There are two perspectives on disease. On the one hand, there is germ theory. Germ theory suggests that invisible particles spread between people and make you sick. So far so good. The other theory is that sickness is an invasion of life in a body that lacks life. The two theories don’t contradict each other. They simply both provide a different perspective on the same problem. One of these theories is reductionistic, the other is holistic.
If infectious disease is framed as a problem of germs that spread between individuals, then the solution becomes to curtail everyone’s individual liberty. Take this theory to its natural conclusion and human beings are not allowed to touch each other, because germs will spread and some people will die as a consequence. On the other hand, if you take the holistic perspective and argue that the problem lies in someone whose body is incapable of defending itself, then you place the responsibility in the hands of those whose bodies are incapable of withstanding the virus.
European nations take pride in their civil liberties. But if we are going to be held responsible for the proliferation of invisible bits of genetic material that can leave our own bodies without us noticing, then whatever liberty we might theoretically have has no practical consequences I could possible care about. I don’t really care if I can cast a ballot once every four years that determines whose face I see on my TV. I care whether I can wander outside my house, without being asked for a reason by a police officer.
I’m not really scared of the Corona virus. I’m scared of the precedents that this virus is now setting across Europe. Liberalism ceases to have any meaning when self-proclaimed liberal politicians in France and other nations demand that citizens have a form ready that explains to a police officer what motive you have to leave your home. Our governments are now tasked with preventing the proliferation of invisible particles between human beings that spread when we touch each other or spend time in each other’s vicinity. If we accept that this is now one of our government’s main responsibilities, then it inevitably means conceding that the government has control over every single aspect of our lives.
My expectation is that we have now reached the panic stage. Within a few days, governments, corporations and other organizations are going to realize that these measures can not be sustained indefinitely. These measures are supposed to “flatten the curve”, but I really don’t feel like “flattening the curve”, if it means life has to be shut down for a year. Because, keep in mind, that’s what’s now being asked of us. The measures you see right now are supposed to last for about a month or two, but the virus doesn’t simply disappear during that time. Remove the measures and the virus will simply flare up again.
The problem of course, is that no politician wants to sit there on stage and announce that old people are going to drop dead like flies. If you have the choice between 50,000 deaths and 500,000 deaths, as Boris Johnson apparently had when he announced his “herd immunity” strategy, you’re inevitably forced to choose for 50,000 deaths. The real problem of course, is that the problem is being framed in a bad way. No prime minister wants to be associated with half a Rwandan genocide against old people. If you frame the issue as “how many years of life are lost”, the politicians are left with less of a stigma.
Fundamentally however, I think the real problem is that we don’t agree as a society on what our social contract is supposed to look like. My position is that we should have the following unspoken rule: To participate in our society, we are going to assume that you are capable of handling the fact that some of us shed self-replicating genetic material that may attempt to invade your body if you enter our vicinity. If this biological reality of life happens to put your life in danger, then that is ultimately your responsibility to deal with. We’re willing to help you deal with that, to the degree medical science allows us to, but we’re not willing to shut down our society for a minority of people who can’t cope with the consequences of what constitutes regular day to day activity for the rest of us.
This is a complex way of saying: Please accept the fact that this flu season is going to be deadlier than most of them. Every year, the world’s elderly are decimated by invisible particles that their decaying immune system can no longer cope with. That’s part of what it means to be born into this world. You’re born without your consent, into a physical vessel that is capable of lasting roughly a century if we put every medical technique we know of to its full use.
We’re supposed to deal with and acknowledge that reality every once in a while. Nobody likes to tell his children that they’re inevitably going to die one day, but it would have been useful, to prevent the kind of complete panic we see today. Your body gradually decays, through exercise and a healthy diet you can slightly slow down this process, but death is inevitable. If people had genuinely integrated this reality, then your local supermarket would have enough toilet paper right now. What sort of person goes out and fills his shopping cart with toilet paper? A person who has not once in his life contemplated and accepted the fact that he is going to die.
It’s important to understand that death is not just inevitable, death is good. Yes, that’s right, you heard me correctly. Death is good. Not every dead is good, mind you. Genocides are not good, most suicides and murders are not good either. But death is good. The reason death is good, is because our experiences can only have genuine meaning due to their limited context.
Please tell me, what do you have fond memories of? Your first kiss? Your fifteenth kiss? The first time you got that pirated first person shooter you downloaded through Kaazaa to work multiplayer on some hacked server when you were thirteen years old? Or the first person shooter you bought off Steam that you played as a twenty year old when you were trying to avoid thinking about your failing relationship? We grow up with things, that have meaning to us because they’re new to us. But novelty alone is not sufficient, because novelty too is subject to diminishing returns. You grow bored of a boyfriend so you find a new one, but number nineteen does not reduce the emptiness the way your second boyfriend did after your first.
But we can wipe out our memories, we can reduce the context through which we experience new events in our lives. Sure, but what’s the difference with dying then? When we die we remove all our context, allowing life to genuinely start over. We’re supposed to die. Our culture’s pathological fear of death is in the process of extinguishing all life on Earth. The streets are being sprayed with chemicals intended to destroy viruses, forms of life so small that we can not even see them! What kind of life can there be in a society like that? There can be none.
If you’re old or sick, this situation sucks. But if society goes on lockdown now on your behalf, what are the meaningful consequences you will experience? Your death is delayed by a few years. When you don’t survive this virus after touching a contaminated doorknob or whatever else, there is not a realm of new experiences that is stolen from you. What is stolen from you? Two more years of watching TV, going out for groceries, changing into clothes you have had in your closet since the Reagan administration. Life is subject to diminishing returns. The first twenty years are exciting. The next twenty are alright. The twenty after that are routine. The years after that, are a reflection on what you have learned if you’re lucky, if you’re unlucky they’re the exact same episodes of the sitcom series that you watched as a child.
I don’t carry ill will towards the elderly. But there are things out there that I don’t feel like sacrificing on their behalf. What are those? Youth. Vitality. Vigor. Love. Excitement. Passion. That’s what’s now being robbed, of an entire generation of youth. French teenagers are not allowed onto the streets, if they can not explain what they are doing there. Concerts are canceled, people who are full of life and eager to meet each other, are reduced to dwelling in their homes in front of a screen.
There are economic consequences of this situation, that much is clear. Society may never be the same. But as things currently stand, an entire generation of European youth are now being asked to spend a year of their lives, living under circumstances that will make the former East German Republic look like paradise on Earth. It’s the psychological consequences, that frighten me. Teenagers are supposed to go out, dance, drink, get in trouble and do things they regret. If your biggest regret is that you coughed in someone’s vicinity, what kind of adulthood does that set you up for?
And if this plan is carried out, if we spend a year in nations in complete lockdown, which is what will be necessary if we genuinely plan on “managing” this crisis, what do you think the effect will be? Will these measures be withdrawn once the worst of the virus is over? Of course not. When government is granted new power, that new power becomes someone’s job. When this becomes someone’s job to enforce, that person is going to fight to keep his job.
History has shown that governments are far more willing to take up new responsibilities, than to shed them again. Now that bin Laden is dead and ISIS defeated, have governments decided to give up the new powers they gained after 9/11? You know the answer. Rest assured there will be a new virus. Some hipster douchebag will spend a gap-year after he graduated college backpacking in South Sudan, because it’s still “pure” and “undiscovered”. He’ll bring home some funky bug, then before you know it you can once again explain to your local police officer that your dog really had to take a shit when you leave your house.
What is happening now is far bigger than a fight against some virus. What is happening now is that a generation with entrenched political power, clings onto life at the cost of its own children. Generation Cronus, is eating its young. Previous generations of elderly sacrificed everything, on behalf of their children. This generation of elderly, is asking of its children to sacrifice everything on behalf of them. Keep in mind, this is the generation that considers climate change a hoax. It took over four billion years to create a world as beautiful as ours, today’s elderly managed to make sure none of it is left once today’s children become adults.
You want us to sit inside our homes, so that you don’t get the flu? That’s nice. You know what I want? I want to be able to see the Great Barrier Reef. I want to be able to see the Amazon rain forest. I want to see orangutans nursing their young high up in a tree. I need to see a colony of eusocial shrimp that have turned a sponge into their fortress. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not traveling there, traveling there would injure it, a webcam will do just fine. I need to see it at an existential level. I need to know that it exists, that a world of mesmerizing beauty is out there somewhere minding its own business, thriving as it has for aeons, long before I was born. But you can’t offer me that. You were never planning on offering me that, because your entire lives have been based on the philosophy that existence itself ends with you.
If you’re afraid of batsoupflu, here are some things you can do. Start exercising, lose weight. Eat fruit and vegetables instead of white flour, high fructose corn syrup and processed meats. Try some avocado toast while you’re at it. Take vitamin D, it protects you against a cytokine storm once the virus infects you. Take some quercetine. Think back of your happiest memory. Ask yourself what you love so much, that you would be willing to die for it. Look at a tree. Take a high dose of Psilocybe mushrooms. Look at a tree again. Discover that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, that doesn’t somehow come to an end when your heart ceases to beat. But don’t tell me to stay home. I won’t.