By and large, US Americans are in denial about a lot: the brutality of our militarism, the ecological cost of our lifestyle, the ethical vacuum where our communal heart should be. But denying the reality of a contagion is a whole ‘nother level of blindness.
History is full of infectious disease outbreaks; enough to call them regular, or even common. Repeated experience has built a body of knowledge of how to respond sensibly to such events; quarantine, isolation, and cordon sanitaires are tried-and-true methods, long proven through trial and (tragic) error. In short, we know the drill.
Not responding sensibly, then, is ignorant at best. It can also be willful stupidity or even malice, as history has also demonstrated.
In the US right now, we are witnessing some indisputably inappropriate behavior, as people gather in groups in public places to protest the social restrictions that various levels of government have been declaring.
Ironically, the politics of these people is commonly designated as “conservative,” but their reaction is anything but. Ever heard of “Better safe than sorry?” A pandemic is a singularly appropriate time to apply that prudent advice.
I grew up in the deep red Midwest, so I have a gut-level understanding of many of the ugly sentiments expressed by the rightwing. Even when the event is unprecedented in my lifetime, like this, it feels familiar. I would call the obstinacy of these ridiculous actions around the country “childish” but I don’t want to insult people who are too young to know better. No, these are “grown-ass” adults, as it’s said, who ought to know better, as it’s also said.
Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz pointed out that the selfishness and paranoia we are witnessing is emblematic of settler-colonialism. That certainly helps explain the difference between our reaction here versus, say, those in east Asia. As a nation, our refusal to acknowledge what we have done, and by extension who we are, handicaps our perceptions. Unable to see reality clearly, we are incapable of making logical choices.
When I was a kid, I often heard the old saw: “My liberty to swing my arm end where your nose begins.” I understood it to mean that my freedom to do what I wanted to do was limited by how it affected you. That is, nobody has the right to just punch somebody else in in the face.
But that’s just what some headstrong people are doing with these dangerous gatherings.
Yes, I get it that the ruling elite is taking advantage of this crisis to enact more stringent social control. Guess when they’re not trying to tighten their grip of control? Never. They take advantage of crisis situations for sure; “disaster capitalism” is a real thing.
But that doesn’t mean that an infectious disease isn’t an infectious disease. It merely shows us that the sociopaths running things are (as ever) enthusiastic opportunists. Their privileged position enables them to easily turn most circumstances to their advantage, including a global pandemic. And yes, they do plan for such events. We should do the same.
But these folks crowding together at statehouses are not standing in the way of tyranny. Especially not when the freaking President is encouraging them. That’s just about the opposite of rebellion. These events are no more than selfish acts of individual defiance which threaten the effectiveness of communal safety efforts. To wit, these folks are definitely taking swings far too close to their neighbor’s noses.
We all have skin in this game. That’s how pandemics work. Unfortunately, our common safety is like a chain that’s no stronger than its weakest link, and that link is being heedlessly (and needlessly) stressed. These marches on statehouses are no mere political statement; they are reckless endangerment.
Where we need to focus now is on the practical, and solely on that. An actual bona fide crisis is going down, whether we believe it or not, and regardless of what we think of it. The rubber is hitting the road.
Nature is reminding us who bats last; perhaps this outbreak fades away without getting much worse; or maybe this is only the first of multiple waves. It’s too early to call. Anybody who claims to know exactly where this is going is full of it.
The Spanish Flu’s deadliest wave was its second (of three), and its spread has been blamed on the movement of troops (as related to WWI) and to countries being unwilling to impose quarantines. So see, we’ve learned lessons the hard way already and need to pay attention to them.
Trump has been encouraging these foolhardy gatherings, but impudence about this pandemic has not been the sole domain of the right. People who consider themselves left have also been loudly casting doubt on the seriousness of our situation. Personally, I’ve been finding my patience running out for it.
First, the demonstrations do not deserve our support. As Black Agenda Report columnist, Margaret Kimberley, remarked on social media:
“these ‘protesters’ with assault weapons and confederate flags are white supremacists. Full stop… If you think the shutdowns should end, find another way to express that thought. Supporting white supremacist thugs is a deal breaker for me.”
Thank you, Margaret.
Secondly, I believe the nurses, doctors and paramedics who say that we are facing a real-life crisis, unprecedented in their experience. They are on the front-lines; they would know. I am not blind to the limitations of western medicine or to the perversities of the for-profit medical/pharmaceutical/insurance complex, but those are separate subjects from what people on-the-ground are seeing with their own eyes and are reporting directly about events that unfolding.
Let me add that I am well aware that the media, the government and other institutions regularly lie and/or make mistakes, especially in the heat of a crisis; they routinely fudge numbers, elide facts, and add spin, both purposely and unthinkingly. I also know that testing and reporting methodologies across the US are inconsistent, and that this affects the accuracy of statistics.
But when ambulance drivers in NYC say they’ve never seen anything like this, I know this ain’t just “another flu.” Or when nurses are telling “Horror Story After Horror Story”. Enough eye-witness accounts from actual people in the health care profession have been posted to prove that this isn’t a fraud.
I’m aware that such evidence isn’t enough for some people. But in the absence of certainty, isn’t the precautionary principle our friend? After all, the price of being wrong is catching and passing on something that can kill.
The varied reactions to this crisis aren’t all about facts or sense, though. Fear is motivating both belief and action. Some worry is well warranted of course: people are wondering how they will get by; where rent will come from, or how to pay for food or medical treatment. Government response has been far from adequate, to say the least. If something doesn’t change, social volatility will continue to ramp up, and at some point, you’ve got a powder keg waiting for a spark. Who will still be standing after that explosion? I wonder. Such events are often indiscriminate, taking out the innocent with the guilty.
In the meantime, with each day that passes, a return to “normal” is less likely. It’s not like normal was working out for most people anyway, but given that it was all that people knew, I get that they’re fretting about it not coming back.
Somehow, we’ve got to address all this from the bottom up. Letting it get decided top-down will inevitably give us a raw deal. This means we have to be clear headed and act wisely. Read some history. Listen to front-liners. Not get caught up in the drama or the shrill narratives. Focus on needs. Build community.
A great start is by participating in the mutual aid efforts that are already underway. For more info, go to: mutualaiddisasterrelief.org.
The worst is still to come. If not from this crisis, then the next. The bill is coming due for our centuries of exploiting the earth. It might not seem fair that we have to pay for the sins of our forebears, but that’s the role we’re stuck with and we’ve gotta make the best of it.