The Final Disillusionment

COVID-19 has been a ruthless teacher. It has rendered many previous assumptions dubious, if not derisory, as it has surfaced corresponding inconvenient truths.

Epidemics happen elsewhere. Especially Africa, with Ebola and HIV/AIDS. And Asia, with SARS. Not Europe and North America.

Sure, we have an opioid epidemic. And we have large-scale mental health problems, and heart disease, and lung cancer. But even those occur chiefly among poor people, marginalized people, other people.

But now? Everyone, everywhere, with no vaccine or cure yet in sight.

Advanced western societies are well managed. Yes, those failed states and dictatorships and totalitarian regimes will bungle a Bad Thing into a Monstrous Thing. But not us.

And then northern Italy becomes a plague hot spot. Spain, Germany, and France are now in the top ten countries reporting cases. New York City, of all places, is an anguished ghost town, while the United States as a whole is a patchwork of contradictory policies with the world’s largest caseload.

Health authorities can be trusted. Those nice people in white coats know what they’re doing and what they’re doing is always good.

Except when the World Health Organization plays politics with China and Taiwan. And heads of American medical agencies alter their information and advice under the influence of the White House. And physicians go online to offer quick cures and to pooh-pooh public health protocols.

Ordinary people can be counted on to be decent. Most people are basically good and will behave well in a crisis.

Until a crisis hits, and stores are emptied of toilet paper, cleansers, masks, and grocery staples. Some stockpile to make money, like war profiteers. Others hoard in selfish fear. Still others simply put themselves and their families ahead of everyone else. Too bad if you don’t have…toilet paper. Or cleansers or masks. Or basic food items.

Too bad, indeed.

We’re all in this together. We all watch the same news, we all tell each other how much we appreciate our first responders and emergency workers, and we all observe social distancing and self-isolation.

Except that death is stalking those we have shut away in nursing homes, a dreadful coda to our society’s willful blindness to their suffering.

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