another rant

Here’s something from this last year that I don’t quite understand, yet: why haven’t we heard *any* large-scale, mass encouragement around mutual survival behaviors?

I’m thinking about all those wartime home-front posters from mid-century encouraging people to plant victory gardens, save fuel, hang tough to get through together. Are we so far gone that we can’t even manage to articulate the impact of our collective behavior?

It has been hard for me to quiet the JUDGY part of my responses over these few months: I am super annoyed at people who refuse to wear masks, infuriated at churches who’ve chosen in-person, indoor gatherings over the well-being of their communities, totally incensed and weirded out when I hear that people I know, love, and assumed to be on the same wavelength with are doing things like eating out in restaurants and flying in airplanes…for fun.

Turns out, there has been some great art of mutual encouragement – like this Wisconsin project.

On the one hand: it’s not fair to judge individual behavior without giving equal credence to the abject and total failure of the systemic contexts around us: yes, college students at UNC are doing completely irresponsible things over there in Chapel Hill, but they’re only able to make those choices because the university’s administration decided to bring tens of thousands of young people with not-yet-fully-formed-frontal-cortexes onto campus and stuff them in dorms together while also outlawing most of the things that college students do to let off steam. People are choosing to eat in restaurants because our government has chosen, in a dozen different ways, to sacrifice lives for the sake of profit. I understand that individual behavior always happens against a backdrop of institutional and systemic realities. It’s not helpful to scream and shame people for acting in their own self-interest in the face of a government who clearly does not value life.

And also, these decisions that people around me are making also seem to make very, very clear that we – as a society – don’t understand ourselves as part of mutual, interlocking relationships. What I do affects you, and what you do affects me. Choosing to dine inside a restaurant is, in my understanding, an irresponsible choice, not because it puts you and your dining companions at risk, but because it forces the underpaid and already struggling wait and kitchen staff of that establishment to be exposed to FAR more people than a strict take-out operation would. Flying in an airplane is a choice that forces dozens and dozens of other people – airport employees, TSA agents, flight attendants, mechanics, pilots, taxi drivers, Starbucks employees – to endure exponential exposure, day in and day out.

The people who are dying – still 2,000 each day here in the US – are not rich, well-off people with the options to spend discretionary income in ways that endanger other, less-fortunate people. The ones who are dying are people who are forced to work in dangerous situations in order to survive. It seems to me that my own individual decisions should not be about what risk I personally am comfortable taking on – though that is part of the calculus, for sure – but more importantly, an honest understanding of how many other people I am forcing to risk their own health and well-being by choosing this option.

I don’t want to be here, mired in angry judgement forever. And I also want someone to make this clear: we are bound to each other and your behavior – especially right now, in this global pandemic that’s been mismanaged by federal, state and local authorities time and time again – has an immediate and potentially deadly impact on everyone around you. It would behoove us to consider whose lives we’re choosing to put in danger when we make these choices.

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