Of all the things to come out of the response to Covid-19, the destruction of the boundaries between individuals, which has for decades been gradually eroded by groupthink and collectivism, has become so complete that it is becoming accepted as the norm, even among those who profess a strong belief in individual, self-control, and autonomy.
For those unaware, I have changed nothing about my behavior in recent weeks, except that many of my socializing options have evaporated–through no fault of my own and in a way that was beyond my control. I already washed my hands regularly, thanks to a fairly lengthy history of working in food service. But I’m not wearing a face mask. I’m not wearing gloves when I go out. I am ordering more things from Amazon, but that’s because physical retailers like Wal-Mart are busy shooting themselves in the feet by forcing people to wait in lines like animals, and I refuse to be treated that way. I’m also classified as an essential worker, but this only means I’m engaging in less non-work interaction. If I had been furloughed by the decrees of Caesar, I would only be having more company over and attending more social gatherings, because human beings are social animals. There is a reason that solitary confinement is considered torture.
Just this past Friday at midnight, I gathered with fourteen other people (at its peak) in Central Square in Keene for a nightcap. We drank, some people smoked marijuana, and we talked–as humans do… on a regular basis… because, if they don’t, they go insane.
This is well-known about humans. Children who feel isolated develop strong emotional bonds with pets, stuffed animals, and other inanimate objects. It is not, however, unique to children. The videogame Portal demonstrated definitively with its Companion Cube that adults will still form emotional bonds with inanimate objects as a coping mechanism for isolation. That the Companion Cube is considered beloved among the Portal playerbase despite being a cube that just sat there unless the player moved it is jarring, and the isolation of Portal was imaginary.
Now we are all isolated, in a grand effort, whether conspiratorial or unintentionally coordinated, to destroy the human spirit.
Society is faced with the Trolley Problem. For those unfamiliar with it, the basic concept is that a train is hurtling down the tracks and can go left or right. There are people tied to each branch of the track, and the question is which group of people should be killed, and which group should be saved. It is a joke exercise, as it demonstrates only the answerer’s prejudices and priorities, dependent on how the two groups are differentiated. It is also slightly inaccurate to our situation. A train is coming toward us, and the circumstances of the universe are forcing us to choose one of the tracks onto which we’ll be tied. “What do you choose, human?” asks the universe. “Red or black?”
To be even more accurate, there isn’t only one train that is going to choose one of two tracks. There is an unfathomable number of trains, and a literally infinite number of tracks from which one can choose. One still has to pick a track to lie upon, and “being paralyzed in fear, unable to make its choice” is also one of the tracks. Pick your path and hope for the best; there is no escaping it. Nor should we really be too concerned about this. We make these types of decisions every single day. Perhaps on your way to work you ran over a nail on the highway, your tire blew, you lost control, and you totaled your car. Guess you chose the wrong track that day. No one could have predicted the outcome, because no one can possibly taken into account the billions of possibilities and variables that lead to the nail being in the highway, or to the likelihood that you would run over it.
This is why I’m a fatalist. I can control my own actions and make my own choices, but I exist in a universe that is constantly changing, on a planet with trillions of other organisms who are categorically beyond my control, even if I was the sort of person to desire control over them. The reality of human existence is that we make decisions based on horrifically limited information, and then we hope for the best, because there is nothing else that we can do–not making a decision is its own decision.
I choose to be free and to do the things that I want to do, because I could die today–CoVid-19 or not. I could be standing in the wrong location when the boiler in the basement explodes, which is extremely unlikely but not impossible. I could experience a catastrophic tire blowout when I leave the house later. I could be t-boned in my car by an idiot who was texting and driving. I could be hit by a drunk driver. I could be shot by an anti-trans bigot. Are any of these things likely? No, but they could happen. I don’t expect them to happen, because, as yet, I haven’t died from any of these things, and so I will continue living my life as normal.
On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
The odds may be greater that I will contract CoVid-19. However, if the virus is as contagious as is suggested, then I’m going to catch it anyway, and then there’s still a very low chance that I’ll actually die from it. If the virus is not as contagious as is said, then why would I subject myself to the torment of isolation and self-quarantine? It would seem as though people are saying that it doesn’t matter whether I self-quarantine or not, because it wouldn’t have much impact on the results either way.
This is because I receive no end of criticism from people for choosing to go out. Much of the hate comes from self-described individualists and libertarians. Yesterday was Easter Sunday, historically an important holiday to Americans, and the Karens of social media have been out in numbers admonishing people for breaking the law by having family gatherings. “This is ILLEGAL!” remarked one actual Libertarian candidate for some office or another. She could only betray the principles of individualism to a greater degree if she had called the police on her neighbors.
Then, of course, came the suggestion, “This is a threat to MY health!”
But it isn’t, Karen. You’re in your home glaring out through the window at your neighbors. They’re not knocking on your door, and they’re definitely not breaking into your home to cough on you. First of all, there is no rational basis for assuming that any one of those gathered has CoVid-19, and there is further no reason to assume that CoVid-19 would even be a threat to you, since there is plenty of evidence to suggests that it causes no symptoms in some people. However, even if we give you the greatest benefit of the doubt, and we assume that those gathering do have CoVid-19 and that you would die from it, it is irrelevant. They are “over there.” You are cowering inside your home, sitting in safety on your couch, using your phone to continue your meager existence vicariously through social media, where you are criticizing those people who have chosen not to obey you.
I would suggest that if you truly believe that every individual human being is a festering plague rat waiting to kill you, then your best bet is to remain at home. I would further suggest that, if this sounds like you, then you have already sacrificed your humanity and you are already counted among the casualties of CoVid-19.
It would be no threat to you, Karen, if I went into my backyard and tried to learn how to juggle by using chainsaws. That would only be a threat to my own well-being. As long as you stay on your property and stare at me through cracked blinds with binoculars, my stupidity would have absolutely no effect on you. To say that my learning to juggle chainsaws is a threat to your health shows a wild and insane misunderstanding of the difference between you and me. I’m me, and I’m over here. You’re you, and you’re over there. If you don’t want to risk getting hit by one of my spinning chainsaws, don’t come into my backyard. If you don’t want to risk getting CoVid-19, then stay at home. But, if you’re staying at home, please wrap your mind around that basic idea that you are staying at home, and therefore what I’m doing out here, in public, has no effect on you whatsoever–because I’m not around you. I’m not near you. I can’t get you sick because you are staying at home.
If you want to stay at home, okay. I don’t agree, but you live your life the way that you want, and I’ll live my life the way that I want.