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New York City: ‘Keep Your Germs And Uninformed Opinions To Yourself’

Something’s different here.

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ASTORIA, NYC- What I heard the other day:

“Hello and thank you for riding the New York City subway. Please wear a mask and do your best to keep your germs and uninformed opinions to yourself.”

I stopped walking. Did I really hear that? I did. I heard it again a few days later. It was one of those public service announcements delivered by a celebrity … who have apparently been deputized as experts in matters of public health and virology.

I could have blown this off as another example of top-down collectivist behavior cultivation — propaganda by definition — but it seemed to represent something more than that: the new way of thinking in some parts of the United States.

In liberal realms like New York City we have entered a new age — a “post-facts” era that societies, usually disastrously, spiral down into from time to time. These are eras when repeating what you are told is more important than being correct; where evaluating the available information and making informed decisions for yourself is akin to blasphemy; where staking a claim on your own ideological island is seditious. These are eras where signalling that you’re ideologically aligned with the group is to be safe … as is far more valued than bringing new perspectives to the table. Right and wrong are no longer relevant, as are data, facts, and the best argument. It’s about power, stupid. The weasel perhaps put it best: “Now is the time to do what you’re told.”

Fauci says our very strength—individualism—has become a negative when it matters most. “We have too [many] individual approaches towards how we we’re going to handle the outbreak,” he says.

When I grew up my education and socialization was built around building a generation of independent thinkers.

“Think outside the box.”

“Think for yourself.”


“Stand out from the crowd.”

These were positions that were valued. We all wanted to be the one with new ideas, the outliers, the disruptor who could shake up the status quo. Our values were proudly touted to be the polar opposite of countries like China, where unsanctioned originality is often taken as a threat to the hierarchy and knowing your place is a fundamental part of getting ahead. Our unbridled individualism is now being hamstrung by calls of collectivism. The Enlightenment — the idea that people could interpret their world for themselves without the need for a priesthood of intermediaries — is even being challenged … and there is a cabal of new priests at the alters of public thought and law, determining what we can do, say, and think.

When I was a kid, groupthink was a bad thing; it’s now a sign of virtue. We used to say things like “Don’t question authority” satirically. Now we say them as commands:

“Don’t question authority.”

“Trust the experts.”

“Follow the science.”

A few months ago I filmed a group of anarchists attack an anti-lockdown demonstration. Think about that for a moment: anarchists serving as the strong arm of state overreach. Left has become right.

Trust the experts

“Trust the experts” doesn’t really mean trust the experts. “Follow the science,” as you may have guessed, doesn’t really mean follow the science. Both of these directives would mean reading a diverse range of contending researchers touting contending studies and make a determination for yourself. What they mean is “Do what you’re told.” Listen to the select few that have been handpicked by the government and multinational corporations, ignore their glaring conflicts of interests, and disregard anyone who says something different, regardless of how many degrees they have, how many papers they published, or how many accolades they’ve received. Also, for good measure, you should ignore the fact that these hand-picked experts have routinely been disastrously wrong throughout the pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic I thought that once the data began coming out we’d come to our senses. But that’s not what happened. Instead, they manipulated the numbers, and asking questions such as “Why are Covid deaths counted differently than that of any other disease?” or “Why are they doing PCR tests many times more sensitive than they should be?” or “Why are they continuing to lock places down when all data shows that lockdowns don’t work?” or “Why are they shutting down bars and restaurants when we know it doesn’t spread there?” or “Why are all these vaccinated people going to the hospital with Covid?” became blasphemous — the very stuff that can get you labeled as a conspiracy theorist and shunned by your friends. And then you start wondering how blatantly fraudulent studies could get published in the Lancent and The New England Journal of Medicine or why aren’t we using cheap and available treatments that have been demonstrated to be effective and then you realize that you’d better shut the fuck up because this is about nothing more than power.

And you don’t have any.

What conspiracy theories have become

It is interesting how our definition of a conspiracy theory has changed. It’s morphed from being something to write off un-provable rants about aliens and government coverups to any suggestion that runs counter to officially sanctioned viewpoints. Even with a mountain of data, expert opinion, and primary sources, if an idea contradicts the official take it’s labeled a conspiracy theory … and new wheels of censorship (i.e. social media and search) have carte blanc to shut it down — especially if uttered by individuals who vote for unsavory politicians.

In an odd twist, whenever I hear the corporate media use the term “conspiracy theory” my little ears perk up. There is a common saying in China not to believe anything until it’s officially denied. A similar position is rising in the US: Don’t believe it until the corporate media calls it a conspiracy theory.

Everybody thinks they’re an epidemiologist

“Everybody thinks they’re an epidemiologist,” is a common complaint that I hear from people who have become irritated by their fellow Americans for thinking that they have the right to not do what they’re told. Yes, everybody thinks they’re an epidemiologist, and they should. The foundations of our culture is predicated on this. America was a great experiment in a society divorcing from the control of a priesthood of ideological authorities.

The irony of our times may be the mountainous volumes of information that we readily have available to us that few will ever bother to read. You can easily debunk the propaganda of the priesthood but they know so few will put in the effort and muddy the waters of their own lives.

One thing that new arrivals to China have a difficult time getting their heads around is the fact that most Chinese have no interest in debunking their authorities, even when it’s clear that they are not stating the truth. They take the official narrative with a smile on their faces, as not doing so places the burden of truth on their shoulders — and who wants to make their own lives more difficult?

Filed under: New York City, Travel Philosophy, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3632 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York

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  • Rob September 10, 2021, 1:05 am

    It’s good to see you back.

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    • VBJ September 10, 2021, 10:29 am

      Thanks, Rob, much appreciated that you can bear with me through times of radio silence.

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  • Stuck in Melbourne September 10, 2021, 5:20 am

    I’ve always enjoyed your writing, but you really hit it out of the park with this one. I’m currently stuck in Melbourne, Australia, where we’ve recently celebrated our 200th (!) day of lockdown :wtf: and while I can handle that, the complete lack of critical thinking (*any* kind of thinking, really) in the local population is driving me insane. Australia has long been something of a nanny state, and the people generally quite politically apathetic, but the complete ignorance and indifference to the creeping authoritarianism is maddening. And it’s not just COVID, Australia has been busy pushing through legistation to subvert online services and other IT functions.

    Local politicians have started to use the phrase “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, and the vilification of those who chose not to get the jab will be both ugly and inevitable. But Australia hasn’t had any real political talent for decades, and the current crop simply have no idea what to do, and the politically safest path is endless lockdowns. Upcoming elections are definitely weighing heavily on their little minds :-/ Truly a nation of donkies, led by donkies.

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    • VBJ September 10, 2021, 10:37 am

      Thank you!

      What bothers me most is that I can’t understand the lack of a thought process that goes into the construction of most of the donkey’s positions on this. If they said something to the effect of “I agree with these regulations because of this, that, or the other study” I’d be like, “Ok, that’s cool.” But their position is more along the lines of, “I agree with this because everybody else does.” In my experience their only counter-argument is “that’s a conspiracy theory” … even if you can cite your sources and studies. I can’t comprehend the lack of thinking … the sheer aversion to opinion cultivation. They think they’re the good guys and that’s the end of it… and it reminds me of other times in history — ugly times — when people acted similarly. We all know where this is going.

      … and it’s funny how they’re blaming the continued pandemic on the unvaccinated rather than the fact that their Vs don’t really do what they were touted to. Look at the numbers coming out of Israel. 🤔

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      • Stuck in Melbourne September 10, 2021, 11:48 am

        You may be overly-generous in saying that there is a thought process going on here 🙂 I’ve long held that what we’ve been seeing is fundamentally being driven by the media, generating and spreading fear (and they’re loving it – it’s suddenly made them relevant again :-/).

        I recently re-watched the movie Life Of Brian, and the scene where he suddenly gets a mass of people chasing after him, convinced that he’s the Messiah, sums up perfectly what we’re seeing now. One person gets the idea that he has some divine knowledge, starts going nuts, other people see that and start to go nuts themselves, and a mass hysteria spreads like wildfire through the crowd. In our case, the media is running stories 24×7 about how dangerous this virus is, whipping up the fear, people start freaking out, other people see that and start freaking out themselves, and the hysteria just feeds on itself.

        Combine that with the strong tendency people have these days for virtue signalling, difficulty in comprehending anything that doesn’t fit into 140 characters, an inability to handle any kind of nuance or shade of grey, being so accustomed to the idea that clicking on a Google search result makes them an expert on anything and everything, it’s not only unsurprising, but inevitable, that we’re where we are now. It’s the same gamification we’ve been seeing in politics for a long time now – it’s not about an exchange of ideas, or a good-faith discussion of the issues, it’s about picking your side, finding the “facts” that support your position, then beating the other side for the “win”.

        It’s been known for decades that the media constantly covering bad news leads people to think that the world is a more dangerous place than it actually is, and the same thing is happening here. Yes, COVID is a thing, yes, it’s more dangerous than the flu, but at the same time, it’s not Ebola. If we just let ‘er rip, it would almost certainly cause less damage than cigarettes, but our response to that is, of course, nothing like what we’re doing wrt COVID.

        But politicians are really constrained in what they can do. It would be political suicide to talk about an acceptable number of deaths, or that they don’t know what to do, or that there’s nothing that we can do (c.f. hurricanes and earthquakes – there are things we can do to mitigate the damage from these, but there’s nothing we can really do to prevent them from happening, and pandemics are probably the same), and this is why we’re really screwed, because they don’t really have the option to do anything other than what they’re doing now. Politics is all about avoiding blame and responsibility, so if they can blame the unvaccinated, and tout these new drugs as the magic elixir that will save us all, of course they’re going to do that. And if drugs don’t work, or turn out to have bad long-term side-effects, well it’s not their fault, they were just taking the best medical advice :-/ These lockdowns, vaccine mandates, etc. are *political* problems, not health ones. It’s politicans who make these decisions, not the virus.

        This is what it looks like when a society goes insane. The crazy dude babbling to himself as he scrawls out his theories of the universe on the footpath doesn’t suddenly sit up and say “holy shit, I’m fucking crazy.” No, what he’s doing makes perfect sense to him, but everyone around can see he’s not all there. And similarly, what’s happening now makes perfect sense to the people inside the bubble, but people like you and I who spend a lot of time outside the confines of “normal” life, we look at what’s happening and can see that it’s just fucking bat-shit insane.

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  • Bob L September 10, 2021, 4:48 pm

    Great to see you back.

    Good writeup.

    Bob L

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    • VBJ September 10, 2021, 6:14 pm

      Thank you!

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  • Jack September 12, 2021, 6:21 pm

    You are wrong. Got your attention I hope. Unless you are significantly older than me, you weren’t educated and raised in a time when independent thought was being cultivates. That hasn’t been the case for generations.. they have been very good at feeding people a line of bullshit that they are trying to cultivate independent thought. Just look in all the latest common core educational standards. Chock full of stuff that supposedly helps build independent thought. The big trickery is that people believe that crap. The whole modern educational system is about building little slaves.

    I learned long ago that what the group thinks is usually a lie. We usually just cluster people in one group but in the last 10 to 20 years the PTB have been clustering people into multiple groups I call corrals. It’s easier to control people and make them think they are more enlightened than others. Wondering if you are in a corral? If there are other spouting off the same kind of things you believe and you look up to them then you are in a corral.

    As I write this, I just got word that another person my family knows has died from Covid in the Philippines. After the mother and father died a couple of months back, the son died. It’s very much real to me but I do doubt the data.

    I believe that it is less transmissible and more deadly than the media is telling us. I believe that our vaccines will be/are creating more deadly strains(Google Marek vaccine deadlier virus to learn about leaky vaccines that create deadlier strains). I believe that people on both sides are being manipulated like sheep to believe what they are told. I believe that it’s not just the Dems but also the GOP that are behind crap to enslave us. Remember, it was Trump’s buddy Erik Prince who formed a private army for China.

    Me? I now have 29 chickens, 28 ducks, and a Red Heeler puppy for my 5 acres. I have neighbors of the same political persuasion(government leave me the f alone, one neighbor said, I got a backhoe and 80 acres if we get any HOA lovers out here, and another told me he has a shotgun, a rifle and a 4 wheel drive so bring it on). In October, I’ll start my goat herd.

    When you coming out here, Wade?

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    • Rob September 12, 2021, 6:57 pm

      Goats? Get good fences and water buckets that you can put higher than their butts.

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  • Lawrence October 8, 2021, 8:36 pm

    I find myself often admiring your take on things. Here I’m confused. It sounds like you want to say something about Covid but you just can’t come out and say it.
    I will mention to you that my daughter is an infection prevention in a large hospital. They have been completely overwhelmed with sickness and death. Even though it’s a real bad time to have a heart attack or be in a car accident. You will not get the care that you have come to expect.
    I don’t get the point about the sensitivity of PCR test. Just go to the hospitals and look at the exhaustion on the faces of the people working there. We’re in a goddamn pandemic. This is no time for wacky notions. It’s time for grown-ups to deal with it as they do in the hospitals.

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    • VBJ October 11, 2021, 12:19 pm

      I believe I said what I wanted to say in the post.

      The point about the difference in sensitivity of PCR tests was that they are rigging the data to make it look how they want it to look.

      There are many other healthcare workers that don’t share your daughter’s experience. At the beginning of the pandemic, maybe they were overwhelmed, but now we’re pretty deep into it and the number of hospitalizations are vastly lower. If any hospital is overwhelmed now then that’s probably more of a statement on how they’re being administered than anything else.

      “We’re in a goddamn pandemic. This is no time for wacky notions. It’s time for grown-ups to deal with it as they do in the hospitals.”

      Yes, that’s what the corporate media tells us. But it’s the same rhetoric that every authoritarian regime has used to consolidate power.

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    • Stuck in Melbourne October 11, 2021, 7:07 pm

      I think Wade is right. Yes, the hospitals (and ambulance, paramedics, etc.) are overloaded, but they were overloaded before COVID (at least, in Australia, but I have no doubt whatsoever that it’s the same everywhere else). COVID has just made things worse (and notably, gives the politicians an excuse for letting things get to where they are now).

      How much of the problems we’re seeing now are *self-inflicted*? e.g.
      – firing staff because of vaccine mandates, or having them quit. And replacing them with the National Guard?! In Australia, they’re talking now about importing staff from developing nations (read: cheap compliant labour), but which country has staff to spare?
      – treating *everything* as a possible COVID case. The Guardian was reporting that the majority of cases in British hospitals didn’t actually go in because of COVID symptoms, but mandatory testing picked it up, so that asymptomatic guy that went in for a sprained ankle is now treated as a COVID case, sucking up resources.
      – sending staff home for 2 weeks because somebody who *might* be positive walked past the front lobby while the doors were open (OK, I exaggerate, but not by much :-)).

      They’ve had 18 months to prepare, how much extra capacity do the hospitals have now, compared to the start of last year? What would things look like if they had diverted some of the billions of dollars they’ve been dumping into the lap of businesses (many of them who didn’t actually need it), and into the hospital and related systems? I said above that this is what it looks like when a society goes insane, the things we’re doing might look sensible from the inside, but from the outside, it’s just nucking futs.

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  • Lawrence October 10, 2021, 12:05 pm

    Is this a praise Wade form? Contrary opinions unwelcome?

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    • VBJ October 11, 2021, 12:23 pm

      Why would you say this?

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  • Chris October 23, 2021, 2:35 am

    Just stumbled upon your blog. I used to live in New York City. You have some interesting takes on things. Gonna read more of your stuff.

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  • Ted November 13, 2021, 4:28 am

    With regard to conspiracy theories. I was born into and grew up in the intelligence community. My father taught me a lot and one thing was about such. The best way to hide something was in plain sight. A true conspiracy was best kept secret by an abundance of conspiracy theories surrounding it. Just launch a few and hundreds will follow from nearly every corner of society. The result is that people will think none of them are true and the real one is very well hidden, because society never knew about it in the first place.

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    • VBJ November 15, 2021, 11:03 am

      Thanks for sharing this. It’s very true, especially when looking at the intelligence communities fundamental role in creating conspiracy theories and even coining the term itself.

      “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”

      Just because it’s a conspiracy theory doesn’t mean it’s not true.

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