Friday, May 27, 2022

So, Where are We Headed?

I knew what he was going to say as soon as we made eye contact. A bearded shit-eating grin in a pickup-truck stopped at a light while I cycled across the intersection to join a trail packed with university students. I just wanted to clear my head after events of the past couple of days with a nice long ride, but here we go: 

"Take off your mask, sweetheart!" 

It's the new, "Show us your tits!" but it's strikingly more effective if the goal is to provoke fear. I used to write off the horn-dogs on my trips around the city, and welcomed their depletion as I aged out of harassment, but this new group isn't easily deterred or reasoned with, and their actions are overt and condoned. Threatening to film or let their boss or family know about sexual comments was embarrassment enough to stop drive-by creeps. They knew it was wrong, so there was often something we could do. I even called the cops and they listened to me, taking down a license plate number when a gentleman stalker wasn't so easily rebuffed. But if their mum found out they harassed random people about masks, they'd might actually be proud of them. There's absolutely nothing in our social system or legal system that suggests they're doing something wrong when they yell at strangers or stop them in their path, even when they circle the block to do it again. 

I really do think we're in the worst timeline, and that we won't make it out alive. 

CW: policy-driven lunacy and the resultant rambling, rage-fueled, depressing rant

My stomach has tightened in knots over the last year as I've listened to some students and teachers argue for freedom from masks despite the scant inconvenience that can significantly reduce the risk to people's lives. No facts or arguments will sway some people from this bizarre quest for individual freedom that directly harms others because the harm isn't immediately visible. 

ETA: If right now you're thinking, "Nobody every hassles me about my mask," it could be because you're male or a more imposing female or neurotypical or you don't travel around alone on foot or by bike all the time or you don't live a few blocks away from a site home to regular anti-mask rallies!  

An Aside About Risk Assessment:

It doesn't affect the freedom-fighters that the risk of dying of Covid is still more than ten times higher than the risk of dying in a car accident, yet we still wear seatbelts without question: Ontario had 315 automobile fatalities in 2021 and 346 Covid-19 fatalities in the past month (April 24-May 23), which might end up at over 4,000 dead just this year, and we're plateauing at a very high place in a quest to live with the virus. About a quarter of car accidents are due to speeding, so we have limits in place and our taxes go towards paying people to monitor and punish speeders with tickets to dissuade them from this reckless behaviour. But down with masks!! 

Coming to school without a mask isn't seen as reckless behaviour, even for people coughing or vomiting, despite the level of risk it holds for classmates. Many of us have been in a car or been driving a car that had a minor fender-bender or a near miss here and there, but the reality that many collisions are "mild" doesn't affect our concern with a deadly collision, so we take precautions. Even if I feel like I'm a great driver, I know there are lots of bad drivers out there, so I not only wear a seatbelt, but I also have airbags in my car! Similarly, not only do I wear a mask, but I'm also vaccinated. We really get that we could die a horrible death in a car in a way that still isn't sinking in with covid. At all. I credit the type of media campaign held to get seatbelts rolling when I was a kid - including gory scenes of what happens when you're propelled through a windshield. Masks didn't get the same advertising budget at the outset although the gore was plentiful and still is.

Now, how do those numbers compare to gun deaths? In Ontario, numbers are growing, but I can't find provincial stats, only that there were 277 fatalities across Canada in 2020. Compare that to the US, where there were 45,000 gun-related fatalities in 2020 clearly because they've let lapse precautions to ban semi-automatic weapons (<-- a history and my arguments for gun control at that link). However, adjusted for the population of Ontario, that larger number would be akin to about 2,000 brutally tragic deaths in a year here, about half the number of deaths we're currently seeing caused by covid. On Twitter, @yishan compares some American stats: 

"Since 2020, there have been more children killed by COVID (~1,125) than in all school shootings since Columbine (169), over 20 years ago. . . . There are more people dying per day (~300) in the US than all the kids killed in school shootings since Columbine in 1999. . . . Getting 300 million Americans to wear a mask would literally be easier than trying to confiscate nearly 400 million guns." 

I'm not sure how much easier it would be, but it would clearly save more lives. This is not at all to discount Tuesday's tragedy, but to put it into perspective beside the ongoing tragedy affecting the lives and livelihood of our children.

These numbers don't begin to look at the disabilities cause by all three, nor the immeasurable trauma left in the wake of accidents, illness, and homicides. The CDC recently posted that 20% of adults who have had Covid-19 will experience at least one new symptom a month after recovering from their initial bout of covid, aka LongCovid. But masks are still just a suggestion. 

Emergency doctor, Dr. David Berger, warned, "We are saturating the population, again and again, with an illness that carries devastating long-term implications, even in the vaccinated. The evidence is clear from many sources and is now published here in Nature Medicine." Yesterday he further warned,

"Those of us who advocate caution are like early anti-smoking campaigners, doomed to watch the world experience the results of this huge and misguided experiment. Try to comprehend the enormity of it. Imagine thinking a virus carrying a staphylococcal enterotoxin B superantigen motif, with at least 8 immune evasive and distinct cellular entry mechanisms, proven to cause widespread autoimmunity and immune dysfunction, organ damage and cognitive impairment, that's highly transmissible, AIRBORNE and capable of short interval reinfection, is something we can 'live with.' Imagine how much denial you would have to conjure up to think all that was OK. Well that's where we are right now."

Masks provide source control to never let the virus into the air in the first place. In Canada, while we have many rules in place to actively prevent automobile and gun fatalities, we're still refusing to do the simplest things to prevent covid deaths. It's just so weirdly inconsistent that I can't get over it!! We haven't limited deaths from covid, we've just acclimatized ourselves to a politically acceptable level of fatalities, averaging about 58 extra deaths each day across our country. And now we're seeing "immunity debt" from letting the virus rip through the population, leaving many open to harm from typically less threatening diseases taking full advantage of this open door.

Case rates in Ottawa have been low, and they still have mandated masks in school there, but that's likely just a coincidence, right?! So now they're removing the mandates for the last month of school because... freedom!! It's like slowing down at a light, then taking your foot off the brake just as you get to the intersection. I'm so curious about their reasoning, their legit reasoning, not the crap they tell the media. Like, how do they sleep at night? I just got our online school newspaper with pictures of recent spirit rallies, students crammed together cheering, indoors, not a mask in sight. If the leaders running the event wore them, the kids might too, but... freedom!! 

Beyond our weak ability to assess risk, I worry that we've lost sight of what it means to live in a civilization together.

What IS a Civilization?

Roxane Gay recently wrote that the time for civility is over. She's defining it as well-mannered or polite. She rails against the idea that gun violence is something to be endured instead of changed and the misguided notion that complaining about it or even yelling about it won't help: 

"The United States has become ungovernable not because of political difference or protest or a lack of civility but because this is a country unwilling to protect and care for its citizens--its women, its racial minorities and especially its children. When politicians talk about civility and public discourse, what they're really saying is that they would prefer for people to remain silent in the face of injustice."

Absolutely. We have to speak up and speak out. Loudly. But the part of civilization I think we're missing is collective education and socialization. No, I'm not advocating for some weird vision of communism where everyone is the same (which is the odd direction some students go in when I mention anything done for the collective sake of a community). I mean we need to work on developing common values and skills that we can use to navigate the future and the ability to correct people when they act contrary to these values. We do this already in grade school, gently reminding kids to wait their turn when someone's speaking, which teaches the value of everyone getting a chance to be heard, even though we could go further to make sure everyone is actively listening instead of just quietly waiting to speak. Somehow those corrections have become offensive later in life. We've conflated judging people for who they are with judging them for harmful behaviours, pretty much unless it has to do with sex or direct violence.

And we also need the civility that Gay rejects, in that we need to teach how to talk to one another when we disagree, how to recognize cons, manipulations, and gaslighting, and how to avoid seeing them in reasonable arguments when they're not there.

Part of our reality of increased cases of covid as more and more masks come off has been caused by the fanatic insistence by some that freedom to do what's comfortable for me trumps your very survival. That's just not how a good civilization works. That's barbarism. I mean these terms in the current colloquial usage, not the specific historical usage. When I think about it, by 'civilized,' I really mean 'peaceful and stable co-existence.' Sure, we've still got all the key elements of a civilization that would prove we existed after we careen towards collapse, but we've lost the spirit of it - what makes us civilized, the humane part of being human. 

We need the ability to think rationally about our own behaviours -- if they affect others -- and weigh that effect as if each other person affected carries the same value as ourselves. It's so clear and simple that not wearing a mask has the potential to harm so many, that, if we value our fellow citizens, no mere convenience to ourselves could morally or logically justify not wearing one. Sometimes this form of measuring can be near impossible, but for traffic safety, gun control, and mask mandates, it is extraordinarily simple! We all accept a little less freedom so that we can each live longer, healthier lives. 

Because we recognize that some people can't reason well, this needs to be legislated and monitored, the way we monitor people who speed down residential streets with some type of punisher (a ticket, or offer of a mask, or even just a reminder if we want to be gentle about it) that will dissuade harmful behaviours. A strong culture is integrated, with everything connected in a way that strengthening one part helps to strengthen the whole. Aiming to decrease poverty through basic income, decreases homelessness, drug addiction, and theft. And aiming to protect the most vulnerable adds another sector of people able to access the marketplace. Making it safer to enter your store will give you more customers. Making it safer to enter school, will result in a more educated populace. I've been hearing about teachers straight up telling kids to take off their masks, but I got called out (and threatened, but that's a story for another day) for having windows open a crack and explaining the effectiveness of masks. We're not allowed to suggest that kids wear them in class because, somehow, that's discriminatory. Weakening one part of the culture also weakens the whole, and that little piece of the system is enough to evaporate the fragile threads of our web of connections. And then we have this:

Impending Collapse

In 2004, Jane Jacobs explored the signs of collapse of civilizations in Dark Age Ahead. She wrote that one sign of a Dark Age is being "unable to maintain even rudimentary community life" (168) with people fearing one another to the point of not asking for help when needed because they're afraid of people coming into their homes. I'm starting to feel that fear in my own city. She also looked at the structure of the system in a city that removed social workers "with the idea that police and firemen could take on social workers' tasks in case of emergency"(85). There's a lot of discussion about defunding the police, but not quite the collective will to make it happen. Another sign of destruction is the abandonment of the scientific state of mind. "Science is distinguished from other pursuits by the precise and limited intellectual means that it employs and the integrity with which it uses its limited means" (65). We are good at doing science, but far too many of us aren't good at distinguishing science from nonsense. And she explains the importance of values:

"A society must be self-aware. Any culture that jettisons the values that have given it competence, adaptability, and identity becomes weak and hollow. A culture can avoid that hazard only by tenaciously retaining the underlying values responsible for the culture's nature and success. This is a framework into which adaptations must be assimilated" (176). 

In the states, that's government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In our fair country, we have peace, welfare, and good government. As John Ralston Saul explains in that timely read,

"Once decent people can express the elements of fairness as if it were normal, they will more or less agree on what has to be done. . . . How can you correct mistakes if there is no capacity to admit them in the first place. . . . We have thousands of years of history that tell us about elites who turn to gambling for state revenues. Without exception, history identifies those leaders as degenerates who are responsible for dragging down their civilization."

The power in our country is not of the people, but for a select group to develop their own wealth and personal allies who turn a blind eye to the results of their decisions, with contempt for the commoners. Under regular circumstances, it's a problem that we've been begrudgingly tolerating for decades, but under the threat of disease and disaster, it's fatal and no longer tenable, no longer survivable

In On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder, an expert on genocides, also points to connections with others and integrity in our values as key to surviving a global catastrophe, right up there with paying attention to beginning signs of trouble, reading at depth, and thinking. The other option is a part of Jared Diamond's Collapse that comes back to haunt me from time to time. He describes the common archeological marker of dead civilizations as a piles of bones with large game at the bottom, then smaller and smaller game, with rats near the top, but human bones above that, broken in half to better suck out the marrow that barely helped fend off eventual starvation. How many years away is that scenario? It certainly feels closer than ever before.

As a society begins to collapse, incidents of violence increase as we shift to an elongated period of unrest. Once violence becomes normal - starting, perhaps, with rowdy protests in the streets - then it becomes more and more acceptable to attack one another, fighting for scraps as food shortages become routine. We need to work hard to connect enough to want to help one another through this instead of competing with our neighbours, but the overt divisiveness created by masks puts a wrench in that ideal trajectory.

Some kowtow to the fight to remove masks as a way of stopping the divisiveness, but that just capitulates to the insanity and claims the unreasonable the victors. It gives them the clout to further berate and attack people wearing masks at the store. The mall closest to me is home to anti-mask protests, and I have to choose which door to enter wisely to avoid being harassed on the way in or, more typically, I avoid that area entirely. Never in a million years did I expect I'd be nervous to walk into a store!

A Bit About Privilege

Yes, the idea that we haven't been in a state of unrest, and that I'm surprised to be wary of the mall, is a very privileged white girl thing to say. I'm just now fearful of going to the store and many in my community have been fighting harassment and worse their entire lives. I've heard some racialized people comment, rightly so, that while people are just joining the fight now because it's finally affecting them. Absolutely. I knew intellectually that visible minorities being 'bugged' at school or in stores is a serious social issue, but (and this is really crappy) it does make a difference to feel what that's like first hand, to suddenly change direction because of people at the end of that street or have to think about which door to use to avoid those people. Definitely we need to wake up and get our shit together and rally against the sidewalk bullying and violence in solidarity, and I'm sorry I didn't fully understand how much it affects people's lives to be afraid to just exist walking down the street before this - and I can even take off my mask when it gets too bad, choosing potential illness over violence if need be, and maybe I should just move to a city that doesn't invite Maxime Bernier and Jordan Peterson to rile up the masses. But I'm here now, waking up to the fucked-up-ness of it all. 

How Bad Is It?

Collectively, in one way or another, we're all affected by climate change, covid, convoys, and attempted coups. They feel too big to change. Jacobs wrote that Roosevelt "staved off destructive corporate cannibalism for about a crucial half century before it was loosed in the 1960s and intensified in the 1980s. Climbing out of a spiral of decline or an abyss of mass amnesia is so difficult and chancy, and entails so many ordeals and hardships, that a much better strategy is to avoid falling into terminal messes" (170). It's way too late for that advice at this point. 

We're looking at the social safety nets being destroyed to put profits in the hands of the few at a furious pace. Healthcare is decimated to the point of triage, with delays in diagnosis and treatment for anything other than covid. And it's being privatized, so keep your credit card next to your OHIP card. We've got once in a century weather events happening regularly. We're headed towards food shortages, but Durham Region is opening 9,000 acres of farmland to development. We need to plant more trees, but we're going to put in a new highway that very few will use but will profit Ford's buddies. Abortion is being limited more and more and baby formula is hard to find. Potable water is more scarce. We violently evict the unhoused from public areas forcing them to become urban nomads. Transphobes are making the same old stupid arguments made by homophobes twenty years ago and are coming for our library books. ODSP is just about halfway towards meeting the poverty line. People died of dehydration in LTC homes. And just don't have ASD in Ontario. It's cheaper and easier to access MAID than much needed mental health care, prescriptions, primary care doctors, food, or housing, enabling a genocide of the poor by their own hands. Since anti-mask/vax pro-gun pick-up truck driving dudes are not remotely swayed by seeing some of their own group die from covid, it seems that nothing will sway them, and we'll be perpetually accosted or pushed into full on riots if not civil war (and we know we'll lose because they have all the guns).

The ruling class is actively arresting select protesters here and using tear gas to disperse crowds in the states, but the powers that be sure take their sweet time to stop a coup and a convoy and a shooting. How many of us guessed that the shooter wasn't white when we heard that he was killed by police?

I'm afraid we're becoming far too desensitized to violence and disease and death, even when it involves children

What Helps to Ride this Apocalyptic Storm?

For years I've had a smattering of students insist that littering is the main cause of climate change. I think some grade school teacher nearby must be grossly misinformed! I correct them, but I also add that it's still useful to focus on picking up litter and sorting garbage into recycling. It's better to avoid buying anything you don't need and to shop locally, walking to the store if possible, but it's still good for our mental health to feel like we're doing something to solve this enormous crisis. So even though 90% of plastics end up in the landfill, keep recycling! 

This notion is not too dissimilar from encouraging everyone to vote despite watching the Liberals and NDP also propose or pass life-destroying energy policies and sell arms to aggressive regimes. It matters in the short term that we get rid of guns in our communities and keep abortion available and fight for the rights of everyone and argue to reinstate mask mandates in order to make our lives a little safer and last a little longer despite looming food shortages and weather events on which we have absolutely zero impact. But, yup, littering. And do take the time to vote. 

So I focus on minor but immediate issues, like adding optional grade 13 in Ontario, to help as a distraction from this mass destruction and to potentially make things just a little better in the short term. And I read and think and advocate for bigger issues, like defunding the police, who were clearly less effective in Tuesday's massacre than the unarmed teachers driven by a love for their students. 

I suppose fighting to take out any books that mention LGBTQ+ issues is yet another way some people distract themselves as is dancing in front of parliament in a speedo. We're all suffering and in desperate need of distractions to help with collective denial just enough to get through yet another day. This is where we desperately need wise judgment to ensure that our emotional balms don't harm others. Somehow we need to reach people and teach them to better weigh the harm they might cause against the harm they think they're preventing, but I have no idea how to do that. Will massive strike action help, or will that just fuel the flames on each side of a growing divide?

Here's my most controversial opinion: We need people willing to break the harmful rules that profitable policies have created - like this Toronto doctor who couldn't find an ethical reason not to give vaccines to under fives. And we need school boards to have the balls to make decisions that save the lives of children including getting them to wear masks.

We have a responsibility to one another, and there are ways through this that we're ignoring. Check out how New Zealand handled the Christchurch shooting AND Covid-19 on Stephen Colbert. Ardern explained that they were successful because they're pragmatic, and they had enough lag time to learn from other countries. So what's on earth is wrong with us???

Next Thursday's election isn't just about government in Ontario; it's a peek into whether or not good can triumph over evil. Be prepared.



ETA - This George Carlin bit (h/t Lorne) with some good advice about just living without any expectations around what happens next. 


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