuardian, The Last American Vagabond, Unlimited Hangout, The Corbett Report, and plenty more besides which allow you to independently verify the information they present.
Practice Civil Disobedience
Almost no corner of the world has been left untouched by the madness of politicians in response to this moral panic. To call many of these measures disproportionate to the threat of both the virus and those not going along with the state’s script is an understatement. Greeks must ask the government for permission to leave their house while in various countries police have used water cannons and deafening “sound cannons” at protestors, tased mothers at football games for not wearing masks, and assembled en masse to prevent business owners from opening up.
Again, the solution is simple: do not comply. This doesn’t require an ounce of violence, leave that to the government, it just requires not obeying any of these ridiculous orders, laws, and mandates.
While simple this solution isn’t without it’s risks. Moral panics create a massively volatile society which explains why law enforcement acts so heavy-handedly and otherwise sane people are prone to irrational behavior when this momentum is strong. The silver lining is that while they come on quickly, we can end a moral panic just as rapidly.
This is why it is smart to be connecting with like-minded people who you can rely on in times like this. These same people will be equally important once the panic subsides because sometimes society simply doesn’t look quite the same on the other side which is a jarring thing to come to terms with. There is strength in numbers no matter what the situation or stage of the moral panic we’re at.
Sadly, the question of how to end a moral panic is not simple and these solutions are not a panacea against madness. With this reality in mind there should be an exit plan if all else fails. This could mean either exiting your present geographical location for another jurisdiction or staying put and building alternatives. Either way there are most likely some tough questions you will have to answer.
If you leave the United States for Mexico are you prepared to learn Spanish? Can you cope with the cultural differences between New York City and rural Wyoming? Are you willing to trade mountains for deserts or the sea for the forest?
If going to the supermarket or even farmer’s market requires proof of vaccination are you prepared to trade with your neighbors or grow your own food to survive? Are you ready to use cryptocurrency or alternative currencies in lieu of relying on government-issued universal basic income? Can you go off the grid if the power company threatens your energy source?
Hopefully one day we will look back upon the moral panic of COVID-19 with dismay and wonder how humanity could continue to stoop so low. But if we want to continue to enjoy what was considered normal life just months ago we all need to be prepared to weather these dark days and the many more that may lie ahead. Now is the time to reframe the conversation and take time to build strength, resilience, and community in the face of fear. That way we may become the resistance that the future will look back upon with thanks.