we may be over covid, but covid isn’t done with us
For those fortunate enough to get vaccinated against the disease wreaking havoc on the world for more than a year now, it’s tempting to feel like a return to normal is just around the corner. Already, there are calls to end or significantly curtail restrictions and public health measures so we can just be done with the pandemic, especially from the right wing of the Anglophone West, restrictions they often refused to follow, typically with deadly results. But despite proclamations from politicians eager to gloat about defeating COVID, we’re still not out of the woods, and a lot of people are understandably nervous about rushing to return to normal. You may be tempted to dismiss them as crisis-addicted worrywarts, but they’re actually right to be anxious.
It seems absurd to have to say this, but given the attitudes of so many leaders and prominent pundits, it absolutely needs to be repeated that viruses do not leave when enough people say they’re sick and tired of them. They don’t have ears. They’re not even technically alive. This is why after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that the worst of the pandemic was over, holding celebratory rallies across the nation and allowing massive festivals to drum up votes, COVID came back with a tsunami of horrors threatening to bring the country to its knees. Likewise, the pandemic didn’t leave Brazil after its loudmouth president Jair Bolsonaro had the gall to tell his citizens to stop “whining” about the disease.
With vaccination still very much ongoing around the world and shots hard to come by in many developing nations, continued outbreaks in India, Brazil, Turkey, and Iran provide breeding grounds for new COVID variants that could partially evade current vaccination efforts, which means that the pandemic will last longer. Lucky for us, coronaviruses have limits on how many mutations they can have and still be infectious or dangerous to us, so current vaccines could handle the new strains. That said, we’re also now fighting COVID variants that are more dangerous and more infectious, and we can’t rely on hoping things will work out because that might very well guarantee a pandemic without end.
an abject failure to lead
To pretend this isn’t happening and that your shot makes you invincible just because you’re really tired of not going out to your favorite restaurant or bar is foolhardy at best. Navigating crises such as this requires at least a basic understanding of biology and epidemiology, and cooperation with others. But, of course, if that’s all we needed, a public lesson on how viruses work and spread, the countless primers by science writers around the world should’ve done more than enough to educate us and our leaders how to weather this nasty storm with minimal discomfort. Sadly, as the virus revealed in such stark colors, our problems run much deeper, and that should give us all serious pause.
Despite having all the tools, knowhow, and capacity to deal with COVID across the world, the resulting loose patchworks of public health rules that were seldom enforced, runaway social media disinformation, and tantrums of populist man-children, we’ve managed to do a horrible job handling this pandemic and are just lucky the virus wasn’t any deadlier. Experts studying disease outbreaks and public health are giving numerous nations abysmal grades and worry about how badly we’ll be screwed during the next pandemic, especially if the next virus is even a bit more lethal. And this is not to mention the many problems revealed during the past year across all facets of modern society being left deliberately unaddressed.
While plenty of commentators, including myself, spent a lot of time talking about what we could change now that our societies are undergoing stress tests to make our lives better and navigate this and the next crisis with fewer deaths and disruptions, the powers that be decided to ignore just about every idea pitched to them. In fact, they made it very clear that they’re comfortable watching us die as long as it doesn’t affect their personal bottom lines, with numerous pundits outright demanding we lay down our lives for the sake of the GDP. Our leadership has proven incapable of realizing that their fantasies will not change reality, and met failure with deflections, rage, and disinformation.
how covid brought out the worst in many of us
Now, of course, you may think that all politicians are garbage anyway, as are robber barons who work skeleton crews of employees around the clock, then, when those employees finally built up savings and can choose better jobs, whine on social media that they can’t hire enough people at rock bottom wages which still leave many on government assistance to pay rent and buy food. It may be reprehensible that they are the way they are, and their cold-hearted incompetence and their near total lack of empathy is horrific, but it’s not exactly new and has been very thoroughly studied by science. And you may be right. We simply confirmed our worst opinions about these people. But we did discover something horrible about our fellow peons as well.
As countless wordsmiths said, there are two things that reveal our true nature: great power and major disasters. And sadly, the pandemic revealed that many members of our communities are just plainly bad people without a single empathetic bone in their bodies. They see even the most minor of inconveniences and sacrifices as nothing less than a declaration of war, taking to social media to write lengthy diatribes about how little they care if others might die should they refuse to wear a mask, or social distance, or forgo a haircut. Tens of millions posted absurd, brain-dead conspiracy theories in response to very real stories of people suffering from COVID, called the disease a hoax, or even shrugged that hey, sometimes nature just culls the weak.
Are we now supposed to pretend that we didn’t see Joe from accounting or Susan from HR on Twitter or Facebook demonstrating that under the slightest bit of pressure, they’ll unravel and gladly sacrifice you to pretend that they don’t have to think about anyone other than themselves, preferring to act like feral pack animals instead of civilized human beings? We may be pissed off at cruel, icomptenet, and corrupt politicians and tycoons, but at least we won’t have to see them at the store or in the office break room, and have to pretend we don’t know how monstrous they are on the inside. No wonder so many are dreading going back to the office and resuming daily social interactions with their coworkers.
why we have to think bigger and better
In short, we know that new variants may be coming and we’re far from the end of the pandemic itself, that our leaders and their media mouthpieces don’t care if we live or die unless it affects them personally, and one in four of our friends and neighbors would yeet us into the grave to get a beer and a burger at their favorite spot. With that weighing on our minds, how could we not feel apprehensive about transitioning to what’s optimistically — and frankly, delusionally — being called post-pandemic life? It’s been made very clear to us that our current way of doing things is unsustainable, that change for the better will be glacial, and that up to a third of us won’t just refuse to participate in improving our lives, but will actively drag us backwards out of spite.
Living in a modern, civilized society requires giving thought to others and cooperating with each other to accomplish new things and make it through crises intact, not just have access to wi-fi, indoor plumbing, and vaccines. Somewhere along the way, many of us seem to have forgotten that because the problems we just discussed are very much our collective fault. We don’t demand competence from our leaders, seldom punish them when they prove to be shit at their jobs, and discourage capable, good people from taking their places in office. We cater to robber barons’ whims. And we shy away from holding the worst among us to account, letting them wail about “cancel culture” and monetize their performative awfulness as humans.
Simply put, we’ve chosen the path of least resistance and wilful ignorance, and it’s come back to bite us in the ass when we needed to be informed, proactive, and competent. To heal from this nasty chomp and prevent the next one from doing even more damage, we have to do better as societies and refuse to settle for comfortable mediocrity. We have to educate ourselves and demand better from our leaders and ourselves. These are not simple solutions, but we’re not dealing with simple problems anymore. It sounds absurd and grandiose to pursue nothing less than reforming an entire society, but as we’ve just seen, today it’s a matter of life and death. It’s not that we should simply aspire to do a whole lot better, it’s that we have no other choice if we want to survive as a civilization.