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Transformation, discrimination and liberation
(no.22) Today I offer you indignation mixed with fun, by Stephen P. Williams
But first, this: Good news amidst the bad for all people who suffer from breathing issues and allergies. Emissions are plummeting worldwide as the coronavirus quiets economies.
I’m speaking to you out of an unfathomable abundance of caution
Even a wrecked smile is a smile. Photograph by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
The phrase of the week is “out of an abundance of caution.” President Trump used it to explain why he’s skipping a trip to Colorado in the midst of the pandemic. Others have used it to justify everything from hoarding Hot Pockets to wearing a $300 face mask. In any event, the phrase is meant to convey coolness and lack of worry in the face of dangers that cause others to panic. It is a macho phrase for suited corporate communicators, meant to condescend and reassure in equal measure. It is used to avoid confessing fear.
Out of an abundance of caution, I will advise you to never use this phrase. Much better to acknowledge your fears, or panic, and be straight about why you are washing your hands again, eating at home instead of a restaurant, or chartering a jet to your remote New Zealand cottage. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid right now, especially if you are a person of a certain age.
However, panic is another thing. It’s not helpful, and it is difficult to control. Plus, it can be hard to distinguish between prudent behavior and unwarranted panic. The coronavirus offers plenty of opportunity to swing between the two poles. I subscribe to Notify NYC, a service that sends out coronavirus related texts. Yesterday’s alert read:
“New Yorkers over 50 or those with chronic health conditions should take extra precautions: avoid crowds and work from home if possible.”
Over 50? Reading that, I felt a stab of panic. Jesus, I’m 62. Is everyone aged 50+ made of the same weak cloth?
Out of an abundance of caution, I will politely ask all news outlets, politicians, doctors and citizens of the world to stop assuming that everyone over 50 (or 60, or 70, or 80) shares the same health profile, and in any regard, doesn’t have much of a good life left in front of them: thus expendable. At the moment there are many narratives of overwhelmed Italian doctors doing triage to decide which COVID-19 sufferers they can treat. Triage is a brutal system, and I have utmost empathy for these doctors. I can understand how choosing a random age -- in Italy it seems to be 65 -- above which a person will get no treatment, seems logical. (I have also read reports by some Italians that these stories are not true.) When I first heard a doctor say that people over 65 wouldn’t be treated in hospitals that faced overcrowding, I was horrified.
I’m nearing the age of expendability. Yet I have three 20-something children. I’m writing three books. And I’m leading an entrepreneurial effort to reduce carbon output in the fashion industry. I’m worthwhile.
I’m starting to sound defensive. That’s where fear takes you.
The Atlantic magazine has published a much needed article titled “The Staggering, Heartless Cruelty Toward the Elderly: A global pandemic doesn’t give us cause to treat the aged callously,” by Shai Held. He writes:
“Notice how the all-too-familiar rhetoric of dehumanization works: “The elderly” are bunched together as a faceless mass, all of them considered culprits and thus effectively deserving of the suffering the pandemic will inflict upon them. Lost entirely is the fact that the elderly are individual human beings, each with a distinctive face and voice, each with hopes and dreams, memories and regrets, friendships and marriages, loves lost and loves sustained. But they deserve to die—and as for us, we can just go about our business.”
I picture the exhausted triage nurse taking one look at me: white hair, weathered face, life expectancy of fewer than 18 more years. The hospital waiting room is overflowing with younger people struggling to breath.
“Out of an abundance of caution,” she says. “We have to send you home, untreated. We hope you understand -- we don’t have the facilities to treat everyone.”
I get the logic, but, hmmm, that doesn’t work for me. Why don’t we, out of an abundance of caution, stockpile more respirators and temporary hospital beds, provide testing to anyone who needs it, and institute social controls that will actually calm the rage of this pandemic (and if not this one, then future waves of opportunistic viruses). It’s not the virus’s fault -- coronavirus can only reproduce and extend its line when it’s inside living cells. It has to invade and reproduce and be expelled to invade yet another being in order to survive. Biological imperative. Viruses don’t think. They just do. Like us, they want to live.
Department of legalese
ex abundanti cautela
This latin phrase is used by lawyers and judges to describe someone taking over the top precautions. Bankers use it to describe collateral that’s worth more than the amount being borrowed. So, the term has its place — in formal legal and financial proceedings, but not in day to day life. Ex abundanti cautela works. An abundance of caution, as an explanation, fails to connect.
A hand washing symphony from Iran
Art is transformative. Read this.
~ Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.