The inevitable cruelty of getting back to normal – COVID-19

So, we’re all stocked up, or as much as we can be without joining the hordes of hoarders. We’re starting the first day of our first week of social isolation. I’ve gotten over my first and second waves of anxiety. I’ve accepted the fact that we’re going to see a lot of deaths from COVID-19. I expect that future investigations will discover that there have already been many deaths from this disease that were unrecognized because no one had a way to test for SARS coronavirus 2. We’ll likely be able to trace a spike in pneumonia- and heart failure-related deaths starting back in early February.

Much of the economy is on hold, and I expect that we’ll be in a recession for at least the next year as a result. But I’m gradually growing less afraid that we’re going to see a worldwide depression. But that change from my earlier fear doesn’t gladden my heart much. The change is due to thinking back on previous threats and how we’ve incorporated them into our lives. As financial commentators phrase it, we ‘price it in.’

What I’m suggesting is that faced with the threat of worldwide economic depression, massive job losses, & all of the fallout that comes with a downturn, people will just start living their lives again. Yeah, I’m proposing that we will just start accepting a 1, 2, or 3% death rate from C19.

At first, the news of so many deaths will captivate our attention, and 80 or 90 out of every 100 news headlines will be about the toll the pandemic is taking. Then gradually you’ll see it diminish to a scorecard at the end of the news broadcast, the way that the TV news when I was a boy would report the day’s casualty and KIA numbers from Vietnam.

People will return to work. People will start going to clubs & bowling alleys and church services.

And we’ll keep getting sick, and a percentage will die, but the economy won’t shut down.

I’m basing this prediction on past behavior. In the 1960s, 55,000 Americans a year died in car wrecks. During the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 90s, more than 200,000 people a year died. In the last decade, gun deaths have been a major killer in the US. In 2017, there were more than 37,000 shooting-related deaths. Every year, there are between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths from influenza, and we can’t even convince some people to get vaccinations.

Eventually, I expect, we’ll develop some herd immunity and the lethality rate will drop.

But the really sad — and even cruel — reason that we’ll go back to business as usual is because the highest percentages of deaths from C19 are likely to be among the elderly, the poor, and folks who have preexisting conditions. Those people are already handily ignored by the more fortunate among us.

‘Bigotry’ vs ‘Racisim’

If you’ve ever wondered why some folks differentiate between the apparent synonyms ‘bigotry’ and ‘racism,’ here’s why I make that distinction: Anyone can be bigoted, but racism is built in to our social structure.

My guess is that most adults have some strain of bigotry in them, controlled or not, recognized or not. This isn’t to excuse ourselves. I believe that I have a responsibility to recognize my own bigotry and to try to overcome it. I hope that most people feel the same way.

Here’s how bigotry is defined:

  • n. The attitude, state of mind, or behavior characteristic of a bigot; intolerance.
  • n. The character or mode of thought of a bigot; obstinate and unreasonable attachment to a particular creed, opinion, practice, ritual, or party organization; excessive zeal or warmth in favor of a party, sect, or opinion; intolerance of the opinions of others.
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Here’s how racism is defined in the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition:

  • n.  The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
  • n. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.
  • n. The belief that each race has distinct and intrinsic attributes.
  • n. The belief that one race is superior to all others.
  • n. Prejudice or discrimination based upon race.

Based just on the dictionary definitions, you could say that racism is a particular sort of bigotry.

However, when I talk about racism in America, I’m usually talking about institutional racism or systemic racism, where things like laws, social norms, corporate regulations, habit, convenience, and tradition lead to discrimination against Black people (see also: systemic misogyny).

Systemic racism is based so much in the foundations of American life as to be invisible to white folks here. I’m guessing that it’s a lot less invisible to Black folks.

This kind of racism can lead to situations where individuals with no ingrained racial bigotry can unknowingly support highly racist structures. These individuals would probably be outraged if anyone pointed it out to them. “I don’t hate Black people,” they might say or think. “How on earth can anyone call me racist?”

I used this example recently when discussing this topic with an acquaintance. Imagine a law firm where every lawyer is white. You look at the corporate bylaws, and see that there is nothing obviously racist there. You listen to the conversations among the lawyers, and none of them say obviously bigoted phrases. So; where is the racism?

Then you look at the hiring practices of the firm. They tend to select recent graduates of certain colleges. Those colleges in turn select students mainly from certain high schools, which all tend to be exclusive private schools in wealthy towns. The hiring managers also rely heavily on recommendations of current and past members of the firm.

The entire selection process may as well be a ‘white filter’ that leads almost inevitably to the situation you see in the firm; no diversity at all. The various levels of this filter (town, school, college, legacy hires) were very likely set up by bigoted people with very strong biases toward helping along only white students and white graduates and white job candidates, possibly so long in the past that no one now remembers them. But their influence is as strong as the concrete and granite foundations of the elite schools they founded.

If you’re ever confused by something about racism you see on social media, for instance seeing someone write that ‘Black people can not be racist,’ when you’ve personally known bigoted Blacks… It’s likely that the writer is using the word ‘racism’ the way I’m defining it in this post.

How do you come to terms with the fact that you’re just ordinary?

I was asked “How do you come to terms with the fact that you’re just ordinary?” 

My answer is: Help others.

Very few people actually do this. That means that you’ll no longer be ordinary. In fact, you may appear to be extraordinary in the eyes of those you help. You can help build houses, give blood, raise money, visit isolated folks in nursing homes, staff phone banks. The need is literally endless.

Another possible side effect of helping others is that you’ll stop worrying so much about whether or not you’re ‘just ordinary,’ or how you appear to others. Knowing that you are contributing to the world can help you worry less about how others see you. 

Do a web search on ‘volunteer opportunities near me.’ you’re almost certain to find something that appeals to you.