Dystopian and Unthinkable…

Activist holds a candle during a vigil in Lafayette Park for nurses who died during the COVID-19 pandemic on January 13, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Topics: Civics, COVID-19, Epidemiology, Existentialism, Politics

With all due respect to the recently departed former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, she started using the phrase “indispensable nation” after political reporter Sydney Blumenthal coined it. From Foreign Policy Magazine:

In his memoir of the Clinton presidency, The Clinton Wars, Blumenthal elaborated on what the phrase was intended to represent: “Only the United States had the power to guarantee global security: without our presence or support, multilateral endeavors would fail.” Albright, then secretary of state, began using the phrase often, and most prominently in February 1998, while defending the policy of coercive diplomacy against Iraq over its limited cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors when, during an interview on the “Today Show,” she said: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

The Myth of the Indispensable Nation, Micah Zenko, Foreign Policy

Though politically expedient, and in the parlance of activism, it “chants” well, we’re not indispensable, nor are we exceptional. We allowed the worst of a pandemic to spread by ineptitude and Twitter addiction, science denialism, and conspiracy theory. Since the introduction of cable news and siloes of news consumption, we have citizens that believe in different versions of reality. It puts the “United States” in the realm of the oxymoron.

Now, we’re at this grim milestone. Conservatives live to push buttons, “own the libs,” grift off culture issues, and keep their constituents at high levels of anxiety and anger with right-wing echo chambers to ensure they vote for them to “own the libs.” Progressives think high-minded logic, social media presence, “woke-ness,” diversity, equity, and inclusion by proximity will produce a Star Trek utopia, because of high-minded logic. I purposely made each perspective a grammatical ouroboros. We’re at a grim milestone because our major political parties have wholly different means of evaluating reality, and because compromise is frowned upon: “DINO, RINO.” There are dark, nefarious forces that only the well-connected to Q-drops or Alex Jones can decipher.

431,000 non-farm jobs were added, and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6%. Yet, the 46th president’s approval numbers are in the toilet largely because he isn’t as entertaining as the last spastic, pathologically lying, hand-waving caricature of a mob boss with a dead ferret toupee, a metaphor for a life of hiding hard truths from himself.

We are codependent on being perpetually angry, and not wed to the idea of speaking to our neighbors who might not consume the same media. We thus base our understanding of the world and facts on separate lenses we view reality through.

Tom Nichols, former professor at Annapolis Naval Academy, opined about “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters” in 2017, and it doesn’t look like we’ve turned a corner from that analysis of our national death spiral. Because we can “Google it,” we’re a Dunning-Kruger nation of narcissists and debase people who put a lot of work into understanding how the world works. We are a byword and a proverb. We are Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle.”

“The whole idea of a democratic application of skepticism is that everyone should have the essential tools to effectively and constructively evaluate claims to knowledge.”

― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Good Reads

*****

Laura Jackson feels the loss of her husband Charlie like she is missing a part of herself. He died of COVID early in the pandemic, on May 17, 2020, just weeks after the couple celebrated his 50th birthday. Charlie was an Army veteran who served in Iraq during Desert Storm, and Laura finds herself returning to images of war and loss—to those who have lost a limb but still feel its phantom tingle, who unthinkingly reach for a glass of water or try to step out of bed before realizing what has been lost forever. Even now she still turns to find Charlie, eager to share a joy or a disappointment, only to remember with a jolt that there is a missing space where he once was.

“I don’t know that you ever get over it,” says Jackson, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. “Your person who was supposed to be there for life—to have that tragically ripped away has been a huge, huge adjustment to make.”

The U.S. will record one million confirmed deaths from COVID in the next several weeks. This toll is likely an undercount because there are more than 200,000 other excess deaths that go beyond typical mortality rates, caused in part by the lingering effects of the disease and the strain of the pandemic. These immense losses are shaping our country—how we live, work, and love, how we play and pray and learn and grow.

“We will see the rippling effects of the pandemic on our society and the way it impacts individuals for generations,” says Nyesha Black, director of demographic research at the University of Alabama. “This is definitely a huge marker in the way we will think about society moving forward—it will be that anchor event.” COVID has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer.

These deaths have wide-ranging consequences. The effects on children may be the longest-lasting. In the U.S., an estimated 243,000 children have lost a caregiver to COVID—including 194,000 who lost one or both parents—and the psychological and economic aftershocks can have lifetime negative impacts on their education and career.

What One Million COVID Dead Mean for the U.S.’s Future, Melody Schreiber, Scientific American

Published by reginaldgoodwin

Engineering Physics, Bachelors of Science, December 1984 Microelectronics & Photonics, Graduate Certificate, February 2016 Nanoengineering, Masters, December 2019 Nanoengineering, Ph.D., Summer 2022

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