Charles McCollum

Charles McCollum

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Since the Herald Journal office is still closed due to coronavirus concerns, I told a caller with a somewhat mysterious request this week that I would meet him outside in the parking lot.

He was wearing a protective face mask and held a tape recorder — not to record me but to play something he had recorded. It was an internet message delivered in a computer-generated voice, which added to the surreal nature of the encounter.

There was a lot to take in, and I had difficulty following it all, but the staccato voice appeared to be saying that secret autopsies performed on COVID-19 patients in Italy proved the coronavirus pandemic is a conspiracy and a hoax. And get this: This hoax is being perpetrated on the planet by the elderly.  For what reason, the voice did not say and I cannot fathom.

The newspaper visitor, a man I know and like from past encounters, said his neighbor shared the internet message with him, which I later deduced was in response to the urgent and repeated call within the narrative to “pass this information on.” He wanted to know my opinion about the thing.

Hoping not to come off as condescending or rude, I told him I was in no position to judge the veracity of the message but that it did sound pretty improbable and it seemed to border on fearmongering. He agreed, especially in regard to the part about old people concocting the whole coronavirus scare. He thanked me for my time and went on his way.

These are strange days indeed.

I know it’s not that farfetched to suggest the world as we know it is unraveling, because whenever I voice this fear to other people, they nod in agreement. College students, grandmothers, waiters, professors, construction workers, civic leaders … the notion is occurring independently to people from all walks of life.

Our society has gone through plenty of traumatic periods in the past century, from the Great Depression to World War II to the Cold War to the rise of terrorism, but what’s going on right now seems even more disruptive. The fabric of our collective reality seems to be fraying right in front of our eyes.

Which way is up? Don’t ask me.

We’re being bombarded by bots and disinformation from all quarters. Conspiracy theories are rampant and being peddled like candy to the salivating masses. Our leaders contradict themselves almost as soon a statement flows from their mouths. Shared facts and knowledge have gone out the window. Nobody believes anything they don’t want to believe, despite plain evidence. In this state of confusion and conflict, can we even make it through the coming election?

Add to this brew a pandemic and mass protests, and the pot would appear to be bubbling over.

One key difference between these turbulent times and previous national crises is that Americans in the past always had a common enemy to rally against. Now we’re turning on each other. To borrow a phrase from the old comic strip Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Decades ago, my spiritually inclined brother sent me a book by the great 20th Century Indian sage J. Krishnamurti — not to be confused with Krishna, India’s beloved religious icon. I didn’t get too far in the book, but I never forgot something Krishnamurti said in the opening chapter.

We all are dissatisfied with the status quo, he noted. We rail against corruption, taxes, bureaucrats, the education system, our employers, whatever it may be. But oddly, we would all fight to the death to defend that status quo we so abhor. This mindset makes no sense.

So what would happen if the world as we know it — our shared systems, institutions and common understandings — topples into a heap on the ground in front of us? At the risk of getting myself labeled a crazed anarchist, I’d like to suggest it ultimately might not be a bad thing. Disruption can be transformational, and this could be the new beginning everyone has always dreamed about.

Instead of devolving into chaos, humanity could meet the moment with fresh, new ideas and ingenuity. More elegant and equitable systems could arise from the rubble. And no, I’m not talking about communism or any other -ism heretofore foisted on the populace, but something altogether new.

I started looking at today’s societal situation differently after reading an article and watching some videos recently on a totally unrelated subject: cymatics.

You’ve probably seen demonstrations of what happens when powdery substances like flour are spread on a glass plate and exposed to different tones. The process creates geometric patterns — a different pattern for each tone, getting more and more complex as the pitch gets higher. This is the science of cymatics.

Well, an interesting thing happens when the patterns shift from one to the next. All the powder is agitated into a state of total disorganization, then quite suddenly a new form emerges. Shazam!

Maybe that’s what is happening in our society right now. We’re transitioning to a new, more sophisticated living paradigm that can’t take shape until we first experience a total dismantling of the old paradigm. Of course, the sooner that new form emerges, the better, because nobody wants to attempt survival in a world of chaos.

By necessity, such a transition might have to begin on a very local level, with people relying on each other to meet immediate needs. Which brings me back to the newspaper office.

A couple of mornings ago, I was talking with a coworker about how crazy things are getting and how things could get worse, when she expressed how glad she is to live in Cache Valley.

“People here are prepared, and they watch out for each other,” she said.

She’s got a point. That barn-raising spirit passed down from the Mormon pioneers, coupled with a healthy apocalyptic bent, might be just the ticket in times like these. I know people here have their differences, but in a crisis I can easily picture us all working together toward a common goal.

In the meantime, don’t forget to use a little discernment with all those conspiracy theories being shared on the internet. In many cases, the real conspirators are the ones propagating all this stuff.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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