With the political and social coherence our nation dissolving before our eyes, I naturally feel drawn to comment on the meaning of the dissolution. Yet I’m going to reserve that chore for another day. I think a further week of watching events unfold can’t help but leaven my observations. I need to settle myself down.
Frankly, my nerves have lately been shattered far more by a very personal confrontation than by the very public collapse of our nation’s rule of law… though the two, it turns out, are not completely unrelated. I received a call last Saturday night from a very close relative of mine. I will identify her simply as S, though none of my readers is likely to know her—and it’s even less likely that she would ever read this or any other of my columns. S was the closest person to me on earth when we were growing up. Somewhere along the line, a lot of things changed. Now that we’ve both passed well beyond our sixtieth birthday and are also separated by a thousand miles, we seldom speak to each other. The gaps in time and space appear to mar transmissions. Neither of us seems readily to understand what spiritual wavelength the other operates on.
Of course, S knows all about my round with prostate cancer this summer. If for no other reason than that, she tries to check in with me at least once a month. Our exchange of last Saturday night went along amicably for a while… and then, for some reason that I can’t seem to reconstruct in retrospect, the subject of the Corona Virus floated malodorously to the surface. I believe the first mention was hers, and that my response was simply to try to soothe her—to convince her that she needn’t worry about an illness whose infection-to-fatality rate was equal to that of a bad seasonal flu.
Shots fired. I was at once assured that I was completely wrong—that I had in no wise done research equal to S’s, whose dogged pursuit of the truth (I was told) could be matched by no one else in our family. She knew for a fact that children were dying of COVID-19: this was a five-alarm warning to our society. Everyone needed to be taking it with the utmost seriousness.
Fallen son of Adam that I am, I pushed back at the charge of being an ignoramus—and a bigot, to boot, who only processed information from a single source. (Don’t know where that came from: S never bothered to ask about my sources and never volunteered any of her own.)
I didn’t get really heated up, however, until a third person’s came into the discussion: someone who is as important to me as anyone on earth, and who I’d supposed was almost as important to S. This young man had checked himself into the emergency room last month in an incipient suicidal state which deeply alarmed him. The cause was, of course, the lockdown in which he and all his peers were living—are still living—day in and day out, week in and week out, in a vast Midwestern metropolis. I observed to S that older people like us should be prepared to run a two-or-three-chances-in-a-thousand risk of death if doing so might flatten the fearful spike in young suicides. Despair, in my opinion, was a much more formidable adversary than the flu.
Then came the response that touched a match to my powder keg. It was the baked-in-hell blarney about how kids shouldn’t be preoccupied with their amusement when their social activity jeopardizes the lives of others. This is what I propose to write at about some length today (perhaps because my attempts to dissect the claim in live conversation only met with being shouted over—and occasionally f-bombed: offensives which I ended up countering blow for loud, profane blow… God help us).
On the table, then, sits the propositions that you pose a menace to the lives of all around you if you circulate publicly in a normal fashion but do not strain your body almost to suffocation in an extremely abnormal fashion. If you decline to wear a mask, that is, you are engaged in a murder attempt.
My objections to this preposterous, insane, rabidly totalitarian groupthink are basically of two classes. To begin with the practical: respecting the claim above would bring us instantly to an absurd standstill—a train wreck of insoluble situations where life would simply have to go into a deep freeze. Consider the following few cases which spring to mind instantly.
Most contagions are primarily spread by hand: hands are constantly touching our faces and then proceeding to door knobs, paperwork, furniture, light switches, faucets, and so on. If we’re serious about not spreading SARS-COV2, then all of us should be required to wear gloves. The gloves themselves, as ersatz hands, must be shucked and replaced at intervals of no more than half an hour.
Infections of most varieties are spread through travel: ergo, we should impose rigorous travel bans. Trips should be permitted if we’re making an essential run to a nearby destination: e.g., a grocery store. Otherwise, wayfarers must be seized and punished.
We certainly shouldn’t permit people to smoke anything, whether nicotine, marijuana, or vaping compounds. We shouldn’t allow our fellow citizens to strain their lungs, because this would make them more tempting targets for respiratory infection… which, in turn, could be spread to us innocent bystanders. The same reasoning might be extended to obesity. People who are overweight tend to huff and puff, and one cough from their ample lungs… well, there you go. Potential murderers, every one!
And when it comes to jeopardizing the lives of others, why stop at the Corona Virus? Driving itself claims around 40,000 lives each year in this nation. We know that operation of cell phones while attempting to drive is risky behavior, and in much of the country it’s now illegal; but we also know that sustaining a conversation with someone in the passenger seat is distracting, as is attempting to manage food. Therefore, vehicles should not be allowed to move on the road that have an occupant in the passenger seat—unless, perhaps, that person is wearing a gag; and any driver caught behind the wheel with a Big Mac or a Smoothie King should be sent to Reeducation Camp for half a year.
As practically idiotic as any program must be that aims to ensure the “health of the collective”, I’m infinitely more disturbed by the moral assumptions—the immoral presumption, I should say—behind collectivist hygiene. The very idea that my society has the right to make me impede my airflow out of consideration for others is the most maniacally self-centered inversion of selflessness imaginable. I exist. You exist. Each of us poses certain potential threats to all others around us through the mere fact of our existence. We might misstep on an escalator with dozens of people below us. We might swipe an incautious pedestrian starting across an intersection while we’re peering at street signs. We might drop something that creates a sudden racket in the presence of a cardiac patient. Human life is a constant stream of such risks.
I’m not threatening your existence because I choose to have an existence. If I choose to sing, I’m not a threat to your life because I open my mouth and expel air. If I choose to sit at a table and eat a meal, I’m not a threat to your life because the juices circulating on my teeth may be ejected invisibly and borne away by the wind. If I hug a child who may go to the same kindergarten as yours, I’m not a threat to your life because an infection may be passed along from me the next school day that could eventually terminate you.
All such considerations are a selfish paranoia of unimaginable proportions. The spiritual sickness oozing from these equations is almost as baffling to me as it is disgusting.
Well… the phone conversation degenerated very quickly as its volume rose. I’m not proud of having lost my control to the extent that I did; and as a matter fact, I paid the price for it this past week. I won’t claim that I came down with a nice new case of COVID-19… but something flu-like certainly overtook me once my nerves were shattered and my resistance level bottomed out. Headache, congested lungs, extremely painful aching in the joints, neck pain, chills, weariness, a low-grade fever… I got almost no sleep on Saturday night, and this is the condition which started overshadowing me on Sunday morning.
Just to cinch the argument—not that I’m going to phone S with an update—my duel with this baleful flu-like adversary was treated by… staying quietly at home, nursing myself, taking lots of naps, minimizing my physical activity, and sustaining a good diet. I’m feeling immensely better as I sit here dictating this article. I didn’t need to go to the hospital. I didn’t need to sit in the emergency room. I didn’t need a physician prescribing Remdesivir or Hydroxychloroquine. I’ve had the flu before. I treated my round of plague sensibly, and… what do you know?… within three days it had virtually disappeared.
Am I now supposed to quarantine myself for two weeks? Why? I wear a mask in most public settings—and the mask absolutely prevents the Corona Virus from exiting, right? Besides, all the people around me have masks on, too, so they cannot breathe in my toxic exhalation. And since we’re both masked, everyone is doubly protected, yes? So the world is absolutely safe from any threat that might come from my direction. I’m so happy! Aren’t you happy?
It’s become a bromide that politics is now destroying civility, friendships, and even family relations because we’ve grown so intransigent in our views. We can no longer agree to differ. Um… true and not true, I would say. If you deny to me the freedom to take a few steps on God’s earth, enjoy God’s golden sun, and breathe God’s fresh air—if you even revile me as the author of a moral atrocity because I go down the sidewalk humming a tune—then we’re not disagreeing over whether the jogging trail should be plowed under to make a traffic bypass. You’re not even just committing an outrage against me personally. You’re blaspheming against Creation—you’re adoring Moloch.
I miss that little girl in those black-and-white photos, S. I’m sorry she exists no longer. I miss her so much! Who did that to her? Who kidnapped her and transformed her into what you are?