Another inconvenient truth

March 19, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

One of my favourite Leonard Cohen poems is All There is to Know About Adolph Eichmann. The first half of the poem is a list of Eichmann’s physical traits: eyes, hair, weight and height; each are rated as medium. Eichmann has no distinguishable features, has 10 fingers and 10 toes. The second half of the poem is a series of questions: What did you expect? Talons? Oversize incisors? Green saliva? Madness?

What I take away from the poem is that fascism, Nazism, and other barbaric systems of governance, are not practised by people with talons, oversize incisors, or green saliva, but everyday people that look like you and me. It makes it all the more difficult to recognize such dangers to humanity, until it is too late. The only way we can save humanity from such a menace is to be alert and vigilant, at all times.

The Coronavirus has blind-sided us, shaken us; our lives have been upended. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the best and the worst that humanity has to offer in times of crisis.

While shopping at Fortinos in Brampton last Thursday, I was shocked at the number of people pushing carts, shoving and steamrolling their way through the aisles and crowds. There had been no reports of impending water shortages, food shortages or toilet paper shortages, yet most carts were brimming with said items. The anxiety was palpable. A woman on her cellphone was near hysterics: “I know! It feels like the end of the world!” An older man, at least 80 years old, holding a single item wrapped in butcher paper, was boorishly directed to the end of the line (at least 35 people deep). Carts had been abandoned as if the people pushing them had vanished into thin air. One man pushed his cart away and called everybody ‘retarded’ before storming out. 

It was clear that people were scared; I’m not surprised. I mean, we live in an age where everything can be made to order. The 21st century is one of convenience. You can walk into Starbucks (not anymore) and get a coffee made 85 different ways. Smart watches can help people live longer, healthier lives. If you want to know something, don’t think about it – Google it. You need to buy something, find it on Amazon. Cars can drive themselves. We can out-source our work. We can have the ingredients to our next meal delivered to our front door. What we can’t do this time around, is download an app or expect Jeff Bezos and the TikTok girls to keep us safe from the Coronavirus. Our convenient world has been rocked. 

I wanted to feel sorry for the people in the grocery store that day, but I couldn’t. You see, we’ve been told something like this was going to happen for some time now. We were told that if we didn’t change the way we lived by re-examining things like our relationship to nature and the environment, the way we consumed, the way we interacted with technology and one another, that there could be major consequences. 

To me, the COVID virus is a symptom of a much bigger disease. I think we’ve been sick for a long time – from Ebola, Swine flu, hyper-capitalism, climate change, inequality. For too long, most of us have been living in denial. Perhaps fake news is so rampant because it’s easier to deal with than real news. We don’t want to hear the truth. We’d rather be mindlessly distracted than have to deal with the harsh realities facing us as a species. In the words of Neil Postman: “We are amusing ourselves to death.” We live in a world of polarities, from incessant greed and individualism to the declaration of emergencies; this is where we’re at because we can’t stand to look at the world as it is: a world in a perpetual crisis that the pandemic has only made clearer.

I’d like to think that once this has all gone away – if it ever goes away – that we’re going to come out of it stronger; I doubt it. I thought the same thing after the terrorist attacks in 2001, and the financial crisis in 2008. What’s happened since those events? The rich got richer, the poor stayed broke. We’ve become more violent, less intimate, increasingly anxious. We no longer trust our leaders and institutions; too many people think climate change is a hoax. We horde when we should be sharing. 

Of course, I’ve heard about all the good deeds and random acts of generosity that have been taking place. What matters to me is if those acts will continue once the pandemic has passed; I doubt it. We’ll just go back to waiting anxiously for the next app to download, the next show to binge watch, the next viral video to share, and ordering the next smart-device that will make our lives even more convenient, more comfortable. 

It can all seem so dire. It doesn’t have to be. Look, I’m not a doctor or a scientist; I don’t have to be. I think there is a cure for what truly ails us as humans: love, trust and compassion. We need to recognize that technology is not the only thing that connects us. We need to stop being so mindlessly distracted and recognize that there are things out there that are beyond our control, and the only way we’re going to be able to confront these things is if we do it together. We need to recognize that the choices we make have consequences. We need to think, we need to act, we need to love. Not just in times of crisis, but at all times. 

Albert Camus summed it up in his masterpiece (and current best-seller) The Plague. He writes: “…a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.”

This is a time for a personal, communal and global reckoning. Be safe; be mindful; be attentive. We’re going to be okay. However, before that can happen, we’re going to have to take a good, hard look at ourselves. We’re going to have to look into the mirror and confront whatever we see staring back at us: Talons? Oversize Incisors? Green saliva? Madness? 

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