An afternoon in Shanghai, China.
Before her phone rang, Shi Zhengli would have never assumed that she would have to end a business trip abruptly to get back to the office.
The person on the other end of the line told her that there was a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. She was confused. “How come?” she wondered.
“How is that possible?” Shi asked herself.
“The officials must have got it wrong,” the scientist, nicknamed the “Bat Woman” for her extensive studies on virus-carrying bats, thought for a second.
She did not believe her ears because if a coronavirus epidemic were to break out, it should have happened in Southern China, where there is a concentration of bats carrying coronaviruses, and not in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where there are no such bats at loose.
But there was something else: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, China’s only super-developed lab focusing on viruses. But not just viruses; coronaviruses. Oh, and not just coronaviruses; coronaviruses that can infect human beings.
Sound suspicious enough?
After learning that local health officials did not mistakenly identify the spreading virus as a coronavirus, Shi was thinking the same thing at the moment back in late 2019 as you are right now, in 2022 or later: “Could that virus have come from our lab?”
Yes, the office that she abruptly ended her trip in Shanghai – where she was to attend a conference – to go back to was indeed the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
That is how it all really started.
But if I told you this story before a democrat U.S. President took office, you would possibly think that I was spitting out a “fringe conspiracy theory,” like one of the “newspapers of record” (which means that the tabloid we are talking about is generally considered one of the most respected and authoritative sources of information), The New York Times, labeled it not two years ago.
Yes, I am talking about the infamous “lab leak theory” that was made fun of until very recently.
This hypothesis was once ridiculed by the same people who now unapologetically present as if it were never here. As if there were not a huge stigma around it and as if some decent people who mentioned it were not labeled “fringe conspiracists.”
Here is, my fellows, where we take a look at the collapse of the totalitarian dictatorship of political correctness.
Human history is full of revolutionaries that have left a mark on how we live today, how we perceive and study life and everything it has to offer.
One of the most stereotypical examples of this in science is Albert Einstein, who is widely believed to be the smartest person who ever lived and who strongly challenged the fundamentals of Newtonian physics when he first came out with his then-unorthodox views on the universe.
At first, there was a stigma around Einstein’s views as there is today around any hypothesis or view that appears to be against any phenomenon currently accepted as kosher.
But it is those revolutionaries who can make an impact on our lives. It’s those who deviate from widely accepted views and be as brave as they can be to defend them.
This is where a certain aspect of human psychology comes into play. As humans, we love to belong. We love to belong to a family, a political ideology, a religion or a sect, and a nation as a whole. Nevertheless, in modern times and in increasingly secular and humanist societies, that sense of belonging that humans crave so much is usually about a popular and hotly debated issue; the pro-life and pro-choice divide in abortion, anti-refugee and pro-refugee stances, and for the last two years, people’s stance on the COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on global communities.
Give me proof
When the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out in China’s Wuhan, nobody in the world was losing their mind over a possible conspiracy by the world’s elite and super-wealthy to decrease the global population and to keep everyone in line through constant surveillance and monitoring in an Orwell-esque 1984 scenario.
At first, nobody even cared that much. It was just another epidemic that started in China, like other outbreaks.
But when it started spreading, especially when the virus crippled Italy, people around the world started caring.
Our brain repels ambiguity. We crave answers and very certain ones. Nevertheless, we were all under a thick fog of misinformation when COVID-19 officially became a pandemic – and some of us still are. I am talking about the anti-vaxxers of course, who believe a wide variety of conspiracy theories that all lead to the same conclusion: This pandemic was a lie, it was a plot to keep every human on the Earth in line and controlled (both physically and mentally) and to keep their population in control with the specially added ingredients in the vaccines that are supposed to make us sterile.
All of this blabber is just falsehood, and we all know that. Yes, there might be some sort of long-term health risk with those COVID-19 vaccines but their advantages outweigh their – not certain but possible – risks. I am a covirgin (a person who has not contracted COVID-19 yet) myself but listening to my friends and colleagues who caught and later recovered from the disease makes me feel thankful to myself for trusting science and not having given into dangerous conspiracy theories that would have prevented me from ever getting a vaccine.
Nevertheless, we absolutely must make a distinction here: There are straight-out crazy conspiracy theories that offer no evidence to back themselves, and there are scientifically critical thoughts that challenge the rhetoric and widely-held stances of the day.
When you insist that the Earth is flat but fail at every possible experiment that you do (and that you will, for obvious reasons) then you might be considered as having some mental issues.
But when you say that a virus may have leaked from a lab in an unpredictable country ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship and one with a horribly tarnished record in human rights, then you may have a point.
Especially, when this lab’s specialty is coronaviruses with higher abilities to infect humans.
This is, still, not proof that COVID-19 emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We still need more proof to say that it is a fact. My purpose in writing this article is not to prove that the virus leaked from the lab; I have neither such authority nor scientific background to back such a claim. I am just a journalist trying to do my job, which includes expressing my opinions on an issue that I have been reading, covering, writing extensively about since the pandemic was not even a pandemic and was a small outbreak in Wuhan.
My purpose here is to help show the real face and dangers of political correctness and how the discourse switched overnight from shaming people who floated the lab leak theory to labeling it as the only logical explanation of the origins of the COVID-19.
All it took was an election
Call him racist, call him egomaniac, call him sexist and many other derogatory words but former U.S. President Donald Trump was right in some of his practices. For example, calling the COVID-19 the “China virus” was ugly and inappropriate, to say the least, but it was not as racist as it was made to sound by the media. He was not bashing an average Chinese citizen who had nothing to do with their totalitarian government’s errors and its inability to halt the spread of the virus. Amid a global outrage and virus scare, Trump was simply referring to the fact that it came from China, a country that a very opaque administration rules.
In my opinion, amid such a deadly pandemic caused by clear negligence, the ongoing oppression against the Uyghur Turks and the way China is governed, we absolutely should empathize with people with negative views on the Chinese government. Especially with the people that have lost relatives to the deadly virus.
And please tell me one valid reason that we are not losing our minds for having called the 1918 influenza pandemic for decades the “Spanish flu” – whose Wikipedia page carries the same misnomer as well. I have never used the term “China virus” or any other term I think even has the tiniest bit of a negative connotation – but I fully stand behind my view that freedom of speech should not be hindered at all, neither by a government nor a politically correct dominant discourse. I will defend anyone’s freedom of speech, whether I like it or not, until the very day I die. That does not mean I am okay with any bigotry or racism expressed by anyone; I just think that we should allow any thought to be voiced so that we can know who harbors potentially dangerous thoughts and do something about it to heal them, and show them that their racially motivated thoughts are just meaningless or their hatred toward any race is just a waste.
To sum up the virus name debate: If the origins of the virus were not so suspicious and if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime did not try as hard to obfuscate World Health Organization (WHO) officials’ efforts to reveal the truths and instead facilitated them, I would as well call the “China virus” expression an absolute manifestation of racist views harbored in deep corners of someone’s psyche; but here, the anti-China sentiment was largely caused by the Chinese government’s negligence, the way they handled the outbreak and not by white and conservative hatred against the Chinese people.
The culprit seems so obvious and the situation looks so grim that I can empathize with people having negative views on the CCP government due to its perceived negligence to prevent the spread of a virus, especially considering that it can basically shut off its billion-strong population from the world with its totalitarian practices and means readily available.
I can never tolerate any kind of racism against people of Chinese descent or any other nation; I am just stating a simple fact: Sinophobic sentiments were caused by a dictatorship that claims to represent every single individual of a billion-strong population and one that basically allowed – if not facilitated – the spread of a virus that originated on its territory to kill tens of millions of people globally.
But when Trump, someone known for his racist and misogynistic views, voiced the lab leak theory, everybody – to be honest, quite understandably – mocked him and called people who believed in the hypothesis a “fully-fledged Trump supporter and a redneck” of sorts.
Nevertheless, guess what his successor Joe Biden did a couple of months after replacing Trump: He ordered an investigation into the allegations that the virus may have leaked from a laboratory, prompting a change in the intensity of the stigma surrounding the hypothesis. Legitimizing a “crazy conspiracy theory,” so to say.
Yes, there were probably some racist motives behind Trump’s anti-China campaign and his “China virus” rhetoric and yes, the lab leak theory is yet to be proven.
But guess what? The widely accepted theory nearly everyone believed to be a fact had no proof to support it either back in the day!
Yes, I am talking about the “spillover theory” – that the COVID-19 virus was being carried by a bat, which later infected a pangolin, that went on to infect a human.
Recent studies claim to show evidence on this theory, but it is still not globally accepted to be a fact. Many conflicting studies present different hypotheses and claim one thing or another, back either spillover or lab leak theory or some other hypothesis, and this is how science works. We will wait for science to continue questioning, making ideas clash to reach the truth. What I am saying is that the theory we all were immediately so devoted to, thanks to the ever-expanding reach of political correctness in our lives, never had solid, scientific, biological proof to support it back in the day. This instant belief may have also been helped because zoonotic diseases indeed caused some previous outbreaks.
As I said, there is some serious research that claim that the spillover theory is the only feasible explanation – and it might be, and we might have been right in believing it since the very moment we even heard it. What I am saying is, we all took it as a fact before more recent studies added some weight to it and when there was literally no solid proof. This is, of course, because our psyches and thoughts are dominated by the discourse of the day. We want to belong; we do not want to be an oddball. The same logic is ironically valid for people who believe in really fringe conspiracy theories like the Earth is flat; they only want to feel a little special and enlightened while also belonging to a group, albeit a smaller one.
Post-truth era vs. science
As you probably know, we are living in a “post-truth” era – which basically means that the words that come out of our mouths are not evaluated according to whether they are true or not.
They are evaluated according to one simple question.
Let’s do a little linguistics here: “Will the assertion that I am making as the transmitter offend and/or hurt the feelings of the receiver?”
That’s where all the magic happens.
If your answer to this question is a resounding yes, then you may as well place a male-to-female transgender swimmer in a women’s race and let her defeat even the best cisgender counterparts by a wide margin thanks to her anatomy that happens to differ from that of someone assigned female at birth.
Or you may also call J.K. Rowling, a proud feminist, a “TERF” (Trans-exclusionary radical feminist) just for defending women’s rights, even though she totally denies being a transphobe and clarified that “I’ve never said there are only two genders. There are innumerable gender identities.”
“Using the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably obscures the central issue of this debate,” she also said, referring to the fact that also blows my mind whenever I see at play: Some people just straight-out reject understanding the difference between biological sex and gender.
As important as knowing the origins of the COVID-19 is understanding the source of this science-denying bigotry: The political correctness pandemic!
Science does not care about what you feel, what you believe in, what your stance is on any issue. Science only deals with facts.
That’s why I never acknowledged in this text that neither the lab leak theory nor the spillover theory is a fact. There are conflicting scientific studies that claim one thing or another but that is what science really is about. Both need to be investigated and questioned; a clash of views and theories is what makes science grow.
That’s why critical thinking can contribute a lot to scientific breakthroughs.
Just think about it for a second: Unlike in southern China, there are no coronavirus-carrying bats on the loose in central China, where Wuhan is located. But there is a special laboratory that focuses on coronaviruses that can infect humans more powerfully. The SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, is a variant of the larger coronavirus family and first infected humans in Wuhan.
And Peter Daszak, the scientist who rallied the globe against the lab leak theory and headed the WHO crew that went to Wuhan to investigate COVID-19 origins, is now a highly controversial figure due to revelations that his own charity had funded the Wuhan Institute of Virology in a major conflict of interests.
Add some Chinese government opacity to this recipe and you have a highly tangible hypothesis, not a “fringe conspiracy theory.”
We should not jump to assumptions without having solid proof to back our thoughts, especially considering some recent scientific studies that support the spillover theory and some other studies that put forth different views on the origins of COVID-19, including the lab leak hypothesis.
Nevertheless, as Agatha Christie’s character Hercule Poirot said: “The truth … It has the habit of revealing itself.”