Even before swine flu, there have been times when the outside world has seemed so absurd and grotesque that the urge to quarantine myself in my home, scrawl a plague cross on the front door and resist intruders with gunfire has been almost overwhelming.
OPINION: Now we're actually in the grip of a pandemic, everything seems to have suddenly become even madder. As eccentric pop group Was (Not Was) once observed, "the woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks".
Reading through the comments pages on the New Zealand Herald's website, it would be easy to assume that the early symptoms of swine flu include hysteria, delusions and paranoia.
"Chris of Whangarei", for example, suggests the World Health Organisation is promoting swine flu in order to force us into mandatory vaccinations. Far from curing us, these vaccines will apparently cause autism, tumours and seizures.
"And let's not forget the ones that calcify organs or are deliberately infected with live viruses," warns Chris. "By controlling the men/women at the very top, the entire organisation is bent to their agendas."
That's right - the reason young people go into the under- paid, under-funded world of public health is so they can deliberately infect us all with live viruses. Why? Because it's so much damn fun, presumably.
"You will be amazed at how deep the rabbit-hole goes," continues Chris darkly, possibly suggesting - oh my GOD! - that this wretched virus has jumped the species barrier yet again and we now have to deal with rabbit flu, too.
"Kayaker of Orakei" suspects the purpose of declaring a pandemic is to "keep the people in fear". "Sw (Titirangi)" thinks it's a sinister plot to take our minds off the recession, while "Hoani doe (Waitakere)" believes the world's governments have joined forces to cook up the pandemic threat to help Roche shift its stocks of "Tammi Flu" (possibly a drug; possibly a contestant on America's Next Top Model).
Either the Herald is factory- farming simpletons to write for its discussion threads, or there are some seriously disturbed people at large in the community. And none more so than "Robyn Hall", who writes: "The first case of Swine Flu has been reported in Merseyside, where I live. I have purchased some Allitech (made from Garlic), some wild Oregano Oil, and am having Spirulina and Tumeric Milkshakes (I will be alternating them so my body does not get "used" to one particular thing). I am not keen on commercial drugs. My little boy will be getting tincture of Olive leaf (is Manuka honey anti- viral?)".
There are many things we can learn from this posting, the most obvious of which is that if we ever visit Robyn Hall's house in Liverpool we should decline the offer of a cold drink. More relevantly, though, Ms Hall neatly sums up the whacky anti- science ideology behind so much of the pandemic commentary.
In the United States, swine flu has been variously blamed on military testing run amok, industrial sabotage by the chicken and beef industries, a plot by Mexican drug cartels, a plot by al Qaeda, a plot by the Left and a plot by the Right. American shock jock Alex Jones believes the pandemic is part of a rather inefficient scheme by a New World Order to wipe out most of the world's population, while others find Barack Obama's visit to Mexico shortly before the outbreak deeply suspicious.
Another popular conspiracy theory is that there is no pandemic and it's all a global media beat-up. In fact, journalists tend to be mutinous, bloody-minded individualists - anyone who has had the briefest of associations with newsrooms will know that it's impossible to get a group of journos to agree on a sandwich filling, let alone a cover-up.
In an age in which everyone expects answers immediately, it's undeniably frustrating that pandemics continue to defy understanding - why they develop, what fuels them and why they stop.
What does seem clear, however, is that it might be an idea to base any decisions we make about handling this pandemic on the available facts, rather than on the ravings of people who shouldn't be allowed out without a handler. Call me crazy, but I'd rather put my faith in science than spirulina and turmeric milkshakes.
- The Dominion Post