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Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Virus

Some thoughts are a virus. I'm not talking about the thought experiment about "don't think of a white elephant," nor am I spouting the (largely true) neo-conservative line about democracy and capitalism being like viruses that will grow and thrive if permitted a free society in which to do so.

No, I'm saying there are some thoughts that are infectious and hurtful. Information that creates a self-perpetuating wound, like an abcess. Not a philosophy, not a religion, data.

When you have an infected wound, you have to cut out a lot of flesh to remove the virus from your body. But at least there is that option! What do you do when the virus is a thought? You can't remove it from your brain, no matter how hard you try, because it's too damn hard to get past the cranium -- even if you knew what part of your brain to cut out. You just have to live with the fact that you are now hopelessly infected, and that the rest of your life will be completely different. Like waking up from a car wreck with no legs. All the regret and wishing and hoping in the world won't change that.

I know this sounds like the plot of The Ring, and don't think I haven't thought about it. You watch a videotape and then BOOM -- you can never go back again. Some information is like that. You can't ever "un-know" it, no matter how hard you try.

I caught one of those viruses last week, from a website that gathers weird news and funny sites from around the web. It was clearly labeled "the saddest thing you will ever read," but being a frickin' idiot, I read it anyway. At the time it seemed shocking and sad, even unnerving. But not unforgettable or anything like that.

But it is. It gets worse with time. I can't get it out of my mind. Like the theme song from "Star Trek," only a million times worse. It's stuck. It's burrowing in my brain.

The best comparison comes from the very first episode of "Upright Citizens Brigade," which features a "Bucket of Truth." You look into it, you see "absolute truth," and you go stark raving mad, screaming at the top of your lungs. (At the end of the episode, the parody of Mel Gibson's outrageously-depressed "Lethal Weapon" character looks in and says "You think I didn't know that?") It was funny, but --- yeah. I looked into the Bucket of Truth and I can't stop screaming.

This is not a dare. This is a warning. There is information out there that will burrow its way into your soul and build a black, festering wound. Slowly. So be careful. Life has its own way of forcing you to take hard information, but don't go looking for it. Put up filters. Turn off the computer. Be careful what you choose to expose yourself to.

But even now, there is always some a--hole out there who thinks this is a dare.

Okay, tough guy. Here's the virus. Don't say I didn't warn you. And no, I'm not posting the link because I want The Ring to spare me. Let me suffer. Don't click it. Don't hurt yourself.

And don't be the next human to prove the continuing relevance of the myth of Pandora.

For those of you too human to resist temptation, let me say this. The story of Pandora may be the cure. After all the evil of the world was released, there was only Hope to make it bearable. I am reminded of "The Diary of Anne Frank," which contains both a brutal information-virus (the Holocaust) and the seeds of a cure ("I still believe in spite of everything that people are really good at heart."). Or "The Hiding Place." Maybe those books are the cure.

Or maybe they make it worse.

 11:12 AM

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