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COVID has been anthropologically fascinating. This era will likely be memory-holed decades from now, just as the Spanish flu was. There is a reason that when that pandemic ended nearly a century ago "people didn’t talk about it" and "there were very few books or plays written about it.” In a sense, we’re already there with COVID. Much of America seems indifferent to the virus. Films and television shows, even those set in 2021, seem to have simply erased the pandemic. In these alternate realities, it never actually happened.
There is another section of America, however, where the virus is ever present and always about to get worse—in the national media and in the minds of liberals. This level of self-induced panic could have been justified before vaccines were available. It is harder to understand the justification today. All the people who are panicking about the Omicron variant are either double or triple-vaxxed. Particularly for the latter, the risk of severe illness or fatality from COVID is comparable to that of the flu.
Their theory of the case remains unclear to me. COVID will be with us for years to come, one new variant after another. Even the Biden administration is weighing changing its messaging to reflect this. Are the alarmists actually expecting us to sustain this constant level of panic indefinitely? That can't be healthy. The only logical—and sustainable—alternative is to get fully vaccinated, take your boosters at regular intervals, and then live life normally as if COVID doesn’t exist. If you do happen to get exposed to someone who tests positive, then you avoid seeing older or immunocompromised family and friends for a few days. Anything else suggests a conscious desire to not live a normal life—which I suppose is understandable if one didn’t particularly enjoy their normal lives in the first place.
I have to confess my own biases. I think trying to live a better, fuller, happier life is a reasonable goal. So it does strike me as odd that many American liberals seem ideologically committed to being miserable all the time. But this is also understandable in light of prevailing moods. Feeling like you're a victim even if you're not is the dominant cultural sensibility of the day.
Anthropologically, the need for an “anchor” or “pivot” (to use the Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s term) is something that all humans appear to need across space and time. This, at least for me, is the strongest evidence of God’s existence. Where else would such an innate disposition come from? If God exists, presumably he would have instilled in us this desire and demand for ultimate meaning.
This innate disposition can cause problems when denied its natural outlets. If a particular segment of the population, on average, is less likely to believe in God, belong to an organized religion, have children, or be married, then they will, on average, need to look elsewhere for anchors and pivots. And we know that meaning can be derived from panic, fear, and even illness, particularly if you believe your suffering is in the service of the common good.
If you are a progressive who believes you have located "the right side of history," and then you apply that mindset to the pandemic, then you have an ideology. There’s nothing wrong with ideology per se, but there is something off-putting about those in the throes of ideology pretending that they are neutral arbiters of “science,” when they are nothing of the sort. They believe they are empiricists, when in fact they have unmoored themselves from empirical realities (similar to how followers of the philosopher John Rawls pretend they are “neutral” and “reasonable” when the very premise of being reasonable requires defining themselves against unreason, which in turn becomes an ideological position).
Which leads me to a broader point. It is good to have conviction. It is good to passionately believe in something. God knows there are topics and causes I'm very passionate—and probably too passionate—about. But this intensity of belief must be coupled with an awareness that this intensity does not come to us, as if a revelation, fully formed from the sky. It is a product of choice and circumstance, a historically and philosophically contingent outcome. All of us are trapped in value systems of our making, regardless of whether or not we’re aware of it. Once we realize this, we can disabuse ourselves of the notion that there is a final, unequivocal truth that can be found in this world and in this life.
In other words, if you think that you are some pure seeker of reason or science, you almost certainly aren't.