David Churbuck, a friend and a former boss, wrote an essay on his blog, exploring American individuality and the current politicization of something as simple as wearing a mask to prevent the virus’s spread for the collective good. He points out that this isn’t the first time. Helmets, seat-belts, and now the masks are part of the “supremacy of the individual in America versus the herd,” he noted. “Americans don’t like to be told what to do by those faceless powers on high who know what’s best for them. They never have and never will.”
That doesn’t make it right.
As a young man, the idea of making my own choices, my own decisions, and thus the freedom to follow my spirit, is what attracted me to America. Those of us not born here know it more acutely than others because we know what the options look like. And that is why it still makes this a unique place — messy and magical at the same time. Now, however, is the time to think differently. The pandemic is as good a time as any to think of greater good — not to think of everyone as them, but as us.
I cannot but feel anxious by the idea that somehow we have normalized the death of a quarter-of-a-million people. I wonder if social media has sapped us of all empathy — dead are just numbers. Dead are not data. Data is not people. I can’t come to terms with simplistic arguments that somehow normalize the dead. I can’t deal with the fact that most people who are gone didn’t have to die if we did some things better.
Suppose we didn’t politicize common sense? That would make whatever future a lot less challenging. It is not as if our miseries and problems are going to go away. “Everyone keeps talking about 2020 as if it was the worst year of all the years,” writes Lyz Lenz. “January 1 doesn’t erase the pain and loss of this year.”
We have to learn to live with this reality of the Internet and social media that has made us unsocial. We are stuck with a system that only amplifies our differences, pushes us into our little corners — they are called filter bubbles now — and become less patient, less aware, and less human when it comes to the other. We shouldn’t expect Facebook to stop being driven by growth and engagement at any cost. We can’t expect YouTube to stop recommending addictive nonsense to keep people glued to their platform.
In the end, it is upon us — the people.
Or, as David writes, “Embrace the contradiction of being true to yourself while fitting into a society founded on laws, mutual respect, and a sense of common cause. Learn when its time to dig in and when its time to concede.”
November 22, 2020. San Francisco