The Unnormal: Part 4 of x. July.

The days have blurred. The weeks have merged. The months have slipped by. And here we are.

I have to qualify this by clearly stating these are just my opinions – we all have them – you can agree, disagree, or simply stop reading right now. Won’t hurt my feelings.

Before diving into the critical part of this post I have to state that I unequivocally support the work that our health-care workers, nurses, doctors, EMTs, firefighters, and first-responders have provided in response to the pandemic. These are the people providing front-line response, triage, life-support and treatment for those affected all while putting themselves in harms-way. What they have been through I cannot begin to imagine. They are the heroes of this ongoing saga and they should be recognized as such.

I started these recent “Unnormal” posts really as an outlet. There’s a lot of frustration and anger to go around and I probably spend too much time thinking about it and following the epidemiological updates, the local policy decisions, and even the occasional “Karen” video. But at the same time, I’m trying to stay level-headed about it all, and to think through solutions – and to stay rooted in reality instead of doom-and-gloom. But there are those things that really get to me on a visceral level.

Why WAAITT?

I will admit it, from the beginning I’ve had concerns about the slogan, “We are all in this together.” On first thought, it sounds great and encourages a call to action. Let’s join forces and united together, we will overcome whatever is in our path! Seemed like a vision from Woodstock.

Opening Ceremony at Woodstock August 15, 1969.
Adapted from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Swami_opening.jpg

The central idea that we demonstrate collective agreement on a course of action, to rally behind a untied cause, and rely on each other to achieve a common goal for humanity, not necessarily to benefit us personally – but everyone as a whole. Wouldn’t that be far-out. #peacelovemask

But the other side of me – the more pessimistic side – was like, it’s really fifty-fifty (50/50). Could go either way, right? Not good odds, in my book. Wasn’t so much Woodstock, as maybe another episode in history… Sure, we’re all in this together, as in, we sink or swim. And even the swimmers may get eaten by sharks so no guarantees with swimming.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912.
Adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic#/media/File:RMS_Titanic_3.jpg

But to draw such a simple analogy to Woodstock or the Titanic is not sufficient enough to illustrate the breadth of the situation we face. What we are living through now, it’s neither of these extremes. The slogan really needs to change. Something that is more akin to the line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

"We are all in this together, but some of us are more in this together than others."

Value Pluralism

Agreeing on anything in today’s political and social climate in the US seems impossible.

Take my home state of Oklahoma, with its range of ideologies, viewpoints, and biases. How could we possibly navigate this pandemic with everyone on-board when there is so much disagreement? Then you zoom out to include every other state in the US, their populations and their issues, and it only compounds the challenge. So, how – – how could we possibly be successful when we agree on so little?

A substantial proportion of Americans – my own friends and family included – disagree with the characterization of “the virus,” or “the pandemic,” or whether we should be doing anything at all. They want to talk about their rights, their freedom, the oppression of the government, blame someone for the pandemic, minimize the problem, or simply change the subject. Even coming up with a starting point, or premise, to have a conversation about what the problem is, can be a challenge. The question becomes, “What can we agree on?” – or is it even necessary to agree to get something done, assuming we agree that something should be done, which is another point of argument. You see, it’s exhausting. Maybe at least we can agree on that.

In ethics, value pluralism (also known as ethical pluralism or moral pluralism) is the idea that there are several values which may be equally correct and fundamental, and yet in conflict with each other. An example of this may be talking about “freedom” versus “public health.” These are not easy discussions to have – and there are no clear answers.

Personally, here’s where I start: we cannot ignore that fellow humans are suffering, are hospitalized in the tens-of-thousands, thousands more have died, thousands more are to follow, and such suffering and deaths were preventable. Ethically and morally, most agree that something has to be done. The past five months have clearly demonstrated that we are beyond ignoring the problem.

But there still are those that do not “believe.” So for those that say “it’s a hoax,” let me introduce you to some others that I think you will find common-ground with: the “Flat-Earthers.”

A flat Earth for No-Maskers.

Moving on….the real disagreement is in what and how much, and who’s responsibility it is. I can hear the litany of arguments piling up already: about mortality rates and comparisons to other diseases, about inaccurate data and misclassification or mischaracterization of deaths, about acceptable rates of death and disease, about business and the economy, and about mask mandates.

I’m no theologian but doesn’t the ethic of reciprocity, as the common saying goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” apply in this pandemic? It’s a fundamental tenant of many religions and arguable in it’s own right, but to me the essence is that we behave towards others with a particular level of humanity. We grant each person the respect of their life just as we would want them to do towards ourself. It’s at this point that we have to voluntarily and consciously step outside of ourselves and CHOOSE to assess the situation from the viewpoint of another. Something that we are often remiss in as a society.

In this instances, maybe doing the “right thing” doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything, you just have to do what is necessary or in some cases, required. Just as stop signs provide a means of control and protection for everyone on the road, so too do masks provide a level of protection and help to manage the spread of the virus traffic.

In the midst of all this arguing, disagreement, and backlash we’ve lost valuable time but moreover, we’ve lost lives. There is a particular level of cooperation that we are going to have to achieve in order to get back to some semblance of, dare I call it, “normal.” The Federal Government will need to cooperate with the States. The States will need to cooperate with each other. Citizens will need to cooperate with local businesses and local government. The level of cooperation that is needed is unprecedented.

Personal vs. Social

The term “personal responsibility” came up a number of times in the Oklahoma Governor’s briefing last week (ironically, just days later he would test positive for COVID-19). He really loves to push the concept that we have a personal responsibility to act but at the same time we should have the freedom to make our own decisions. No doubt that personal responsibility is an important aspect of keeping ourselves safe. Personal or Individual Responsibility, “is the idea that human beings choose, instigate, or otherwise cause their own actions.” Unfortunately, personal responsibility stops well short of what is needed in order to counteract the magnitude of this pandemic. What is necessary is a level of social responsibility, one that we have yet to see.

Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large.

Everyone is going to have to be both personally responsible and make informed decisions that are socially responsible in order to lower the transmission rate.

The Perfect Mask

The perfect mask provides a barrier to harmful contagions. It fits perfectly. It allows you to breathe easily. It doesn’t restrict your freedoms. It allows you to wear it without compromising your political beliefs, your strengths or your weaknesses. It doesn’t look like anything. It is invisible. You don’t even know you are wearing it and no one else does either. The perfect mask, in essence, is no mask.

The perfect mask does not exist.

In a perfect world we wouldn’t be dealing with a pandemic. We wouldn’t have to wear masks to keep ourselves and each other safe.

Whatever we think about masks, love them or hate them, we need to move past. The idea that us participating in mask-wearing somehow makes us weak or sacrifices our rights is a fallacy that hold-outs should have gotten past long ago.

Mask wearing needs to be reframed far from any political context. We should not get hung up on the supposed problem of “enforcement” – it needs to be presented as one of the cornerstone to the public health solution. It needs to be marketed with patriotism, with solidarity, and heroism. By wearing a mask we are modeling the behaviors of those who have worn and required masks for years – health care providers, doctors, nurses, etc.

We have been faced with overwhelming challenges before – there is no reason we cannot come together, under the central banner of ending this pandemic, and do the necessary work to succeed. What is being asked is not impossible and is not unreasonable. We need to tune out the political noise, re-focus our efforts, and actually get through this together.

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