Helen Lewis represents the sort of mindset that I worry is taking hold in the U.S. In her piece in the Atlantic, she pretty much made the case that she is so over COVID.
To be fair to Lewis, the headline is a bit misleading. She did say she would continue to respect and follow pandemic rules and recommendations in her home country, Great Britain. But the general tone of the piece is this new “I’m over it” phase of the pandemic that seems to be growing.
This is, of course, the most magical of magical thinking. A virus doesn’t really care if you are “moving on” because, well, a virus doesn’t “care.” It’s a virus, not an ex after a bad breakup.
Lewis has replied on Twitter, saying her main point was this has been all very hard. I don’t want to be the Pain Police, because this has been hard. It has been difficult for parents and their children, no doubt. Often we’ve been confused about what we should do, partially due to the fact this was a novel virus when it showed up, and partially due to some communications bungling that is, in part, because of how depleted our public health infrastructure has become over our years of hyper-focus on budget deficits.
But at the same time, people are acting as if wearing a mask in a theater during a Marvel movie is the same sort of stress and trauma as the Bataan Death March. Lewis has certainly experienced multiple lockdowns, but let me tell you, if a rural American is whining to you about being in two years of lockdowns, chances are strong they are so full of shit they float. Here in my neck of the woods, rural central Pennsylvania, I can certainly tell you that there are a ton of folks who haven’t lived like they are in a pandemic for at least a year. For some, they never did.
I really can’t fathom the amount of sacrifice that was asked of our society in World War II ever happening today. Just imagine asking some of our fellow current humans to experience rationing, blackouts, air raid drills, etc.
“No, Mr. Churchill, This Is Not Our Finest Hour. No More Hiding Underground,” by Helen Lewis, is the sort of thing that is not hard to imagine The Atlantic running. “I Want to Bake 20 Loaves of Bread to Give to My Friends. The Government Says I Can’t” is another. “I will most certainly NOT turn off all my lights, if I want to turn them all on I will and no air raid drill warden thug will tell me otherwise!!!!!” Tweets @FreedomLoverGuy443932.
That’s not even including hot takes by the Smartest Boys and Girls on Substack asking why we’re fighting Hitler in the first place, and GOP lawmakers demanding we support the Nazis, but that’s another post for another time.
There is also a rather unnerving level of dismissive handwaving over the number of deaths. As journalist Heidi Moore put it (PS she’s a great Twitter follow), “I really think we need to talk about how being OK with people dying is a mark of sociopaths.” This is blunt, but also hard to argue against, and yet we see a lot of it among public intellectuals and us regular schmoes alike. No doubt the usual suspects in The Great American Discourse are itching to write their “While it is true that millions of people have died, COVID was overblown” pieces once we get past this, whenever that is.
And my question for The Atlantic’s editor in chief @JeffreyGoldberg:
For what other global human tragedies with a death count past 5 million, would you promote a perspective of smug unconcern, and why?
What is valuable about this perspective? What good is it?
The thing is, most of us are not epidemiologists, so we can’t really say when this is over. I am not without hope. There really is evidence that Omicron will peak relatively soon and we can move on from it. We very well could be truly over it by spring, as it transitions to an endemic flu-like illness that we get a shot for every year.
But, you can’t just declare a pandemic over because you want to go dancing and/or stop wearing a mask.
The last word goes to Blue Oyster Cult, a band that deserves so much more than the More Cowbell skit has given them (as a punchline). Yes, this song has cowbell, and it’s sort of appropriate for those “I’m done with COVID” people.