Ostracized doctors and peddlers of nutritional supplements tell us why we should worry that the viral onslaught is spelled PLANDEMIC. Others deny the contagion is dangerous enough to justify the social and economic costs of enforced distancing and bans. Those in power reassure us that a vaccination will soon restore normalcy, without mentioning that no one has ever made a safe and effective vaccine for an RNA virus of the type now wreaking havoc. The anger has only begun to simmer, and the impoverished middle class has only begun to feel the bite. Few can accept the new reality rudely thrust on us by this virulent and multi-faceted version of SARS, all its new faces appalling.

Biological warfare best belongs in zombie apocalypse fiction. But we cannot deny that it is possible. The technologies are advanced enough, the secret services demented enough, the politicians arrogant enough. An evil plot would need no more than predictable responses from the masses and institutions to be plausible. A planned release of an engineered virus may be unlikely, but is not unthinkable. Evil plots can seldom be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and sometimes tragedies happen without anyone deserving to be blamed, or by mere negligence. We will probably never know the truth. The fact remains that with the right technical levers, releasing a new and deadly virus is not hard. Wuhan housed a prominent one of those levers. Who if anyone pulled the lever is, and will remain, a contentious issue.

This is a good time to be writing fiction. Mythic stories can fill the gap between the unknowable and human thirst for knowledge and meaning. Biological warfare fits easily into mythic storytelling. Suppose a tyrannical cabal wanted to weaken free nations and force its intelligentsia into isolation. What better way than a virulent virus to accomplish that? As “essential” workers face higher risks, those able to survive in isolation are both more likely to escape infection, and more easily surveilled. In this fictional world, a cartel of global corporations fights to maintain its power and puts its faith in an impossible vaccine. It surveils and manipulates the masses through a web of electronic networks and financial systems. Opposing government by corporations is a ragtag civil defense force of hackers and healers, 2nd-tier lawyers, farmers, and other patriots. The conflict breeds a million riveting stories, waiting to be discovered, in just that one fantasy world! To discover the stories, we need only look around us and extrapolate.

The hero’s journey teaches us how creativity, courage, and love can overcome terrifying times. We who wield the creative pen have the power to move the world. It is a responsibility to embrace. We must have the freedom to tell compelling stories using myths that resonate with our audiences. Only creative freedom can move humanity towards virtues: resiliency, sustainability, fairness towards each other and coming generations, mutual satisfaction, restoration and healing.

Virtue cannot be achieved by compulsion. Compelling virtue in others is tyranny, and generates evil outcomes. We cannot tolerate censorship, not from our governments, and not from the hosts of our social media platforms. We must resist the spread of malignant untruths, using only the tools of reason, truth and trust-building, never censorship. But we should not be naive. Enemy agents are at work, sowing division and confusion. Isn’t censorship necessary to resist their falsehoods?

No. A society that depends on censorship is brittle. All it takes to bring it down is one brilliantly conceived and executed hack. Conversely, a society that protects free speech is resilient, to the extent that each of its members learns to discriminate delusion, fiction and fraud from reliable truths. Malicious actors can attempt to manipulate public opinion, and we can expose their falsehoods by open discussion and reliable historical records, both public and private. We can tell stories that inspire our audiences to new insights and possibilities. But only if we remain neutral and respectful of dissenting opinions, in the sense of fostering civil discussion of competing ideas. Too often, we are more interested in sharpening our partisan axes, silencing dissent by ad hominum attacks and censorship justified by appeals to authorities.

Partisanship leads to tyranny. If we in the domain of free speech follow our favored leaders uncritically, free speech will die in predictable and easily manipulated infighting. The censors will win.

It’s up to us to stop them. Open your eyes and ears, and go write!