quarantine diary (2 of 3)

by anthony

Oftentimes, most people I talk with will always debate that scientific fact trumps all opinion and feeling in a debate.  But that is usually only until scientific fact is used to make that same point against their opinions and feelings. At that point, the conversation then focuses more on the messenger rather than the message; The interaction becomes more about compassion, civility and tonality rather than the facts laid bare.  

It is quite frustrating talking with people these days.  

Denial.  There is so much denial.  When did critical thinking become wrong, bad? When did we stop questioning authority and become too sensitive to question each other, challenge each other? When did we stop believing our own common sense and start trusting politicians and the media?  Everyone disapproves of what “the opposition” is doing, but everyone also seems to believe that means we must equally approve of and support anyone and anything opposing it.  Most people do not even know who the individuals are they are supporting or what they are supporting and why.  Most people do not take into account the entire circumference of what they support, the consequences, the law of cause-and-effect. We just simply support the party or the state or the sentiment.  

At the moment, I am in Portugal, a country that had been brutally ravaged by a terrible dictator for many decades until only a generation ago.  Yet the praise and the idolatry now given to its government, as if they are heros or revered parents of this crisis, is shocking.  Just last year, a nurse strike crippled the healthcare industry, with 60% of nurses striking, as a result of the government here continuing to squeeze out the public healthcare system in favor of the more US-modeled private system.  Still, they praise the system when the “heroes” are still overworked and underpaid.

9/11 and this pandemic create too striking a similarity for me because, in both of these cases, the response we are collectively taking has been too fast, and at the expense of common sense, compassion, context and even scientific fact.  The response is rooted in the denial that we have regarding the lack of faith we have in our societies, in our systems of governments and in our economic systems.  We prefer denial, and I understand why we do (the comforts and greater peace of mind it offers than the alternative), but it still is not an excuse.  When this quarantine began, a woman here argued with me that “it is not our responsibility or even our right to worry about the rest of the world.  We should only be looking after our own, our own communities.  And it is only our responsibility, as Portuguese, not yours, to do anything about it.  If you want to help, go back home.” This made me realize how much in denial most of us are about how connected we all are now, globally.  We now live in a world where nothing is 100% local; We are just too dependent now. And our denial of this has real consequences.  On the other side of the spectrum of balance, of our denial, are real people, real communities and civilizations, and they are suffering and dying.  We may not see the bodies, we may not ever roam the streets where they live, but they are there, and they are the reason we have everything we have, both before this quarantine and especially now during it. They are the only reason we few are able to isolate ourselves. We look out at life from our mountaintops and are so elevated that we only see beautiful clouds below us, unable to face and cope with the reality that, in fact, there is a whole planet filled with ecosystems and civilizations under that serenity that is in total collapse.

After 9/11, the denial went so far that it allowed the western world to join together to invade an innocent nation that led to (and still leads to today) the massacre of millions of their citizens and their neighboring citizens.  We have created and perfected a societal system, from denial, that continually allows an invisible enemy to perpetually redefine our habits, our laws, our customs, our communities and even who we are as a species.  

But an even more dangerous denial than this, for me, is the denial we have for complexity and for non-binary thinking; The understanding that two or more opposing beliefs or thoughts or even facts always co-exist, simultaneously.  There is some praise to be given in the global response to this virus, but it should be reluctantly, and to those who really matter.  We like to call the medical community heroes, but all of us have not only failed them for decades but have ignored them and even criticized them whenever they have tried to stand up for themselves.  How many communities in Portugal went on strike alongside them last year? How many people in the US (and Portugal and everywhere else) go outside to applaud them and then go back inside and actually organize and petition their governments to force them to give these Essentials the resources, care and money they need? And why don’t we do anything? Because we were in denial. About our governments. About our leaders.  Our safekeepers and guardians.  We kept repeating their mantra to ourselves and to anyone who dared to challenge the philosophy that “The State Cares”, that those in power believe in the greater good of humanity and that they must be trusted in their decisions, even when we did not agree; That everyone else knows something we do not, and that we should obey. 

We are in denial that WE are the society, not them, and that we have a more active responsibility.  We are in denial that we are not young, naive children anymore, that we are adults now.  We are in denial that we are, individually, highly intelligent and capable creatures, and the most developed and one of the most intelligent of all the species on this planet.  We are in denial that we created the problem, all of the problems.  We are in denial that we have the answers, always have.  We have already created the technology to reverse all the damage we have done, and now we know that we have the collective will to work together.  But, the only way to change anything is to acknowledge what needs changing.  And we do that by facing our denial, and finding our personal strengths to overcome the resulting anxiety. 

But it must be done.  

To quote Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus, “Given our 20th century accomplishments, if people continue to suffer from famine, plague and war, we cannot blame it on nature or on God.  It is within our power to make things better and to reduce the incidence of suffering even further.”

Because, make no mistake, our lives and our societies and our governments and our laws and our protections and our regulations and our perspectives are changing. And right now they are changing in ways we might reluctantly accept but we know deep down, just as we have many times in the past, just as most of us had after 9/11, that how we all are changing now is not right, not in balance with who we are, and not in harmony with the compassion, hopes and beliefs we claim to live by.  

Facing our denial is one of the very first steps to changing things correctly, positively.  This has always been my hope. That we, for once and for all, stop repeating the same mistakes we should have learned already from our denials in the past, especially after the 11th…


(To be con´t)