oh you’ve got a particularly pessimistic and mature attitude towards Covid? that’s so fucking brave

We are living through a plague and things are very serious and we all need to sacrifice and endure in order to survive. We owe it to ourselves and to others to follow all of the protocols, wearing a mask, social distancing, and abiding by lockdowns and other rules from government and the medical establishment designed to prevent transmission of Covid-19. I am obeying them all and I hope that you all do too.

There has been, in these plague years, the emergence of a particular kind of creature. Though I had never encountered them before they appear to be an opportunistic parasite, one that was waiting in stasis for years to emerge into a period with the proper combination of desperation and moralism. This creature feeds on the unprecedented opportunity to lecture. It looks out and all it sees are people who are not as serious as it is, not as careful as it is, not as dedicated to protecting every life as it is. We have all failed in its eyes. I will call it, I guess, the Covid realist, for that is surely how they see themselves.

For the Covid realist, no amount of pessimism about the virus is deep enough. No amount of adherence to the rules is strict enough. No surrender to the inevitability of more and more restrictions is complete enough. With the Covid realist you learn quickly that the only correct response is to nod along more deeply with every new, more pessimistic thing they say. Every utterance becomes a referendum not only on your apprehension of where we stand relative to the virus but on whether you are willing to accept the harsh, brutal truths of the Covid realist.

The Covid realist religiously follows the Atlantic‘s pompous, self-impressed, imperious coverage. The Covid realist says, “you think you’ll be able to see your friends after the vaccine? Fat chance!” The Covid realist tells you that, when you’re feeling upbeat about the medical advances, the virus could always mutate. The Covid realist wants you to know that you’ll never see the lower half of a stranger’s face again. When you say that you’re looking forward to going to a basketball game next fall the Covid realist says, “Ha, good luck.” The Covid realist thinks that imagining holding a birthday party a year from now is not only deluded, but irresponsible. The Covid realist does not just want to regulate your behavior. The Covid realist wants to purify your thoughts.

The existence of idiots who resist masks and dismiss the virus as a hoax is lamentable. But while making up your mind to be the opposite is better than that alternative, it is also a way to make yourself into a cruel person, cruel and self-satisfied and righteous. It is a way to trade on other people’s misery to attain some sort of momentary social standing in an exchange which should never have been a contest in the first place. The restrictions we are enduring as a response to Covid are devastating. The human costs of lockdowns are immense. People die due to lockdowns. People miss their last opportunities to see their loved ones during lockdown. Children and teachers struggle through compromised schooling. Battered wives and neglected children are forced by the circumstances of lockdown to stay in dangerous environments. And the things we are locked out of, the restaurants and bars and museums and ballgames and concerts – these things are the stuff of life, the stuff of human social life, the kind of things that we endure the grind for.

Let people feel things. Follow all of the protocols strictly. Advocate for others to do so, even stridently. Be pessimistic in your assessments when you feel it’s appropriate. But let people feel things. Including optimism. Including investing great hopes in the vaccine. Including planning ahead for better futures, like ones where they don’t have to visit their parents through a window or where they can walk around in a park without a mask. This fucking sucks. It hurts so bad. I am surviving but that’s what it is, surviving. To be a Covid realist is to say to most everyone, “you are failing, even at this, at surviving.” Don’t be one.

you should mourn

You must socially distance yourself, and I am. It’s our duty in this moment. And it sucks, completely, but no one seems comfortable saying so.

Look, I have always understood the utter necessity of the measures we are taking, and I have followed the precautions recommended by experts from the beginning. I am 100% on board with the program and you should be too. I also am incredibly annoyed that this virus has become yet another excuse for people to engage in the only activity the internet enjoys, which is competitive righteousness. Everyone insists on being the only person who really, truly is down with the program. “I ALONE RECOGNIZE THE TRUE DEPTHS OF THIS PROBLEM! I AM THE LAST RESPONSIBLE MAN!” The sheer pomposity of it all.

And that has led to this atmosphere in which people are afraid to publicly admit their sadness and anger over all that they’re giving up. That’s deeply, deeply unhealthy. The first step in coping with loss is to recognize it, to understand the depths of your own pain.

Think of all that we’re giving up – concerts, museums, parties, festivals, drinks with friends, dates, football games, dinner with loved ones, travel, the presence of others. These things aren’t some trivial luxuries that only the privileged would mourn. They are the stuff of life. In a world that insists on replacing real pleasures with their sad virtual equivalents, these things are more vital than ever. We have been social distancing ourselves for decades – Uber to avoid the subway, Seamless to avoid restaurants, Skype to avoid face to face contact, podcasts and video game streaming to avoid real friendships, virtual reality to avoid real reality. This is the parasocial age, the age of the human facsimile. And now this. We have to acknowledge everything that we are losing, the things that make the human race human. We can’t do that if people treat acknowledging what we’ve lost as some betrayal of the need to look serious. And I’m so afraid that people are never going to come back, that they’ll get used to this new world and our last essential human connections with people we don’t know personally will be severed forever.

A couple weeks ago I lost one of my closest friends. It was a punch to the gut. And mutual friends and I said at the time that what we needed was to come together and mourn together, to memorialize him. Because the only way out is through; the only way to survive the pains of the world is to acknowledge them in their enormity. And now we can’t. We can’t bury our friend, thanks to this. And I’m so mad about it. I’m so mad. And you know what? I get to be mad. I am entitled to it. Just as I get to be mad that I might turn 40 alone in my apartment, that I may not travel again for years, that I won’t get to wander the halls of the Met anymore, that I will have essentially no ability to meet someone I might fall in love with, that I have no idea when I’ll next get to give my nieces a hug. I get to be mad about those things. And high school kids who’ll never go to graduation get to be mad, and the terminally ill who have to spend their last days indoors get to be mad, and so do people who just want to enjoy the spring in their local park. We all get to be mad.

The human cost of the disease and those it will kill is enormous. The cost of our prevention efforts are high as well. You’re losing something. You’re losing so much. So you should mourn. We’ve lost the world. Mourn for it.