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Perspective on People

My prior experiences with life tell me that hindsight will inevitably make me question the decisions and actions of the past 8 months, plus everything will appear to have been obvious in said unfortunate, if inevitable hindsight. I expect much will be the same with writing about recent history. The rapid onslaught of news over the past week has been deeply emotional, and will take time to process. The past year will probably take a lifetime to unpack. Part of me has always viewed this as a “trial run” for a larger pandemic. That was before a projected .5 million or so dead Americans, and yet untold millions across the world. We speak about this being a “100 year Pandemic”. I fear that is optimistic. This may become something more akin to severe hurricanes (although this frame of reference is recognizably shifting as well: With the encroachment on wilderness, climate change, and globalization, we have to expect this is a viable threat in our futures.

It should not be the case that these events end the lives of millions, that is reasonably within humanities bound of control. In my research I have viewing history through the lens of stigma, and I believe this has has been gradually revealing. Take one example: masks. While (in hindsight) it is obvious that a simple tool was to become an emblem of political allegiance, I would argue it was deeper. I have heard individuals openly say they do not want to wear masks forever “like we live in China”, which is revealing for a few reasons. One: this is a documented stereotype about Asian peoples broadly. It builds on a sense of them as an “other”, encroaching on national traditions.

This pre-exists this virus or this administration. Second: this is absurd because the threat is not to some tradition of not wearing masks. The threat is passing a deadly, transmittable virus. Americans wore masks a hundred years ago. And even if they had not, we are not hearing the same complaints over sunscreen. Third: I do not think attempting to politicize mask-wearing and anti-Chinese sentiment is unrelated. My assessment is that this sentiment is the driving motivation behind rhetoric tying the Democrats to China and the amplified attacks on mask wearing. The 45th President of the United States is many things, but remains an indisputable symbol of isolationism and xenophobia. In the next four years (2024) I am deeply concerned for the prospects for the United States, and therefore the world as well. If there is not a political realignment that deflates that movement, the necessary actions the United States will need to take to mitigate future crises will be hindered. Putting aside the context of the threat to democracy in America, stigmatized approaches to the disease are a threat. This limits the US’s ability to coordinate with the international community to prevent more severe outcomes from pandemics. For example, if the nation where a novel virus or contagion emerges is assured it will not risk receiving the “honor” of bearing the virus’s namesake, it is much more likely to be transparent. If people are less likely to be harassed or mistreated by the medical establishment, governmental agencies, and people in general, they are more likely to cooperate for the collective good.

By the time we have reached thirty years from now (2050), we will likely have suffered through a variety of potential pandemics. Depending on our ability to adapt, coordinate, and respond quickly, they will vary in severity. This is just the reality of a globalized world full of people. If societies around the world have invested in sterilizing air and sea travel, universalizing response protocols, and a transparent international warning systems, then human society should bear this burden well, and may continue to struggle with their other existential crises of inequality, climate change, war, etc. If nations continue down the paths of stigma, shame, blame, isolationism and nationalism, than these can prove to be severe events indeed. While the sheer incompetence of this administration defies imagination, its corruption and neglect for the poor and disadvantaged is commonplace in history. Human societies will have to wrestle with their nature or suffer repeated tragedy.

I hope my perspective on mask wearing will seem quaint by 2050. I hope we have moved beyond simplistic notions of identity and norms. I hope we are kinder, more sensible and this seems distant instead of obvious. Mask wearing will save untold lives from our seasonal flu. Diversity is an undeniable strength; America and the world is made better by all peoples.

Hopefully a hundred years from now (2120) we have moved well beyond these problems. Considering the rapid pace of vaccine development, even considering this totally dysfunctional response, the medical industry and healthcare systems will likely make valuable strides and perhaps these are concerns of the past. The diversification of the United States, a more equitable society, and more widespread medical knowledge about diseases will eliminate the stigmatization of those afflicted or associated. Although, considering my inability to predict this year, I will abstain from risking further predictions with one-hundred-times the uncertainty.

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