Back for a fifth chewing
We’re about to enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a pandemic of the disease caused by the Sarbecovirus SARS-CoV-2. At the time of writing this, media news outlets in the US, where I live, are about a week into frenzied reporting around a new variant of concern, omicron. I’ve heard a lot about this new one, and also, I’ve heard absolutely nothing at all.
And that, you know, has been typical since the pandemic started. Scientists grew really very quickly tired of countering discussion about origin theories, of conspiracy theories, and of defending the incremental course correction inherent to research performed in real-time. Frontline medical workers have been teetering on the brink of the void from, nearly, the beginning. Begging folks to wear a mask, begging folks to get vaccinated. The media, today, reports on omicron not more than one week after heralding a ‘post-pandemic Thanksgiving travel high’.
Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers turn to social media, to triumphantly declare a 100% success rate in predicting how the pandemic would progress. They’re talking, of course, about its seemingly never-to-end duration, about the need for ‘booster’ vaccines, about the ongoing denial of their civil liberties, about their suffocating children. Masks, they’re talking about masks. Not extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or mechanical ventilation, or lung transplants.
Our suffocating children.
And what’s odd, here, is that you have to give it to them. It’s certainly true that we’ve all had enough of living in these poxy times (it’s outrageous, really, has anyone thought to ask for a manager?) and that there appears to be no respite. And it’s true that begin administered a third vaccine is, probably, a necessary course of action, and it’s correct that everyone should still be wearing masks and distancing themselves from strangers socially. So, these fine people have, inexplicably, reached accurate conclusions — albeit via extravagantly misguided reasoning.
The reason this may be so, is that the current state of this pandemic and our relationship with SARS-CoV-2 has been so blindingly predictable, that the vestigial knowing of this is probably ancestrally implanted in our bones. That this virus even exists was completely predictable, that is, to say: novel viruses and pandemics are a completely predicable ecological event. Scientists have been scraping together funding for a long time to find viruses of concern in animals in the wild before they pop into human hosts, they’re so reliable. Viral surveillance, is, predictably, limited for financial reasons, mostly — and probably now more than ever, political ones.
And now, omicron has shuffled itself into being, and the reason for that is, ultimately, financial too. Variants of concern arise in poor countries with low vaccine equity, allowing SARS-CoV-2 human crockpots in which to simmer and, evolutionarily speaking, compare notes from the previous seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks… (you don’t need a lot of time to cook when you’re made of RNA). Transmission of viruses spread in richer countries divided by fear and classism — in countries where refusal of life-saving technologies has become an identity. In countries where the individuals responsible for fomenting this curious (but also predictable) phenomenon were, themselves, given access to that technology before the majority of the general public. Some people are scared of death, losing their jobs and their home, losing the ability to go for a job, some people are scared of losing their freedom some people are scared of being told what to be scared of.
It’s turtles all the way down, because everyone is scared — everyone but the ruling class. They’ve been vaccinated, and they have access to healthcare, and they won’t lose their home because they’re already rich, and it’s in their best interest that everyone below them stays frightened.
I don’t want to die, and I know for sure that SARS-CoV-2 could kill me. I don’t want soup for lungs — I want lungs for lungs. I’m frightened of the effects of COVID-19, but I’m not scared of SARS-CoV-2. It’s a virus. I’m not scared of tiger sharks, but I don’t really like the idea of one biting my leg off, causing me to bleed out all over the Caribbean. Both the tiger shark and SARS-CoV-2 have an entire right to exist and influence the environment around them: the tiger shark bit my leg off because I was sploshing around in its home. And it’s the same situation for the virus — all viruses, in fact. That doesn’t mean that we should accept inevitable death and extermination from viruses, because we shouldn’t. We’re allowed to protect ourselves. I imagine I tried to poke that shark in the eye or threaten to beat it up — I am also fully vaccinated and about to go get a booster. I’ve covered variations of this topic, at length, in previous essays.
The rhetoric that we hear from, at least, the liberal facet of the ruling class in regard to this virus is largely warlike in tone — “the ‘fight’ against the virus”, “we need to ‘defeat’ the pandemic”. Suggestions that SARS-CoV-2 is an evil or malevolent being. This messaging, that the virus is evil, contributes to a very useful and evasive flavor of fear, because it’s easier to react to a deliberate act of malice by a virus, or by a human being designing and releasing a virus into the general population. Much, much easier than accepting that the way we reduce the incidence and severity of pandemics is by doing something, seriously doing something, about the climate crisis, about inequality, about end-stage capitalism, about the incessant grinding boot of the ruling class.
We can push against this, internally, at least, through animism. By understanding and examining ideas that the virus is a virus, that it is not, inherently, a vicious being. In doing the only thing it is unequivocally and evolutionarily driven to do, it has also happened to have killed many, many human beings. It wasn’t sent to save us. It wasn’t sent to teach us anything. It ‘loves’ humans the way a cow loves the cud: necessary to survive, and here we all are: back for a fifth chewing.