Plot Points

I got an email the other day from an old friend.  Coming from someone with whom I’ve been close for many years, the contents of this email were more than a bit mocking.  Now, most of that mocking —err, “catching up” to kids nowadays — had nothing to do with this blog.  One part however does pertain:

 “Now that you’re on the whenever-the-hell-you-feel-like-it plan for posting…”

Wait…what?  I deny that!*

*Also, I am not overweight!  I just have big bones!  Harrumph.

“…when the f—k are you gonna write about COVID?”

First off, only I can swear on this blog, goddamit!  And secondly…COVID?  Really?!  Haven’t we heard enough about that shit?  What, should I write about the bubonic plague, too?

At this point — with my fiction-writer-hat firmly on — there are really only two interesting subplots to the ongoing COVID drama.  The first is the impact this pandemic/crisis/stress-event is having on society itself.  Look, disease and outbreak and pandemic are probably the most influential things in human history; they have had effects on us far more significant and far-reaching than any nation-state, war or political event.

What, you don’t believe me?  The aforementioned Black Death rewrote life, society and culture  throughout the world.  The only change that can be considered even close to comparable is the First World War, and that really only “rewrote” Europe…

No, not the fall of the Roman Empire, not the Crusades, not Genghis Khan, not even the Second World War affected the world more than the bubonic plague.

Then you throw in tuberculosis…

And smallpox…

And leprosy…

Welcome to the history of the human race.  The governments of man are insignificant in comparison to the power of disease.  It is the small things — the tiniest of things, in fact — that have truly driven the evolution of human development, culture and society.

At first, I thought COVID was an ephemera.  I thought is was something that would come and go quickly.  I thought it was the disease equivalent of the Kardashians, to be honest.

I was wrong.

Oh, the disease itself can’t bear a candle too those true monsters I mentioned above, but the simple truth is that COVID is here to stay; it is endemic now, rather than pandemic.*  But the effect of it?  The true impact of COVID is far more psychological and social than physical, and that impact is amplified immeasurably by the “right-now” nature of modern communications and media.

*Note for the historically curious — the bubonic plague is actually endemic, too.  It is endemic to three places in the world (parts of India, Mongolia and the US) if I remember correctly, with periodic outbreaks elsewhere.

The problem really traces back to the fact that it has been a long time since humanity felt at prey to the natural world.  A long time since we were not — perceptually, at least — in control of, well, everything.  Oh, we have long known that nuclear weapons are a genie that can and will destroy us as a species if we let them out of the bottle.  We know that, but only in the most passing, intellectual way.  We do not feel it.  It is not visceral.  It is not truly real, not to a species and culture whose every history and proclivity is so totally focused on the emotional and the immediate.

COVID is real to us because of the deaths, yes…but also because of the social and political reactions to it.  COVID has had the most direct, powerful impact on human society since “we” watched millions die in the days of mid-20th century.  The effect — still playing out, mind you — looks to be more far-reaching, too.  Will it equal the world-changing impact of the Black Death or the First World War?  Very doubtful…but it has already far surpassed the impact of the Spanish Flu.  It has even, arguably, outrun the impact of polio (socio-politically, not physically).  

That, to me, is the first great subplot from COVID.  That is the background to a story yet to be written.

The second…

Oh, the second…

It could be argued that the second is but an unintended consequence of the first, but my own personal beliefs and outlook give it more weight.  What is that second? I hear you ask…

Acquiescence.

Humanity is notoriously fractious — rebellious, even — and given to protecting our personal needs and welfare pretty damned aggressively.  Now, different societies have different levels of this, I admit.  My own society — I was raised in the western US, and have lived the vast majority of my life there — strongly reflects the “ideal” of the strong, tough, independent sort.  Other places & societies differ.  And, yes, geography and topography have a dominant influence in this.  The outward bounds of culture — literature, music, art — merely reflect the spirit of geography and topology, they do not define it.  

And, yes, there are in fact very real, very physical reasons, why the Japanese culture — as an example — developed so differently from the culture of, say, Montana…

But…what about…

Let’s get down to brass tacks — and to why I why I think acquiescence and surrender are the second great subplot to the COVID pandemic — Australia.

Australia, when you get right down to it, is geographically a hell of a lot more similar to the sparsely populated reaches of Montana than it is to the necessarily dense population centers of Japan or Singapore.  And yet Australia has willingly surrendered, due to COVID, more freedom than any other place in the world.  The Australian people have willingly surrendered their personal liberty and independence.  Period.  And there is no going back for them.  They have chosen a dubious safety over freedom in ways that no other country or populace has come close to mirroring.

Look, I think anti-vaxxers are nuts.  Hell, I think the anti-mask zealots are also nuts; as nuts the pro-mask zealots.  I think masks in general — at this point — are nothing more than kabuki theater to make folks feel good, but when someone asks me to wear a mask, plain-and-simple courtesy means I wear a damned mask.  

I wear a mask, but surrendering all human interaction?  Even a misanthrope like me wants to go out for pizza and a beer and be with other people once in a while.  You expect, to be honest, folks like Americans and French to protest because…well, we protest everything.  But when the far more complacent and compliant Germans and Danes start protesting restrictions, too?  Yeah, that right there a sign.  But the Aussies?

*Sigh*

The Aussies have given up.  Plain and simple, they have given up.  Their post-COVID society will be unrecognizably different from what it was before.  For everyone else it is a matter of evolution, but for them?  For them it is revolution.  And not the good kind of revolution.

That is the acquiescence I find so fascinating: the willingness to give up all vestiges of freedom and independence for an ephemeral notion of safety.  And, yes, it is an acquiescence that has been used in plots and settings many times before.  In many, many books, plays, movies — even video games! — it has been used before…and will be again.  It will be used again because it is powerful…and because it carries with it such an element of truth to give with the shiver of dread.

Think of my second great COVID subplot as a question: Just how much are you willing to surrender to be ‘safe’?

I have my answer.  The Australians have a very different one.

{Musical Note — I had one song in mind when I started to write this post, but this one works so damned well I just couldn’t say no…}

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