Toilet Paper Is the People’s Vaccine

The coronavirus panic has resulted in hordes of people running after toilet paper.  Such actions are the flip side of running with the bulls, except that I suspect those who run with the bulls have some sense of why they do it.  I imagine the thrill is a bit different, even if the goal is similar.

The overriding narratives of every society are composed of myths and symbols.  Societies operate within controlling mythic symbol systems whose primary purpose is to allow people to move through their lives on automatic pilot, believing they are safe from death and chaos in the arms of the authorities. All cultures revolve around death and the need to control people’s fears of it through the construction of symbols of reassurance.  People need to be convinced that they are protected.  In “normal” times, all this goes relatively smoothly and the symbols of protection – such as the military, the primary institutions, and photos of the political leaders against a backdrop of flags – serve as a comforting security blanket.  In times of extreme stress, however, whether real or created, the system of reassurance breaks down and people panic.

Enter the coronavirus and the run on toilet paper. Many economists and psychologists have commented on the fear that motivates this hoarding behavior.  Most commentaries are true as far as they go.  The problem is they don’t go very far and never touch the real issue.  Hoarding is obviously done to quell the fear of running out.  But running out of what?

Why toilet paper?  The explanations I have seen say that toilet paper is an essential household item that is easy to hoard because it has no expiration date and comes in large packages that are light and easy to carry and store.  All true.  Fear induces hoarding, and people have gone insane hoarding all kinds of items, as if the plague to end the world were upon us, which is what the mass media keeps repeating as it whips up lunatic reactions.  The end times are near!  The Grim Reaper is at your door!

The authorities have inflamed this fear, as authorities are apt to do, since fear, and the fear of death and disease, is the greatest way to control people.  Remember the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001.  Fear went rampant and people ran to religious services for a while as elements within the U.S. government sent anthrax through the mail to heighten the fear.  But anthrax was nothing compared to the coronavirus’s spread and panic.  With the 2001 attacks, the terrorist fear soon went onto the back burner to simmer away for all these years and keep everyone on an emergency fear footing so the government could execute its war and Patriot Act plans with little rebellion. It worked very well. Constant fear and anxiety became the norm as people internalized the 9/11 meme and its emergency phone number reminder.

But now the coronavirus panic is running wild and we don’t know when it will end. But why this frantic race to scoop up toilet paper?  The answer should be quite obvious, but it is isn’t because it is unconscious. People react to the real biological fear of death by adopting any means that might protect them from it.  Excrement is the fundamental symbol of death.  It suggests we are bodies and nothing more; that the symbols of transcendence, whether religious or secular, are mirages.  Shit has always been so associated, and always will. It has also long been associated in the Western imagination with the devil, Satan, the Lord of the underworld, who rules the pit of smelly steaming death where the bodies of people are deposited down in the earth to rot away.  That’s it.   No heaven, no immortality, just maggots in the dirt where shit descends.  The thought that that is all we are doesn’t go over well with many people.

To accept that we are only bodies, and that civilization and cultures have been constructed upon symbols created to tell us this isn’t true are pipe dreams, is the fear that runs rampant in days such as these, with the coronavirus allegedly stalking everyone as if it were Mister Pumpkin Head ready to pounce. The fundamental human fear is that we, like excrement, are destined to be buried and forgotten; that we will be buried in the earth or flushed down a toilet.  The fear is that “dead” excrement is what we are and that all the shiny symbols erected by civilization to say we are more are just bullshit.

This fear is compounded when science often claims that everything religions have ever taught is hocus pocus. The religious symbol systems that were the overarching bulwarks of western civilization have been replaced by science and technology.  But these twins have no answer for the fact of death, except to say it is inevitable and maybe we can help you to live a bit longer.  Many people, if only unconsciously, might not be satisfied with that answer.

So when death comes courting in the guise of a so-called plague or pandemic, toilet paper will keep you safe and clean. You can wipe away any reminder that you are mortal and will return to the earth; that you will rot there unless you somehow believe in the transcendent spirit of days gone by.

Rather than focus on all the death unleashed by government violence – their alleged protectors – people are easily manipulated into fearing the wrong things and unconsciously seeking some innocuous symbol that might do the job.

Running with the bulls gives people the thrill of teasing death while defeating it.  It must be very exciting.

Running after toilet paper is quite dull by comparison, but it serves a similar purpose.

It’s the people’s vaccine against death.

24 thoughts on “Toilet Paper Is the People’s Vaccine”

  1. Hmm.

    I don’t know you people but I am a firm believer in American patriotism.

    Having said that, I have decided to make the supreme sacrifice as a duty to all those who worry about not having enough of the soft, flexible, cellulose pulp used to make our butts all shiny and clean after getting off the Throne of Manliness.

    Therefore, I will act with no reservation to prevent laxation of my solid bodily waste for as long as possible so that you are not denied that extra roll of toilet paper should you need it. It will be difficult, it will be painful and I may pass out but I willingly do it as a service to the country.

    God Bless America!

  2. Ed, much of the toilet paper matter has to do with lazy reporting and reactions to it. Reports and photos overemphasize places on supermarket shelves empty or nearing empty of bumwad, exacerbating things in that category. Perception is 90 percent of reality. One of the Eagle’s quotes in the last week or so was of a social commentator saying if something is not on television it doesn’t exist.

    Let’s theorize that many households have a couple of rolls on hand per resident, and also that some shoppers are shopping for shut-in relatives, whatever. People have widely varying eating habits, so while they’re stocking up on food items for themselves and elderly parents or grandparents, the buying is spread out among all sorts of things. But everybody uses only toilet paper to wipe themselves.

    I was in a supermarket today and potatoes were a lot scarcer than usual, and most bread and all hamburger and hotdog buns were gone. What would Sartre say about that? All the plain humus was gone, but the slightly more gussied up kinds were still there. Eggs were down; I was lucky to get a dozen of the brown jumbo. They were down to one or two jars of chunky peanut butter in the brand we like, but smooth was holding up. Where was Satan?

    The media, understandably, don’t want people worrying about starving so they highlight the toilet paper shortage. Give me a break. Sanders is deemed “crazy” (the one word AP said was most used for him in a survey that came out right before Super Tuesday) for harping on millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. People like to eat and not worry about it.

    One thing I have noticed around town – and I’m not out that much of late – is how this crisis seems to have brought people together, probably because everyone is going to be affected by this crisis, economically and socially if not medically. I haven’t read or heard anything reported about that.

  3. A nutritionist once said the usage of too much toilet paper is an indication of a bad diet. Perhaps much of the panic is also due to a bad diet, which might lead to wrong thinking or not thinking at all? So some seemingly wise man said, “keep your diet/body in the Alkaline region.”

  4. Ignorance or stupidity may indicate immunity to a vaccine ! After all, vaccination is gaining the ability to cope or overcome a problem.

  5. I think people’s purchase of toilet paper…and beans, and rice, and water, are actually quite rational, and to be expected. As the animals that we are, our number one concern is always going to be self-preservation. This is what self-preservation looks like in our modern society.

    The larger point to make, I think, is whether the origins of one’s fear comes from a place of knowledge and awareness, or, as you suggest, an orchestrated, and thus misplaced response as part of an embrace of the illusion that is modern civilization. I would expect that the latter will always lead to chaos, while the former, perhaps a more measured and rational response?

    I think that it’s important to note that this is no longer about the virus. Our global system, and the fraudulent economics that prop it up, marked by massive debt, can crash at any time. All that’s needed is a catalyst. This could be a war, an extreme weather event, or, in this case, the fear of a spreading virus. Any such event can easily bring the gears to a halt and crash the system.

    Equally fragile is our continued survival as a species. The risks associated with extinction are many, and much closer than we choose to acknowledge or believe.

    In the face of some extinction level event, my animal instinct for survival kicks in, and if I can stave off death for a few days, weeks, or months by purchasing some extra beans or rice, I’ll certainly do it. If I can make my life more comfortable during that time by having extra rolls of toilet paper on hand, even better. Do I have any illusion of surviving in some viable way beyond that which the larger society does? No, I don’t.

    Fear is a given. In the coming months, and years (?), as things continue to unravel, our collective fear will only increase. As you indicate, the importance of understanding the rightful source of that fear, and thus, coming from a place of knowledge and awareness, and not ignorance, will largely determine how we conduct ourselves in the face of it. Do we descend into chaos, dance to the orchestra as the ship sinks, or reside somewhere in between?

    1. Thanks, Charles. My essential point is that toilet paper symbolizes a defense against death since excrement symbolizes death. The panic to stock up on massive amounts of toilet paper is therefore an irrational and ignorant panic response that suggests that people are lacking spiritual resources to do so. There is no need for all this toilet paper, quite obviously. There is a deeply nihilistic, self-centered, and unconscious despair at work, that if acknowledged, would demand a reevaluation of so much. Pax, Ed

      1. Thanks for your response, Ed. Your essays always give me much to think about and learn from. Thanks also for the space to share my own thoughts.

  6. A drunk driver trying not to hit the pole smacks right into it because it’s all he can see.
    Maybe toilet paper is like an airbag.

      1. My fear, it doth envelop me
        ‘Til what I fear is all I see.

        TP as a scapegoat: “All my stains I confer to TP; see how I drive them out with a flush.”
        TP as an abstraction: the monks saved tomes; I have toilet paper.
        TP as teddy-bear: “As long as I have my TP, I am comforted.”
        TP as speculation: “Why, TP ought to go sky-high this summer!”

  7. I myself have been wondering why toilet paper has been the sublime object of mass panic. Many parts of the world have the same pattern of behaviour. My initial take is mimesis, in that people are just following every other person’s behaviour and hoard tp. (I kinda got suckered in myself when I saw that the shelves were near empty with only five 12-packs, and felt guilty so only took one.) But it doesn’t explain why tp is preferred over, say, baby wipes. Ironically enough tp appears to have originated from ancient China. Ps. at the grocery I also looked for a bottle of alcohol; they were no more.

    1. Hi Trina, The word toilet is the key. The connection to excrement, the ancient and long-standing symbol of death. DEath fear panic and paper that will wipe away any thought of death. So I think, anyway. Pax, Ed (see The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker and Life Against Death by Normon O. Brown, among many others – I am not alone)

    2. Goodness, no! Dread the idea that people would substitute baby wipes for TP! The last thing we need is a massive clogging of the sewage system.

  8. Corona-911

    “H3N2 vaccine strain did not match the circulating virus” it was created to combat; so what was that circulating virus, exactly?

    Irony attempt to define, connect and expose and express a gap/dislocation between: concrete reality; and symbolic reality

    Science, born of philosophy, itself born of religion, inherent to our very beings

    Some people prefer being lied to

    CDC data shows 9 percent vaccine effectiveness for Influenza A, Virus H3N2 flu shot last year

    While governments, international bodies and the public health community scramble to arrest the COV-19 virus, now labeled pandemic, with states of emergency declared nationwide — Medical Martial Law — and in Massachusetts: medical experts are still trying to come up with vaccines that can do a better job against various strains of influenza that have sickened and killed many people for many decades; contemporaneously singing praise of those vaccines.

    The experts say the effectiveness rate of flu shots should be at least 90 percent successful.

    Data collected for nearly two decades by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention show effectiveness rates often hovers between 40 and 50 percent.

    Data from the 2018/2019 flu season, the most recent set of complete information, first published in June, indicated that a flu shot to prevent Influenza A, the H3N2 strain, was only 9 percent effective in preventing onset of the flu, among all age groups.

    Among those from 9 to 49 years old, the effectiveness rate was 3 percent.

    Robert Atmar and Wendy Keitel of the Departments of Medicine and Molecular Virology and Microbiology, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, wrote in the Oct. 30 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, related to this outcome.

    They said, “the H3N2 vaccine strain did not match the circulating virus” it was created to combat.

    Their paper is titled: “Searching for Improved Flu Vaccines—The Time Is Now.”

    https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/221/1/1/5609442

    https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/221/1/8/5609441

    They said “there was also a low level of circulation of H3N2 viruses similar to the strain contained in the vaccine.” [What was actually “circulating?”]

    They wrote that the H3N2 vaccine failure “is not a new phenomenon.”

    Atmar and Ketiel wrote that: “What can be done to address this dilemma? The simple answer is to make better influenza vaccines. However, this is not an easy task, and the development of improved influenza vaccines has been a goal for decades. In 2018, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced a strategic plan to develop a universal influenza vaccine.” [Another simple answer: reveal what was actually circulating, for which the vaccine used was a veritable chimera.]

    “Despite the relatively low protection afforded by vaccination in some seasons, millions of cases of medically attended illness, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths have been averted annually,” they wrote.

    The overall effectiveness of flu shots, last year for all types of influenza, was 29 percent, the CDC data shows.

    During a congressional hearing on March 11, Robert Ray Redfield Jr., a virologist and current Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was grilled by Rep. Harley Rouda, D-California, about testing for influenza and the lack of test kit availability for the COVID-19.

    Their exchange was as follows:

    Rep. Rouda: “without test kits, is it possible that those susceptible to influenza might have been mis-categorized as to what they actually had — quite possible that they actually had COVID-19?”

    Dir. Redfield: “The standard practice is the first thing you do is, the first thing you do is test for influenza. So if they had influenza they would be positive for influenza.”

    Rouda: “But only if they were tested. So if they weren’t tested, we don’t know what they had.”

    Redfield: “Correct.”

    Rouda: “OK, so if somebody dies from influenza, are we doing post mortem testing to see if it was influenza or whether it was COVID-19?”

    Redfield: “There is a surveillance system of death from pneumonia the CDC has. It’s not in every city, every state, every hospital.”

    Rouda: “So, we could have people in the United States dying for what appears to be influenza when in fact it could be the Coronavirus, COVID-19.

    Redfield: “Some cases have actually been diagnosed that way in the United States today.”

    https://www.c-span.org/video/?470224-1/dr-fauci-warns-congress-coronavirus-outbreak-worse
    see at one hour and 43 minutes

    https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/2018-2019.html

    https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/effectiveness-studies.htm

    https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/2011-2012.html

    https://abc7.com/health/flu-vaccine-not-working-against-current-strain-cdc-warns/5368676/

    What is The Future of an Illusion?

    Freud, who confused The Church with religion/Religion, that epic failure of his fragmented consciousness, and despite all his wonderful scholarship, stated thus, in 1927, without irony:
    “Our knowledge of the historical worth of certain religious doctrines increases our respect for them, but does not invalidate our proposal that they should cease to be put forward as the reasons for the precepts of civilization. On the contrary! Those historical residues have helped us to view religious teachings, as it were, as neurotic relics, and we may now argue that the time has probably come, as it does in an analytic treatment, for replacing the effects of repression by the results of the rational operation of the intellect.”

    Camus, riposte, two decades later, in The Plague:
    “Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn’t come in contact with death; that’s why he can speak with such assurance of the truth — with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its goodness.”

    -30-
    ++

  9. I’m not convinced the impetus for this kind of hoarding stems from something quite so primal as the fear of death and desecration. Having as negative a view of humanity as I do, I believe that’s giving them too much credit. Rather, I suspect the hoarding of quintessential products of “civilization” is an attempt to elevate oneself above the herd.
    “Oh, I got the last roll of toilet paper – now there’s none for you. Too bad, so sad. But I guess I’m just a wee bit better than you. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings.”
    I strongly suspect, given the American emphasis on competition, just knowing one has something others may have to do without goes as deep in most people’s psyches as it gets.

  10. A really excellent analysis and discussion of the underlying dynamics of this frenzy Ed.

    When some family members today asked via telephone call about the state of emergency and the toilet paper hoarding here in California, I explained to them that my wife and I have decided that rather than hoarding toilet paper we were planning instead to – “hoard cognac and chocolate” – for reasons that should be self explanatory. 🙂

    I find the palpable fear and the behavior it engenders – which I’m witnessing escalate daily around me – much more concerning than any virus fears that all MSM assure me I should frantically and blindly embrace. Meanwhile the echo of three years of – “Russia, Russia, Russia – Putin!” – still rings in my ears – yet we are now on to the next event. It is a fine madness now holding us daily in an ever tighter and tighter embrace.

    1. Yes, Gary, Russiagate II. But this is the greatest propaganda operation of all. More like anthrax writ large. Pax, Ed

    1. Tom,

      I would say the fear of death is universal, but where people hold deeply to religious faith or the justness of their cause or the defense of their freedom and dignity as human beings, their land, their families, the fear is mitigated by courage, not eliminated but mitigated. For many in the USA, decades of lies, propaganda, consumerism, materialism, meaningless work, etc., has resulted in an unacknowledged nihilism that is easily evoked in the form of the mass panic engendered by the engineered coronavirus panic. People in Syria and Yemen surely suffer the same fears and reactions to being bombed, attacked, etc., but they have a cause and the spirit of human resistance to oppression is powerful. It is inspiring. Americans are like children, afraid of their shadows – thus toilet paper. Pax, Ed

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