Our public culture has changed dramatically since the pandemic lockdowns began in March. Unprecedented interventions in individuals’ lives and curtailments of their liberties have become the “new normal,” and will remain so for the indefinite future.
The rationales have been shifting week to week. At first, we were ordered to stay home, to shelter in place, to flatten the curve and ensure that hospitals were not overwhelmed. But after six months of this, a simple slogan has taken root: We must sacrifice to stop the spread, to save lives.
There is no other way, our politicians, our media, and our fellow citizens admonish. If you are a good person, you will submit, for as long as it takes. Deviate from the rules, and you are a bad, selfish person, who does not care if others die.
We have been introduced to the corona gods and they are ferocious, and make many demands. They require children to forgo school, or to attend school by staring into a screen. That is, for those whose parents or school districts can afford the screens. They can play together only if masked, faceless and muffled, six feet apart. Their cognitive development is likely to be hampered by their inability to read facial expressions, perhaps for a lifetime, but that is an unavoidable price we must pay, or so we are told.
The unquantifiable psychological effects of this disruption, as well as the increasing hunger, loss of future earning potential – especially for poor children —are briefly mourned, but then dismissed.
The corona gods ask much, too, of young adults. Whether they were embarking on new careers or enrolled in institutions of higher learning, they must surrender their hopes and aspirations and separate from each other, however contrary it might be to their natures. Their rapidly increasing levels of depression and suicidality are too bad, but according to our experts, another necessary sacrifice.
The bereavement of business owners, watching their life’s work turned to ashes, is unavoidable collateral damage, the politicians say mournfully. The same applies to the workers, who can no longer support their families. It is terrible that the already-poor are suffering the economic effects most, but, they inform us, there is no alternative. That is true, too, for the millions who are facing starvation in other parts of the world because of our response to the pandemic, or who are becoming infected with malaria, HIV, or tuberculosis, which are resurging for the same reasons.
Substance abusers, who relied upon support groups and human contact to cope are overdosing as the rug is pulled out from under them; they are another casualty we must accept, the experts say. Farmers committing suicide in others parts of the world, because lockdowns have deprived them of the ability to feed their families, are unfortunate collateral damage, as are the countless men, women and children trapped in crowded quarters with their abusers.
We are not to ask certain questions, according to the politicians, the experts, our friends.
Do not ask, for example, what if we devoted a fraction of the resources we are expending to test, to trace, to quarantine, to renovate, to sanitize, on the 25,000 of our fellow humans who die of hunger each day in Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Kenya? Why have we not gone to the ends of the earth for them, all of these years?
Do not ask: are we ultimately causing more deaths, or ruining more lives, in the long term, than the coronavirus itself?
Do not ask when this will end or, what, precisely, is the infection fatality rate at which we must stop life in its tracks, indefinitely.
Do not speculate that it is dangerous to allow this curtailment of our liberties, to set this precedent, or remind us of the words etched in history: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Do not ask why, if the virus will explode exponentially should we cease to live in this shadow world, cases and deaths have only declined in Stockholm, and do not suggest that our media, politicians and even experts seem to have forgotten that correlation does not imply causation.
Do not ask about t-cell cross immunity— are you crazy? Have you been watching Fox News? Do not ask: might it all unravel, sooner rather than later?
And certainly do not ask: should we, perhaps, accept the existence of this pathogen without tearing apart the foundations of our society?
It’s over when we say it’s over, they say. We must keep each other safe. So cover your nose and mouth. Stand six feet apart. Stay home. Comply.