The Virus is Coming! History’s Lessons of Hope and Healing from the Threat of Viral Invaders

During Memorial Day Weekend, our hearts are drawn to the men and women who have laid down their lives to protect and preserve the freedoms of our great nation. From the Revolutionary War in 1776 to the Civil War in 1861 to the War on Terror in 2001, American heroes have stepped up in courage and given their lives to secure our borders and defend our constitutional freedoms. Today, we face an unprecedented battle against an unseen enemy. In this blog, Dr. Lisa Dunne places today’s battle in the context of America’s historical narrative, offering hope and direction in the face of a viral invader.

The British are coming! The British are coming!
The echoes of history ring in my ear
The virus is coming! The virus is coming!  
The heart of a nation is trembling in fear

We know not the path, whether land or by sea
The roadway is foggy, the lantern unclear
But when freedom is choked and our courage is tested
Will we flee like Fauci or ride like Revere?

Paul Revere was born in 1734 and trained to be a silversmith. When his father died in 1754, Revere entered the army to fight in the French and Indian War.  Tensions escalated, and just as he was ready to return home and take over his father’s silversmith business, The Stamp Act of 1765 caused significant financial upheaval. His frustrations with British oppression drove him to join the Sons of Liberty, a group credited with the development of early revolutionary efforts. The Stamp Act was followed by The Townsend Acts, national power struggles that ultimately ended in the Boston “Massacre” and the Boston Tea Party, where the Sons of Liberty famously dumped 342 chests of British tea into the harbor to protest the continuing financial strain and economic control Parliament was placing on the colonists. In fact, Revere often portrayed the power contrast in his artistic engravings: the orderly, “religious” Bostonians versus the encroaching 2,000 members of the British army sent to coerce the colonists into obeying Parliament’s orders.

On that famous night, April 18, 1775, Revere was summoned to send the signal to Charleston that the British troops were on the move. Under the threat of having military storehouses overtaken and two of the Patriot’s leaders, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, captured, the Patriots needed to awaken and alert all of the leaders if they were to protect the future viability of the young nation. Revere sent a friend to climb the bell tower of Christ Church and hang two lanterns to warn that the British troops were coming not by land, but by sea (i.e., the Charles River).  

Ultimately, Revere was tasked with the job of warning the other Patriots in order to protect their shared military assets and to keep Adams and Hancock from being arrested. Whether he actually shouted “the British are coming” or simply played the line over and over in his head as he rode from village to village is a matter of dispute. However, history records that as Revere approached the house where Adams and Hancock were staying, a guard told him to quiet down, as he was making too much noise. “Noise!” Revere is quoted as saying, “You’ll have noise enough before long!” Hancock heard Revere making “noise” outside, and calling out, said, “Come in, Revere! We’re not afraid of you.” Thus, Revere was able to deliver his message. And though he was ultimately captured by the British, the success of his “midnight ride” is not found in the end of his own personal freedom but in the saving and preserving of his nation.  

The Sons of Liberty were determined to protect their assets and their freedoms as they raged against an invader whose path was uncertain. But whether the enemy approached by land or by sea, these early American leaders had a proactive approach in place and were ready to thwart the plans of the enemy.

The virus is coming! The virus is coming!

Today, we face another kind of enemy. It’s not a visible invader, one who saunters in sporting a red coat. It’s not even an entirely new type of invader, some viral alien species we’ve never before encountered. Nonetheless, this invisible invader has threatened our freedoms, our finances, and our sense of security and safety. It has, as in Revere’s day, turned neighbor against neighbor, nation against nation, and brother against brother. It has tugged at the heart of all we hold dear and tested the tensile strength of human connectivity in the face of isolation. There are many striking similarities between the revolutionary invaders and the viral invader we face today, COVID-19.

However, the manner in which modern America has dealt with this viral invader stands in stark contrast to the way our Founding Fathers responded to the threat of an enemy. They devised a plan. We prepared an emotional reaction. They enlisted the help of clergy. We allowed houses of worship to be shuttered. They stepped up to the battle line. We hoisted the white flag of surrender. They fought for their independence. We have sacrificed our freedoms on the altars of convenience, safety, and security.

While our nation’s founders modeled courage in the face of an enemy, we find our country cowering in the corner, our national knees buckling at the dreaded approach of a viral invader.

A recent Slate study asked 6,100 people how comfortable they were returning to “normal life” once COVID restrictions were lifted. The responses were telling:

  • 46% said they wouldn’t eat outdoors at a restaurant
  • 73% would not eat indoors at a restaurant
  • 64% would not host a dinner in their homes
  • 89% would not host a party in their homes
  • 67% would not attend an outdoor concert
  • 70% would not fly on a plane
  • 60% would not visit elderly relatives
  • 89% would not shake a stranger’s hand
  • And only a sad 29% said they would hug a friend

Between the inviolable benefits of the human hug to the physiological, neurological, and emotional damage cause by fear, we should be concerned that the isolation and loneliness fostered by the “cure” may prove to be far more deadly than the sickness itself.

Let’s go back to the beginning, the initial warnings. When COVID-19 first shook its fist at California, the state put in place a two-week quarantine to give the virus time to spread slowly (aka, “flatten the curve”) so hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed. This seemed reasonable. In San Diego County, we have a population of 3.3 million people and only 8,000 hospital beds, so the precaution was logical—at first. But then four weeks. And then 8 weeks. This week marks almost ten weeks that CA has been on a shutdown: Parks, beaches, schools, universities, churches, restaurants (some of which are just now being “allowed” to open—as long as they agree to the prescribed “regulations”).

The closure of businesses has created a tangible economic downturn in California: According to the Employment Development Department (EDD), CA went from 3.9% unemployment in February 2020 to 15.5% unemployment in May 2020. The 2008 downturn (the “great recession”) peaked here at 12.3%. Last time, though, the economic downturn was caused by a faltering economy built on the shaky sands of the subprime mortgage crisis. This time, the state’s economic downturn was caused by a governor’s despotic whim.   

After the 14-day warnings, suddenly, fear moved out of the hospital beds and into the streets. The widespread panic movement included pervasive church shaming, shut-in-visit shaming, and birthday party shaming. A small church in Sacramento that dared to meet was chastised publicly when one person unknowingly “exposed” other attendees to the virus. A family birthday party attendee in southern California was shamed for unwittingly exposing his family to the virus while celebrating the birthday of a loved one. Americans were told the virus might leave for summer but return with double the force in the winter. Any reprieve was seen as a temporary calm before the real storm. And, in perhaps the most classic of all fear-based responses, Fauci announced that he might never shake hands again, vilifying a pattern of historic human connection dating back to 5th Century BC Greece.

Dr. Bryan William Jones, a neuroscience professor at the University of Utah, says viruses come in all shapes and sizes, averaging from as small as 20 nanometers in diameter to as large as 500 nanometers in diameter. The flu virus is 80 to 120 nanometers, and the PPTA estimates the SARS-CoV-2, or novel coronavirus, to measure around 120 nanometers in diameter.

In California, our entire state’s economy has been defeated by a 120-nanometer villain.

The virus is coming! The virus is coming! How will we respond?

Classical conditioning is a form of learning where a conditioned stimulus (CS) becomes associated with an unconditioned stimulus (US) in order to produce an effect. In the case of Ivan Pavlov’s experiment, as you may recall, the dogs learned to salivate at the sound of a bell (CS) because they were given food (US) at the same time the bell was rung.

Similarly, priming is where exposure to one stimulus influences how a person responds to another stimulus. For example, a year ago, when you saw a picture of a face mask, you might have thought “snow skier” or “bank robber.” Today, you have been primed to think the word “safe” or “protection” or “kindness” when you see a mask. Why?

When there is a constant association with a visual image of a mask and the word “kindness,” the intention is to cause you to associate wearing a mask with caring about fellow humans, even though, again, this has no basis in logic, nor does the silence about this illogical, primed, and carefully classically conditioned stimulus serve to help humanity in the larger picture of this scenario. If Paul Revere had bowed his knee to a false doctrine of kindness and nicety, he wouldn’t have galloped across the villages from Boston to Charleston, waking neighbors up in the middle of the night by yelling, “The British are coming!” He would have waiting politely until morning, and by then, it would have been too late.

If a deficiency of hospital beds was the true concern for the shutdown of the state, why aren’t we building more hospitals, creating more space? If the flattening of the curve over its 14-day viral incubation period was the concern, why is California still in quarantine almost 70 days later? The HHSA reports that in San Diego 1,232 people have been hospitalized over the course of 10 weeks, which means that overall, less than 0.000000411% of San Diego County residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19. That’s a pretty flat curve.

In San Diego, there were 421 deaths by car accidents in the first quarter of 2019 and 175 COVID deaths over the same span of time in 2020, as the virus has “raged” across our county. If numbers were the driving factor, you would think that the highways would be closed and the stores opened. Statistically, the roadways represent more of a death risk than the virus does. To further muddy the waters, SD County Supervisor Jim Desmond stated publicly that the actual “pure” COVID deaths in the county numbered only at six. Not 6,000. Not 600. Just six. In a follow-up briefing, the county’s public health officer didn’t deny Desmond’s numbers; instead, she said that pointing out actual numbers shows we are “insensitive” to the plight of those who have died of COVID. This response doesn’t make sense, of course, as we use statistical analyses of death rates everywhere all of over the world in order to inform strategic interventions. I’m not saying an individual death is unimportant. What I am saying is that our collective response to COVID-19 is disproportionate, illogical, and overreactive.

A proactive approach to bolstering weak immune system functions would be to have real, non-pharma-funded doctors teach holistic health and empower Americans to build up their immune systems through lifestyle changes (remember, even prior to this viral invader, Americans had more preventative diseases per capita than any other developed country in the world). A proactive strategy for relational health would be not to further isolate people through limiting the reassuring nonverbal analyses of microexpressions by forcing people to wear a mask that isn’t even capable of filtering out a 120-nanometer virus. What a mask CAN do is control the direction of the saliva droplets if a sick person sneezes or coughs in public. But guess what? We can teach manners for that! If your momma didn’t teach you to cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze into your arm—or to stay home if you’re sick—this is a good time to learn those behaviors. Let’s teach manners instead of requiring masks. A proactive strategy for emotional health would be to stop the priming, the classical conditioning, and instead teach people the physiological damage brought on by fear and isolation (see my Fear Factory blog for those stats) so they can make their own proactive decisions about their own bodies, their own minds, their own families, and their own businesses. Instead, the “proactive” strategy of our state has been to send California to its room in punishment of a wrongful deed it never committed.

We’ve already given up so many freedoms in our country. I often think back to the Values Clarification Movement (VCM), one of the most sweeping education reform movements in American history, one that radically transformed the nation’s education system for the worse. It was a gradual descent, a slow warming of the pan that eventually led to the death of the proverbial lobster, or in our case, the loss of liberty and life. C.S. Lewis said it is the gradual road to hell that is the surest one, the most undetectably straightforward and seemingly benign of all paths. Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, Americans have increasingly, gradually, often unwittingly sacrificed their freedom of speech, their freedom of religion, their freedom of thought, so that we may no longer be capable of recognizing the gradual decline into tyranny.

Since VCM, Americans had grown accustomed to having their freedoms stripped away. Don’t pray, the government said. Okay, sure. Don’t bring your Bible to school. Okay, sure. Don’t talk about God in the public sphere. Okay, sure. Let us teach your kids values that you don’t agree with for seven hours a day and then send them home with three hours of homework so you never see them, never influence them. Okay, sure. Let’s close down every church in America for two weeks, over Easter, one of the biggest Christian events of the year. Okay, sure. Let’s keep them closed another 6 weeks. Another 8 weeks. Another 10 weeks. Okay, sure. Now, let’s “allow” them to meet but make the restrictions so severe that they are unable to provide for the basic needs of the people in their congregations. One by one, we have seen our First Amendment rights obliterated, and it’s time to wake up.

What can you do? First, be media literate. Consider the source of everything you read and hear. Use logical analysis to fight classical conditioning and priming. Guard your heart. Be careful whose values you allow to influence your thinking, your relationships, your fears, your beliefs, and your behavior. If you’ve developed a “soul tie” with a celebrity, break that emotional alliance right now. Oh, I wish I could say that celebrity soul-ties were a made-up phenomenon, but as a scholar in this field, I tell you assuredly that celebrities are used regularly as puppets in the Entertainment-Education campaign, and people regularly place them on emotional platforms that create astronomical levels of influence (see The Frenzy of Renown, Entertainment-Education, or the Turtle and the Peacock for more on this phenomenon). Their platform of respect (or idolatry) gives them an inroad into behavioral influence. But their influence only works if you refuse to think for yourself! Read up on priming strategies. Get equipped. Awaken those neurons. To paraphrase Neil Postman, don’t come to adore technologies that “undo your capacity to think.” Don’t allow fake news to tell you how to think, when to think, or what to think about.

Do the research in your city. What are the real numbers? Who is telling the real story? And how will you respond as an American citizen who cares about the future of this great nation?

I’ll also be unpacking some media literacy tools in my podcast over the next few weeks, so make sure you subscribe to the Communication Architect on iTunes or Spotify.

Knowledge is power. “Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge,” Benjamin Rush said in 1786. “Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal nor universal.”

This Memorial Day Weekend, may the courage of those who paid the ultimate price for this great nation inspire us to protect and preserve the values of our great country. As Americans, it’s our responsibility to stand up, to speak up against tyranny, whether that force is pressing in from outside our borders or welling up from systemic corruption within our walls. As Thomas Jefferson said, we must endeavor to stand firm “against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

The virus is coming.  

Will we cower in the corner of our nation’s neighborhoods, refusing to shake hands or hug or smile at a friend without the interposition of a mask? Will we rise to fight the enemy with innovative strategies that foster creativity instead of crushing the human soul? Will our feet stand strong on the same soil that bore the brunt of soldier’s shoes running to the battle for freedom from British oppression? The same soil that was drenched in the blood of men who died in the Civil War so all could walk in freedom and equality? The same soil that caught the wings of United Airlines Flight 93 in Stonycreek Township on September 11, 2001 as passengers overtook Islamic terrorists on their murderous threats to DC?

To put it bluntly, will we fear like Fauci or ride like Revere?

Our nation was not founded under the white flag of surrender. It was established on the red, white, and blue. On fight, not flight. These colors don’t run.

We have to choose today which ideology we will serve. The virus is coming. America, it’s time to rise up and think proactively about our collective response to a 120-nanometer enemy for the sake of homes, for the sake of our churches, for the sake of our businesses, and for the sake of our sanity. As the adage goes, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”