News and views: the tyranny of comfort

From “COVID and the Tyranny of Comfort“, Matt Purple. I had a retrospective post planned for today, the observation of the one-year mark of the coronamania episode in Alabama, but this piece from TAC fits the bill.

But it’s still been profoundly inhuman, this exchange of the authentic for the artificial, this bargain of freedom for comfort. It was what the Savage protested against at the end of Brave New World:

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

I’ve always thought that’s the greatest howl against tyranny in all of literature, acknowledging as it does that life and liberty are still worth it even if they don’t gratify us as we wish. Yet it also, perhaps intentionally, sets up a false antithesis: comfort and unhappiness. In fact, we can be comfortable and still be deeply unhappy, as we’re now discovering. Freedom and happiness are vibrant, social things; they’re rarely found when you’re sedentary and alone, cozy though you might feel. If nothing else, this last year has been a reminder that community and liberty go together, that both are needed if we want to be happy.

No wonder, then, that the lockdowns have seen spikes in loneliness,suicidal thoughts, and interest in crackpot schemes and ideologies that promise liberation while reducing man to the abstract he is on the screen. And while we can’t be certain how life will look once the pandemic is over, it seems unlikely that the isolation will fully abate. Economists are now chattering about a “K-shaped recovery,” meaning a deeply unequal one, where America number one gets richer and America number two falls off. For the first group, telework is likely to become the new reality. For the second, unemployment will mean more time at home. One is clearly worse than the other, but both will feed into our auxiliary plague of loneliness.

Still, that’s yet to come. First, we need the virus to end and society to reopen. Because this is no way to live. And I say that as someone who’s never run low on toilet paper.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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12 Responses to News and views: the tyranny of comfort

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    The psychological problems associated with various lockdowns etc shouldn’t come as any great surprise given that we are, by nature, a socially gregarious species. Isolation is used in prisons and other places as a punishment for good reason. I know of several people who have really struggled over the past year and I’ve had a few wobbles myself despite the fact that I’m emotionally very self-sufficient. It’ll be nice to get back to some sort of normality when we can actually stand within 3 feet of someone and not feel as if we’re taking a risk!

  2. Mudpuddle says:

    i’m not sure how i feel about “freedom’… sometimes it seems that no one has ever been free: there are always constraints regardless of appearances… and i think there may be a lot of accuracy in the “K” theory…

  3. Marian says:

    Love that quote from BNW.

    It seems like the vaccination rollout is going to cause a whole new layer of isolation, as people get divided into groups based on that. I really hope it doesn’t go that way, but right now it’s a real possibility.

  4. Cyberkitten says:

    Well, people can do whatever they want really….. But actions and in-actions have (and should have) consequences, no? It’s a bit like driving and insisting on not wearing a seat belt. Any consequence over and above what a belted passenger would expect is essentially self-inflicted. You shouldn’t really expect people to accept enhanced risks because of other people’s life choices.

    • How does not wearing a seatbelt create enhanced risk for other people? The threat of flying bodies must surely be marginal. 😉

      There’s a spectrum of ‘enhanced risk’. A guy who’s had nine beers and is weaving into traffic greatly enhances my risk if I’m anywhere near him. That I get. A guy who has a single beer, and is sipping it as he cruises through town? Not a problem. (The police would say otherwise, but legality & morality are very different things.) Someone with TB walking around coughing is a great risk to me; someone with the flu, not so much. Different people also have different tolerances for risk: the elderly are more vulnerable to the flu than me. But if they’re concerned, THEY should stay home and order uber-eats and pretend zoom chats are substantive, not force 95% of society to be miserable hermits unless they’ve gotten their rush-job shots.

    • CK – EXACTLY! People can put their own health at risk but don’t have the right to put others at risk. And saying that those at risk should just stay home…well, why? Why should they be the ones who have to stay home?

      • If you don’t believe those who are at risk should stay home, why on earth should people not at risk stay home? o_O You’re talking about compelling the overwhelming majority of people to have their lives destroyed to save a fleeting few who could minimize their risk if they took the same actions you are inflicting on the healthy majority. The at risk are AT RISK. They’re the most likely to die, the most likely to be symptomatic, the most likely to spread it. I’m emphatically against anyone being COMPELLED to stay home, even the at risk: it’s their life, not mine. If I’m worried about sick people, I avoid them. I go to stores when there’s no one there. I exercise AGENCY and free will, as befits a free person. I will not be muzzled and medicated like a cow at the whims of the state and its experts who contradict themselves by the month. March 2020, CDC says “Don’t buy masks, they’re not helpful”. May? Wear masks. April: don’t gather in groups, it’s very dangerous. Summer? March in the streets yelling slogans, burn stuff down, that’s good for civic health.

        I’m done being respectful of this patent horse manure. People want to be paranoid, they should stay inside with tinfoil hats, not destroy the lives of everyone around them.

      • Ah yes, because trying to make sure we all get through this is such a terrible thing and somehow equates to being paranoid. The guidelines evolved over time because our understanding of the virus and how it spreads evolved over time. It’s not about being paranoid and staying home, it’s about not being selfish and actually caring about everyone impacted. At-risk people still have the right to live their lives also.

      • At-risk people have the right to live their lives? Absolutely. So do the rest of us. But that’s not what’s happening.I’m fine with guidelines evolving over time as new information is made available. That does not appear to have been the case with mask edicts and social distancing prescriptions.

        What has happened this past year is the wholesale destruction of the non-big box economy and the evisceration of what we were calling public education, and the collapse of everything that makes life meaningful – over an exaggerated threat. How many deaths from suicide and depression, how many deaths from un-caught cancer and cardiac disease, will it take to make politicians admit the last year was a catastrophic overreaction? I monitored the results of countries and states that loosened early, or imposed new strictures, and what happened? Absolutely nothing. Geriatric Florida was on par with the rest of the nation, despite having demographics that should have primed it to become a sun-soaked grave. The states who joined Florida are on track with the rest of the nation. Despite all of their draconian measures, lockdown-happy New York and California are suffering worse than their sister states who have opened up again.

        The masks work as advertised: they don’t. My doubts were sealed when I inspected the boxes being sold at various supermarkets and found they all had the same disclaimer: ineffective against influenza or other viruses. What do they do? They guard against spit and provide the illusion that we’re doing something about something that frightens us. I’m not afraid anymore. Those who are concerned, fine — it’s everyone’s right to take individual measures to safeguard themselves. But bullying others for over a year for the vulnerabilities of a few? That’s morally outrageous.


  5. The virus is not going away. We will, however, develop herd immunity and the risks of being infected and dying will become even smaller than they already are. Unfortunately it is going to be a long and hard battle to regain the freedom that we have lost. Those in power who desire to control the rest of us and dole out a pittance now and then will not give up that control without a fight. I am with you – if I’m going to be unhappy I want the freedom for that to be my own choice.

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