Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Anticipation and Experience in the Age of Corona

            With the arrival of the Coronavirus or “Covid-19”, a respiratory bug that sometimes results in death for old people as well as those with pre-existing conditions like lung problems or diabetes, I have noticed a few stark dichotomies of individuals emerge. One group is people who don’t believe that this is a big deal or will kill all that many people. These are the individuals who tend to be older and live in a delusion that life should be like a constant vacation for them, that they are invulnerable to bad things happening, that bad things don’t happen anymore. These people are essentially mental invalids, having grown up in the world’s best economy, never having to deal with any sort of economic or social realities that people younger than them have been thrust into, and thus are incapable of imagining a world where there is a genuine threat to their health and safety. Combine their Pollyannaish worldview with their worship of the stock market and property values, and you get people who are overly eager to discount any caution and insist that everybody keep the party going –even if that party has the chance to kill them.

            The majority of individuals who aren’t mentally addled boomers are those who now understand Coronavirus to be a highly contagious and deadly (for older and sickly people) problem. In this grouping there is a dichotomy, and this is where things start to get interesting. While everybody with a sound mind is admitting that this is going to kill hundreds of thousands of people, some people are saying that this is the end of the world, and some others are saying that it’s not a pleasant reality but it won’t cause the collapse of civilization in any meaningful way.
            What is the reason for this “end of the world” vs “things suck but we’ll get over it” difference in mentality? Simply put, life experience. Very few people have ever had traumatic or truly painful things happen to them. By traumatic or truly painful things, I do not mean death of a pet or loved one, or getting in a car accident, or getting taken advantage of, but rather something that consists of genuine suffering and pain to a level where it feels that life itself can’t possibly go on, that the universe is tearing apart at the seams, that there is no way that anything will ever get better. What ends up happening, as anybody who has gone through this and come out the other side will tell you, is that of course things get better, the world keeps on turning, the distress that was felt strongly is gradually realized to be foolish and shortsighted, and a new perspective that puts things in their proper limited context is reached.

            Most people don’t have the unpleasant luxury of the aforementioned life experience, haven’t ever been pushed past their personal limits and really felt what it means to suffer, and so most people don’t have the knowledge of what actually bad things entail. Another thing they do not have the knowledge of is that the anticipation of something bad is almost always worse than the bad thing itself, and the terror of prediction is what is causing emotional problems.

This anticipatory distress is what is going on with Coronavirus, where people are imagining that once bodies start piling up, the negative emotions they feel now will get even worse and things will start to break apart. This is not the case. If/when bodies pile up and death is in the air and everywhere everybody looks, people will realize that it’s not that big a deal. It’s unpleasant, but what can you do? There’s no way to change reality and make it better by feeling sad or upset, so there’s no reason to be sad or upset. Tears won’t bring back the dead from the mass graves, so to cry is weak emotionalism that should be reserved for women and children who can’t be expected to know any better.

As anybody who has dealt with truly bad things knows, bad things aren’t half as bad as the anticipation of bad things. People will suffer, people will die, businesses will go bankrupt, houses will be foreclosed on, certain people will kill themselves or get addicted to drugs to cope with their emotions, but life will eventually return to normal. Everything always returns to the manner in which it is structurally organized to behave, even though there are temporary disruptions and problems that cause abnormalities. Being locked down and unable to go shopping or whatever it is that people want to do is the “new normal” for a temporary amount of time, and people with life experience will see it as the temporary thing that it is, whether it is temporary for one month, one year, or five years. Bad things are manageable and able to be dealt with. Hysterical mania and emotional discomforts aren’t logical or reasonable or useful, and so these things need to be completely discarded and recognized as useless and foolish.

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