Social Responsibility... To Do What?
The thing to do with Covid-19 is to get vaccinated. Unfortunately many people refuse to do so. Given the realities of American political culture, it would have been smart if we had all fought to make vaccination as free of culture war trappings as possible; unfortunately, we did the opposite, and now we’re caught in one of those recurring skirmishes within America’s partisan divide where both sides are pretty much completely correct in their mockery of the other - liberals really are haughty, self-righteous, and hypocritical, and conservatives really are self-destructive, irrational, and motivated by resentment. We’re stuck with each other, forever, locked in this cage with people we hate, and there will be no escape in our lifetimes.
There were, as is to be expected, a lot of mixed feelings about my last post. The criticism that I’ve seen the most is about the concept of social responsibility. You’re talking about this as a matter of individual choice, but we have a responsibility to the community! Again and again, in some terms or another, the same complaint. And again and again, me left with the same very obvious question: social responsibility… to do what? What do you want me to do, or to advocate that others do, that I’m not already doing? I told you, I’m vaccinated, I mask where appropriate. If I get symptoms I’ll get a test. Beyond that, what is the behavior that you would like for me to take part in? Because the abstraction of “social responsibility” does not tell me anything about what it is that you want me to do. It seems like there’s really strange fixation on committing to a vague definition of shared responsibility that doesn’t actually articulate what such a responsibility might entail. Which, in turn, suggests a sort of generalized Covid anxiety that is emotionally understandable but not epidemiologically helpful.
Take, for example, self-imposed lockdowns. I understand the utility of self-quarantining as a response to a positive test. But a number of people seem to have taken it upon themselves to essentially impose their own personal perpetual lockdowns, to leave the house as little as possible to limit their potential exposure. Well, OK - I suspect the devil is very much in the details, there, as to how much you actually do go out and how often people come to you. But if that’s a personal bit of risk mitigation, that’s cool, that’s your choice. I especially understand it for the elderly or immunocompromised. Where I get annoyed is in the suggestion that such a thing is an example of practicing greater civic responsibility. If you’re locking down but surviving doing so with meal delivery apps, online shopping, and delivery groceries, you’re not reducing risk, you’re just imposing it on other people. There’s nothing socially responsible about contributing to the mobilization of a mass underclass that risks Covid exposure every day. There’s a deep irony in the notion that self-imposed lockdown is a matter of social responsibility, as it does indeed show that we’re all connected and in it together - and that this fact itself makes it very difficult to avoid risk in a way that’s truly communal. It’s very hard to exist in modern society and to reduce your own risk of infection without increasing that of someone else.
The title here isn’t a rhetorical question. If your response to my previous post is to say that I’m shirking social responsibility, I’m very open to hearing what it is you think I should do. I wish I could convince people to vaccinate, but it seems none of us can.
Covid is a classic case of the contemporary world’s addiction to “we have to DO something!” thinking. Well, yes, you have to do something, which is to vaccinate. That so many refuse to do so is an indictment of them, and to a lesser degree their political and social cultures. (Which, for the record, are far more varied than just red state conservatism; ask Kyrie Irving.) You should probably mask up, but of course logic suggests we should suspend this requirement when we eat and drink, and logic also demands that we should recognize that our risk is raised when we do so. For me, because the chance of serious illness is so remote, I am willing to take that risk, as eating and drinking in social situations is an elementary aspect of having an emotionally healthy life. If I was higher risk I’d calculate differently. Everybody should get tested if they get symptoms and follow local self-quarantining guidelines if positive. What else is on the list? I already told you, I’m firmly committed to all of that stuff. So what else is there? What do you want me to do?
The answer, I think, is nothing. There’s nothing else I can do, and nothing else I can ask others to do. Not anything that would matter. Reference to the grand shibboleth of social responsibility or communal welfare or similar, it’s all a way to hide in the abstract, and we hide there because there’s so little to do in the particular. Covid is here. The vast majority of us will survive it, as has been the case since the beginning. Many hundreds of thousands, tragically, will die. We can pray that Pfizer’s soon-to-be-released therapeutic and others to come will be as transformative as they initially seem, we can wait for more effective vaccines, we can hope that milder variants spread natural immunity sufficiently. Wait, pray, hope - that’s it. Get vaccinated, and your chances of survival climb significantly. Once that’s done, medical science will save who it can save, and Covid will kill you or it won’t. Your desire for control is only human. But like so many human desires it’s defied by an indifferent universe. I don’t know what else you want me to tell you. Unless what you really want, what’s hiding under that “social responsibility” costume, is for me to worry more, feel worse. And to that I can heartily tell you, fuck off. Feeling bad never helped anyone, themselves, and will certainly never help the community.