Students keeping distance and wearing face masks take part in an entrance ceremony at the Yokohama Municipal Nakayama Elementary School in Kanagawa prefecture in April, amid another 'surge' of Covid-19 in Japan, where there have been just over 1,000 deaths from the disease. Photo: AFP / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Several months ago, Asia Times received an offer from an academic based in Japan to contribute articles to the website. He was told such contributions would be welcome, but nothing more was heard from him until this week.

In an e-mail, he apologized for his silence, explaining that he had been diagnosed with late-stage cancer, a development he had found “a bit distracting.”

A bit distracting.

That gem of good humor from a man going through such a trial was a welcome reminder of a time before the world became obsessed with a respiratory virus.

Nearly an entire year has been canceled. Less than 12 months ago, the purpose of life, at least in the “developed” world, was to enjoy it. Now, the only purpose is to prolong it. Its simple pleasures, going to the beach, playing with school chums, watching sports, visiting friends, neighbors and family members, all history.

Mainstream media report endlessly on this “new era,” but analysis of what it actually means to the human condition is remarkably absent.

Lots of tut-tutting about what could have been done to mitigate this crisis – earlier alerts from the Chinese, earlier border closures, harsher lockdowns – yet almost nothing about the long-term practices of modern civilization such as cheap air travel and underfunding of public health systems that were prime vectors of the virus. Or whether, or how, such errors will be corrected in the “post-Covid era,” whatever that is.

US media, social and traditional, were abuzz for a while recently over “cancel culture,” the silencing of – or, probably more accurately, closing of ears to – voices straying too far from official narratives.

The phenomenon is not new, in the US or anywhere else. In fact, there is good evidence that not only in democratic countries but also to an unprecedented degree in authoritarian cultures, alternative views have never had so many platforms as they do now.

However, what Noam Chomsky called “The Bounds of Thinkable Thought” are still powerful, as Chomsky himself has experienced through most of his career. How else to explain how a man lauded as one of the most gifted intellectuals of the 20th and 21st centuries never appears on mainstream media?

Yet even within the criticism of “cancel culture,” certain boundaries not only are rarely crossed, they are almost never acknowledged. Ironically, the most obvious example of this is the event now getting the most attention, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Could that explain why, despite the pandemic wiping arguably much more fearsome threats such as nuclear proliferation and climate change and religious extremism off the front pages, we are so ill-informed about what matters to the vast majority of us?

The majority of that vast majority live in countries that will suffer the most from the crashed global economy, deliberately orchestrated by the rich world in the competition for the lowest rates of “new cases” and death tolls in the hundreds, not thousands, per million population. Yet little is written or spoken on how that suffering will be mitigated, or even if it should.

Little is written or spoken about how our children, now sternly taught to live in a mask-clad world of fear rather than one of fun and discovery, will develop. Practically nothing is said about whether we will cope more intelligently – dare we say less hysterically? – when the next health crisis hits, as it surely will, or whether the way we cope with such health challenges as cancer or heart disease makes more sense than shutting down most of the planet.

But none of this should be a surprise. For long, the main cause of misinformation has been not the failure of “experts” to answer questions but the failure of us journalists to ask them.

Ah, but don’t blame us. We have been “a bit distracted.”

David Simmons is a Canadian journalist based in Thailand. He has worked for newspapers and news websites in four countries, three of them in Asia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of British Columbia and a diploma in journalism from Langara College in Vancouver.