Three things have bothered me about this panic-demic from the beginning:
One was the realization that the reaction to the novel coronavirus was far greater than its actual impact in sickness and death, which, so far, has been minuscule compared with the Spanish influenza of a century ago, although that pandemic is continually invoked; and that people keep confounding me by saying, “Due to the coronavirus, this or that is cancelled,” when they mean to say, “Due to the coronavirus panic or lockdown or fiasco…”
Another was how quickly we were being pushed into technological alternatives and how readily we were accepting this; in light of such technology use being touted as a way to save lives, it looks as if a high-tech-enabled immortality, no matter how un-alive it is, is the dearest goal of techno-humanists (the name I’m giving those who see our future as dominated by our digital creations, and all the better for it). And associated with the embrace of human-designed virtual living, the resurgence of fear of and contempt for nature, practically mandated by the germ-free lives that the existence of COVID-19 is said to require.
Third, the immediate conformity to government requests and adherence to government lines of reason, including the assumption that changes to our ways of congregating and communicating are the ‘new normal’; followed swiftly by the degeneration of complex issues into a binary—everything mixed up, their nuances neutralized, in the U.S. at least, into a simpleton’s formula of liberal vs. Trumpian.
And at last, the horrible realization that it all fits together so well, in ways foreseen by science fiction writers of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, from Mary Shelley through H. G. Wells to The Twilight Zone, right up to the creators of the Netflix Black Mirror series—and explicitly in denial of the liberal values of the 1960s counterculture. Yet proponents of the science-fiction future vilify those who are suspicious of it by calling them regressive and labelling them as conservatives stuck in a hopelessly cruel and limited analog—or caveman—world. The 2020 coronavirus has allowed acceleration of a tech-dominated society facilitated by the people’s love of their communications devices, which is directly connected to how they form their opinions based on the wittiest memes and most ‘liked’ comments. The pointless drivel of political simpletons seems all the more redundant as we stumble cluelessly through sudden, unforeseen disruptions and detours in our public and private lives.
We are wasting time and energy that we’ll need to engage the monumental choices around this juncture in history, the elephant of which we’re only seeing a tiny part; we need to quit being so distracted by little bumps in the road, and pay attention to whether we even want to follow it—and if not, map our own route. Only a massive awareness of the huge issues facing us as we stumble into the Digital Age phase of the Anthropocene will mobilize sufficient numbers to take back their most basic rights—of living in direct relationship with uncommodified nature while enjoying conscious responsibility for a bountiful relation with the source of their sustenance; as well as the right to intimate connections with other humans and natural life in general, and to privacy protections: freedom within one’s personal space from both intrusion by substances or energies, and extraction by information-gathering operations.
I will return to these three points, and the sad shape they reveal to me, after a detour showing where I have been, and how I—and perhaps others, who might be found through this writing—came to my own way of seeing the SARS-CoV-2 virus and our response to it.
From the forest where hippies went to live and die
I live very modestly, in an 8 x 12-foot shed that I’m converting to a Tiny House. I came to my little spot of riverside forest property thirty-two years ago with intentions, I fantasized, like Thoreau’s; I wanted to live closer to nature, and free myself, so far as possible, from systems of government, industry, and the competitions of capitalism and its advertisements. My main intention was to enjoy daily immersion in the woods, river bar, weather systems, and necessary chores of back-to-the-land living, while developing my writing and drawing skills—a hermit’s life. I also like to engage a larger sphere where ideas are communicated, so I spend quite a bit of time on the internet, observing, learning, opinionating. However, realizing that I would be susceptible to total domination by that realm if I had a smartphone, I am sticking with a flip-phone for travel and emergencies, while all my time on the internet is via my laptop; while walking, driving, visiting, working outside, etc., I am undisturbed by intrusions of the faraway world. My point is that shelter-in-place (SIP) orders do not bother me; I’ve been sheltering from that big noisy place for years. It’s not a problem for me to stay away from town and its grocery and hardware stores for a month at a time. Accusations of “You want people to die so that you needn’t be inconvenienced!” are pretty laughable, considering that even if I changed nothing, I would already be less likely to be exchanging germs than the great majority of Americans. My questions about the validity of stay-at-home orders and mass hysteria have more to do with the general outlook for the future prosperity and health of humanity than with any conceivable personal frustrations.
I have been working for many years on a book proposing a ‘freeligion’ around an admittedly mythical Earth Mother. She has both a spiritual, personally practical aspect and a larger political one, and I had been writing confidently that her values, mainly derived from the countercultural movement of the 1960s when I was in my formative years, were what we commonly called ‘liberal.’ My outlined freeligion promotes eight key values; in very general terms: 1. Earth and nature over too many human-made technological or socially constructed systems; 2. Natural medicines such as proper food, spiritual aids (cannabis and mild hallucinogens), healing herbs, and protection from the risks of untested or known harms such as chemicals and radiations; 3. Femininity as a turn in the cosmic wheel balancing the past few thousand years of patriarchy; 4. Peace, cooperation, and egalitarianism over war, competition, and authoritarian/elitist hierarchies; 5. Vegetarianism and kindness to animals; 6. Spirituality (emotional, mental, idealistic, philosophical concepts) over materialism and compulsive consumption; 7. Personal life goals of creative art and service as a lover of life, as opposed to financial success or fame; and 8. A philosophy of values involving the study of and reverence for both the natural world and the ideals in our hearts—that is, spiritual treasure—rather than thought systems that are either traditionally religious or techno-humanist (in thrall to the new gods of artificial intelligence and digitally-enabled material and virtual ‘progress’). Earth Mother teaches natural humanistic philosophy rather than either monotheism or techno-humanism.
It’s possible that I have missed the most up-to-date political definitions, out here in my intentionally out-of-the-loop life. But it seems to me that these eight values, coupled with an economic system designed to iron out the relative advantages of being born to a certain family, race, or class, and of sheer random luck—so that all may enjoy equal opportunities and freedoms—were the backbone of the establishment-resisting, anti-fascist, enlightened, liberal values of an authentic twentieth-century hippie. Nowadays the word ‘hippie’ sounds old-fashioned, quaint, and even pejorative, because of its associations with earthiness, messy wildness, sloth, and primitivism. Indeed, those first couple of values, respect for nature and for natural health, don’t tend to suggest the Silicon Valley yuppie pursuing his fitness and longevity through digital readouts at the chain-franchise gym. Earth Mother is a bit too frumpy for the sleekly hopeful young techie. (Speaking of words and definitions, note that in this essay I use the word ‘fascist’ loosely to mean associating the power of law with the providers of consumer goods, as when government and corporations are in bed together; and also to mean forces intolerant of free speech and diversity of opinion, especially when reinforced by ‘secret police’ or their equivalent: regular citizens motivated, because of their dependence on government-technological provenance, to silence those who question the conventional wisdom.)
But it’s more than just a matter of style. Appreciation and emulation of nature involve acceptance of Earth Mother’s rules, one of which is that everything that is born must die, and another, that no life is without pain. For the post-Sixties generations of techno-humanists, suffering and death are not okay. Insofar as dying cannot be controlled, and is frustrating, sad, painful, and wasteful of a lifetime of learning, it is not, to their costs-and-benefits assessment, an acceptable aspect of human existence. I have come in the past decade or two to see that increasingly, escape from death and from other exigencies of physical reality, including boredom and frustration, is now popularly more desirable than coming to terms with our existence on this planet. The benefactor gifting us this miraculous escape from millennia of miserable imprisonment in mortality? Technology. Science, digital engineering, artificial intelligence, virtual entertainment, modern medicine, etc. These fields, and the escapes they provide, have become our new gods. Apparently most liberals today, whether sophisticated urban technophiles or rustic latter-day hippies, have come to appreciate these gifts, and to prefer their benefits: easy stasis over challenging growth, fantasy over reality, artificiality over authenticity, instant stimulation over real-time delay, uniformity of thought over productive disagreement, long life over short, control and knowledge over wild unknowns… basically, sheltered, controlled existence over the uncertainties of freedom.
Even in our rural Northern California community of old ranchers and back-to-the-land hippies, we have seen the number of home births decline to zero since the years when my three children were born on the floor at home. Not because there have been any related deaths or even close calls here; it was more like word got around that it was now uncool to engage in risky behavior. And, not so much about safety as about convenience and disregard for natural values, the young mothers buy disposable diapers instead of washing cloth ones and hanging them in the sun or above the woodstove to dry. Few people walk around barefoot or go nude on the river bar anymore, and people are locking their homes and vehicles. Nobody seems to talk about tripping through the forest on psychedelic mushrooms. Instead, the drugs of choice are now pharmaceuticals, prescribed as material solutions to spiritual problems. These solutions, moreover, are provided not only to those with deep issues needing a strong helping hand for temporary mental respite while overcoming a problem, but, it seems to me (an outsider to the pill-popping lifestyle), they’re given to anyone wanting to be in a better mood. That is, dopamine-stimulating drugs are, along with 24/7 digital entertainment available in one’s pocket, a hallmark of the escapist empire built for the long-term profit of tech and pharm companies but for the short-term fool’s bliss of the rest of us, and to our long-term detriment. (Even the way cannabis is used by the liberals we once would have called ‘hippies’ has changed. Applying a flame to a sun-grown flower and inhaling is seen as dangerous ‘self-medicating’; taking advantage of government- and medical-profession-provided standards for dosage by buying processed, permitted ‘products’ is considered safe, and therefore enlightened.)
At least, this disappointment is the view of a technology-resistant nature-loving liberal hippie. I tried to distance myself from the ‘new’ ways; my kids were raised with the minimum of recommended vaccines (and flourished; they did suffer from whooping cough, like many our community, but recovered, as most do, just fine; and, we believed, with stronger immune systems to boot), ate organic, locally-raised food as much as possible, drank unfiltered creek water, enjoyed plenty of barefooting, nudity, tree-climbing, gardening, and river-swimming, while enduring tick bites, poison oak, yellow-jacket stings, etc. We did all we could to ensure that their immune systems would get the workouts they needed to serve them well for life. My partners and I grew a little bit of weed to pay the bills and to smoke for ourselves, helping keep our focus on the blessings of the reality of the natural world we encountered every day. But recently, ‘mom & pop’ growers like us seem to be getting fewer, while outsiders here for the ‘green rush’ strive to make their fortunes growing ever greater quantities of cannabis in what seem more like industrial production zones than agricultural endeavors. I long thought that the changing legal, aesthetic, environmental, and economic aspects of cannabis farming were what was driving the regression to more mainstream values here; but was beginning to see that a bigger change was going on, related to the allure of digital reality. The comfortably numb ensconcement in the internet—no exhaust fumes, no bruises or scabs, no boredom or delayed gratification or physical pain—was making real life look risky.
We hear there’s something going around
Enter the coronavirus of early 2020. As soon as the first word of numerous deaths in an old folks’ home up in Washington hit in late February, most of us in my local and social-media circles realized that it was coming: a worrisome virus and, perhaps equally as concerning, public safety decrees, shelter-in-place orders, and closing down of public offices and businesses. We had no idea whether these measures would go so far as to become martial law, but no doubt that possibility occurred to many. Some of the older folks, people in their 70s or better, took the possibility of the COVID-19 illness very seriously, for good reason; and many of the younger people, tuned to instant responsiveness to cell phone prompts, were ready to declare a dramatic crisis early on. But, admittedly to my relief, many of my neighbors and I felt that our accustomed toughness in dealing with the natural world, combined with our remoteness from large population centers and the ease of socially isolating as a community, would protect us from sickness. The anti-forced vaccination mindset was still strong here, although offset by the arrival, over the past decade or so, of the safety-first-against-any-possible-unwellness pro-vaccination people. Still, the generally well-entrenched anti-pharmaceutical attitude and love of personal, at least physical, freedom from government intrusion into our relations with nature—which does include viruses—led many community members to put faith in the ability of our immune systems to deal with the threat.
My personal philosophy was, let a little bit of it in… let a few people’s systems deal with it and gain some degree of resilience against it, so that we can be available, capable and unafraid, to help out when the promised wave hits and most everyone is knocked down or dying. If we allow a small number of people, those most likely to survive, to contract the virus, then there will be that many fewer to catch it later. And how do we know who those people are? Self-identification. Volunteers. If you feel confident that you will survive it, you probably will; if you don’t, at least you took the chance willingly. If, however, you are afraid the sickness will take you down or out, you should be doing everything you can to protect yourself. The whole concept of ‘flattening the curve’ seemed to beg for a small number of cases up front, rather than waiting to have everyone catch the thing at once and overwhelm the health care system. From the first week of March on, I was calculating: if I could spend some time with this virus now, the way people used to expose their kids to chicken pox at parties back in the 1960s to confer immunity through light or invisible cases, then I could stay home with all provisions stocked, the split kindling on the porch, and go it alone while I slept, coughed, and engaged in feverish dreams; after the recommended quarantine time (three weeks total?), I could emerge, a valuable and practical person, one of a slowly increasing herd, it was hoped, of people naturally inoculated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Or I could die; always a possibility. But I was willing to take the chance. I would be sure my will was up to date before getting sick.
However, three weeks came and went with no virus available to catch. Then three more. And more. I called the public health office to see if they could help me pick up the coronavirus intentionally, but they said that while they appreciated the noble and brave gesture, they had no way of making it happen; it would be unprecedented, and the arrangement of it above their pay scale. While several sophisticated European countries attempted, with varying results, to allow the virus to inoculate the general population by running a natural course, here it was not even contemplated.
The chronology of the various case reports, test results, public safety recommendations, official lockdown orders, etc., is available, like everything, in the online reporting records of local news blogs. Suffice it to say that in the eight weeks since the beginning of March, a total of 54 positive cases (not necessarily symptomatic or sick people; just those testing positive for the virus) have been recorded in my county; three sufferers went to the hospital, but all have been released; and nobody has died. As far as I know, nobody in our little valley cluster of communities has gotten sick with it—though we don’t know whether or not anyone has tested positive.
Now, this seems a little bit odd, if the virus is indeed many times as contagious as the flu, and much more deadly. Hospitals, preparing for an onslaught of patients when the thing finally hits, nervously cleared their schedules and sent staff home on indefinite furlough. People donned masks and made a fair attempt at staying home, and around the second weekend of April, the curve seemed to settle down at around 50 positives. Those who had expected a stronger attack from the virus exulted that we had succeeded in squashing its progress by our social distancing cooperation; people who were skeptical of it ever really being a threat were more convinced that it never would have blossomed here anyway. The pro-panic-and-safety people pointed to Italy and New York as examples of what happened if you buckled down too late in the growth of an exponentially spreading disease; the anti-lockdown people questioned why it was that some places had such a hard time with it, while we, in a pattern more common to rural counties, would barely have noticed it had we not seen it on the news. Yet several quite densely-packed Third World nations were showing nearly undetectable mortality rates, hundreds of times lower than the U.S.’s. My own observations led me to believe that social distancing alone could not be what kept us from having an explosion; people are really not that careful. They’ll approach one another with their masks on and keep six feet apart until a few minutes or a few drinks in, when familiarity will breed contempt for distancing protocol. If the virus were as deadly as so many were warning us it was… if a single droplet of it, drifting insidiously around the margins of a face mask, could turn us blue and send us to near-certain death in an ER with a tube shoved down our throats… we would have seen more active cases of it. You could say, considering that our testing, at least up to this moment (April 30), has been exclusively on people either symptomatic or with known exposure to other proven cases, that it’s hard to find it here even when you’re looking for it.
Meantime, warnings that SARS-CoV-2 will be as bad as the Spanish influenza of 1918-19 continue to circulate. However, it’s difficult to take these seriously in view of how un-contagious and un-deadly it has been, both here locally, and in worldwide terms. Like many people, I’ve put in my time with calculators, comparing disease and death rates. One often-overlooked factor in such comparisons is the much smaller population of a century ago. Including that consideration, the deadliness of that flu makes our 2020 virus look quite pathetic. For instance, with 103 million in the pre-flu 1918 population of the United States, 675,000 dead meant one in about 153 people, or 0.66 percent. So far—and of course, by the time you read this, the figures will be increased, perhaps radically—with our present 330 million, the country’s death rate of almost 64,000 (on the last day of April, 2020) is one in 5156 people, or 0.019 percent. That is, the Spanish flu in this country killed about 34 times more, proportionately, of the U.S. population than COVID-19 has. Right here in our currently COVID-19-fatality-free county, the Spanish flu killed 200 people of about 37,000 residents. Our novel coronavirus has a lot of killing to do if it wants to approach the lethality of its grandparent. (In worldwide figures, the discrepancy between 1918-19 flu deaths and today’s calamity is even greater; the earlier pandemic killed about 50 million out of 1.8 billion, or one in 36 people, while COVID-19 has managed only one in 33,333. That means the Spanish flu killed 926 times the percentage of Earth’s population as CV has—so far.)
Still, the comparisons to that flu, as well as to the even more thorough Black Death plague of the Middle Ages, continue to fly. The Black Death killed, according to some estimates, up to one in three Europeans. (That would be like having 110 million people die out of the U.S. population, which is vanishingly unlikely—we are only at about 64,000 dead now, one 1719th of 110 million, over about eight weeks of alarm, and most worst-case scenario estimates project two million dead—1/55th of the adjusted mortality for the plague. By the way, the usual daily death count from all causes in the U.S. is 7452, or about 224,000 a month.) Fear of this sort of thing is what’s driving the hysteria that seems so misplaced when the virus isn’t even a cause of death at all in my own or surrounding counties.
Yet—and to me this was an eye-opening realization—other than the deaths themselves, society did not change radically after the Spanish influenza. (I can’t speak about medieval times, so I don’t know what responses were evoked by the plague then.) In 1918, we lost great numbers of people; families suffered both emotional and economic loss. Whole towns were impacted; businesses were shut down. Quantity of everything was impacted. But quality of life was relatively unchanged by the contagion. The changes in lifestyle of the 1920s, compared to early-1910s conditions, were due to war, then post-war economic boom, technological advances such as the automobile, rural-to-urban migrations, etc. There was no increased presence of the government, nor changing of fundamental beliefs regarding our duties to society, nor continued intrusion into our daily routines due to dread of disease. People had always known a pestilence could descend and kill many; a major version occurred and multitudes of people died; the survivors went back to work with their basic worldview unchallenged. The terrible thing had happened. Maybe it wouldn’t again for some time. Nothing to do about it anyway; might as well get on with things. God, life, death, humans’ place in the world, government’s powers, industry’s and medicine’s offerings—none of these fundamental elements of life had been mightily altered by the flu.
But today, even when this new virus was only a twinkle in the eye of some pangolin or doomed wet-market critter or careless virologist, already the wheels were in motion to change the way we live. The availability of the means to track every human with a smartphone, to obtain the records of every patient, to encourage conformity through an ostensibly naturally-arising social-shaming system, and ultimately to control access to services for millions of people was what enabled these feared changes. Simultaneously, the provision of digital alternatives to real-time, face-to-face human activities softened the blow; for the first time, it was considered possible to maintain society’s basic functions while most people stayed at home—and many wouldn’t even mind. With the exception of ‘essential workers’—of which there are amazingly many—and rare trips out for ‘essential products or services,’ we are supposed to stay home and do everything online that we used to do out and about with other in-the-flesh humans. Has there ever been, in the history of human civilization, a more clear opportunity for new technologies not only to become necessary for every consumer—that is, to boost the value of their manufacturing corporations to unimaginable heights, for CEOs and major shareholders already obscenely wealthy and powerful—but to re-design how we live? The ways we get together for work, for play, for volunteer service, for hobbies, are heavily encouraged to become remote or online functions; and the ways we are followed, investigated, and thereby potentially controlled, are correspondingly fine-tuned.
By the way, I am not a conspiracy theorist to the extent of believing that some evil parties cooked up this virus with the intention of turning us all into well-documented slaves to our devices—although nothing would surprise me. However, I do believe that observant capitalists will not let a good crisis go to waste. A contagious illness that means we are ordered to stay home? What better way to get everyone on board with the digitization of pretty much every aspect of public life! In fairly short order, once the rumors of SIP orders wafted around, but before anything was officially mandated, almost every social function we enjoyed in our county was cancelled, most often with a digital substitute experience recommended. Our local Grange, Community Center, Historical Society, etc., cancelled monthly meetings, the singing group cancelled weekly practice, yoga and movement classes were cancelled, all seasonal celebrations and events were postponed; schools were let out, at first for a few weeks, now apparently, through the summer; and in town, most businesses, and many branches of county administration including the jail and the courthouse, were severely curtailed. The bookmobile quit coming around, and public libraries were closed. To replace those actual human connections, we have had online yoga, singing lessons, home schooling, even karaoke parties offered. Every business that wants to survive has come up with some digital way of offering its products or services for home delivery. People have stepped up their from-home shopping and of course, their consumption of entertainment via Netflix, YouTube, and other media streaming services. Most poignant to me, locals in a community once consciously dedicated to an anti-technological, nature-embracing ethos began holding ‘Zoom’ meetings or video chats or whatever they are, to replace the loneliness of separation from neighbors and friends.
I have refused to go there. Why would I want to accustom myself to doing something completely at odds with my philosophy, and which I see leading to a society where we are all either ordered or (just as bad, I think) brainwashed and led, willingly, into a severely restricted existence? Why would I cheerfully agree that it’s actually all just fine, because we get to visit each other online? It is not at all fine. It’s creepy to see people sliding so easily into the next level of technological dependence, as if being around others, as normal, healthy humans usually are, is a luxury and privilege.
If it weren’t for the murmurings of ‘the new normal,’ I would not feel so reinforced in my suspicion that this is not a one-time event. No, this seems to be a warm-up for any and every fear-instilling excuse the government (or the corporations—it’s all the same in a virtually fascist state) wants to come up with. A public shooter—a power outage with looting—a natural disaster such as a hurricane—a child molester on the loose—abnormal amounts of CO2 in the air—a foreign military operation—anything that pushes the panic button will now, in the ‘new normal,’ push the SIP button, and we will barricade ourselves at home, forced to consume the services and products of the digital communication corporations. The possibilities are so endless that it’s easy to see how this could, indeed, be the way the majority of our time in the future is spent—in isolation.
What that means for the homeless is an open question. They will either have to be disposed of, or forcibly warehoused into homeless camps, villages, or mini-apartments. Of course, the second option sounds much more civilized; perhaps people will even call it a boon, finally getting these poor street people into proper housing. But because the do-gooders have so extinguished their own urge for freedom, or take their freedom so for granted that they can’t conceive of it being a concern for anyone, they seem not to understand that even down-and-out people have dignity and feel strongly the need to make their own choices. Many homeless people don’t want to ‘come in’—they like their vagabonding lives, their dogs, their liberty to take what little they can get and swallow the bad with the good. Being forced, ultimately, at gunpoint or the prospect of starvation for refusing to take a number and a cubicle would be yet another American tragedy, a crime against ‘the other’ who doesn’t care to play the game.
Another step away from community
A century ago, as the automobile was taking hold, changing American cities from neighborhoods where people often walked to and from work, to the grocery store, the park, to visits with friends, etc., creating suburbs which required a car for most of those functions, two things were happening: The automobile industry was creating a captive market of millions, and we were losing the warmth and authenticity of lives amidst the physical proximity of our friends and business contacts. Nowadays, if you go to urban areas in the Third World, where automobile culture hasn’t completely taken over, or even to large cities in this country with old neighborhoods, you can regain that feeling of camaraderie to be found when your daily walks bring you past people you call by name at the news stand, the taco shop, the park bench, or at any doorstep. You are not only close to the humans surrounding you, but to an urban version of nature: the birdsongs, pigeon shit, wind and weather, trees and flower boxes, squirrels and rats. While suburbs have a lot to recommend them, they can also be seen as a first step in the destruction of strong, geographically-based, people-scaled communities. Eventually, through the replacement of walking-based social presence by car culture, we arrived at the cynicism of Rush songs, shopping-mall zombie movies, white punks on dope, and mass shootings.
Now we’re taking the next step in tearing us from in-person connection. Being persons, in-person connection is essential for us. Isolation doesn’t work for humans, though it may serve for artificial intelligence, that is, robots who can be disconnected. This next edict against social intimacy says, “Now you don’t even go out in a car to drive to your work and play contacts.” The automobile industry no longer owns the game; the digital communications companies do. The future is theirs. Now everything you do depends upon the smartphone or laptop. You will not work, learn, gather socially, enjoy music or art, or even deal with utility companies or government bureaus such as the census, IRS, or DMV, unless you do so online. You are a captive customer. You will lose the neighborly sense of living amidst a familiar circle of faces, though it’s true that, in the previous stage of our alienation from natural human living, we had to go out in a car to get to those contacts. In the ‘new normal,’ we aren’t going anywhere.
(Would you be surprised if the price of gasoline dipped radically now that we’re told to stay in? Oh… it already has! Down to a negative value for the first time ever.)
Something going on… so I said something
Well, I was telling a story here about how the reality of liberal closed-mindedness came thudding down on me; let’s get back to it. Early in March, keeping an eye on events as I do, mainly through the links provided by friends on Facebook, a couple of local news blogs, and our valley’s community electronic bulletin board/discussion site, I ventured to post some of my thoughts about both this virus and the measures suggested to counter it.
The usual content of my posts included four points: First, if we don’t allow anyone to catch the virus, we won’t have any natural resistance to it. If the idea is to flatten the curve to avoid an all-at-once crush on hospitals, etc., we might want to create a good number of naturally immune people. Those voluntarily going out to get sick would self-quarantine after obvious exposure while the disease ran its course. Granted, I am not a medical professional, and I certainly never claimed to be anything but a country mom with common sense, based on observations from real life and from what I read. (I insist that nothing in my opinions came from YouTube videos by conspiracy theorists!) I knew that the smallpox killed far fewer European Americans than Native Americans in the early 1700s, before the introduction of inoculation by pustule juice; for instance, estimates ranging from 30 to 70 percent of indigenous populations killed suggest a likely figure of about half the Indians of North America dead by this white man’s disease; whereas, in an epidemic running through Boston in 1721, fourteen percent of the infected population died. I needn’t go on with this common knowledge that entire populations can achieve some immunity to certain types of disease, while those to whom the sicknesses are new will drop like flies. I have read that you can’t guarantee anything about the immunity conferred by exposure to the coronavirus—how strong it is, how serious a case you need to endure to become immune, and how long any immunity lasts; but even keeping that in mind, it seemed wise to benefit from every bit of immunity possible in order to assure that we’d have a few healthy and resistant folks around. It is generally agreed that ‘some degree’ is ‘probably’ gained by exposure. Better hazard that than what’s being reported from China, or from century-old reports of a Second Wave of the Spanish influenza, in which, once isolation restrictions were eased up, suddenly everyone got sick again. It was almost as if a virus means to get us all sooner or later. The mainstream suggestion was that later was better, even though it would involve dragging out the crisis for many months or even years; my thought was that getting a ripple of active cases at this point could be helpful. Hospitals had already been at least half empty in my neck of the woods, vainly awaiting COVID-19 patients, while refusing admittance to unfortunate sufferers of other misfortunes. Why not allow a few cases in now, while medical personnel, beds, and equipment are still available?
So I combined this likely scenario—some immunity in the population and a curve flattened by starting up as soon as hospitals were ready—with the concept of ‘viral load.’ This fairly obvious lesson of infectious disease study says that if you encounter only a few molecules of a virus, you will likely get a mild case or none at all, while still building some resistance, as your system learns to recognize and destroy the pathogen; whereas, if you are exposed unremittingly to a cavalcade of germs—for instance, if you are a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit, or if you sleep regularly with someone coughing and sneezing out the germs—you are getting a heavy viral load, and are more likely to get seriously ill. Thus, I assumed that being a little bit more casual than was sometimes recommended (we’d seen such suggestions as leaving the grocery bag outside for three days before allowing it in the house, as it may bring in a few isolated germs on its bottom, which will then end up on your floor, and when the dog walks on it, then scratches his side, and you pet the dog, then later unthinkingly rub your eyes… and so on)… such casual acceptance of meager risks could have a beneficial effect in the long run, not only for the individual, but for the population as a whole, as more people inoculated by low-level exposure could help break the chain of public transmission.
Now I added—to the desirability of allowing a few cases early on and the likelihood that varying degrees of exposure bring varying degrees of sickness—the final provision that those who are possibly very vulnerable should, conversely, do everything possible to shield themselves: Masks, gloves, staying at home for months while similarly protected persons deliver essential goods to a germ-neutral area where they wait for days before acceptance, etc. The elderly or other likely targets in group homes should be protected the most, as it was so clear, from the first cases in this country and elsewhere, that such congregations were naturally hot disease vectors. Owners of care homes should be held liable for every death due to negligence in protecting their residents from exposure. We might expect them to be highly motivated to protect not only these innocent people, but the fortunes they make charging astronomical monthly fees, by assuring no possibility of any viral molecules at all reaching their helpless residents. (Such should always be the case, whether we’re talking flus, pneumonias, RSV’s, or any communicable disease, but that’s another story.)
And, to help alleviate that manufactured feeling of alarm, I tried to put the transmission rates and death count of this SARS-CoV-2 virus into perspective, by showing how, compared to historical trials and tribulations, medical and other, this virus represented, so far, and based on all legitimate predictive models, a relatively harmless invasion. We moderns have a very short memory if we collectively believe that the threatened damages of this new coronavirus are in any way outstanding. In fact, based on the unique knowledge that we all will, inevitably (unless the techno-humanists have their way), die, and we never know when accident or cancer or a heart attack will strike, the virus can be seen as completely innocent. As far as we know, it is not a man-made pathogen (I say again that I don’t follow conspiracy theories), but a natural life form, just doing its thing; and if we do our thing wisely, it will consume very few of us. Unlike a creation of depraved humanity—a war for profit, fueled by hatred, or the side effect of chemicals sold for profit and convenience, or starvation caused by greed and systems of injustice, etc.—this virus was a creation of nature. Granted, our human intelligence allows us to limit its effects, and our human compassion makes us want to do so. That will likely come in time—a vaccination or a means of alleviating the sickness it can cause.
Meantime, we needn’t see it as a big, bad, horrible, supernatural thing; it’s a germ causing an illness much milder than many that humanity has survived over the millennia. Certainly, as germs do, it will catch those who are uncareful or unlucky; and, no doubt a death by overproduction of bizarre lung mucus—drowning in those gummy fluids while you turn blue for lack of oxygen and your major organs shut down—would be most miserable.
My intentions, like those, I like to assume, of anyone theorizing and speechifying on the topic, are the highest good for the largest number of people—good both in terms of health and of psychological and social wellness. I have no fantasy of killing great swarms of the old and vulnerable; and to counter an even more ludicrous belief, none of these notions has anything at all to do with my own convenience or bank account. There is no selfish motive that I can even imagine harboring, regarding this crisis. No way could I profit by putting any of my ideas into action, other than that I would enjoy getting the virus over with and having one less worry in life. I am 60 years old, so it’s not as if I blithely enjoy the youthful indifference of the largely invulnerable; supposedly my age makes me medium-to-high-risk. But I am so sure that I am not one of the one percent in any way that I do not fear the effects of the COVID-19 sickness. Still, few people have been more adherent to the social-distancing guidelines than I have. Not another human has been in my forest cabin for eight weeks.
Yet the reaction such posts garnered on Facebook! You would think I was promoting genocide or gender-cide—by barbaric torture methods, at that. At first, the rebuke was general: I was cruel, malicious, selfish, uncaring, etc., because any deviation from the suggested SIP orders could kill thousands of innocents; and moreover, because of my (hitherto undetected) great influence on the minds of my Facebook friends, it was irresponsible of me to post such subversive thoughts. The effect of my words could be as perniciously viral as the disease itself, and I should take down the posts before I had the blood of innocents on my hands.
I was taken aback. I felt pretty clear that, while my science might not be the result of recent education and practice, still, my observations were not far out; they were reasonably grounded in common sense. Moreover, my intentions were good; no suffering or death was intended, no prejudice to the underprivileged; in fact, my goal is consistently more generalized wellness, peace, and justice. And after all—aren’t my friends intelligent, mature, open-minded people, capable of civilized debate without resort to personal attacks? Ummm… no! With a few notable exceptions, most of them had instantly become—or maybe I had just noticed this about them—self-righteous, know-it-all virtue signallers.
I cried. I felt very alone and misunderstood. Poor me, I know. At least I wasn’t dying. But maybe that’s what the critics wanted; more sadness and disillusionment, as long as they themselves could feel like they were now the kinder, the smarter, the more woke people. And that’s when I started noticing that the criticisms were becoming political. First, I saw that several of the friends who supported my opinions, or at least, the right to express them without being shot down, were my more conservative acquaintances. A little reflection showed me that this made sense; people in the ‘old school’ of thought would prefer individual responsibility in facing a virus; they tended to distrust big government and big pharma; and they unstintingly believed in free speech. Some had gone to war to defend this right and other Constitutional guarantees. (Also, many of them were older, and although this statement elicits disbelief from millennials, people sometimes do get to a point where death doesn’t look so bad. They’ve been prepping for a lifetime, and many of their friends are already gone. Eat, drink, and be merry… take a cruise… for tomorrow we die! Acceptance of impending death is one of the conditions of life, and oftentimes older people have finally gotten around to that acceptance.) Okay, I thought, I probably disagree with them on at least half of Earth Mother’s philosophical choices regarding war, vegetarianism, egalitarianism, etc., but I sure appreciate their take on this! This discovery of common ground surprised me a bit, but pleasantly so; it’s good to know that my thoughts can be understood and accepted across the board, without regard to political identity.
But the opposite of such acceptance appeared from other friends, the bulk of my online contacts: accusations of being a Trump supporter. As the modern phrase goes… I just can’t! (For once, speechless, I find this phrase perfectly appropriate.) I can’t even.
Yes, that must be me, alongside the illiterate, angry, gun-toting, cheap-beer swilling, flag-waving, racist, Walmart-shopping Trump-tards—as shown in the photos accompanying the political memes. I simply must be one of them, if I have given any thought at all to this panic beyond asking what’s a distracting video to watch online. Doubters. Are Repub-tards. Are killers. And such backward morons deserve to watch our family members suffer and die, then to be punished with miserable, messy, lonely deaths ourselves.
Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this discovery that most of my supposedly liberal ‘friends’ were hateful, oversimplifying virtue signallers was that even the ones I had considered role models in their nonconformity and rebellious thought had bought in, and were now equating inquiring thought with murderous Republican tendencies. The (former) anti-authoritarian punks, anti-racist blacks, anti-sexist, anti-classist white women, anti-fascist millennials, anti-Nazi Jews, anti-conventional-wisdom conspiracy theorists… all on board with the ridiculing of questions and doubts. I say, Back to your smartphones, you rebels; now you have a cause. There are important tweets coming. Both from the Orange One, so that you may scorn him, and from your favorite comedians and political pundits, so that you may make fun of anyone trying to make sense of this thing. Disappointing, to say the least, that all my heroes turned out to be addicts of whatever line their liberal politically-correct role models produce, and that line is hypocritically and judgmentally classist, unkind, and juvenile.
My original dismay at the issue of extreme censure of dissenting thought had given way, in short order, to realization that the crisis had been made into a crisply left/right affair. That is, anyone with a brain might have had questions, non-political questions, at the beginning; but now, liberals were pointing fingers at what they called selfish Trumpers, and conservatives were turning their own rallies into shows of anti-liberal, white-working-class-pride stupidity. Now libs with questions were silencing themselves to avoid being called selfish traitors, and conservatives with questions were allowing the issue to merge with their general hatred for would-be aristocrats and their right to balance beers on their bellies while belching. I couldn’t get on board with either side, but I realized that the division was inevitable; given the way every issue in this red vs. blue nation goes, any concerned dialogue would have to get swept away in the Repubtard/Libtard taunts.
I wonder what the positions would be now, if Trump and his administration had come in early, firmly, and absolutely on the side of protection and preparation. If Trump were ordering the lockdowns, claiming the flu was designed to kill millions of Americans unless we ran inside to entertain ourselves digitally, what would be liberals’ response? I suspect that my questions about our reaction to the coronavirus would be very popular with my old friends now!
The virus is still provoking questions
Meantime, my doubts continue; this is a murky situation, and few aspects of the coronavirus are becoming any more understandable as the weeks go by. The three particular concerns I mentioned having from the get-go, which added up to the fourth—a sense of sudden entrapment in a net of social and governmental engineering via the virtual wide net of technology—have not subsided.
It’s bad… but is it as dangerous as the response would suggest?
There is no doubt that a deadly virus is frightening, especially for those who have personal reason to avoid it. And there’s no reason not to be sad about the deaths caused by it, while still suspecting that it is simply a natural wave from the sea of coronavirus-caused flu-like sicknesses that wash over the population periodically, taking with them numbers large or small, people whose numbers are up. Perhaps more deadly than any ‘average’ flu we’ve had recently; but every average is a balance between more and less. This one looks like a more deadly coronavirus than many when it gets deeply into the lungs, or in other rare cases. It will be balanced by a light flu some other year.
How bad might SARS-CoV-2 end up being? Let’s look at the larger context. Figures adjusted downward recently to allow for the fact that this is nowhere near the bubonic plague still estimate about two million dying in the U.S. (about 64,000 have died by the end of April, 2020). Out of a population of about 330 million, that would be 0.6 percent of the population, or six out of 1000 people. It would be notable; it would probably affect each and every one of us. You’d have to expect that at least a half dozen people you know (considering that you are probably acquainted with about a thousand people)—likely the ones who are either older, obese, suffering immune deficiencies or weak lungs, or otherwise susceptible to death—might succumb. ‘Might,’ not ‘certainly.’ It would be a bummer. It would be more than a bummer if you were close to some of them, if a few were your favorite or most-often-seen people, or yourself. It would be as sad as any death ever is, though probably not as tragic-feeling as if they were deaths caused by malevolent or reckless human actions. But not an overwhelming tragedy. Just an expected part of life, perhaps come earlier than expected. A death rate of 0.6 percent is not the two to five percent blared about when we were first hearing about this virus arriving from China, and seeing how fast it killed so many in nursing homes.
Yet every point I bring up, on social media, musing on any of these questions—either big-picture philosophical/political aspects, or questions about details of the virus’s mortality figures—gets immediate censure based on the assumed evil superpowers of SARS-CoV-2. The ‘judges’ act like it’s cancer-causing radiation, or supercharged rabies germs guaranteeing psychotic ravings and a hellish, excruciating death, or the essence of bubonic plague, or droplets of the HIV virus before there were any solutions to AIDS. They completely ignore, for the sake of maintaining this political theater, reputable doctors and scientists from around the globe—not to mention the evidence seen in many inexplicably lightly-affected countries or communities (South Korea, Japan, India—how do they do it?)—reporting that for at least half the people who contract this novel coronavirus, there are no symptoms at all; that is, it’s completely harmless to them; that viral load does make a difference, and worrying about any little drop of viral matter from six feet away is ridiculous (while it’s probably a good idea to shy away from sustained close contact with very sick people, if you are at high risk); and that, as with all viruses, some degree of immunity is conferred through contracting it, even if one remains symptom-free. Allowing people’s immune systems to learn to recognize and deal with what will become an increasingly common, and progressively less important, virus, is the only practical approach.
Why do so many people think the coronavirus is so intolerably harsh? It must be the power of propaganda. I am not saying that the stories of the beleaguered nurses, overcrowded intensive care wards, and miserable, lonely deaths are not true. Propaganda isn’t only about telling lies; it’s about selectively telling truths, and repeating them until they are hammered home and their significance unfairly amplified. The constant berating, week after week, of our psyches by images of suffering from this one cause accomplishes two things: it convinces us that our compassionate nature must summon all hands on deck to obsess about this horrible crisis; and it makes us even more proud of our righteousness in paying such exclusive attention to this scourge and silencing any critics.
But an overload of worry and stress is not healthy for anyone. The fight-or-flight rush of adrenaline we feel upon being subjected to the relentless assault of panic propaganda actually suppresses our bodies’ immune functions. Before the availability of constant news (via, first, daily newspapers, up through radio, pre-movie newsreels, television, and now the internet), we each only had to endure what we directly experienced or what we heard through word of mouth. That’s considerably less bad news than what we’re bombarded with today! Benefitting from, say, 3000 miles between us and the death toll in New York would allow for a much more placid, undisturbed life-as-usual existence, and should be looked at as a natural and healthy default level for sympathetic stress. This is one of the drawbacks of the Information Age: too much information (TMI).
Some might see the selectivity of crisis propaganda as a fitting response to the glut of TMI. Why show us people dying of starvation or incarcerated at border crossings or in refugee camps or in auto wrecks, or even play the old-fashioned and familiar, yet excruciating, pain of people dying of MRSA, pneumonia from any cause (but always featuring the same breathless coughs from fluid-filled lungs as shown in CV; and pneumonias have always been a leading cause of death in nursing homes) when we can focus on only one problem at a time? For that matter, why remind people of the misery of animals dying so that we can eat meat, or of underpaid and unprotected migrant farmworkers laboring in the hot sun so that we can eat grapes and drink wine? Or why might we show, on the nightly news, a summary of recent developments in electro-shock therapy? We don’t keep showing those traumas because we can’t handle that much, and because we like to choose one ‘pet’ cause at a time and work it to death. It surprises me a bit that people can’t, however, seem to see that this is what’s going on with the coronavirus. Of course it’s dangerous and cruel when it takes hold deep in someone’s lungs, and it’s deadly for a small percentage of the population. But it’s not as bad as so many other things that we are now supposed to forget about. We should continue to make the all the news equally available to help curb the current panic, putting it into perspective.
I hear people ridicule this line of reasoning as promoting a bunch of irrelevant distractions. They say it’s the time for focus on this disease because it’s new and unknown; now that we have this unprecedented opportunity to share information about it and to substitute digital ‘activities’ for real life, it’s only right to pay it exclusive attention. Like cancelling a women’s march because it doesn’t focus enough on the troubles of black people aside from their gender, or protesting a fundraiser to fight cancer to call for more attention to heart disease, the critics say, it’s senseless to resist focus on one problem when it’s most critical. I thoroughly understand this line of reasoning; I have often cited the examples I just used. But there is something different now: Women’s marches don’t cancel Black Lives Matter marches. The American Cancer Society doesn’t preclude the American Heart Association. If all things have an equal right to exist and receive attention, it’s fine to dwell upon one at a time. But the coronavirus phenomenon is marked by its presumed right to shut down everything else. The pushers of CV-hysteria believe that it is more important than any other kind of crisis or pain. This unprecedented shutdown of society and death-grip on news reporting is far out of proportion to the actual suffering and death caused by the disease.
The death numbers are statistics you can look up. Elsewhere in this essay, I have pointed out how low they are compared to those of historical epidemics or other causes of death today. The data is clear; most people only look at the numbers as absolutes, though, not as comparisons. So hearing “64,000 people in this country have died of COVID-19!” makes them reel with the enormity of the loss. However, they turn a blind eye to the fact that about 224,000 die in any month from all causes. I could understand and sympathize with their sorrow at the 64,000 if I knew they were also holding almost a quarter of a million tiny internal funerals for all the other dead each month. But I don’t think they are. As I already mentioned, nature designed it so that we needn’t overwhelm our compassion with the suffering of others outside our immediate circle of friends and acquaintances. Why people expose themselves to compassion fatigue by endlessly listening to, and prejudicially giving higher horror ratings to, the novel coronavirus is beyond me. That is, other than for reasons very interesting to psychologists and social engineers, which I will touch on further down.
While deaths are quantifiable, suffering isn’t; as George Carlin said, it’s not being dead that’s the problem, it’s getting dead that’s so painful and messy. Even if you don’t end up dead from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, you may well suffer grotesquely as you get close. And I am sympathetic to suffering. I can’t stand to be around it. When someone else hurts, I physically get a sickening rush, like an electric shock, of pain at seeing their hurt. However, I know that any hurt is like that—when you’re hurting. So now, in the midst of the coronavirus panic, fatigued health care workers say, “This is some of the worst suffering and misery I’ve ever seen.” People who have recently recovered from the sickness say, “That’s the worst I ever felt in my life.” But people always say that precisely when they’re in the middle of something—because it’s true! I’ve known several guys—not sure why, but males seem to take illness harder—insisting that they ought to be shot, because a head cold or flu is so horrid. They’re really sure they’re about to expire. And if you ask a woman in birth labor what she thinks about doing it again, she will tell you, “Not on your life!” But in a year or so, it’s all forgotten and seems worthwhile. If this were not true, we would never have gotten to this point of overpopulation anxiety.
Just as the reminder that there are other things to mourn will elicit accusations of cruelty, so will the statement that those who die tend to be older, obese, or suffering from immunity issues. Exceptions to those general rules are trotted out daily to keep us in terror of this supposedly random, unpredictable killer. However, like it or not, exceptions are only exceptions; the SARS-CoV-2 virus does generally wreak its most deadly effect upon old, sick, and unhealthy people. Why do liberals so despise this statement of fact? They say it’s because it cruelly promotes ‘sacrificing’ the weak, in a very un-Christian way, as they, the non-Christians in general, piously proclaim. But I think they try to squash this observation, first of all, because it tends to decrease panic in the general population, which, in their eyes, can never be a good thing; and also because it dares to suggest that we, as individuals, might have some say in how the virus treats us. That kind of responsibility seems, increasingly, to be anathema to the liberal way of thinking. (Not that anyone can help being old. But we can control our expectations, and adjust our levels of protection, with the statistically-defendable knowledge that the older we get, the more likely the virus is to kill us.)
As more and more people are tested for the virus, I think (as present trends indicate) that more people will be shown to carry it, or to have already contracted and rejected it. This will have a beneficial effect of showing the true rates of death or serious repercussion to be lower than have been assumed up ‘til now. There is no point in my throwing out more numbers here; they are bound to change. But I do believe in this principle—that we will eventually assume the virus is everywhere; most people have had it, are actively shedding virus now, or are about to get it. But it’s not all that deadly. If you have, say, a one-half of one percent chance of dying from it, you might want to make sure you are not the sickliest of any average two hundred people. Your personal job is basically not to get it, or, if you do get it, not to die of it. Unless, of course, you’re old enough or unhappy enough to want to die; still, it looks like a pretty miserable way to go. I would choose another course, if I could. (It seems a bit strange to me that I haven’t seen much flashed online about writing wills, comparing funeral homes, or reserving grave sites or cremation services. Almost as if death isn’t seen as a likely outcome. Oh—right—here where I live, it isn’t.) At any rate, the answer is always to get healthy! We are not going to eliminate this novel coronavirus; if we do, it won’t matter, because another one will come along. The only rational response is to toughen up in the face of such diseases.
Our job as a society should be to address the issue of immune weaknesses, not to eliminate challenges to our immune systems. But ‘use it or lose it,’ a good old-fashioned folk homily often applied to certain body processes such as the major muscle groups, joint flexibility, brain function, strong vocal cords and singing ability, etc., has come into disfavor as another ‘conservative’ example of teaching personal responsibility. The formula seems to counter the modern (techno-humanistic) belief that all things happen through evenly distributed randomness, having nothing to do with anything one can personally control. It’s too bad, because with an immune system it’s true that practice makes perfect and an untested system will not perform well in an emergency.
Both not catching the virus and weathering it well involve being healthy to begin with: active, stress-free as far as possible, perhaps paying attention to what has worked for yourself or people you know, or even new-to-you wellness techniques that make sense and can do no harm, such as staying grounded by contact with the earth; enjoying plenty of sunshine and fresh air; eating a varied and fresh, nutritious diet; drinking chlorine- and fluoride-free water; sweating it out often; fasting (at least, going many hours with an empty stomach) regularly; keeping your system properly alkaline; etc. And then there is the matter of dealing with it if you do get it.
To me, this is the most important ‘battle’ being fought; the one that matters, and the one that may be inevitable for many of us. If you do get sick from it, those who have recovered from it recommend moving a lot, coughing productively (a good deep toke of expanding cannabis smoke should help with this), avoiding symptom-suppressing drugs unless absolutely necessary, and staying up rather than lying down to die. You do have a choice in how you weather an illness. You should never give up and go to the hospital, unless you’re ready to die (I am not a medical professional, etc., and truly encourage you to do what you think best. This is only my take). In fact, in the case of certain death, home is a much nicer place to say your final good-byes.
I want to mention that another result of paranoia around this disease is the cruelty of dying alone, far from home, with robotic nurses hidden behind masks, goggles, and gloves; patients not allowed visitors, but shown friends and family by videos or chat rooms on their tiny phone screens. The hospitals will not let the family in—even if they dared to come visit and get physically close to their supposedly most-loved ones—and they will not allow the nurses to rip off that ridiculous PPE (personal protective equipment) and perform as real humans. (Couldn’t the hospitals perform antibody tests on nurses before anyone else, and allow those who show previous experience with the virus to drop the protective costume—on a completely voluntary basis—and be the warm visiting angels each dying patient would cry to see?) I think enforced isolation in death is terrible. Hospitals should be sued for not allowing people to visit dying loved ones. Yet the medical profession blames this fear for their lives on the virus, rather than on their own overreaction to its chances of seriously harming them.
Uh-oh, this is scary, so forget about love of nature
The easy acceptance of digital substitutes for real life is troubling to me because of its insidious nature.
People gradually get used to nearly any conditions; give them several months of living in a new way, and but a tiny step toward a return to normalcy will feel like a grand relief. But the new habits will have become a familiar part of life, and newly regained freedoms might feel weirdly unsettling. Then, the next time a crisis occurs, people will accept more binding restrictions, since they began from a level of freedom already lower than their previous standards. As I hear new projections that our local coronavirus case peak is not expected until this autumn, I wonder how accustomed people will be, by then, to doing everything online, and how scary it will seem to have to venture out to deal with the real world. People who live in the woods know—you can develop agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) and anthropophobia (fear of people) simply by being in solitary for a long time. Woods-queer, some used to call it, the condition of preferring to retreat to the cabin when faced with the unfamiliar challenges of social mingling. With each successive denial of physical interaction, we become less fond of freedom, and more attached to our cages. I see people already slamming shut their own doors, since this imprisonment is keeping us safe from supposedly the scariest thing humanity has seen in centuries.
Who is trying to urge us into such captivity, and why? The artificial-intelligence-loving futurists, the techno-humanists; life-, nature-, chance-, and death-haters, who may be the majority nowadays. Of course, since they are in control of the means of communication, they can make it look like they’re the majority, anyway. School, work, and social meetings replaced by online versions; digital currency, digital identification and soon, some suspect, the requirement of constantly carrying digital identity (whether physically embedded or as a card required for access to your own resources). The 2005 movie The Idiocracy depicted a future where every citizen is required to show a personal UPC-bar-type of identifying tattoo on the wrist; when our time-traveling hero is found to be without one, people react in a panic, screeching “An unscannable! Stop him!” If you are not in the system, you must be the worst kind of criminal—not merely an outcast: a willful outlaw. Anyone with nothing to hide would be scannable; otherwise, how can they participate in the basic systems of sustenance? More serious writers from Hannah Arendt to Derrick Jensen have warned of the dangers of a society where government-held patents on existence are required. The worries are not only over being scannable and having everything about you known instantly to inquiring officials or salespeople; they concern the resultant costs of being unscannable. If you have no ID card—if you lack the tattoo or the embedded chip—you are a stateless person, a non-entity. You have no home, no rights, and no law to protect you, because you officially do not exist. Gone are the days when your physical presence proved your existence. Now, still prior to the days of fake personages appearing in hologram form, the actual person does not count; no virtual identity, no information packet, means no life at all.
Saying that I fear the takeover by high-tech tools and their owners (their hoped-for future case: ‘our’ owners) is not to say that I don’t love my computer. I would be sorely depressed if I had to learn to live without it and the internet. The friendships sustained, the instant information, the music… the many evenings given over to wine, weed, and YouTube videos! It’s a real-time mailroom, schoolroom, and party. But would I sacrifice the natural world and the way we’re accustomed to living on the earth so that I could continue to enjoy it? Would I choose, say, life in a small cubicle aboard a floating barge or spaceship, with full virtual reality opportunities, over life without it, living in a pleasant little home with a garden and lots of space to roam around, making music with friends in real time, reading books and newspapers? No, of course not! Since that choice is not now possible or necessary, I choose to keep one foot in the real world, and one part of my head in the virtual world. I know where the line between the two is, and am not eager to move it. To me, it seems that the technologies available to average citizens a decade ago are about as far as we would want to go. Email is so useful; searching all the archived knowledge of civilization for data relevant to projects or, indeed, to fill any gap in knowledge that bothers us; cultivating appreciation of art, music, science, any field at all… these opportunities seem to me capable of great benefit to both humans and the earth. Overall, fewer natural resources should be used in the quest for knowledge than had been needed when depending on analog methods. That is, doing work on a digital device that used to require driving to a library, which had to procure its books by truck from a printer who may have over-produced and will need to waste or recycle extra copies, etc., saves fuel and other energies, and of course, time. But do we need to be pushed any further into this sedentary and unengaged way of dealing with life?
Younger people, who have been raised on the internet and smartphones, find it harder to imagine life without them. I’m afraid many would eagerly choose the fully-wired cell over life as a human animal.
So here we are, we twenty-first-century lovers of progress. If we are educated to within a stone’s throw of common sense, we want to ‘save the planet’; we give quite a bit of lip service to protecting the environment as we grow away from it. After all, we don’t want to soil the nest or shit where we eat. But this attitude resembles the patronizing manner of an ex-spouse toward a wife taking his alimony. We are divorced from the earth, but we want to be gallant about it. We have a notion that if we are to live here, or even on other planets or in spaceships, the models and resources of earth are our home and our roots, or at least the nourishment that feeds them. So we throw money and protective legislation at nature, but ultimately the divorce means that we are not planning on living in harmony with it anymore; we are leaving it behind, each party protected from the other. Some of my government-phobic right-wing friends suspect a plan to cordon off more and more of nature so that it is not only off-limits to private owners, it’s forbidden to the random public as well—to protect wild systems, supposedly. Lefties should note this tendency to save nature for the critters, as they might find themselves restricted from their aesthetically-rewarding second lives in the country. Such separate-but-equal declarations regarding humanity and nature can easily be seen as leading to the scenario of the dystopian film Soylent Green. In that totalitarian nightmare, people are herded into cities, and the vast wild countryside is reserved for the preservation and/or harvesting of resources; but also for the privileged few who are afforded passes for vacations, such as hunting and fishing expeditions, to the exciting old ways of life, once taken for granted, in the natural world.
But no matter how much we talk up nature, in reality we seem to love our fast, shiny new digital distractions more. Especially, say the earnest do-gooders, because leaps forward in technological know-how have the potential to eliminate all kinds of suffering from physical disease and untimely death. Perhaps, they say, one day we will even achieve human immortality. And despite headlines sharing more and more evidence of people mentally unhinged by our disconnection from natural or humanity-based communities, believers in the high-tech road to enlightenment are fully convinced that medications and social sciences can cure psychological disease, as well. And when I say ‘enlightenment,’ I am not speaking of a New Age condition of spiritual acceptance and peace; I mean the values of the Enlightenment, when the Western world freed itself of bondage to old religions and began placing itself in the position of a kinder god, one who would make everything nice for everyone, as soon as possible, thanks to our genius in creating machinery with its own genius. But here comes one of nature’s nastier creations, an invisible bug with the power to sicken or even, in a debated percentage of cases, to kill us. Now nature is on our shit list. We’re cocky in our new-found freedom from the constraints of nature, though willing, in principle, to preserve her, but her latest offering of the coronavirus bug deserves a hearty reprimand. Down with germs, dirt, invisible little particles of malice… out, spot, out! The list of now-recommended standard procedures seems to me, a hater of petroleum products and lover of growing things, appalling; in the wildest dreams of plastics and technology manufacturers, has such a jackpot been envisioned? The renewed glorification of plastic and disposables; everything once sold fresh, in the open air, now encased in plastic bags; the elimination of bulk bin services; the frowning upon of re-using, recycling, and resale shops, etc.; the throwaways of billions of gloves and masks; the pushing of hand sanitizers and chemical cleaners, any and all biocides, basically, in the quest to kill germs; wasting all that water, endlessly washing hands, clothes, the floor; the easing of environmental regulations to make it easier to move or make products to deal with sickness; in sum, the acceptance of any cost to the earth or to the quality of natural, convivial, physical humanity, as long as the reward is an increased quantity of lives saved or extended.
These adherences to ‘safety’ guidelines are made with our full knowledge and cooperation; but there are less visible ways that nature is suffering from the panic-demic. While our attention is riveted to COVID-19, myriad environmental laws and protections are being gutted or dropped by the Trump administration. But that is no longer a sexy story; attention soon is soon pulled back to the need to be righteously distant and the race for a vaccine.
We forgot about “Question Authority”
Conveniently, the Digital Age not only makes people more willing to give up their rights to the outside world as they fall further into the Upside Down, or the Matrix, or the Sunken Place… it also makes us all instantly accessible and controllable. The government or fascist overlords or whatever we call them can track our whereabouts and our interests, save and share our personal data, and communicate with us instantly. They enjoy unprecedented possibilities for letting any kind of news, fake or real, run wild and wreak unimaginable havoc before ever being put to rest. In the case of COVID-19, every day less happens to justify the initial alarm; but even as the thing itself dies, people accept more and more control. For instance, after two weeks with only two new cases of coronavirus in our county, an actual law (previously, it was a recommendation) for public mask-wearing was issued. Not that there’s any harm in trying to curb the spread of a disease by wearing a face mask; but mandating it on pain of a $1000 fine (first offense) after we’ve seen weeks of reduction in threats from the disease looks like a cynical test of our trust.
The immediate conformity of millions of people in a ‘crisis’ is, to those of us who care, a matter of grave concern—much more consequential to society, that is, the well-being of next generations—than the effects of a single, mildly lethal virus. We are controlled by fear exaggerated by instant, widespread communication; by our willingness to be protected in exchange for our brand/political loyalty; and by the buzzwords associated with a society where fear is a simple, instantly-recognized button. The panic button is currently emblazoned with ‘SIP,’ the Shelter-in-Place orders. Such edicts are issued around any crisis and, as discussed earlier, are the first of possibly endless successive codes for completely authoritarian ‘temporary’ states of martial law, justified by repeated reminders of the carnage that will ensue without lockstep obedience. Today’s means of delivering the prompt for control is via smartphone. I saw early examples of experimentation with this technique about a decade ago, at a large open-air music festival brimming with young millennials. Ads on the gigantic video screens surrounding the stage would offer free tickets, tech gadgets, or other baubles to the first or tenth or whatever caller to the number flashed on the screen. Instantly, from the back of the amphitheater, you could watch a sea of literally tens of thousands of young hands furiously working their phones. It was astonishing, and I am sure that was the point of the exercise… not to give away devices, but to see how readily and uniformly a response could be elicited from a crowd via mass digital signalling. Now, with the motivations of both fear and loss of social stature rather than shiny prizes, the real-life enactment of such programming is taking place. No matter how often the button is hit and the message sent, people controlled in this way will respond as desired; thus the ‘new normal’ is accepted.
As I’ve mentioned, we don’t need to think the novel coronavirus was invented by evil humans to know that its existence has been capitalized upon. ‘They’ (the techno-humanists, the social engineers) could have used any disease for this social experiment; it seems they latched onto one that’s not really all that destructive. It could have been much worse; in the absence of an internet-wide freak-out, we in rural American counties might not have even noticed a trend. Three more people than usual in the hospital for a pneumonia-like respiratory infection in March? Nothing to write home about. Aside from New York, ‘they’ could have used next year’s coronavirus for observation of its effects in crowd control. But they deduced, correctly, that people were ready for it now. People wanted something to feel intimidated by, and then to master with their solidarity. Unfortunately, the mastering of fear by means of mustering righteousness has to do with half the people putting down the other half while the same is done to them—liberals putting down the stupid yokels, conservatives putting down the stupid sheeple.
It’s not as if love for and doubts about a technological future don’t both run through the right and the left. We can’t say that the populist right is a bunch of Luddites while the hyper-rational futuristic left wants to impose a high-tech facsimile on the tatters of reality. That’s just another false division created for the sake of branding renegades by slapping a scornful label on them. Most all of us love the comforts, conveniences, and entertainment provided by the digital world, and have dropped our jaws in awe of the life-saving medical technologies that allow us to follow rashly unhealthy lifestyles, then counter their natural consequences with prescribed drugs.
The worry I feel about it is that now ‘they’ know what’s going to be most effective to make us afraid and compliant. Now they know how to get us all on board. Disease and the appearance of virtue around it are sure-fire ways of uniting all in a common cause, and getting people to silence each other, to police each other… we will be totally domesticated. And that should be frightful to all of us.
When I listed the eight values of the Earth Mother freeligion, combined them with a socialistic economic system that sought to erase the inequalities that birth and life’s fickleness inflicted on us, and called it ‘liberal philosophy,’ I forgot to include the duty of questioning authority. The Vietnam War, the arrogant and murderous conditions spawning the Civil Rights movement, and the rankly unashamed abuse of the earth in the 1960s (among many other outrages) begged us to question any conventional wisdom, from that handed down by government, to the behavioral prompts worming their way into our subconscious spaces via advertisements, to any nuggets of political correctness adopted by suspicious numbers of people. It’s hard to imagine exactly why people are not preaching ‘Question Authority’ lately. Has something made them think it’s okay to quit watching what goes on in the halls of power? Hmmm, what could that be—oh, the actions of Donald Trump or the revealing of secretly-planned drone killings or… No. We must question it all, for the silence of the common man and woman are as much to blame for injustice and destruction as are the evil intentions of policy makers. But nowadays, with the easy thumbs-up-or-down mentality of social media, most people can’t find the mental energy to debate anything civilly. This means they either join one side or the other, but seldom question or engage the issue enough to bring it out of its binary-adapting contortions.
While the phenomenon of mass control facilitated by the willing acquiescence of those infatuated with their phones seems obvious to the skeptical among us, we must contend with the other dangerous trend in human behavior being exaggerated by our increasing reliance on social media. That is the simplification of complex issues involving mortality, spirituality, technology’s role in our lives, attitudes toward nature—the very fate of the planet—the degree to which we’re willing to accept security in exchange for freedom—all the big questions—into the reductionist formula of “Are you a follower of the Orange One in the White House, who favors letting poor little innocent old—and young—people die so that he and his cronies can make money; or are you a good liberal?” The good German—no, wait, sorry, the good liberal—is one who despises thought and questions regarding what’s in our best interests, is infatuated with the idea of being part of a righteous movement (almost as good as the boomers had it in opposing the Vietnam War! In fact, better; all you have to do is be liberal and nice, and you are part of this wonderful universal virtual embrace), and loves the feeling of smug moral superiority and its virtue signaling, instantly attained merely by stating opposition to anything that can be labelled Trumpian. There’s a 1995 Radiohead song (‘The Bends’) in which Thom Yorke laments for his generation, “I wish it was the Sixties, I wish we could be happy, I wish, I wish, I wish that something would happen!” The something is happening. And you, too, can be swallowed up in a mass movement of righteousness, like the protesters in their coolly-dressed rallies of the 1960s! Instead of shaming baby killers and earth rapists, you can make fun of people who’d like to get to work, resume a normal human life, or suggest ways we might confront future viruses other than locking down as captive markets for the plastics and digital industries. It’s easy; most people are already on board. How refreshing, such an instant feeling of righteousness. Almost all your Facebook or Twitter friends will agree with you. Those who don’t will probably get mousy and disappear. You can be happy now!
An example of the odd, so-called liberal response, this one in light of the fact that liberals, or Democrats, used to be the party of the ‘people,’ friends of the worker and the underprivileged: Once it became clear in my Northern California county that the number of positive-tested cases had leveled off and the death rate was non-existent, many people began to wonder when we would be able to ease off on the SIP restrictions, that is, re-open businesses and government services. Most people I know here live in rather humble conditions, economically; they are not of the super-rich and powerful class (although we are all aware of privilege in terms of lovely rural locations, and of the unusual benefits of personal freedom and leisure while self-employed on country homesteads). So I took these calls to end the lockdown for exactly what they seemed to be: the cries of small businesspeople losing their life’s investment, busy work-from-home moms trying to handle kids no longer in school, civic-minded folks itching to get back into the swing of things, and any sort of people simply dismayed with the social and economic costs of shutting down normal daily activities. Yet from the ‘liberals’ the response was that it if you wanted to re-open the public world, you were either a greedy ultra-rich capitalist or a stupidly unaware supporter of those robber barons. Amazing that their first thoughts were of the wealthy; ascribing the urge for recovery to the moneyed class shows their complete obliviousness to the reality of life for most of their neighbors. I don’t know what level of economic security these people came from, that they can’t see that the shutdown isn’t going to affect rich people in the same way it will hurt working-class or landless folks; nobody will weather this storm as easily as those with offshore capital stashed away and diverse portfolios. I don’t think too many of the hypocritical locals are quite in that category of privilege; but they may as well be, if their attitude is that since everyone owns acres of land for gardens and chickens, where at least some of the utilities and services are free and people like to brag about how ready they are for the crumbling of civilization, and they are either childless or have a retired parent around to help with the kids, and they have never really worried about money anyway, often because they inherited at least their initial boost… well, then, why can’t everyone just roll with this, and enjoy the little vacation? These judgmental snobs are tragically out of touch with the reality of anyone outside their bubbles of privilege; they are enjoying what I recently saw aptly called, by Thomas Frank, ‘the condescension of the comfortable.’
And speaking of hypocrisy… what about these silly memes saying “We never want to return to the old ways… that world was broken. This is a new rainbow of opportunities for growth and love!... Who needed that civilization anyway?” Ummm… for instance… ? All that plastic and trash I mentioned? The food in the fridge going bad because people are only shopping every couple of weeks? Being controlled not so much by laws against truly anti-social behavior as by shaming from multitudes of online judges? Living virtually, separated physically, even for essentially personal, physical services, such as visits with doctors: “We are still ‘seeing’ patients: we do Skype visits or Zoom conferences!” (Can you imagine if their customer service is anywhere near as helpful as when you try to deal with PayPal or Facebook by consulting the ‘Help’ menu? Talk about the most dread frustration with the opacity of the machine!)… and most importantly, the replacement of joy in the presence of our fellow humans by fear: fear of contact, fear of their germs; the idea that any of us, no matter how healthy we look, might be harboring this supposedly deadly virus. Why would we want to live this way? I seriously doubt that most people talking about falling in love with the ‘new normal’ actually want to do what it would take to maintain smog-free skies over L.A. or to reduce human influence on the planet to Stone Age levels. I think maybe they just like staying at home and having a good excuse not to have to be anywhere, while getting fat on ice cream and Netflix—an experience of the lockdown not shared by underprivileged people, and certainly not one that has any beneficial effect on the earth, except incidentally and temporarily.
I’d like a plan for a new rainbow of opportunities, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that rainbow will arise spontaneously from this upset over a disease nobody saw coming, and when we have no practical agenda for how to make an alternative work, or who’s going to work it. Maybe rather than spending their time posting memes celebrating their newly-discovered home lives and making fun of absurdly, perhaps purposefully, easy targets such as Donald Trump, liberals should be working on that new society by thinking about how an election or a revolution can be pulled off this autumn. People assuming there’s enough money and wealth sitting around in the coffers of the one-percent-of-the-one-percent to pay us all stimulus checks of wildly varying sizes, a Universal Basic Income (UBI), single-payer health coverage, etc., are using a convenient crutch that seeks to justify having no working economy; but getting that money out of those bulging pockets is going to be the challenge. Unless they’re planning on an armed revolution—extremely unlikely among people who don’t dare leave their homes—they had better figure out political solutions for this sudden socialistic shift. Instead, we saw Bernie Sanders, the populist Democratic Socialist, shunted aside in favor of the ‘what we need now’—a doddering, grandfatherly, gentle-kindness candidate (albeit with the requisite sexual predator stigma) in mainstream Democrat Joe Biden. You haven’t seen anything in terms of inconvenience or disruption or ‘new normals’ until you’ve seen bare shelves in the stores, nobody with cash to pay for services, rent, or products, no credit in digital accounts and no way to get it, no cops on duty to rein in desperate people robbing and stealing… because nobody will have twisted the arms of the ones they claim have a stranglehold on the wealth. Don’t look to me for solutions; I probably have less of a clue as to how to shift over into a kinder, more equitable material system than you do. But I can see what’s not working.
Exchanging Walk-on Roles in Life for Lead Roles in the (Virtual) Cage
Let’s get back to the science fiction scenario. Since the beginnings of the Industrial Age, or even before, as the Enlightenment challenged religion and elevated humans’ trust in our own creations, we’ve worried about our hubris. We might get carried away with our technological intelligence before our moral intelligence can catch up. From the horrors of a Frankenstein’s monster to the pathetic softness of the ineffectual Eloi in Wells’s The Time Machine to many a chilling vision offered in Black Mirror, we have been shown, in popularly absorbed drama, possible outcomes of exchanging our trust in nature and our naturally social consciences for faith in artificial intelligence and the questionable traits encouraged when labor, hardship, and even death’s threat have been made obsolete. Laziness, boredom in the devil’s playground, depression and suicide despite all the drugs dispensed to combat them, perverse means of regaining a sense of adventure or power, cruelty for a thrill… in short, attempts to re-create, in wildly inappropriate ways, the hazards and excitement of real life, are offered as likely results of making pointless our human efforts in the face of fickle nature.
And the young adherents of the countercultural movement in the 1960s ate this up. They could see what the company man, the businessman, the government man, that is, what The Man was doing. Because of his discomfort with life as it is, his incapability of seeing the beauty around him, his incessant need to control and improve things, he was ruining the chances of the multitudes to simply live and love, in the blessedly limited time span allowed us, and in the context of ‘God,’ however defined, but usually as evidenced by the Creation in which we find ourselves. While both conservative (at least in the case of back-to-the-land hippie Christians) and liberal youth distrusted government and the brave new world promised by the latest intelligence technology, at that time the loudest rejection of the establishment came to be associated with liberals who hoped to escape or eliminate the Megamachine (in Lewis Mumford’s word) and to encourage the people’s rights to be free, untracked and unnumbered, souls in communion with Mother Nature and her gifts.
Love of nature and assumption of divinity in the processes of life and death; respect for the wisdom of nature in balancing numbers of people and other species, and in providing mammals with protective immune systems; the embrace of an authentic, if dangerous, life governed by the rules of nature--which include human nature’s compassionate awareness that flexibility and social harmony are essential values for species survival, higher than the perverted rule of individual ‘survival of the fittest’… these choices, reflected in hundreds of popular folk and rock songs, in movies, comedy routines, poetry, books, etc.; the choices of liberty and simple living close to our birthright and life-giver, Mother Nature… these choices seemed like liberal politics back in the day of dropping out and turning on.
Now, however, I see that this rejection of the commodified artificial and controlled world, in which we are all bits of tracked data and are entertained in such irresistible ways that a whole generation might rather die than give up their digital devices, is called by today’s version of liberals ‘conservative’—hateful, stupid, moronic, and ultimately, their most beloved and safe generalization, ‘Trumpian.’ That is the sad surprise for me—the realization that it’s the very people and politics I once put my anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian, anti-corporate, anti-consumerist, nature-loving, life-loving, death-accepting hopes in, that are driving this U-turn to regressive values. The admonition from lockstep liberals is No, we do not have the freedom to fail, to have an adventure, or to die; because others unwilling to live in such danger might be affected (if I don’t wear a mask, you might breathe life-threatening germs). Not only does this attitude completely dismiss the self-responsibility that would encourage people to protect themselves from the virus or its complications, it also assumes that the rights of the few are higher than the rights of the many, which palatably or not, can be called an anti-democratic development. We have a national constitution whose purpose is, in part, to protect individuals from the domination of the herd, and vice versa; but when the rights of certain individuals to survive undermines the rights of the vast majority of individuals to carry on with the habits and expectations we all have traditionally enjoyed, then we need to re-examine the locations of our boundaries.
The ‘liberal’ belief which I had not previously realized was so jarringly out of harmony with other generally caring, humane, intelligent progressive values claimed by the left is that you should be disenfranchised from control of your own life. In the futuristic view, you can click buttons and images on your device at will and enjoy the illusion of choice in many a drop-down menu; but you cannot assume responsibility for your own health. You must accept that your well-being is a result of your degree of cooperation with vaccination programs and social-distancing protocols, and of the general self-entitlement we all enjoy as non-one-percenters; you may not deviate from that cooperation and passivity by exercising personal choice for natural (non-corporation-produced) health, for not only will that refusal be ineffective, it will brand you a Trumpian—a hater, a bad person who is not in line with the new religion; a lapsed techno-humanist. A defier of science.
The ‘new normal’ we are being pushed into is a society where we enjoy substitution of a UBI or government check to replace effort-, talent-, or skill-based financial compensation; you cannot do work that will sustain you psychologically and expect a return commensurate with its value; and any work requiring physical proximity to others, a real joy in many jobs, is disallowed. This shift will be worth it to us, the purveyors of digital-everything trust, because of the consolation found in our little Matrix cells (I am referring to the film series that premiered in 1999), feeding the battery of the power monster, happy in our virtual worlds, where all the easy excitement is: all of humanity’s dreams and ideas, art and entertainment and communication. Our desires for instant gratification are consistently fulfilled. Such reward that we go willingly to our stations; not even rubber bullets are required, and economic sanctions are not necessarily applied. We—or, I should say, a discouraging percentage of people—not only submit of our own will, we voluntarily become shamers of the resisters.
I believe that the voluntary exile to digital reality occurs not only because of the ease, comfort, and security offered in such a lifeless/deathless dimension, but because the very idea of freedom to be unequal (in suffering, ease, safety, or adventure)—to excel and succeed, or to fail and suffer—is out of fashion, seen as cruel and Trumpian, limited by the old analog definitions rather than freed by our tech-inspired imaginations, where infinite equality beckons. Failure and difficulty are, of course, well within the realm of natural possibility; but it is not politically correct to admit that all people will not show equal progress. Now, lest you believe that my urge to freedom for inequality is a regressive one, blind to economic and social hurdles that exaggerate differences, remember that the struggle for equal opportunities from birth—of freedom from the oppression of poverty- or discrimination-burdened childhoods—is always a priority for real progressives and even practical conservatives who would like to enjoy a peaceably stable public life. But it’s the freedom to opportunity that realists seek; the guarantee of equal results, of the ultimate equality of all humans, is an impossible dream. Variety is the spice of life, and in terms of ‘success,’ an inevitable ingredient. (Although if a society has any pretensions of moral virtue at all, it should assure at least a minimum standard of support to everyone; there should be a bottom line. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.) In terms of this epidemic, equality means that none of us starts out with the coronavirus (other than the rare infant of an infected mother), all of us have full knowledge of its existence by now, and we should be free to mingle with people and hope for the best, or to barricade ourselves in a sterile home, encountering no new germs for a year or more. The only inequality inherent in this ‘opportunity’ is that poor people are less able to make the choice to stay home, for they might well starve. The SARS-CoV-2 is not responsible for that; class inequality is. Worthy liberals should make the case that addressing the needs of the underprivileged is the priority now, rather than shaming people for needing to come out of their hibernation.
I understand that the Boy Scouts have gone out of favor, and I know why. I also know that traditional religion has become largely non-politically correct to many liberals. But I find it hard to accept that personal responsibility and its rewards are not essential to human happiness; it’s clear that survival of dangers, whether one is victorious through random chance or through good calls and timely action, brings a joy that can never be replaced by mere survival in a vegetative, digitally-stimulated existence, well out of harm’s way. And that’s why the safer we get, the more people kill themselves or go on murderous rampages. There’s a ‘war’ on everything that has ever threatened peace and order: kids can’t grow up playing or heaven forbid, working, outside; there are security systems built into car doors and ignitions, video cameras on home porches, anti-theft devices on household goods in department stores; even the back-to-the-landers here won’t have their babies at home with a midwife anymore. Why would they ever? Were they indifferent to the survival of their offspring, or their own maternal mortality? Were they cold-hearted people who cheapened life? I don’t think so. I think they surrendered some power of control to the gods, whoever they or it might be—even the God of Natural Chance—in exchange for a life of faith and serenity for those many blessed ones not stolen by Chance. And I think they were aware of an eternal truth: Life, which includes the constant shadow of death, is not worth living without it.
Have we gotten soft; are we over-feminized? Everything is yin and yang, compassion and wisdom, dreams and realities, requiring mothers and fathers. There’s a clear prejudice against the ‘manly’ approach nowadays, and the harm caused by a lack of that energy is obvious in the rising generations of irresponsible man-children. Of course, individual men with violence issues are justifiably unwelcome in our feminine new world; but traditionally ‘masculine’ traits such as the ability to withstand the sight of suffering without becoming squeamish and ineffectual are as necessary as the ‘feminine’ compassion that cringes at the suggestion of pain. Please; I’m not saying that every woman crumples at the need to confront crisis or that men are indifferent to others’ sensations; I am speaking of general strengths, called by their traditional gender associations; various traits, all needed for balanced responses to whatever life dishes up. If we let our heartstrings get yanked by the images of suffocating, blue-complected misery or deathbed horrors, we may want to send home all the other people in the Intensive Care Wards, because we have become irrational in our manipulated compassion for sufferers of a single chosen condition. A manly resistance to the imposition of terrifying images allows wise and strong men and women to make less emotional decisions, for the greater good. My plea for balance will not be taken kindly by those who believe that the feminizing of civilization is what we need now. I myself have posited that Earth Mother would promote a cycle of mass feminization. However, that wheel should only spin so far, or we’re out of balance again.
‘Compassion’ is only half of everything—the Buddha said that its necessary twin was wisdom. People are hollering that we need compassion and we need to listen to the scientists and doctors whose only goal is saving lives at all costs. (I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do so when possible; I’m arguing that the focus should be on encouraging a healthy population so fewer people get seriously ill, and on treating COVID-19—and all—patients with the attention and care they deserve for the least pain and loneliness in life and in death.) But what looks like compassion in the short run may be less than kind in the long. People overcome by sympathetic dysfunction would not be able to perform surgeries, pull out teeth, run strategically necessary (defensive, of course) military campaigns, or even pull porcupine quills out of their dogs’ muzzles or splinters from their child’s fingers. It takes real compassionate wisdom and strength to do the right thing to ensure that we’re all eventually going to be better off. I think that we are indeed over-feminized if we say it’s admirably compassionate to respond only to images of screaming pain, while escaping the hard work of doing what’s necessary despite the screams (while millions of very feminine mothers and animal protectors have stuck with such needed work through the ages). As George Carlin would say, we’ve become a bunch of pussies. This stress on who’s ‘mean’ and who’s ‘nice’ in terms of addressing the coronavirus crisis is almost completely irrelevant to the important work of decreasing overall suffering. And wearing a virtue signal on your face is not going to solve the problem of what we do in the face of contagious illness during the Surveillance Era (though if you’re going out to rub elbows with strangers of unknown immune strength, it would be sweet of you to make them feel good, and maybe even reduce their chance of catching a virus, by masking up).
But science is not everything, either. I trust it to be good at what it does; science is the best at being scientific, in a Trumpian way of speaking. I also trust that it won’t be long before appropriate countermeasures to the SARS-CoV-2 virus—immunizations and treatments—will be found. I don’t doubt for a moment that people with medical degrees, in university research centers and hospitals, are the right people to find those solutions. To call someone who resists the techno-humanist religion a Luddite or a backward science hater misses their point, which is not a doubt of science per se, but a questioning of the value of the human-survival-oriented scientific quest. What is really the goal of all this life extension and reduction of physical pain? I will have to take a concept as huge as the whole of human scientific inquiry and boil it down to a few words here; the result is the general observation that the goal of techno-futurists, likely shared by the majority of liberal humanists, is immortality. They see it as an ancient, time-honored quest. Whether through the preservation of the matter of our bodies, or, more likely, the transfer and continued support of our mental functions—our fantasy lives, served best through digital media—however it is accomplished, we have every right, even duty, to realize our full human potential by defeating death.
Centuries, nay, millennia of wise people speaking through all manner of art would disagree, as would any lover of our true mother, nature. (Although the movie Groundhog Day, like many existential ponderings, illustrates the joylessness of immortality through the dull repetition of one particular day, it’s really talking about the deadly predictability of guaranteed survival.) But this immortality dream is all fantasy anyway; the idea that we, as anything resembling our current human selves, can endure in a world rapidly commodified and overrun by our numbers, our waste, our murderous rampages on other life forms, and germs (naturally occurring or lab-concocted) too strong for our immune systems, is ludicrous. It seems to me that the only likely end result of digitized life combined with robotic immortality will be the Matrix-like imprisonment in a secure cubicle, happy with our safety and the illusion of control we can enjoy by pushing buttons (or perhaps just resting our eyes upon a cursor on the screen) to travel to the infinite offerings of virtual reality. Somehow, the system must extract wealth from us, as the Matrix cells milked humans for their electrical charge; perhaps we will be made fruitful by means of our competitive shopping for digital services and adventures. Physical infrastructure will be created and maintained by remotely controlled and programmed robots, just as the most dangerous disaster-rescue jobs are now. Computers have already nearly eliminated customer service, typing, data entry, and all manner of secretarial jobs.
I won’t bother to sketch the dystopian nightmare any further. There is plenty of thought-provoking science fiction available. But I want to remind you that you can already gauge the success of this venture. To the extent that people already feel a lack of meaning and authenticity in their lives; they feel no logical connection in terms of rewards, no natural consequences to their actions; they are overstimulated by dopamine-producing entertainment, but aware of the lack of adventure in their own lives… to that extent, we see what happens. Everybody knows. It’s obvious to anyone but those already most lost in virtual unreality. Mass shooters, toxic masculinity, hyper-sexualization and commodification of people, indifference to the fate of the earth, misanthropy, corruption in politics, the breakdown of the family, the prevalence of drug addiction and suicide… you name it. They are all symptoms of the true disease, which is alienation from nature and natural relations between people, along with a sense of worthlessness. All those words from the social studies of the twentieth century—alienation, anomie, anxiety, angst—are the keywords of the twenty-first.
Which is exactly why these rebels without a cause are so eager to jump on board the ‘conform to kill coronavirus’ bandwagon. Now they belong; they’re part of something bigger. But that sociable urge to make the popular choices and repeat the popular lines can be used equally as effectively for destructive as for beneficial ends. Of course, the people themselves can only see that they’re part of a big group hug, in which it’s the Sixties and something is happening; “We’re all in this together!” they say with joyful tears. People see a sociable urge—the wish to please, and to be accepted for their degree of conformity—as the ultimate “goodness.” Morality is confused with popularity. But 1933 in Germany looked exactly the same way. People felt good about banding together with their fellow citizens to fight what they were told were the enemies of all. Don’t imagine for a moment that most of the willing Nazis then felt they were being anything but responsible and beneficent by doing the bidding of Hitler. It was a holy war, like all wars of hearts and minds, fed by the comfortable myth that fitting in with one’s neighbors and doing as they do is something only a sociopath would refuse. Would that there were more doubters, more ‘sociopaths,’ in those days!
Oh, there I go. I fulfilled Godwin’s law by mentioning Hitler. True believers will marvel at the stupidity and cruelty of equating genocide with wearing a germ-inhibiting mask, the resistance to a face covering being, to their minds, equivalent to genocide on the old and infirm by invisible and uninhibited spreading of the virus. That’s the level they’ve arrived at after the months-long barrage of media coverage of the coronavirus and our response to it. But I believe that the susceptibilities we have now revealed to the fascist alliance of government and tech corporations, along with our own love of acceptance and upvotes, will lead to much more serious trouble—apocalyptic, mass-extinction-type mayhem—than a good old-fashioned illness that prematurely kills a small proportion of people unlucky or unhealthy enough to have a hard time with it.
It’s more effective if the cage is sold as a religious retreat
Humanism is as bad for nature and for human freedom as monotheistic religion and, insofar as it’s actually techno-humanism now, is absolutely worse than those old earth-repudiating religions. It offers no conception that anything is higher, smarter, and more dependable than our human creations (forgetting that ‘Nature Bats Last,’ as the bumper sticker says). Therefore, we—or the inventors of/investors in robotics—are God; and since there is no other god or anything more interesting than what we do, nowhere on any plane of the universe, life after death will be deadsville; so why not enjoy immortality via digitally uploaded brains and personalities, and/or bionic, eternally replaced body parts? It’s a vicious circle, or as those who profit would call it, I’m sure, the opposite: a precious circle. There’s nothing there on the other side of death, so you may as well stay here; but you must be a consumer of digital reality for eternity, because there’s nothing here, either, nothing as exciting, yet safe, as man-made unreality.
And techno-humanism is at least as much a true religion as those traditional systems. It displays all the symptoms: dogma, zeal, ritual, sacrifice, investment, fetishes, and endless holy wars. In exchange for such evidence of fidelity, it offers the true believer supernatural powers, quite literally—ways to get around the restrictions and challenges of nature. Wireless communication, physical travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere, eyes and ears that tap the microcosm and the macrocosm, laboratory creation of synthesized species—including viruses—and ultimately, evasion of death; these are the promises to followers of our fastest-growing de facto religion.
Humanism suggests that the power of control is ours; we need not leave things to random chance or to nature, because we control our fate. Even if we are aware that the exact timing of natural disasters is still unpredictable (tsunamis, wildfires, viral epidemics, etc.), we do our best to foresee them and to control their damages. There’s nothing wrong with wanting less painful and longer lives; but when that urge to control becomes so much a part of our species identity and value system that natural chaos and risk become unnerving, and people have to retreat to their pharmaceutically-supplied psychiatric drugs, virtual reality fantasies, or addictive behaviors to cope with the shock of their impotence over life or death, it has become too much. Surrendering control to the higher powers of either traditional religion or the obvious dictator of life’s circumstances, that is, nature, can help people to chill the fuck out and start loving life again—warts and all.
One comfort is missing from techno-humanism: it has no bedside manner. The kindly old patriarch, the warm nurturing mother figure, or even, in naturalistic spiritual systems, the metaphors of growth and rebirth—flowers, puppies, trees, rainbows—these faiths offer familiar solace in the form of appealing aesthetics. But somehow the symbolic figures of the new religion—Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, a scientist in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a suited-up astronaut, or a similarly attired health-care worker—don’t inspire the same instinctive feelings of trust.
Speaking of surrendering control to nature, the use of trippy drugs, oddly now enjoying a resurgence in trendy ayahuasca retreats or the reported anti-depressant effects of micro-dosing hallucinogens, was an important element in the twentieth-century hippies’ acceptance of death. Tripping is also like a religion, and for many young people who insisted on being outdoors while enjoying their mushrooms, it paved the way for an earth-based respect for spirit as revealed through nature. Buddhism and its teachings of impermanence taught a similar lesson, and even Christianity allowed Westerners of old to go about their death-splattered lives with a serene acceptance that it was all for the good and out of their hands, anyhow. Having read a bit of nineteenth-century family history, I am well-acquainted with the destruction wrought by infectious disease before the advent of vaccines and antibiotics. The awe-inspiring thing was, though, that all the sickness and death—and the heavy burdens of repeated, often doomed, pregnancies, where bearing eight or twelve children was often the only way to assure the survival of even a replacement number surviving to reproductive adulthood—all that death did not make for maladjusted, angry, vengeful sociopaths. Quite the opposite. I would not say that death was unmourned or not felt as a piercing tragedy. But it was, by necessity and by habit, taken in stride. Aware of the constant hovering presence of death, people endeavored to lead lives worthy of the honor, and to accept, gracefully, the demands of nature/God—which, although they chose the name and the associated stories of the latter, was still the power and wisdom evidenced by nature.
Our mental health needs spiritual promises, assurances that touch us on a subconscious level, and by that I mean almost any spirituality other than the techno-humanist religion. We are still animals, made of flesh and bones, doomed to dust. Unlike other animals, or so we assume, we are aware of our pending deaths; we have invented invisible friends to talk us through this, or, as nature lovers, we have come to see that we are undeniably mortal, and that mortality, as witnessed in the skeleton of a leaf or the skull of a deer or even the sight of masses of worms composting the remains of something’s recent incarnation, is a necessary function in this beautiful creation. Traditional religions make promises that answer our existential fears; techno-humanism makes those same promises, but because it’s based on denial of the fundamental facts of life and has no redeeming aesthetic feel-good warmth to it, our subconscious selves see through it as a man-made substitute—a depressing fake. A society with nothing higher than its own scientists’ pronouncements or inventions to follow makes for a lot of anxious and miserable individuals. Some would argue that worship of nature, sans humanistic figureheads, is similarly bereft of the comforting values that make us calm, content, functionally sociable humans, but it seems to me that familiarity with the ways of the natural world can allow us to let go of our manic worries and go with the massive flow.
Immersion in nature bestows the humbling awareness of how small we are, each one a speck amongst gazillions of grains of sand on the beach—and gives a certain solace that way, a release from the pressures of being such an awesomely unique human being. Our modern Western sense of individual exceptionalism is partly to blame for our drama around death. Nowhere else in time or place can we see a society so enamored of the idea that each human is special, like a snowflake—no two ever alike. And we do have so many influences and such opportunities for learning and doing anything in the universe that we moderns probably are indeed a more diverse group than ever populated the earth. When everybody in a certain tribe ate the same food, worshipped the same god, sang the same songs, was taught the same rules, and wore the same hairstyle, well… they probably wouldn’t have admitted it, but they may not have grieved the loss of one individual, or many, as sharply as we do now, when each human is considered a personally curated, one-of-a-kind work of art. That same cultural uniformity of taste and character has been what’s allowed arranged marriages to work out with at least the longevity of modern arrangements sprung from ‘true love.’ Any partner of a special edition Western human had better learn to accommodate the defining quirks that make them so valuable! And to mourn the death of that intricate snowflake with laments of how there will never, ever be another like it.
How does all this talk of religion, acceptance of uncertainty and death, and techno-humanism’s love of control, relate to COVID-19?
The approach to the virus I’m taking—letting it waft through the population so that herd immunity is approached or achieved—means that it will kill some people. But vaccines, especially in their experimental early stages, also kill people, albeit fewer than harmless vaccines save. We currently have no vaccine for the novel coronavirus, so natural immunity would be the next best thing. Why are collateral deaths from viruses appalling, while vaccine-caused (friendly fire) deaths are acceptable? Because the latter incidental deaths are on the way to measurable, commodified controls. Retaining an illusion of control—“We expect x percentage of people to die, but this much larger percentage will reliably be saved”—gives people a sense that experts or artificial intelligences who know what they’re doing are in charge. Of course, nobody knows exactly who the sacrifices will be, but we are not encouraged to worry about it, so we don’t. Relax; they’ve got it under control!
The coronavirus of this year is not an unprecedented menace. Viruses like it and unlike it have appeared all through the history and prehistory of mankind, as have plagues, famines, weather disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis, and meteor strikes. A disease causing serious illness in about one out of twenty people who catch it (the number will probably be less as we see that more people are infected) and which kills about a half a percent of those who get it is no new thing… but the ability of governments to seize our rights, because of both the power of tech corporations to control our information and our willingness to respond to the prompts and join the ranks of the virtually virtuous… this is unprecedented.
I am afraid that an approach that continues to push our human agenda—saving every precious life—may come back to haunt us when nature does what nature does. You could call the saving of coronavirus patients and the race for a vaccine ‘putting out fires.’ Just as Smokey the Bear had us put out every fire in California for the past half century, we are doing all we can to stop COVID-19 in its tracks. But see how the fire suppression efforts have backfired! There is far more fuel to burn, and every wildfire now becomes disastrous. As we coddle our immune systems from yet another infectious disease, we set them up to fail miserably when we finally are exposed, or when the next one comes along. Each season, the stakes are higher, the peril is greater, and the outrage at cruel nature louder. Yet we continue to try to protect each and every human from the effects of this virus—or each forest from this thinning—while knowing that someday something bigger will show up, and nobody will be able to withstand it… nothing will stop the conflagration.
As we approach the inevitable end of this tome, allow me to reiterate my conviction that the way public policy should handle the coronavirus would be the Swedish approach… government advice, guidance, and financial help for those who need it, accompanied by a toned-down reaction on the part of the people. We have yet to see how the epidemic will play out for them. Their own officials admit that if they had it to do again, they would be more protective of the elderly and vulnerable from the beginning; it was the one point in their philosophy of care that did not translate into effective actions. Still, it’s quite possible that in the long run, not suffering the promised Second or Third Wave of the virus returning to claim unexposed bodies, Sweden might lose fewer people than countries practicing lockdowns and protection (that is, weakening) of their populations’ immune systems. Whether or not that happens, they surely will have kept a love of life, a sense of trust in the government and the government’s trust in them, a continuity in their public lives, and the distinguished sense of being some of the only people on the planet who decided not to freak out. Keep Calm and Carry On, as if it is, in our favorite metaphor, a war; we acknowledge that lives will be lost, battles will go wrong; but the nation, the civilization will keep going. Of course, we do what we can to end the war, and to keep losses at a minimum; but that requires effort from every citizen in using common sense and protecting herself and her loved ones. Past societies would have thought it selfish to assume that everything worth living for, and which the vast majority still are capable of enjoying—convivial eating, drinking, dancing, talking, singing, as well as any of an endless number of jobs and projects that seek meaningful engagement—should shut down through anxiety about death for the few.
Assume love is our motivation and get together now to plan a way out
I get that some people would respond to all these worries about the future with, “Yeah, okay, we know there is a lot going on and a lot to figure out. But why not pay attention to this one thing in front of us, causing real sorrow in numbers mounting every day, and do something about it? Why not get on board with this great humanitarian effort to prevent unnecessary illness, and make no snarky remarks at all?” And I would answer that nothing I am saying precludes showing consideration for the vulnerable or furious work to find medical answers to the effects of this virus. But both the push to digital alternatives and the existence of SARS-CoV-2 itself (possibly, if you believe it had anything to do with the virus-mutating lab that just happened to be located in Wuhan, China, and was funded by millions of your American taxpayer dollars)—both are symptoms of much greater problems. Our soIution to the whole crisis, like the typical modern response to any illness, is to suppress the symptoms. Maybe later, we tell ourselves, we will think about what imbalance caused the trouble; for now, we only want to feel better! Sentimental displays of sympathy and indignation over an effect of much darker trends are vain distractions, just more expressions of wanting to feel better in the face of death and the unknown.
I am sad and disillusioned with human nature after my experience with the intolerance of supposedly open-minded liberals. The very points that many call ‘promising’ of a kinder new world—the coming together, a shared sense of fear and resolute action in its face, cooperation with the call to responsibility, self-policing, etc.—are the ones that made for good Nazis and will always call people to ‘wars’ on anything ‘other.’ Wars on nations, religions, customs, viruses… if we can call the others ‘bad’ and our resistance ‘good,’ we can have a righteous war of the virtues, and everyone on board will feel good. But at what cost to any remaining sense of civilized discussion and debate about both the immediate issues of survival and the long-term fate of our freedom to live naturally while minimizing our impact on the earth?
If the sort of petty fighting and dull puerile humor evident online is the offering of the party and people of the left, count me out. It’s ridiculous for mainstream liberals to call thinkers and doubters Trump-supporting ‘rednecks’ for their attachment to hippie values; they themselves—liberals and neo-liberals from old boomers down to woke millennials—are the ones who have abandoned the dreams of the counterculture to become virtual-reality-loving, pharmaceutical-addicted, corporate-teat-attached fascists. Moreover, I’m afraid that many of them have generated in themselves the uncomfortable hope for coronavirus deaths. Much as people on the stop-the-panic side in the fiercely partisan wars over the severity of the local viral threat set themselves up to feel delight when another day goes by without a death, those who have been warning of millions of American deaths and tens or hundreds of millions worldwide, will only feel vindicated when at least one dies in our home county. I would find it unnerving to be so attached to a script of disaster that only death could validate my position.
For that matter, Trump followers are not the only ones who question the way our government and popular public censure is controlling response to the virus. The Swedes, hardly the picture liberal Americans hold of fat, stupid redneck bumpkins, are doing pretty much what I, and many at the anti-lockdown rallies, have proposed. But you will only see the most outrageous examples of bovine, unhealthy ‘Walmart shoppers’ represented in the memes on liberal media sites. Our masters in Silicon Valley only want us to see the yayhoos. They know that many white (but careful to be non-racist), educated (but careful to remember their privilege) Americans’ biggest problem with Republican populists is an aesthetic one: they just don’t like the lack of taste in those bimbos’ body shapes, clothing choices, speaking styles, etc. They would much prefer to see tidy, trim, healthy, well-spoken… well…Swedes! When they are shown them, though, it’s only to bemoan their downfall into Trumpian choices.
By the way, I would never go to one of the freedom rallies, because they have indeed turned into partisan shitshows. But I do know that the liberals who marvel at the stupidity of the demonstrators are only showing their own ignorance. The ‘elites’ laugh at how all these buffoons are going to die—but they don’t realize that most of them are dead serious that they would rather die than live in what they perceive as a police state. That kind of fearlessness makes for a strength that the life-at-all-costs people can’t possibly understand. And I’ve seen liberals rolling their eyes in amazement at the image of anti-protection-law people wearing masks. Wearing a protective mask while carrying a sign opposing mandatory masks! The self-righteous judges can’t even believe their eyes; how stupid and self-contradictory is that? But I wonder why the critics can’t see how stupid they themselves are to miss the point. The protestors are not against masks and responsible public behavior; they are showing how seriously they do take the potential of the virus, while still agitating against compulsory standards. They are against the force, not the choice.
Such ridicule is similar to another example I’ve seen in social media posts making fun of the rally signs saying, “Our bodies, our choice!” in an echo of abortion-rights activists. Those oh-so-smart and righteous liberals can hardly contain their mirth at the irony of this one… people who, it’s assumed, deny women the right to abortion are now appropriating the pro-choice slogans for their own selfish purposes? Lol!
At ease, lower your weapons, social justice warriors! Get off the high horse from which you assume only you can see the parallels. Your condescension is breathtaking. You started the meme; they are answering it with, “If you all want choice over your bodies where you claim there are no victims but we see at least one for each abortion—the unborn child—then we are going to steal your own chant and claim rights over our own bodies, with no other victims in sight, only the possibility of some folks who should have done a better job protecting themselves in public.” They are knowingly taking our stance (I say ‘our’ because I am pro-choice regarding abortion) and throwing it back at us.
And I have seen another question: “Has anyone noticed how their far-right, anti-government friends say some of the same things their far-left, radically anti-fascist friends say? How is it that the nuts on the far left and the nuts on the far right are often so far around on the other side from anything reasonable that they have come to meet each other?” Maybe it’s because we—I see myself as skeptical in a way that’s traditionally been felt by both left and right—don’t see ourselves as far around on the other side, meeting up where the cracked nuts are. We are more like right in the middle. It’s people who are sending what they see as fringe players with far-out opinions around to the distant side of the circle who are envisioning, and creating, a crack there by accusing any opinion not like their own of being a hallmark of the opposition. I don’t like those imposed fractures. May the circle be unbroken!
While I bemoan my realization, courtesy of the novel coronavirus, that Democrats are now the party of out-of-touch, classist snobs, whose opinions are formed by Hollywood stars and talk-show hosts as they condemn any of the delicacy or complexity that characterizes the real world, it’s not like I have the option of joining another viable party. The insults of self-righteous morality-prize contestants, whether direct, by name-calling and shaming memes, or indirectly, with the imputation of base motives to alternative proposals, have made me vow never to call myself a Democrat again. But I am not about to become a Republican; that party has also come down to a dingy place of which many former adherents are now ashamed. Whereas in my childhood, we thought of Republicans as the old, stodgy, usually wealthy traditionalists, displaying hoity-toity manners but for all that, well-educated and mannerly—the sophisticates, the cultured and beneficent ones—in short, the Upper Class; nowadays, as the choice of the angry, anti-intellectual, success-resenting but wealth-coveting masses, Trump’s machine has indeed become the party of the ignoramuses.
So I am a woman without a country, politically speaking. What are we to do if we identify with issues other than making it in either the Fox News world of commodified appearances, grasping at an outdated dream of an embarrassments of riches, or the online world of political correctness and cancel-culture appearances? The liberal non-movement of severe judgmentalism is a static political phenomenon unable to position a candidate to challenge even the joke of our incumbent president. What if we are sick of this entire appearance-based charade, and are instead looking uneasily at the choices ahead of us as techno-humanism with its placating offer of infinite choice lures us into a future divorced from nature?
We create alternatives, we dream up visions, we map a course. In the worst-case scenario (or best-case, depending upon the urgency factor), where we are trying to find permanent solutions to save sanity, humanity, and as much of the earth as we can, we would create self-sufficient communities in geographical isolation. We can try doing this now, as many doubtless have, and we will surely try to do it if we are able, in reaction to threatened science-fiction conditions of a scorched-earth war on infidels to the Megamachine. I don’t know of any experimental retreats from modern life with population numbers of much consequence. But we may be at a point where many will see the necessity of forming such alternative societies. It may be time for philosophically driven migration to ‘island nations’ (any good peninsula would do) where respect for the earth and natural processes, and for governmental ideals that strive to balance the guarantees and equality of a populist politics with the risks and inequalities of personal freedom and responsibility, are answers to how humans might flourish in the natural world. There would be a lot of discussion and decision-making going on; perhaps the most contentious question would be at what point in technological progress do we want to draw the line. Could we live with the technology of the 1930s? Telephones, automobiles, radio, newsprint, but no nuclear bombs? Or would we rather wait until later in the twentieth century, when we could enjoy polio vaccines, solar panels, and television along with its arguable effect in making war and racial inequality intolerable? I imagine the best solutions would be dynamic combination systems based on the evidence of what is best for the planet and the people; maybe enjoying email and an island-wide web, alternative fuels for lightweight delivery vehicles, but free from the distractions of the world-wide web or the poisons of the plastics, radiation, and commercial-food industries. One thing any rogue society would surely need, though, would be an up-to-date military technology. It’s unfortunately a consistent truth that peoples with more primitive technologies will be destroyed by those with more advanced weaponry, innocent people killed or taken as slaves, the land and its resources appropriated.
Meantime, we should immediately form a technology-resistant, nature-friendly political party, putting aside previous left-right differences in favor of fighting together for the preservation of humanity and the earth. Both ‘sides’ would find something to recommend a party which topples gods such as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg (formerly a conservative belief—religion based on a higher power than humans) and advocates relinquishing hope that supernatural powers will save the planet (formerly a liberal belief—science and law limiting the ravages of human folly such as overconsumption, irresponsible disposal, rampant overpopulation, etc.). There is a Green Party, but… well, have I been lax in not following them, in my assumption that if they were really proposing anything revolutionary, some of their noise would have reached my ears?
All the while we need to work on a re-strengthening of human nature—both physical (our health and immune systems) and mental (our patience for real time and complex thought). Basically, we must reacquaint ourselves with the reality that growth entails pain, and that building character is better than being idly entertained by electronic blips. Also, whatever political channels we might have to work through, we must legislate limits on the creep of electronic surveillance, the imposition of universally-required digital identity cards, the resultant power of the state against ‘unscannable’ persons, and protection of Luddites from the necessity of using these technologies.
But the very first thing to do is to tone down the hate while trying to understand what makes people believe what they do. Politics is driven by needs… some are real, practical needs, such as for food and drink, shelter, etc.; others are less tangible but just as strong, such as the need for self-direction and dignity, a sense of being socially valued, security and freedom. Once we know what they are, we’ll want to think of how we might make sure those needs are addressed.
I hope to prompt people to think about how simplistic, knee-jerk thinking and virtue-signaling competitions are never helpful. Especially now, with so many worried about both the virus and the imposition of social and economic breakdowns, we need to see that people are (mostly) doing their best, with good intentions, to minimize the damages to everyone. Just because some people see a path to peaceful, sustainable, healthy living that you do not, does not make them your despicable political enemies or the representatives of a hate movement. I hope that all my cynical doubts are invalidated by the crazy breakthrough into golden New Age times predicted by the most starry-eyed liberals; make me believe in it by showing some individual decency, respect, and intelligent exploration of practical plans.
Bonus fact set: In an average quarter year, 34 million live human births occur worldwide. Only 14 million people die in those same three months. So to equal the birth rate—to stabilize the earth’s population—the death rate would have to take on 20 million more in 3 months. Fewer than a quarter million have died in three months of COVID-19. Eighty times as many people as have already died this year of the novel coronavirus would have to die (in every three-month period, and in excess of usual expected deaths) to balance the birth rate. Please do not stay home and procreate.