Thursday, April 16, 2020

The latest thing for Americans to fight about

The alarm went off like a chainsaw next to my ear, shredding through the reverie of my last dreams. It's day whatever the heck this is of the coronavirus conflict.

The bike shop continues to receive repair work faster than we can get through it. This is typical for spring, and much of the summer. Because it's felt like April for a month and a half already, it still seems early in the year. Indeed, in many previous years we would still be ramping up, even this late in the month, as winter might have hung on, or public interest might focus elsewhere. The number of people stuck at home looking at their possessions has reminded many of them that they own bikes. Forced leisure gives them the time to bring them down to us.

Protective procedures make the work cumbersome. Every trip to check in a repair or go to the basement where most of the bikes await service requires going through two locked doors, with some degree of decontamination outgoing and incoming. The same is true of any outdoor test riding. Meanwhile, we share a parking lot with businesses that attract people who are conspicuously less concerned about such precautions. Local case numbers appear to support their point of view. How much of this is the result of the virus's long incubation period? How much is the result of a lack of comprehensive testing? Or are there really very few infected people, and the disease is hardly spreading around here?

Dealing with an invisible foe, we each have to decide for ourselves how strongly to react. After work yesterday, I went up the street to a nearby grocery store. I wore a mask. A handful of other people did as well, but the majority did not. There were few people in the store. None of the staff wore masks. The checkout girl and the stock boy radiated contempt, whether they realized it or not. I concluded my business as quickly as possible and walked back to my car on the nearly deserted sidewalks.

All over the country, people are rebelling against the restrictions of social distancing. In Michigan it led to armed idiots demonstrating outside the capitol building. Protests have also taken place in North Carolina, Ohio, and elsewhere.

Protests like these are largely the result of Americans living pampered lives. Poverty is relative. Relative poverty is still a disadvantage in a prosperous country. Americans are accustomed to levels of comfort and freedom of expression that are far above the norm in countries truly ravaged by shortage or constrained by authoritarianism. The American Dream is based on self indulgence and unfettered imagination. Not everyone has much of an imagination, but whatever they do have is free to roam. We get to see every day how many of them only roam as far as the gun shop and a gathering with irritable friends for some live action role playing. But that's only part of the story of generations of cultivated attention deficit disorder. Since the end of World War II, white Americans have been asked less and less to put up with anything for too long.

Some things have dragged on. The war in Afghanistan has been going on longer than any conflict in our history. But it's far away and involves relatively few Americans in body bags. The War on Terror has faded to a system of inconveniences now permanently attached to air travel, and a radicalized Immigration, Customs and Border Protection force, as well as domestic surveillance measures that go on in the background subtly and continuously. The majority of people never have to notice them directly. We were encouraged at the time to consume at our normal rate to prove that the terrorists had not defeated us.

After 9-11, the period of national unity lasted about 30 hours before the responses diverged into an argument about what to do next. Even the 30 hours was an illusion. The fractures were as immediate as the structural failure in the twin towers, though less spectacular. We were just too stunned in the immediate moment to form our thoughts into plans.

The current crisis is far more difficult for people to comprehend. When you've decided that your enemies are brown people of a certain religion, rightly or wrongly you can at least see them without a microscope. Even though some have highlighted the Chinese aspect of COVID-19, beating up Asians  does even less to fight the problem than persecuting every Muslim does to reduce the incidence of that particular type of fundamentalist terrorism.

A right-wing friend of mine used to splutter with indignation when Black Lives Matter protesters would block a highway.

"What if an ambulance needs to get through? What if there's a fire somewhere?" he grumbled.

Yesterday, protesters you could say "identify as conservative" took part in demonstrations designed to stop traffic in Lansing, Michigan.

When this is over, it will be another event over which we can divide ourselves, just like civil rights, women's rights, the Vietnam War, and the environment. We're still arguing about the American War of Independence and the Civil War. Nazi sympathizers didn't want us to join the Allies in World War II. When the majority prevails it ushers in a period of some uniformity of behavior, but minority opinion doesn't miraculously evaporate. "What did you do during COVID-19?" will become another qualifying question. Did you overreact? Did you blow it off? Was your point of view vindicated or discredited? Will we be sure?

The pro-death faction divides roughly into the strain that believes most people will get mildly ill or not feel sick at all, and the one that believes that serious illness and death are just part of life that we should all embrace for the greater good of our healthy herd and our glorious economy. To the survivors go the spoils! It's the perfect mass casualty scenario, because we don't really have to blame anyone. It was the disease, man. What could anyone have done? We're all better off now. Ya gotta die of something! Whatever happens, be assured that they will feel no shame in the outcome. And a great many of them will survive.

The people who want to force us back together are akin to suicide bombers. They may not have the certainty of their own death that the wearer of a bomb vest or the pilot of a vehicle filled with explosives would have, but they are nonetheless forcing their belief system onto unwilling participants. Some people will die as a result. There are many ways in which responsibility can drift like a bad fart on a calm day, never settling on anyone in particular, so we will never get the closure of saying for certain who dealt what. We fall back onto belief systems, each of us in our own imagined world, to make what peace we can with any of it.


voyageoftheeye said...

The last of my parent's generation in the family has just died from this virus and not from being in a retirement home. This problem is no joke even if many who are supposed to have power seem to think so.

Billions spent on education and the majority are still as ignorant as bricks!

cafiend said...

Condolences on your loss. I don't know what else to say except good luck to us all. This country has been up against a lot of stupidity and paranoia for decades.

Rob in VA said...

"Hey Hawaii, you'd better do something about that Pearl Harbor incident!". Imagine if FDR had said that. It would be comparable to our federal government's response to this pandemic. We have virtually no testing (at the current rate it will take 7 years), no treatment (recent studies increasingly show that the risks associated with administering chloroquine outweigh probable benefits), and little chance of a vaccine being available before late 2021. But hey, let's "reopen" the country, relying on social distancing practiced by a fraction of the population that considers it appropriate. What could go wrong?!

While bashing China for deceptive communication about their experience with the virus, our government is under-reporting rate of infection by about 20x and mortality by about 3x...after all, if (virtually nonexistent) testing didn't confirm a person had covid-19, then there's no chance it caused their death, right?

I'm heading out this afternoon to ride a remote rail-trail on which I may encounter 3 or 4 people in 20 to prepare for a rebound of the virus by maintaining my fitness, in the hope that my nearly-70 yr old immune system will be up to the challenge.

Steve A said...

"...the disease is hardly spreading around here." That may be true if you are lucky, but taking precautions is still wise unless and until the "hardly spreading" theory proves out. I'd have to say I completely agree with you about the people who play Russian Roulette with their own and other people's health. That includes politicians of many different political stripes.

OTOH, we must be careful to avoid further erosion of our Constitution and the rights detailed therein out of fear. I'd have to agree with Rand Paul that taking down the license plate numbers of people attending a church service in Kentucky is a step too far for the government. Public shaming in news stories should expose those for what they are. What's more, I think law enforcement has more important things to do than spy on people doing stupid things that the Constitution says they are entitled to do. I believe both Franklin and Eisenhower stated "those that trade freedom for security soon find they have neither..."

Take steps to protect yourself. Shake your head when you see people being willfully ignorant - and stay AWAY from them.

Steve A said...

I think Darwin would see our current situation as an evolutionary opportunity where the nonbelievers survive in fewer number.