In America today, we absolutely love to hate each other. (This post is about United States, but if you change the labels, it’s probably accurate for the situation in most other countries.) Of course, pitting one group of people against another group has been standard operating procedure for immoral political leaders for centuries. And this is certainly the case with our culture wars now. The Hillary haters and the Trump haters never took a break after the election. Each side just reloaded their arsenal and the vitriolic fight rages on, with the coronavirus pandemic as the new battle ground.
There is a suffocating amount of evidence that this fighting has been inflamed by foreign governments emotionally manipulating us like puppets, with social media platforms as a powerful conduit. Now the coronavirus pandemic enters at a perfect storm of fear, anxiety, and helplessness. People want to lash out…
And lashing out they are. With a vengeance I can’t remember seeing before in my lifetime. I’ve been through my share of riots and protests, from Stonewall to civil rights to the Vietnam war, but I’ve never seen such a visceral “us vs. them” divide as we’re seeing today.
We love to hate.
This rancorous hate seems to make us feel powerful instead of helpless. Instead of feeling weak and disenfranchised, I can feel strong by attacking someone on Facebook. If I can make them look naive, that will make me look sophisticated. If can make them look stupid, that will make me look smart. If I make them look heartless, that will make me look caring. At least that’s what we’re telling ourselves. In actuality, this virtue signaling is tearing our country apart.
The sides are sharply drawn and it’s pretty simple:
It’s. Just. Not. That. Simple.
How about we all holster our weapons, take a deep breath, maybe about five deep breaths, and attempt to view the current situation with our best attempt at rationality, critical thinking, and common sense?
Here’s what I can tell you about the debate on quarantines and lockdowns, wearing masks versus not wearing them, and democrats versus republicans. Full disclosure: I am not an epidemiologist, virologist, or doctor. But I do have the ability of critical thinking. So, here’s my hot take:
We could end this pandemic and completely erase the virus worldwide in two months. This would simply require issuing a Haz-Mat suit to all the 7.8 billion people there were on earth. This time window would give everyone who is currently sick, time to recover or die. And everyone else, time to avoid the virus, or contract it, incubate, get sick, and then recover or die. Unfortunately, we don’t have that many suits. It would take too long to manufacture them. And not everyone would wear them because they can’t have sex, eat pizza, or perform brain surgery in them.
So while this could work, it’s not very viable.
There is a second way we can end this pandemic and completely erase the virus worldwide in two months. This would require we completely quarantined all 7.8 billion people for eight weeks. Once again, that time window would give everyone who is currently sick, time to recover or die. And everyone else, time to avoid the virus, or contract it, incubate, get sick, and then recover or die. The problem with this option is, it would have to be everyone. There would be no one who could leave their home to keep the water system pumping, electrical plants operating, guard the prisons, or most alarmingly, broadcast Netflix. There could be no police, fire, hospitals, paramedics, courts, supermarkets, pharmacies, and no one in NASA to direct the space station. People who cut their finger chopping celery would bleed out and die, small kitchen fires would incinerate whole neighborhoods, and everyone needing urgent medical care, to continue their chemo, or simply get their prescription refilled would all drop dead. Since there would be no electricity, water, or places to buy food, people would be forced to go outside to hunt for wild animals, or grub for berries, which could prove quite difficult in places like Sydney, London, or San Francisco.
So, while we could eradicate the virus this way, once again, this isn’t really a viable alternative.
We have all formed opinions on the best ways out of this crisis. And we love to hate people who have formed opinions which are different from the ones we have. But that isn’t serving us; it’s destroying us. We need to face some hard truths and messy realities. Foremost among these is that we have way too many unknown variables to make decisions with safe, or predictable outcomes.
We just don’t know. I realize your cousin is a chiropractor who studied homeopathy, but he doesn’t know. I realize there’s a guy on YouTube claiming to be a researcher who says the virus is cured with sunlight, but he doesn’t know. I realize your best friend sent you a link to a video exposing a worldwide conspiracy to implant people with chips and put them in the Matrix, but she doesn’t know. I realize you’re very clever and you Googled a lot of stories about chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, vitamins, sunshine, and humidity, but you don’t know.
You don’t know. I don’t know. The government doesn’t know. The scientific community doesn’t know. Nobody does. Nobody. Like I said, there are just too many unknown variables. A few years from now we’re going to look back at this time and marvel at some of the blindingly obvious things we missed. And horrified by some of the dangerous and incorrect assumptions we made.
Right now, nobody really knows what the best path forward is going to be. Here’s what science, history, and common sense would suggest…
There isn’t going to be a magic vaccine any time soon. So far we have found no treatments that prevent death or make hospitalization unnecessary. There are promising possibilities for treatments, but they’re still likely to be months away. The most likely scenarios are ones in which the coronavirus poses some level of threat to the world for the next two years at least. That doesn’t necessarily mean pandemic level sickness and death for two years, but it does mean the virus will still be a threat and we will have to adopt changes in all areas of our lives: working, recreation and interacting with each other. Now let’s look at another fact…
We can’t close down the world for two years.
We just can’t, for many of the reasons mentioned in the scenarios above. It’s just not a viable option. Never has been and never will be.
We can't just lift all travel restrictions, quarantines, closures and social distancing measures either.
We just can’t, because if we do, there is likely to be millions of deaths that would have been preventable.
For most rational people, we recognize that in a contagious epidemic or pandemic, quarantine conditions are the only viable option to prevent the virus or disease from eradicating whole cities, countries, or even the world. So many of the quarantines, shelter-at-home advisories and social distancing practices were necessary and effective, even if a lot of us hate doing them. Just like kids hate taking medicine that can make them well, and doctors hate having to amputate a limb to save a life. Difficult decisions are sometime required.
Most rational people would also recognize that we can’t quarantine our way out of this crisis either. The economic and emotional devastation could take decades to heal. There are far too many people who fall between the cracks. The undocumented, homeless, and mentally ill are being eviscerated by the shutdowns. The day laborers, self-employed, and gig economy workers are already staring down desolation.
But we lost the plot...
We were advised that the quarantines and closures were necessary to #flattenthecurve so hospital and public health systems would not collapse from overcapacity. From a standpoint of health care delivery, this has been an almost worldwide success. The alarming exponential growth trajectory of the virus has been slowed greatly. But somehow the original objective transformed from “flatten the curve to protect against hospital overcapacity,” to, “keep everyone in quarantine until the last individual case of the virus is eradicated.” This option simply isn’t viable either.
How do we go forward from here?
I wish I knew. I wish you knew. I wish someone, anyone knew. But they don’t. But here’s what I do know, and know with every fiber of my being…
Loving to hate is not going to get us out of this alive. Judgment, condescension, and snarky social media posts aren’t going to deliver us a solution.
It’s. Just. Not. That. Simple.
If things open up now, you might be forced to choose between going to work in unsafe conditions or losing your job. You may be a caregiver for an elderly parent, or an immunocompromised child and be terrified of bringing home the virus. You may be a gig economy worker who doesn’t qualify for any assistance programs and you’re worried about losing everything. You may be an employer and know that even with PPP loans and other government programs, you’re a few weeks away from bankruptcy if things don’t open up. You might work in an industry deemed essential, so you don’t mind a quarantine because you know your job is waiting for you when this is all over.
You might wear a mask to protect others. You might not wear one because you’ve already had the virus and are probably not contagious. You might wear a mask because you have a compromised immune system and want to guard against getting sick. You might not wear a mask because you have a breathing disorder and can’t get enough air through one.
You might be a massage therapist who needs to start taking clients or you go bankrupt. You might be a massage therapist who is asymptomatic and if you start taking clients you could become a super-spreader and some of your clients could die.
It’s. Just. Not. That. Simple.
There is serious and severe income inequity in this country and the pandemic has inflamed the situation to an alarming degree. (That’s probably going to be the topic of a future post.) The healthcare system was a disaster before the pandemic, now it is getting deadlier. We can’t just keep passing multi-trillion-dollar relief packages. There is no money in the treasury for that; it’s a pyramid scheme. There are too many vulnerable people who are harmed if we stay in lockdown and too many vulnerable people harmed if we open too early. We have to find a better way to look after our brothers and sisters, those less fortunate than us.
I keep saying it’s just not that simple. But here’s what is simple: Loving to hate others is eating us up. To get through this we’re going to need to lose our need to hate, attack others, and virtual signal – and replace that behavior with kindness, understanding, and empathy. The world has never known a situation exactly like this and there are going to be some fits and starts as we figure it out. It’s not black and white; it requires nuance and understanding, love not hate.
Please. Let’s lose the judgment, vitriol, and condemnation. Let’s stop trying to make this a debate between grandma killers versus godless Communists. Recognize that there are legitimate concerns on both sides. Let’s have a conversation as Americans and find ways we can work as neighbors and fellow humans to get through this. Together.