COVID and Systemizing Fear
Does one’s "safety" from potential harm trump all other considerations?
Since the COVID Scare began in March of 2020, I have been at pains to show how, from start to finish, The Narrative defies the facts, the science regarding the nature of the virus, the quality of the standard mode of testing for it, and the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of masks and all other “social distancing” protocols.
Here, though, I focus instead upon the profound, incalculable psychological damage that has been visited upon untold numbers of people in the name of combatting, not “the Plague,” as President Trump and, ironically, his enemies alike would have us think it is, but a corona cold virus with (at a minimum) a 99.5% survival rate.
Even if, as I hope to demonstrate, the survival rate was appreciably lower; even if it was a death sentence for all who contracted it, the cost that millions were willing to pay to keep themselves safe from it was, as the economists would say, “prohibitive.”
This is putting it mildly.
Anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, loneliness, alienation, ostracism, rage—these are the dominant emotional states of the Age of the Great UnReason, the Age of COVID. They are pervasive, stemming, as they do, from the decimation of numerous jobs and businesses, the closing of schools, and the isolation mandated by all “Social Distancing” protocols. Families, friendships, romantic relationships, communities, and whole countries—all ruptured, quite possibly forever, courtesy of “restrictions” that have been implemented for the better part of a whole year now and on which far too many were all too eager to sign off.
First, we need to be clear that for as common as it is to blame the pain and devastation of every sort that has been visited upon hundreds of millions of human beings around the planet upon “the Pandemic” or “the Virus,” these allusions to impersonal referents, however comforting, ultimately serve to acquit people of any and all responsibility for inflicting this damage upon themselves and one another:
It is, to be certain, not some abstract or impersonal entity that accounts for the state of the world as we find it today (It is not that, as someone I know recently said to me, “the World has changed”); it is people, countless numbers of breathing, flesh and blood human beings, who, through their choices, produced the current situation with all of its pain for legions of men, women, and children.
Second, we need to spell out precisely what has happened. It’s simple, really:
Some people (unfortunately, millions) have chosen to “distance” themselves from friends, relatives, neighbors, and their fellow citizens generally simply and solely because of their fear of the possibility that they will be infected with a virus.
Although they have no reason to think that those with whom they would ordinarily interact are sick or infected, they nevertheless believe that so long as just the possibility of contracting a virus exists, it is better not to have any physical contact with anyone whatsoever.
Considering that human beings are mortal and that there exists an infinite number of things, including gazillions of viral and bacterial infections, that can kill us at any time, the all-consuming fear elicited by this single object must strike all who are willing to think about it for more than a split second as wildly irrational.
Third, those, like some of our friends and relatives, who have “socially distanced” themselves from the people in their lives have assigned categorical importance to their own survival over and above all other considerations. Namely, they have decided that their fear of the possibility of them getting sick always overrides the mental and emotional well-being of those whose lives they could’ve enriched or otherwise made better had they not reduced the live, full-blooded relationships they once enjoyed to a two-dimensional virtual reality.
Human beings need real communion with one another. They need to be in the presence, the physical presence, of other people. Humans, perhaps owing to that marvelous and all-too frequently underappreciated sense that we call “touch,” need to be able to be close enough with others to make physical contact. They needn’t necessarily make contact every time, or even any time, they meet. When together they needn’t even speak. Just being within close proximity of one another, though, affirms the community of persons and serves as a reminder that “no man is an island” in a way that even the liveliest of Zoom meetings never could.
Not that the very experience of being human shouldn’t suffice to make this point, but, for those who still need it, there exists myriad of scientific studies that substantiate in spades the immeasurable physical and mental benefits of touch.
Dr. Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, summarizes its significance. He remarks that “the science of touch convincingly suggests that we’re wired to—we need to—connect with other people on a basic physical level. To deny that is to deprive ourselves of some of life’s greatest joys and deepest comforts.”
Keltner is more specific:
“A pat on the back, a caress of the arm—these are everyday, incidental gestures that we usually take for granted, thanks to our amazingly dexterous hands.
“But after years spent immersed in the science of touch, I can tell you that they are far more profound than we usually realize: They are our primary language of compassion, and a primary means of spreading compassion” (emphasis added).
Fourth, everyone has their share of irrational fears. Yet those who have been hyper-fearful of COVID have endorsed “the New Normal,” i.e. the systematization of their fear. They have, in effect, compelled others to live with their fear or face legal and social sanctions for failing to do so. Had they resisted the mandates of governors, the universalization of the very fear that these same politicians and their media apologists stoked in the first place, the Old Normal would still be with us and legions of people would’ve been spared much anguish.
Ironically, most (but certainly not all) of those who insist upon masks and “Social Distancing” also style themselves the most unabashed champions of “inclusion,” “tolerance,” “togetherness,” and “acceptance.” Yet the systemic and systematic changes that they have demanded, or at least endorsed, have done nothing more or less than institutionalized exclusion, intolerance, separateness, and alienation.
The same people who loudly, indignantly declared that we mustn’t build “walls,” but “bridges,” have favored the erection of millions of walls, from facial coverings to plastic visors and signs requiring people to maintain no less than six feet of distance between one another.
The so-called New Normal has given rise to what we may call, “structural” or “institutional Othering.” This is a system under which everyone, given the concealment of just those features—facial features—that, more than any others, individuate a person as a unique personality, renders each person foreign to and an object of dread to others.
We are all, in a quite literal sense, Untouchables now.
The fear that led to this state of affairs is unquestionably genuine. Those in our families, among our friends, and within our communities who chose their own safety at all costs, including the cost of being there (in person) for us when doing so could’ve helped us, never meant to harm us. Odds are, because they have been consumed with this fear, and because this fear has been normalized throughout the country—because it’s become the thing—they most surely aren’t even aware that they could’ve hurt us.
This, however, does not mean that they can escape responsibility for how they have chosen to act on that fear. Respect for both individual autonomy and the fact of human interconnectivity demands that people assume responsibility for their actions. Unless this is the case, there is no human dignity.
I end this essay with a question that I recently posed to a friend of mine who, while opposing institutional Othering, nevertheless has her fair share of fear of contracting COVID:
Suppose, I said, that you and I were out and about and a handful of human predators set upon us. I avail myself of an opportunity to run, leaving you behind to the tender mercies of the thugs. They do all manner of evil to you.
If you survived, would you still have the same degree of respect and appreciation for me if I simply, and sincerely, explained to you that it was from fear for my own life that I had to “distance” myself from you when I did?
Suppose, instead, that you were killed. Do you think that your loved ones would be perfectly understanding of my decision to distance from you in your moment of need on the basis of my desire to survive?
At least my fear, under these circumstances, would be quite rational, for a person in a situation of that kind could very well be injured or killed. Furthermore, the odds of my meeting this fate are far greater than the odds of your average person meeting it courtesy of COVID, and even greater than the odds of your average person getting sick and dying after having contracted COVID from those whom one has no reason to believe are anything but in good health.
Or would you and/or your family members hold me in higher esteem had I stood by your side to fight off our attackers, even at the cost of both of us dying?
My friend admitted that my analogy is apt and that she most definitely would not accept my explanation as a legitimate one. Nor, do I suspect, would anyone else.
The point? Life is not an unqualified good and one’s safety from potential harm does not trump all other considerations.
Anyone who conducts him or herself as if these things were true survives—but at the cost of flourishing. Such a person lives, but is never fully alive. From fear, he or she is wasteful of, rather than grateful for, the limited time, but bountiful opportunities, allotted to human beings on this Earth for their self-actualization and the advancement of the betterment of the world.
Someone with whom I was once close, and who had chosen to “distance” herself from me last March, had recently informed me that she hadn’t been in touch as frequently because she had grown depressed, given her loss of a social life and her inability to travel, as she always enjoyed doing. She added, though, that she knows that these are “First World problems,” considering that she still has work, food, a home, etc.
I got her meaning. Her pain, though, is warranted. And the sources of her pain are only superficially “First World problems,” for the desire that is being frustrated on her part is the most fundamental of all human desires: The desire for community with other human beings. This desire, in turn, is born of recognition of the truth of what I’ve been saying here: A good life, a life well-lived, as opposed to existence at all costs, consists in, well, enjoying as enriched an existence as possible, of taking advantage while you can of as many opportunities as interest you.
Of course, this person is one of millions of co-authors of the system of Othering that now constrains her. She and those of like mind have indefinitely forestalled the good life that they could and presumably want to live—all of the while appearing to be oblivious to the fact that they could die this minute.
Do or die—the old saying now assumes new meaning in light of all of this: Those who have stopped “doing” for fear of dying are, in a human, spiritual, moral sense, dying. This is, to be certain, tragic.
It is unjust, however, that the systemic Othering that they have made possible has harmed so many others that never consented to it.