A lot of people are allowing the installation of what amounts to a police state due to fear of COVID-19 (a disease that 98% of those who catch it survive).
Unable to figure it out, feeling as though I’m standing in two inches of water while all around me people are flopping on their bellies and screaming they’re going to die unless government saves them, I’m brought to realize that my view of death is profoundly un-American.
There are reasons for that, including the fact that I grew up in a country where human life is far less safe, and disease far more likely to take a majority of people before they even attain maturity.
Yes, I know, you’ve heard it all before: “Americans are too rich,” “Americans are too spoiled,” “Americans are too comfortable.”
That is not what I’m saying. I, myself, have become American enough that my answer to all of the above is always “And we like it that way.”
The problem I’m having right now is that one of those “Americans are too—” is going to destroy all of those above. If the phony lockup but real destruction of the economy goes on for another month (And Colorado just extended ours to the 26th of April) there will be if not outright famine – and I’d bet on outright famine, given that, among other things, we’re losing all imported food and already crops are being plowed under – a severe food shortage with rationing. The number of businesses destroyed, lives blighted, and industries that will never come back will be too numerous to count. Our unemployment rate is going to give us real homeless, i.e. those who can’t afford homes, not those who choose to live outside society, which is mostly the homeless we’ve had.
Yesterday in a private discussion group someone pointed out that the people who want us locked up till whenever, including the eighteen months dreamed up by the totalitarian doctor Fauci, are both on the left and the right. Their common denominator seems to be that they believe authority can somehow save them from death.
A lot of people, parenthetically speaking, are also doctors who are outraged that a disease can take their patients from under their noses, without their being able to save them.
You see, in our minds, and certainly in most doctors’ minds, most Americans don’t die of diseases. This is a measure of our success against Death, that old enemy of humanity.
Most Americans die of “conditions.” Here, I’m distinguishing between diseases, those things that are communicated by viruses or bacteria, and which used to mow down vast swathes of the population every so often, and “conditions,” which are things inherent in being human, like heart disease or diabetes or even cancer. If you live long enough, you’ll get cancer, because that’s inherent in how human cells reproduce – which, I know we also call illnesses, but which are not communicable or the responsibility of some pathogen.
Antibiotics have been so successful that, though a lot of people die of antibiotic-resistant infections, such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and a lot of people die from the flu every year, these are mostly people whose system is weakened by several conditions, people whom we expect to die at any minute.
Yes, I do know that is the profile of most people who die of COVID-19, but that is not how it’s been painted. The news – preening like aging actresses suddenly given a leading part – emphasize the atypical cases: the young, the very young, the children.
They emphasize that this illness could come at you from out of nowhere, from a sneeze, from shaking hands with an asymptomatic carrier, from sitting in church next to an infected person.
No, they don’t tell you that if you catch it there’s a 98% chance that you’ll survive. Of course they don’t. That would stop scaring people, and the media loves having you penned up at home and listening to their every word.
And it’s working, because Americans, by and large, have forgotten they are mortal and that they will one day die. Oh, and that, as my mom puts it, “We serve at the pleasure of a higher power,” i.e. we don’t have control over when we’ll die or how.
Part of this is that we isolate our aged and dying in nursing homes. And I say this as someone who has a family member in a nursing home (partly because we simply can’t afford to look after her, and partly because what remains of her in the midst of memory loss would not want to be cared for by this particular branch of the family). So we don’t see, and by and large avoid, thinking of that inevitable end.
Honestly, I think that’s part of what’s playing into the hysteria over COVID-19. People scream at you that you want their aged relatives to die. Instead of protecting those aged relatives, and going to work. I think to an extent this hysteria is as much the result of our guilt over the aged as the Satanic Child Abuse panic of the eighties was the result of our guilt over shutting kids up in daycare. We feel guilty for the elderly who are rarely visited and largely abandoned, and we want to do magical things to protect them, to make “sacrifices,” even though those have nothing to do with saving their lives or health.
However, most of the panic is the feeling that we can at any minute be felled by something invisible, for which there’s no cure. (Which by itself is probably not true, but never mind.)
We don’t live in the regency, where well-born young ladies included three child-shrouds in their trousseaus because they knew they would lose children to birth, to infection, to various childhood illnesses our kids are now vaccinated against, or which are simply shrugged off. We expect to rear every child we birth. And we expect that most of us will live fairly long lives, at least as long as lives that used to be considered “very long” in other centuries. (Even the friend we lost to cancer at 53 was well past middle age in human historical terms.)
And we live so long – really long and really healthy, regardless of the boogaboo of obesity forever invoked against us — that we are productive even in our sixties and seventies and there’s always the hope that a new breakthrough, a new discovery can extend our lives another half-century.
In part, too, we’ve lost our moorings on each individual life counting to something bigger. We no longer live in hope of heaven, by and large. And a vast proportion of our population doesn’t even live for their families, their calling or even their nation.
I am a proponent of individual rights, but I also know that when people feel they are not part of something, and that their lives have no meaning to something longer-lasting than themselves, it is not good for the individual… or society.
In this case, I think it’s contributing to a near-solipsism, in which each of us instinctively views him/herself as all that exists/matters, and therefore must be kept going forever. Not everyone, of course, but a significant number of the population seems driven by this.
I am here to tell you it’s time to change that. This cringing fear of losing “even one life” has already denied our species mastery of space; it has induced a lot of legislation that really does not save much in the way of lives, but which gives a lot of power to authoritarians; it has diminished all our lives, and right now it might have dealt a fatal blow to the world economy.
I’m not suggesting any of us embrace the Mexican creepy dia dos mortos holiday, or start getting overly familiar with skulls.
But it’s time to remember that each of us is mortal. One day we will each of us die. The chances anyone reading this will be alive in 100 years is vanishingly small, unless reincarnation is a thing (and that would be a different thing anyway.)
Because – and not just with COVID-19 — we’re risking killing civilization due to a panicked fear of individual death.
Memento mori. It might save the life of the West.