Bear with me for a bit. I’m going somewhere here.

In Plato’s allegory of The Cave, a group of prisoners have been chained up in a cave for all of their lives. They can communicate with each other, but their only contact with the outside world comes in the form of a tiny window high up on the wall through which the sun shines onto the wall opposite of them. Upon this sunny wall, the prisoners can see the shadows of people as they walk past the window (which is at ground level outside) above them.

The prisoners have no reference for what they are looking at when they stare at the wall but, being human, they have speculated. The shadows move as though alive and seem to interact with each other, merging and dividing as they watch. Gradually, bit by bit, a theory has emerged as to the nature of the shadows, and, by extension the nature of their world and the prisoners’ existence within it.

Then one day, a prisoner manages to escape.

For the first time, this escapee is able to stand up, to walk around and study the prison from a different perspective. The escapee turns around and sees the window from which their light source emanates and is entranced. What is this? Unable to resist the light, the prisoner climbs to the window and emerges into the outside world…

Revelation! The escapee stands outside the prison and meets the people out there. People who have never been prisoners at all! There is an entire world around the prison that has nothing to do with shadows cast onto a wall. Even as the escapee is pondering this, they see for the first time that everyone out there is casting a shadow, just like the ones on the wall!

Overcome by the enormity of all this, the escapee hurried back to the prison, eager to tell the others the truth…

…and the other prisoners try to kill the escapee.

Upon hearing the news that their world is not as it seems, and that in fact all their theories and beliefs are based on completely false, the remaining prisoners are horror stricken. The notion that their entire existence is utterly inconceivable. And so, as one, they attack and try to kill the escapee.

Keep this part in mind as we go forward.

Protest
Source.

So my company came off of high readiness last week, meaning I’ve got a bit more time on my hands to follow the news. And over the weekend one of the big stories coming from our neighbour to the South is about these dingbats staging protests against the COVID-19 lockdown in several States.[1] To be clear, these guys are idiots who are recklessly endangering everyone around them. They are essentially staging a temper tantrum against the realities of medical science, and there’s more than a little evidence that this is a deliberately astroturfed movement serving explicitly partisan ends.[2]

The easy answer here is basic stupidity, and as unkind as that may seem I am totally putting that down as a very big factor here. I’ve worked with and even had to train people who are absolute thud-fucks and even they can wrap their heads around the concept of “sick is bad, so listen to doctor!” These dumbasses are literally protesting against their best interests, and declaring that they will take their friends and neighbours with them as they pursue self-destruction.

There is, however, deep down, the smallest kernel of something real here. Not in their arguments (those are all stupid and wrong), but a seed of something real that’s fuelling their outrage and selfishness. These protestors deserve to be dismissed, but this seed needs to be addressed. Otherwise some shifty political operators are going to continue harnessing and building upon it to try and build a movement.

The fact is this: A pandemic is fundamentally dehumanizing. On a basic, emotional level people are not entirely wrong when they recoil from the necessary isolation measures in horror or disgust.

Take any average person. Consider their age, health, fitness level, income. Add to this their educational background, their personal habits and beliefs. Include their life experiences, their hopes dreams and aspirations. What about their social situation? Do they have a large circle of friends? Co-workers? A community or congregation?

Consider all this information which describes this unique individual, then consider this individual in the face of a disease like the novel Coronavirus, where nobody in the human population can be expected to have any innate immunity and all of that person’s many facets just boil down to one single quality:

Infected or healthy?

Everything else is irrelevant.

You might be thinking (I know a lot of people who are) that your personal qualities might give you an edge in surviving the virus. A younger, healthier, individual with no pre-existing conditions has a better chance of shaking off the Coronavirus, so that should matter, right?

Wrong. Because even if you walk away with barely a sniffle, you’re still infected. There is no pre-existing immunity in the human population, so your intrinsic health will do nothing to stop you from being a carrier. Which means you can infect others. Who can in turn infect others. And so on, and so on. And many of those others will die.[3]

So no matter who you are, you have to take the same precautions as everyone else.

Hell, even if you’re given to selfishness, there’s the reality that a bad enough pandemic can overwhelm the health care system, increasing your chances of a negative COVID-19 outcome, as well increasing the mortality rates from conventional illness & injury as well. Unless you were massively wealthy, you’d have a hard time isolating yourself completely from the Pandemic’s effects.[4]

So that leaves pretty much all of us in that state where our entire existence can be summarized by a single yes or no question: Infected or healthy? Yes or no? One or zero?

On top of that, whatever your status, you’re still only one point out of millions in a nation-wide data set. You are no better or worse than anyone else in this equation, and the only control you can exert over this system boils down to staying that way if healthy, or not infecting anyone if sick. So not only are you on the same level as everyone else, but you value in this one or zero category centre as much around your ability to help others as much as your self.

Everyone else. Your family, friends, loved ones. Coworkers, colleagues, fellow congregants…total strangers. Those neighbours you see every day but don’t talk to. The staff at your favourite Timmy’s. That sketchy looking homeless guy you sometimes see near your work…

All of these people are your equal. All of them are your responsibility. Hell, if that homeless guy gets sick, but manages to get himself into a isolation at a hospital, you owe him. He’s done you a tremendous favour.  If he can get isolated and you don’t, he might actually be better than you…

No wonder people are mad.

Incidentally, this is where deeply ingrained prejudice becomes an extra liability. Not that there’s ever a good time to irrationally hate people based on their race, gender, religion, class or whatever. But in this particular case, with these protests being drummed up to serve political designs…well…Prejudice makes you angry over nothing. An angry person is easy to manipulate…for nothing.

Getting back to the kernel, we’ve been told all our lives that we’re special. That our accomplishments matter. Now suddenly, it doesn’t. I’d be mad too. I am mad. I’m an individual, I got qualities and shortcomings.  I deserve to be treated accordingly, but here’s this virus telling me “Nah, I don’t care.” Except it’s even worse than that! The Coronavirus doesn’t have a mind of its own. Hell, based on some definitions, a virus isn’t even alive. And yet this not-alive thing is going to make us all into nothing.

So what’s the answer? Does accepting the realities of COVID-19 mean a descent into nihilism? At the risk of sounding trite, it depends on how you look at it.

If you’re no better than anyone else, then no-one else is better than you. If you have a responsibility to everyone else, then they, equally, have a responsibility to you. Even the one who are better than you. So long as you’re holding up your end of the bargain, you have the right to expect the same from others.

There’s a word for this. It’s called Solidarity.

You could be an absolute nobody – and let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things, most of us are – but if you’re doing your part you get to stand stand equal to anyone else. Meanwhile, this asshole making all his fancy sounding arguments about “re-opening the country?” You get to look down on them! In a world where COVID-19 reduced everyone to the same level, this guy got led by money and power to beclown himself on national TV.

Those bawling idiots in the protests?  They don’t even have wealth as an excuse.

sacrifice
Now and then, the mask slips.  Source.

But is there any benefit to having wealth and power at all? Well, if doing your part lets you hold your head up high with everyone else, helping others to do the same doubles and triples that pride. Helping hundreds multiplies it even further. The more wealth and power you bring to bear to help others, the more value that wealth and power actually has.[5]

So in the face of a Pandemic that reduces us all to almost nothing, there’s still comfort to be found in solidarity. In the fact that we’re all in this together, that by helping ourselves we help each other. That by helping each other we help ourselves. A similar impulse has united human beings throughout centuries as they faced plagues, famines, and other adversities.

The lesson of Plato’s allegory is that listening to the escapee means liberation. But that liberation is also scary. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that some people prefer the comfort of being prisoners.

But they’re still acting like dicks.

____________

[1] Part of the reason these knuckleheads were front and centre in my feed is that I try to keep an eye on what the weirdos are up do. So weirdos tend to take up a disproportionate part of my browser history.

[2] There’s also the reality that there will be no economic recovery until the Pandemic is over.  It’s hard to do business with bodies piling up and the hospitals imploding.

[3] This also ignores the fact that many people have more risk factors than they think. A lot of my fellow soldiers were shrugging off the (personal) risks until I pointed out the fact that smoking is a pretty major aggravating factor.

[4] And even then I wouldn’t bet on it. Last week I assumed that oil would always retain some of its value, whatever the stock market did.  Three days ago crude plunged to negative value, so what the fuck so I know?

[5] I can’t find the exact quote right now, but Dr Martin Luther King (in a sermon on the parable of Dives and Lazarus) once described the importance of seeing wealth as an opportunity or a means to be righteous, not as an ends unto itself.  This was the difference between the rich man who would enter heaven, and the one who would not.

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