Unmasking a Delusional Covid Risk Assessment

The following letter is a rewrite of a conversation I had with a friend the other day, that I felt was worth sharing, if only to remind folk that some of us are still oriented against COVID, not toward whatever the state says.

After three years of propaganda that has misrepresented the coronavirus from the most fundamental facts of the virus, it is imperative to admit that the social reality is delusional, and there's no possible risk assessment any individual can do from not simply a lack of information, but an abundance of falsehood.

This misunderstanding of the problem is what is leading so many liberals and progressives into despair this winter, as they perform risk assessments that are, based on the information they're working with, well-calculated. But the information they're working with has nothing to do with fact.

A good example of this that I encountered recently was a social media thread - there's no point in linking it directly, as I'm sure any of you could find your own examples - which started as a heartfelt plea to take COVID seriously and a passionate condemnation of those vile conservatives whose unwillingness to follow public guidelines is to blame for the continued pandemic.

The first post in the thread emphasized the importance of wearing facemasks, specifically... ...but did not specify whether it was important to wear an N95, or if wearing a bandana is important. It did not specify when to mask. Just, "mask."

And, after a few replies, the thread turned into an informal infomercial for a particular brand of nasal spray, which is what the original poster used instead of a mask, including at indoor restaurants and music venues.

There is a world of difference between masking to avoid a COVID-19 infection and masking so you aren't an antimasker. I wish I could say that people have forgotten that wearing facemasks used to be a part of public health, not partisan performance, but my memory reminds me that most people who I encountered, and encounter, wearing masks, demonstrated that they were wearing it as a social performance. Otherwise, low-quality ill-fitting masks wouldn't be the norm, removing them to eat at restaurants wouldn't be the norm, etc.

(In orienting themselves as an antithesis to conservativism, rather than their more traditional role as defenders of the status quo, liberals have abandoned any relationship to reality, instead living in constant reactivity to conservativism.

This abandonment has furthered a social change that has been happening for generations. How it's discussed varies so wildly based on a person's worldview that describing the change in a way some understand almost inevitably hides it from others.

People are living in a world of illusion, made by their ideas about the world, that blatantly contradict their own experiences. In the domain of COVID, this is leading folk into deep confusion as a world that their ideas say should be safe, continues to make them ill.

This confusion is a strong motivator for many - especially those trying to protect others, like parents. I've seen, repeatedly, through this pandemic, people who have kids to care for, reach a breaking point where they cannot tolerate the difference between what the world is telling them is real - "business as usual" -, and what they know, from lived, bodily experience, is true: COVID has harmed their health, and their ability to care for their kids.

At this breaking point, there are two rough paths to follow. Most folk, especially those for whom COVID is their first marginalization, put tremendous effort into figuring out how to reconcile what is known about COVID with their habits in a way that will let them participate in society the way they feel they need to. The example here is folk using nasal sprays to eat at restaurants. (Why full-service dining is felt as a "need" by so many Americans is another topic.)

Others begin to see that what they know about COVID came from the same origin as their breaking point, and begin to recognize that the only way to truly avoid COVID would be to reorient the entirety of society away from this delusion, toward an appreciation for, and care toward truth.

At that point, some serious internal work usually begins... and is immediately halted by some material need like going to a day job or dealing with an unexpected COVID infection. But other times, the work continues, and a person realizes that they weren't getting COVID because they were personally doing a bad job at taking steps to avoid COVID, but because that approach to avoiding COVID is a fundamentally flawed model, as is the rest of the model that society is using to solve its problems.

And then, usually without realizing it, they paraphrase Edgar Allen Poe:

"Abandon all models, and imagine the possibilities"

If we accept that the society we live in is using flawed models to make decisions and that we're doing the same with ourselves, it changes how we approach problems, including COVID. And here we come to another fork in the path folk take.

Some folk are so habituated to the "just-in-time" production paradigm that has diminished any resilience industrialism may have once had that they apply it to... anything. Sure, they might discard the CDC's 5-day isolation period (Sponsored by Delta Airlines) to follow the more scientific 14-day isolation. But that carries over part of the model: the idea that the world is static, not ever-changing, so decisions should be reactive, not adaptive. If you were on fire, would you sit and calculate how much extinguisher is appropriate for the amount of fire there is, apply exactly that amount, and then sit and watch to see if the fire flared again before applying more?

Or would you use as much extinguisher as would nearly guarantee your safety?

And yet, it's only a few people I know who honor the word's etymology and quarantine for 40 days. And they're ridiculed, even called irrational, for simply anticipating something that's always been true will continue to be true: things change before you know it.

I know more people understand we need a proper quarantine than practice it. I know more people understand they're living out a delusion than can act against it. The question before us is, how can we empower ourselves, and others, to act out their own will, despite the power of these delusions? Nearly every spiritual tradition has some sort of answer to that question as it applies to people, generally, or humans, a bit more specifically.

But I am asking even more specifically: how can we, folk living today in the United States, aware of it as a machine of mass delusion and death, be more empowered toward enacting our will?

I think one opportunity that presents itself most of the day most every day is COVID.

Do better about COVID. Not just individually, though if you haven't yet upgraded masks, or started wearing them more, today is a good day to start. But that sort of stuff is just following the models this society shows us for how to do better about COVID. I want you to abandon those models, and imagine the possibilities for what you doing better about COVID would mean. Does it mean agitating childcare toward better policies? Setting up shopping rotations with roommates? Working past your anxieties to offer your spare mask to a stranger who looks like they've forgotten or broken theirs?

I can't imagine what that'll look like in your day. But I know it's probably one of the most abundant opportunities we have, right now, to be ourselves, and to do what we want: stay healthy.