03 May, 2020

Even Naked, America Cannot See Itself -- In a time of plague, willful blindness is a coping mechanism.

I was asleep when one of the tornadoes missed our house by a handful of miles. That it charted its particular path, sparing my family but killing others, and leaving others still with spoiled food stockpiles and home damage they might never recoup, taught me little about tornadoes except that they behave like tornadoes — that is, they function in ways that are neither malicious nor cosmically edifying on their own terms, even as they cause tremendous damage to humans. It’s not personal for them. How societies mitigate the pain they cause at the margins is far more revealing — how much we invest, as Americans, in catching the vulnerable when the floor is ripped from beneath them. We may tell ourselves the pandemic is asking this question of us, but if we had the courage to look clearly, the answer was evident long before this crisis: in how our society distributes suffering, the stories we tell to make it compatible with our national self-regard; how aggressively so many insist on overlooking the foreseeable. The depth of havoc that the coronavirus wreaks on its inevitable victims was, and is, within America’s capacity to determine. We have few insights into the path it’s cutting today that we haven’t had for years and that we weren’t already ignoring.