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Addiction to anxiety: hell is other people


Many people just can’t let go of the COVID-19 crisis, no matter how much good news there is. And that, unfortunately, includes many health officials, from Dr. Anthony Fauci on down to those at the state and county levels. Not to mention loads of just folks who really want COVID to never end. 

Despite the fact that we are now putting 3 million injections a day in this country into willing biceps, with the possibility of that number rising to 4 million, and despite the fact that deaths from COVID continue to decline, some people like health officials and journalists cling to bad news and disaster like a leech clings to its host.

The default position for many of them is: Don’t let up. Don’t go out. Don’t mingle. Don’t travel. Wear your mask, wear your mask, wear your mask. Don’t take the slightest chance. And don’t, whatever you do, notice that the numbers of deaths from the virus are declining steadily. Because if you do, you might demand that you be allowed to live your life like a normal human being instead of waiting on the latest pronouncements of Dr. Fauci (pause here for organ music and singing of hosannas.)  The good doctor, by the way, just expressed the belief that we won’t (or shouldn’t) be able to ever go back to shaking hands again.  Thanks for that, Doc. I have a hand gesture for you that perhaps we could use instead!

Clearly Dr. Fauci is one of those health care professionals who can’t conceive that his opinions won’t be eagerly sought out by everyone forevermore. He’s like an engineer at the dawn of the age of the automobile saying, “Well, you know, if you allow people to drive more than 10 miles an hour, somebody’s going to get hurt! And that’s simply too big of a risk! Get a horse!”

But he is not alone. Many, many people have become rather comfortable with the restrictions of the pandemic. It’s so cozy. So non-threatening. So like napping in a papasan. As the days dragged into weeks and into months it slowly dawned on many of us who fiercely resent the impositions of the pandemic that a good-sized percentage of the populace actually enjoys it. But as General Patton said at the conclusion of World War II: “All good things must come to an end!” 

I have great and good friends who kind of dig not having to get out and rub shoulders with the multitudes. We have in our ranks many introverts who cringe about going to work because mixing with people makes them nervous. Who have found the new normal of talking to co-workers filtered by a computer terminal infinitely preferable to having to deal with them in person. Who used to resent having to go out to buy groceries or new clothes, and for whom every social interaction from dining in a restaurant—with noisy, nosy, people—and for whom Sartre’s observation that “hell is other people,” is their bedrock philosophy. As the old joke goes: They resemble that remark.

They resent—some of them deeply—the move toward opening up society. Why would the rest of us insist on busting out from this womblike existence? What’s the hurry? 

A lot of those people are teachers. As a group, teachers used to be among the most highly admired in society. However, the way that teachers unions in this country have behaved—with little or no regard for the well-being of their students, and maximum regard for their own comforts and desires—has worn away a lot of respect and high regard from parents for whom trying to balance working for a living with watching over their children as they struggle with remote learning is in itself another form of hell.

For the past year Humankind has been in the grip of a mass hysteria that, in the United States, can be compared to the Red Scare of 1918—1919, the McCarthyism and blacklisting of the early 1950s. The most recent mass hysteria in the U.S. in case you haven’t figured it out, was the one that followed 9/11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City.

What each of these periods have in common is that they were used as excuses for attacking freedom of speech and personal liberties. Government power expanded, and such power usually operates like a ratchet. Once it advances, it rarely wants to retreat.

During the Red Scare it was illegal to criticize the United States for its participation in the Great War. It was also illegal to write sympathetically about socialism or communism.   In the era of McCarthyism,  anyone who wasn’t completely on board with the Cold War faced losing the ability to make a living. The liberals used to lord McCarthyism over Republicans and conservatives—now they practice it themselves, doing their best to shut down anyone who doesn’t share their opinions of how society should respond to COVID.

I am convinced that 50 years from now, with the benefit of hindsight, historians will look on this time in the same way that today we look back on the Salem Witch Trials. People, especially public officials, went off the rails. In their fear of being criticized for not doing enough they went way overboard. And those who didn’t agree with them were often tossed overboard too. 

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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