The first people in my region will be vaccinated next week, roughly a year after the virus first started spreading. It’s one of the great achievements in medical history. By summer or fall I should be vaccinated and I am already planning a party to take advantage of our fantastic new backyard which somebody else designed to be very party friendly.
This has been a depressing and frustrating experience for me, someone who is lucky enough to not have lost anyone to the virus. It has been so much worse for the dead and their loved ones.
But today I want to talk about something that has been driving me crazy through this whole experience.
And it’s not people who don’t wear masks.
Yes, those people are very frustrating and sometimes outright dangerous (when they’re super-spreaders). The politicization of masks in the US (and, to a lesser extent, here) is a massive failure of communication. It’s yet more proof that some of us are extremely selfish and that we all have a really hard time understanding risk. This behaviour frustrates and angers many of my family and friends.
But it is not the thing I am really frustrated by.
I have low expectations of human beings, especially at the macro level. Somebody somewhere is always going to do something really stupid, especially if they do not think they are risking anything. It just so happens that it’s really hard to understand what you’re risking when we’re talking about a new virus nobody can see.
No, the thing that’s made me particularly crazy in all of this is the complaining.
About restrictions on “freedom”, about inconvenience, about whatever. 1.5 million people are dead and some of us can’t get over how annoying it is to wait in lines.
We in the West are extraordinarily privileged even though we really screwed this one up. And it feels as though we’re pretty damn coddled as a result.
Imagine, if you will, if this pandemic had occurred in a previous time.
- Fewer delivery apps
- No free video-conferencing
- Only one streaming service (and you likely don’t have it so you have to rent your DVDs or get them in the mail, like I did)
- Fewer grocery options (at least where I live)
And how quickly do we get a vaccine in 2010 instead of 2020?
- Absolutely zero apps of any kind – no smartphones
- No streaming – you have to download everything to watch
- Dial up internet for many people (I was exciting by something called a “T1” when I went to university in 2000)
- Way fewer cable channels unless you can afford satellite (at least where I live)
- Way shittier food options (where I live)
- Many people still have VHS
And how quickly do we get that vaccine?
- No internet
- Really shitty cable if you’re lucky enough to have it
- Most people don’t even have computers
- Grocery stores (where I live) really suck
And what’s the timeline on that vaccine?
(I’ve skipped over most of the improvements that have occurred.)
I wasn’t alive yet, but this is still not very long ago.
- Many (most?) don’t have cable
- Virtually nobody has a computer
- I can only assume grocery choices were even worse than when I was a kid
And what about a vaccine?
And the further back in history you go, the worse it gets.
- What about living through the “Hong Kong Flu” in 1968?
- Or the “Asian Flu” a decade earlier?
And then there’s the “Spanish Flu”, something that is still basically impossible for most of us to comprehend. Imagine living through that, not just given the death toll but given it’s the late 1910s and the vast majority of your conveniences are gone.
And this is just pandemics.
Imagine you didn’t have electricity for a year.
Imagine you didn’t have running water for a year.
Imagine you were homeless for a year.
Imagine living through a real famine, a famine which kills our miraculous “just on time” food delivery network.
Imagine living through World War 3. (There would be nukes. And probably bio weapons.)
This is nothing in comparison.
If you’re sad or upset about all of this, I’m not trying to diminish those feelings. This whole experience has been uniquely strange and difficult.
But those of us who have not died and not lost loved ones to the pandemic have still been extremely lucky. I’m just arguing for some perspective.
It’s still the greatest time to be alive in human history. Vaccines in one year is just the latest miracle of modern technology. “The world ended” (or “the world is on fire” if you prefer) and all we had to do was stay home and wear a mask when he entered an indoor public place. We’re extraordinarily fortunate.
Climate Change is Coming for Us
The thing is, this is just the beginning.
This pandemic happened because we can’t stop having babies, invading habitats and consuming absurd amounts of energy.
There will be more and more zoonotic viruses in the future. And we won’t be prepared for some of them.
And then there’s the climate.
The way we’re headed, we’re going to experience privation from climate change that makes “staying home” look like the easiest experience of our lives.
This will likely not happen while my parents are still around. Maybe the worst of it doesn’t begin while I’m still alive.
But it’s coming. And, unless we begin doing something about it, it’s going to be much, much, much worse than wearing a mask in public and washing your hands a lot.
When I hear people complaining about wearing a mask, or having to line up, or having to see their loved ones outside or over video-conferencing apps, some of which didn’t exist a few years ago, I think “How are we going to handle what’s coming?”
(I do know we will handle it. Humans endure. That’s what we do. I just don’ think it’s going to be pretty unless we change our behaviour now.)