Once upon a time in Otherland, a stranger arrived on the shore. He said he came from Thisisitland, which they had never heard of, though they had heard of many, many different lands.
As they always did, they welcomed this strange and serious man into their midst, plied him with food and drink and listened to his story.
They loved hearing of other ideas, other inventions, other discoveries and other opinions they hadn’t heard before. They felt never knew who they were or what they had unless they had different perspectives on all matters, big and small. So they loved learning new things, other things, which is why they were called the Otherlanders.
So they listened to this man who told them of his very serious land and they laughed. He seemed to become angry at their laughter which was at themselves for not thinking of things like he did. They didn’t realise he was getting angry, for a while, for anger wasn’t something they were used to. They laughed an awful lot for everything he said was upside down to them – they couldn’t believe they had not thought the thoughts that he did. There was more laughter, at themselves, than they’d ever had and he eventually stood up, his face very grim, and shouted loudly at them. He might have been frothing at the mouth – some thought he was, anyway – and his arms whirled like a windmill and they stood back, fearing an arm might fly off and hit someone.
They laughed in embarrassment then decided to stop for that made him crazier, as he thumped the table. He calmed down when they went silent but he kept waggling his finger at them and prodding invisible things in the air.
They waited till he finished talking, waggling and prodding so they could tell him their perspective. He might laugh at himself, then, they hoped. They waited a long time and wondered if he’d stop telling them different things. Some of them started nodding off, standing up, and had to be prodded awake before they fell over.
They tried to concentrate on his furious speech but, because it was opposite to their perception, it was hard to concentrate for a long time. They started chatting with each other, to help clarify his very unusual ideas and he started yelling, waggling and prodding again. He didn’t seem to leave any gaps in his conversation like Otherlanders did, to allow others to speak. He seemed to deem that unnecessary.
So they stood and listened and chatted and shut up and swayed and snored and woke up and, by the end, their poor little brains were so scrambled, they didn’t know what to think. In fact, many didn’t know how to think – their brains and mouths just shut down while they waited for him to finish.
Their bemused silence seemed to please him for he almost smiled, sometimes, and talked a fraction slower and quieter, which helped their quaking hearts and scrambled brains. They felt a drizzle safer and stayed quiet.
For those with the least scrambled brains, it seemed that this man had come to warn them of a great tragedy that was about to arrive on their shores … a great and terrible sickness that would sweep through their land, killing most of them. Their villages would be ruined forever – economically, ecologically and evolutionary … or something like that. They nodded when he told of this invisible, non-living protein that had swept through his land, causing economic chaos, suicides and domestic violence but no more deaths than normal.
“Now, hang on,” some said to others, “if it caused no more sickness or death, how was it going to kill most of them? Or some of them?”
They were grateful and confused as this man walked off, replaced his face mask, and fell over because of lack of oxygen and he was breathing his own carbon monoxide. They helped him to bed and he immediately put his illness-inducing mask back on, saying it was saving him from the great killing virus … that didn’t actually kill anyone. Mmm, a very interesting man.
They gave him the space he demanded and sat in little groups to review their understanding of staying healthy.
See, they saw their bodies like their houses. When we have dust and rubbish to clean up, we sweep a whole room into one pile and then dispose of that pile of dust. So with the body: when there are toxins about – bad food, bad thoughts, bad vibes in the air – the body sweeps around and pushes all the “dust” into one corner. That corner might be the lungs, the stomach or some other particular place. Then this pile of “dust” is congealed into a state that it can be expelled from the body – phlegm or snot that can be sneezed, coughed or spat out. This amazing collection system they called the suriv and they were really pleased the body made it so easy to rid itself of things it didn’t want.
But this strange man from Thisisitland thought this suriv was a problem, not a solution. He’d said it backwards, like lots of other things he said, and he’d told them that the Thisisitlanders had been trying to get rid of surivs for a very long time.
While this man was talking, some Otherlanders checked Elgoog and found that one of the Thisisitland scientists, Edward Jenner, had tried to prove that surivs were things, not processes – and that people could catch them from other people. Jenner couldn’t prove his theory correct, said Elgoog, so, in 1798, he falsified his findings and Thisisitlanders had believed in surivs as dangerous things ever since.
Though the Otherlanders were open – very open – to other people’s ideas, these ideas just didn’t add up, somehow. They really did try to see the logic of this man’s world, to help them expand their own thinking. But, try as they might, none of them seemed rational. So they worried about this man’s sanity. And his health. They wondered if he had some fever from Thisisitland, something they’d never had but had heard about, long ago.
A small group went back to his room, against his earlier wishes, and stood round his bed, trying to comfort him. After all, none of them was sick so they knew their healthful bodies and minds would infect any sickness and make it better.
But this just alarmed him all the more and he started yelling through his mask, waggling and prodding with one hand and wiping his crinkled brow with the other. The Otherlanders knew that human touch, companionship and acceptance were the best remedies for any ailment so they persisted for a while, hoping his fever would subside. But this just increased his arm-flinging and yelling so they backed off, baffled about what to do next. He calmed down a little and had to keep taking his mask off to get enough oxygen. They couldn’t understand why he kept putting it back on.
What they didn’t know was, while they left his room to confer in hushed confusion, he was texting back to Thisisitland to tell his people that these people were too stupid to take precautions against this vicious virus – yes, he even spelt it backwards – and they needed to be guarded against it.
Well, yes, you know the rest of the story for it was in all your TVs, podcasts and newsfeeds … the Thisisitland army invaded Otherland, forced the people inside their houses – no touching, companionship or acceptance – and were forcibly injected with a fluid that was made by a man who wasn’t a doctor or a scientist – a Mr Setag – and his friend, Dr Icuaf. Ninety percent of those injected lost the ability to think for themselves – or lost their life – and everyone else was so terrified by the panic brought to their peaceful land that they became sick with fear – the greatest sickness of all.
However, no one died from this suriv and everyone at Thisisitland congratulated themselves for a good job well done.