Viral, too

The Virus has turned everything upside-down and backwards: we were mentally isolated and physically free. Now we’re physically isolated. About our minds, that remains to be seen…

We were isolated by our screens into little mental bubbles, each with our own sets of facts and concerns, just a couple of weeks ago. This made the “providers” filthy rich, and broke our elections, and pitted us against each other, and deadlocked Congress, among other things. 

Today we are isolated into little sheltering-in-place, social-distancing, physical bubbles.

The mental isolation had allowed massive political rallies, sports events, concerts, religious gatherings, urban transportation of immense crowds to and from work every day — without ever disturbing our “privacy.”

We were so engrossed in our tiny screen-worlds, we didn’t care what the person in the next seat thought or felt. Our “community” was in our pocket. If we didn’t like the taxi driver, or the coffee, or the candidate, we could alert a million others in seconds. We thought they cared. They “Liked” us.

Well, that’s over now. For a little while. A few days, maybe. When a paradigm changes, it doesn’t play a sound file. We keep on doing what worked before. Until we learn it doesn’t work the same way anymore. Then two things happen: we get upset; and we see new possibilities.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. For instance, I am very upset just now, more than I can ever remember being upset. I know somebody who is ignoring the whole distancing thing and going off to hang out with friends of friends in a college town. And — and — I see possibilities that were never available to us before. So I’m just gonna be upset, and turn my attention to this new situation in which we’re all immersed.

This new physical isolation may allow a new mental freedom to congregate — not be aggregated, but to gather ourselves — in even greater numbers, online. And now, instead of being aggregated into political, ideological, fearful rumor-bubbles for the profit of the “social” media “providers,” we might, we may, get together and confront the set of undeniable facts that, so far, despite all attempts, seem to be spin-proof. 

Two facts are with us now. Our normal way of being is potentially lethal to anybody near us; and nobody is immune.

There’s no way to make those two facts mean anything else but what they mean: get away, for the sake of yourself and everybody else. Them’s the Rules. 

Now, play.

To take effective action to stop the pandemic and heal our deeply wounded society — human society, all of us — we can’t keep allowing this market-segmentation of public opinion, in the pervasive atmosphere of terror from the top. And we do have alternatives.

We don’t have to worry about hanging out with people we think are scary. We invented table-manners to deal with that, you know, centuries ago. But there were only so many of us that could fit at a table back then. We invented “being polite” so we wouldn’t stick a fork in our neighbor’s head when they said something snarky. We have reached a density where we now need to communicate online for awhile, until we can be trusted to play well with others. 

That’s what this big mirror we’re calling a pandemic is doing for us. Giving us a well-deserved Time-Out.

We’re out of each other’s reach. So while we’re alone, now that we’ve all binge-watched all the stupid TV shows one last time, we might get to know and appreciate people whose lives we never understood before. They might turn out to be even more fascinating than Game of Stones, or whatever. 

That would be an historical first for humanity, communicating at this unprecedented scale. I don’t mean billions of instant messages between students in the same classroom; I mean one conversation that includes a billion people, and more. 

It used to take starting a war to get that many people on the same page about anything. But wars are a dime a dozen now. As a global community — but we have never experienced “global community” before. 

Now may be the time.

Because: your neighbors’ wellbeing matters to you, now. And yours to theirs. And “neighbor” has new meaning now, as well. We have reason to thank SARS2 for that. In the very act of isolating us, it has brought us all closer than we ever thought possible. You don’t have to like it. But we humans get used to things. Look at the mess we’ve made, if you don’t think so.

As long as your neighbors — even the ones now locked in a cage out in some rural one-industry town, or languishing in a squalid border detention camp — as long as one of them is ill, somebody you know, maybe you, will be, soon. 

This flies in the face of Economics-as-we-know-it. Grown-ups are supposed to understand that “self-interest” makes everything run on time, take the money and screw everybody else. 

If that was ever actually so, it has surely been knocked into a cocked hat now. That paradigm has left the building. It doesn’t work anymore (if it ever did) to try to wall off — much less, kill off — the people we don’t like. That’s not an option now. 

Our only option is to kill off a germ. And until we do that, our used-to-be normal behavior is off the table too.

Deal with it.

Do you get it yet? We are making this up as we go, now. We have to choose how we are going to be. We need to choose to be people who act with compassion and sanity now. We’re in for some really tough times. 

It’s time to get on the court. It’s your call.

©Copyright 2020 Peter Barus

1 thought on “Viral, too”

  1. Nice work! I resonate with your poetic call to awaken from our collective capitalist hypnotic trance

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