We’re all expecting an end to the pandemic to be announced one day, when everything will go back to the way it was, but that’s just never going to happen.
By David Todd McCarty | Thursday, September 17, 2020
We talk about the new normal, but we don’t really believe in it. Secretly, we don’t think it will happen. This idea that we’ve somehow changed for good, is nonsense. It will soon all be forgotten, we tell ourselves. We will go back to the way it was. The virus won’t get us. We’re not even sure anyone is really getting sick, or if they are, they already had one foot in the grave. Sorry grandma. It’s not part of our reality. We were frightened for a little while, but now we’re over it.
During World War II, the British government was most concerned that the public would panic during the German bombing campaign and reduce the country to chaos beyond anything the Luftwaffe could accomplish with exploding ordinance. The concern was that the entire social structure would collapse once the fear reached a fever pitch and there would be no way to defend the country.
It never happened of course, but it wasn’t because of the stiff British upper lip, or that nifty little advertising campaign to “Stay Calm and Carry On.” It happened because humans are predisposed to handle crisis amazingly well. We’re fantastically resilient as it turns out.
A Canadian psychiatrist, J. T. MacCurdy, in his book The Structure of Morale postulated this was because the effect of a bomb falling on a population splits them into three groups:
- The Killed
- The Near Misses
- The Remote Misses
As MacCurdy put it, the morale of the British population depended largely on the reaction of the survivors, so from that point of view, The Killed did not matter much in this scenario. The cold, hard truth is, dead men tell no tales and they certainly do not run about spreading panic. Maybe harsh, but undeniably true.
The next group were The Near Misses. These were the ones that felt the blast and saw the destruction first hand. They survived, and were deeply impacted. It may have even resulted in a certain amount of ‘shock’ and a preoccupation with the horrors that they had witnessed. They carried the scars of war just as acutely as those who lost limbs or who were buried in rubble.
The last and largest group, were The Remote Misses. These were the people who heard the sirens and watched the aircraft overhead. They may have heard the bombs exploding, but the bombs exploded down the street or across town. For them the experience of the bombing was that they survived easily, very unlike the Near Miss group. The emotion as a result of the attack, was a feeling of excitement with a flavor of invulnerability.
So at the end of the day, you were either dead, traumatized or invulnerable. The vast majority fell into the third group and so before long you had people going about their daily lives, calmly ducking when they heard an air siren, and then calmly going about their business. They were invincible.
One British worker was asked if he wanted to be evacuated to the countryside (after being bombed out of his house twice) to which he replied, “What, and miss all this? Not for all the tea in China!”
Most experts today say that the notion that we will one day just be virus-free is not just unlikely, it’s not how these things work. We may never actually be rid of the virus, so the days of drunkenly making out with strangers in the frozen food aisle are probably over.
But what is even more curious, is that we will eventually resume some form of normality, not because we have gone back to normal, but because we have factored in the fact that we may die from becoming exposed to a deadly virus.
We drive in cars, knowing there is a good chance one will kill us. We engage in all manner of activities form the mundane to the truly dangerous, with the knowledge that we may fall off that cliff we’re climbing or we may trip over the garden hose, hit our head on the chaise lounge, roll into the pool and drown. The fact that life is so tenuous doesn’t go very far when it comes to moving forward in life.
A lot of Republicans have already claimed to have embraced this seemingly defensible logic, essentially saying that they aren’t going to live in fear—that they are far too brave for that, and so will risk death rather than suffer the indignity of placing four inches of cloth over their nose and mouth. But it’s one thing to go about your day after the bombs have landed, it’s not thing to not even bother to duck when they are in the midst of falling.
There is a prevalent theory in conservative circles that we were eventually just develop herd immunity and will no longer be in danger. But that is not only flawed, it’s incredibly dangerous as more than 6,000,000 Americans would have to die before we even began to level out. That’s roughly one in fifty dead in America just to start. Hoping herd immunity will save us is, as the President so elegantly put it, nothing more than herd mentality.
We will presumably eventually get a vaccine, but not everyone will get vaccinated. It might not even be 100% effective. We don’t know yet. So, in all likelihood, we will be getting used to masks in more of our daily life than we used to, but possibly not as much as we’re dealing with now.
Asian countries have been dealing with this for decades and managed to work around it. If you’re sitting at your desk, or having dinner, you probably won’t be wearing one. But if you’re on a plane or in a crowded subway, or walking in a busy urban environment, you probably will be.
There may be long-term consequences that we haven’t imagined yet, or we may decide that certain things are not worth the risk. It might be legal to hold a three-day outdoor festival with people crowded together, but it might not be wise, and therefore under-attended, and eventually, simply not worth the trouble financially.
The fact that people in London during the blitzkrieg did not panic, was not a result of there being nothing to fear, just that you didn’t hear any stories from those who perished. You can carry on today as if nothing will happen to you, and you may live without fear for a time, but you will not be protecting yourself or your family against the prospect of an early demise. There is courage and there is stupidity and the difference betwixt the two has little to do with you, but lies within the random chance of the bomb’s trajectory. In 1944 it was a bomb on the streets of London, whereas today it is more likely a sneeze from an unmasked woman named Karen, in baked goods.
Keep calm, wear a mask and carry on.