Follow-up thread:

Pandemics, networks and religious conversion.

How might the current COVID-19 situation affect the woke topics discussed in the previous thread and what parallels can we see in the rise of Christianity 2,000 years ago?
COVID-19 has not been as detrimental a disease as originally feared, but it’s effects on society and the economy have been immense and exacerbated the woke trend. To understand what is happening and it’s potential consequences we have to go back to the Antonine plague of 165 AD.
In what was possibly the first European outbreak of smallpox, plague ravaged the Roman world for 15 years during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and carried off a quarter or a third of the Empire’s population according to most estimates.
The plague was devastating. American bacteriologist Hans Zinsser pointed out: “The forward march of Roman power and world organisation was interrupted by the only force against which political genius and military valour were utterly helpless - epidemic disease.”
As devastating as the plague was to Rome, it was a catalyst in Christianity’s growth. It provided an opportunity for Christians to not only provide answers to problems the old gods couldn’t supply, but to transform social networks that benefited the conversion process.
Christianity provided explanations, community solidarity and a network advantage that Paganism couldn’t during the Antonine Plague. I will argue that our new sect of Wokeism is benefiting from similar trends today.
In a famous 1956 essay, anthropologist Anthony Wallace (who focused on revitalisation movements) argues that ALL religions arise in response to crises. Crises present opportunities for nascent religions to displace the old order.
Let’s look at answers. The Antonine Plague revealed the holes in the ideology of the old Roman order. People, good and bad, were dying all around. Paganism offered no sufficient explanation or solution - the capricious gods cared little for human affairs and offered no hope.
Hellenic philosophy also failed to provide succour. Cicero was absolutely correct when he said “certain events are due to natural causes beyond human control” but though logically true it offered no solution to the crisis apart from stoic fatalism.
The sophists may have been correct when they assessed that some of Rome’s woes were the inevitable result of an ageing Empire, but their arguments about an exhausted world growing old didn’t appeal to the young.

Some are still making this mistake today.
Christianity had an explanation though - and a solution. The plague was sent by God to punish the heathen Empire, but only non-believers had anything to fear. The Christian pious may perish but they would ascend to Heaven if they did.
It was an adequate supernatural explanation for a world that didn’t yet know about germs and hence couldn’t fight them. Christianity provided reason and hope. Bishop Dionysius described the situation as “far from being a time of distress, it is a time of unimaginable joy.”
Supernatural explanations may seem silly to the non-believer, but they make perfect sense to the converted. Why has COVID appeared? It’s obvious: racism. Why has our economy ground to a halt? Inequality! It’s a broad and vague enough term that can cover everything.
These explanations might sound silly or facile to you, but it is unimportant what you - a pagan - believes. The majority of people prefer easily digestible worldviews that offer comfort, hope and answers over complex hard truths about global supply chains and diminishing returns.
Our current established order has failed and Wokeism (in the eyes of some) provides answers and solutions. An older generation recoils in horror at riots and cancel culture, but the young see it as someone finally taking action while the established apparatus is paralysed.
Something new entered the Roman world with the rise of Christianity; the linking of a highly social ethical code with religion.

The old gods had always demanded offerings & sacrifices, and could be induced to help in exchange, but only God made demands on human to human conduct.
Christians cannot please God unless less love one another. This was alien to pagans. The Christian God didn’t want sacrifices, He wanted his flock to sacrifice for one another beyond the bonds of family and tribe. Charity was a Christian virtue, not a pagan one.
The Christians built a strong social network because their religion emphasised helping others (healing the sick, feeding the poor) while the more self-interested pagans were concerned with sacrifices that benefited their immediate household. This only added to Christian numbers.
Like them or not, the Wokeists on the surface ostensibly claim to care for all. It’s calls for socialism, free universal healthcare, open borders, UBI and affirmative action are in their minds a magnification of the original Christian message that looks to help all minorities.
Yes, the actions of burning down cities don’t appear to help anyone, but to the religiously fanatic these appear as necessary actions in the fight to help ALL the world’s oppressed. Wokeism has no barrier to entry; if you join the cause you join the universalist community.
In a time of global uncertainty caused by the pandemic, these are the kind of answers that appeal to the sick, the scared and the economically precarious just as Christianity’s message addressed a “selfish” pagan world 2,000 years ago.
Yet the real change that the Antonine Plague brought was a shifting of social networks. The Christian ethos of helping one’s neighbour during crisis helped to lower Christian mortality compared to the pagan population. Christian nursing reduced the plague’s impact on them.
Higher pagan mortality, lower Christian mortality, continued conversion and a higher Christian birthrate (due to reasons I won’t go into here) meant that when the plague was over there was a significantly higher percentage of Christians within the average Roman’s network.
This higher % of Christians in each pagan family’s network increased the possibility of conversion via social network. For every less pagan in the network, and every extra Christian, the peer pressure to convert grew. Especially in urban areas where pagans had fled from plague.
Now, the death rate of COVID-19 has not proven to be significant and definitely nowhere close to the fatalness of the Antonine Plague. However, the government measures enacted in response to COVID are still enough to accelerate mass social conversion to Wokeism.
Gov’t lockdowns have effectively removed personal and intimate connections between young people in urban centres and their more conservative families back in flyover country. The people around them day-to-day will overwhelmingly be those who lean left.

@CityBureaucrat comments:
Other gov’t restrictions on isolating the elderly within their homes effectively removes older and more conservative voices from public spaces. In the UK recently there were proposals from the British gov’t to force all over-50s to stay at home. Imagine the impact on networks.
As well as removing older people with backwards opinions from public spaces, lockdowns also serve to isolate everyone else away from human contact. This is where social media comes into play. Deprived of human contact, the quarantined turn to social media for company.
The average social media feed is a bastion of the new Woke religion. Facebook tells you how all your friends are on-board with the new thinking; LinkedIn tells you that these opinions are required for career advancement. Netflix reinforces the message through woke entertainment.
Algorithms and controlled forms of electronic social networking are easily manipulated by the true believers who work in the companies that own these sites, and provide a constant social pressure to conform. Trapped indoors by COVID, it is hard to see a dissenting opinion.
The Antonine Plague cemented Christianity’s growth and power base that would later lead to it having enough clout to influence Constantine and finally formalise it’s power. The question now remains whether the current pandemic will do the same for Wokeism.
It’s very easy to look back on the rise of Christianity and claim it as inevitable. We must be careful not to view Wokeism in the same light. The jury is still out on whether this represents a genuine change as big as Jupiter to Jesus or if it’s another Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.
Wokeism could collapse and burn out, or it could transform and become something established. Christianity managed a successful transformation from a weird small Jewish sect to state religion of the Roman Empire... can that be repeated?
Whether you think Wokeism has a future or not, it will be useful to keep in mind the parallels with Christianity’s rise and bear in mind the facts about social networks and conversion. Analyse the effect your own networks have on your thinking.

Thanks for reading.
You can follow @moldbugman.
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