It feels like everyone I know right now has just enough of a sore throat to wonder.
We just found out a day ago that we’re now one and two degrees away from fellow colleagues who have tested positive for covid-19.
The creeping dread follows that knowledge. I check my temperature often. I shake off bouts of anxiety the best I can. I try my damnedest to keep in touch with people and hope they’ll keep in touch with me.
I wait and watch and wait some more, looking desperately for distraction, always pensive and always grateful for the moments that I do have here that are good. There are many, but times, they are a changing.
This moment in our culture is a paradigm shift.
It’s a paradigm shift in that every aspect of our society–from our economic and geopolitical standing to our collective emotional and spiritual impulse–is forever changed by the arrival of this virus on our shores.
It’s tempting to see the silver lining, and to be sure there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic: for example, the return of blue skies in places that have been covered in smog for years is a sign of the planet healing as humans retreat indoors. You almost get this feeling that mother nature finally stood up and reclaimed the planet.
There is also the way in which this moment forces us to look inward, to return to a society where we come to see ourselves as symbiotic with even those we may have previously regarded as too different–our enemies, whether they are ‘enemies’ or not.
We have to hope, can compassion win the day, or empathy be returned to a country and a world that has chosen a more selfish path?
During his press briefing this morning, Gov. Cuomo–who often waxes philosophic during his fireside chats–questioned just that, whether we would make choices that aren’t just beneficial for ourselves but for the most vulnerable in society. He also wisely noted that during this time, we’re prone to see the best and the worst in our fellow humans and maybe also in ourselves. I find him presidential in this regard even if I don’t necessary appreciate some of his policy choices.
But as a philosopher, I find him astute. This has already tested me in ways that I feel it brings out my own best and worst. I find some sense of deep depravity within me and what I’d like to see out of this.
I take no joy in anyone’s death, but as I read stories of good-hearted, loving Americans and people all over the world who will succumb to this virus, I find myself wondering, angry with myself that some part of me seems to even wish, whether this virus could be more selective in taking from us the evildoers of the world as opposed to the caretakers, the lovers, the fighters of social good.
Why do the people who lie, gaslight, manipulate, and effectively cause the deaths of thousands by their own fecklessness manage to be the ones who are, time and again, never held accountable, while this virus will likely harm their own supporters at exponential rates?
If I believed in hell, it would make me hope for it.
But maybe this moment finally shifts us in a direction where people are held accountable, where society is better off, in spite of the terrible lessons we had to learn in the midst of this god-awful virus. There is the hope, then, this could be a shift big enough to wake up a society that’s been sleeping or apathetic.
But I’m also careful not to peddle my own false hope. A darker story could unravel.
Just today, we learned that the Department of Justice made an attempt to suspend habeas corpus. Already, there has been a dangerous level of finger-pointing that would lay these deaths at the hands of media workers and the opposition to those in power. Anyone who has studied fascism should pay special attention.
In their book How Democracies Die, Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt repeatedly argue that one of the easiest way for democracies to become authoritarian regimes is for those leaders to use crises and emergencies to make the case that a consolidation of their power is needed to keep the public safe, promising this to be a temporary change, and refusing to ever give the power back when the crisis is averted. (You could have gotten this lesson from watching the Star Wars prequels, too).
Worse, as Americans were stupidly snatching up toilet paper last week, illustrating how little we’ve learned, the second item they were rushing to buy was to stock up their firearms arsenal. Nowhere else in the world has seen mass violence, so far as we know, in the wake of coronavirus, but what happens when hospitals are overrun in America, and there’s only one ventilator left for Granny?
I think we’ll see the best and worst of both worlds: the idiots who solve their problems with guns and lies and the pathetic machismo their tiny hands demand, as well as our own version of the Italians singing songs from their balcony.
On my daily walk to the cemetery today, I passed by a sidewalk chalk drawing of a little girl standing in a circle and the words “peace” and “love” written around her alongside a drawing of the world. It occurred to me that whether this virus–or the humans who caused it to spread all too quickly–deals us death like we’ve never seen before or dissipates in a matter of weeks, nothing it can do to us will ultimately silence or snuff out the human spirit, in all its enduring creativity, its passion, or its love.
And yet, now is also a time of sincere vigilance, because even though love wins in the end, the suffering and pain right now are no less real, no less painful for those of us who must endure it.
It’s for that reason, as we’re in “the best of times” and the “worst of times” that we live in the now gratefully, mercifully, and crossing what we hope for with what we refuse to forget–the promise of bringing one another the love we know wins when that end arrives. I’ll fail at that; you probably will too, but the story doesn’t have to end there.
Until then, stay safe.