I had an epiphany this morning upon waking.
I have been struggling to grasp why so many Americans would be resistant to mask wearing. Why would you risk your family and health? Why would you buy into a false reality that the virus was either inflated for political purposes, overblown, or fictional, with nearly a quarter million dead Americans? How does a person, never mind 30%- 50% of the population, refuse or even react with hostility to pandemic restrictions? Why would they think pandemic restrictions like mask wearing are an infringement on their liberty?
This morning it dawned on me why that would be.
For decades I have told people I meet, and everyone I know, that I thought Americans were too insulated. That we have had it too good for too long and have forgotten how hard life can be. That this insulation has made us soft. Americans lose our shit over cell phones that do not work, rage out over traffic jams, or an unequal system which favors the wealthy. Americans have ‘bad hair’ days while Africans have ‘no food’ days.
These are first world problems. America does not face artillery aimed at NYC as South Korea has lived with for 60 years. America does not face famine on a regular basis. Americans do not spend 8 hours every day just getting potable water. Americans do not save for a year to buy a bicycle to get that water and have that become your new job, getting water for the whole village.
I am talking about privilege, not white privilege but American privilege. There is some of this sense of privilege in Europe but not to the same extent as Europe is not isolated by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. So while there are pockets of similar resistence it is not the same.
Americans have not seen a war on our soil since the 1800’s. Americans have never suffered a famine. America has not had a mojor pandemic in 100 years so no one remembers the reality. America and all our citizens enjoy a sense of privilege so deep and lasting so long that they feel immune to the horrors which oft grip parts of our planet. This privilege makes it very easy for people to think ‘It’s a hoax’, with millions infected and a quarter million dead. A part of them believes “It cannot happen to America” and “It cannot happen to me”.
South Korea had no issue with masks or demanding everyone act as a team and wear them and follow virus restrictions. Vietnam had no issue either, neither does Africa or Hong Kong. Everywhere you see resistance to such measures you find that sense of privilege. Almost half of America has difficulty with ‘white privilege’ and most have no awareness of ‘American Privilege’, something the rest of the world is well aware of. They see it in tourists all the time, or did before C-19.
All my life America has sought to keep problems ‘Over There’. Our foreign policies are designed to keep conflict overseas. We have been in Afghanistan for two decades to prevent another 9-11. No other country on Earth sees the rest of the world as their battleground in order to prevent battles here. These policies, designed to protect America and Americans, have sheltered Americans since World War 2.
The Nam was the last time all Americans had to make sacrifices for our Nation. During Vietnam we had an active draft and because of that the pain and loss of Vietnam was felt all across the nation, unifying it against the war. Now 1% of Americans serve, and those members often see the third world. They experience what the rest of the world lives in every day and for many of us it cements in our mind how good we have it here. It makes us want to defend that goodness. All other American sacrifices have been monetary. We have suffered economically from time to time, but we have not starved, ever.
This is why 9-11 was so hard on America, we felt immune. A sense of privilege was shattered that day. C-19 is forcing Americans to realize that they too can suffer like the third world, and for almost half of us that notion is unbelievable. It is easier for them to believe that some nefarious conspiracy is lying to them than to accept that a novel virus is loose and killing us.
American’s sense of privilege is lethal. We have been setting new records for infection and infection rates all week topping the 100,000 per day mark, day after day after day. Half of America, mostly White, Rural America, has been resistant to measures designed to combat the virus. They feel a simple mask is an infringement on their liberty while failing to realize you cannot be free if you’re dead. Americans feel ‘put upon’, as if an unjust requirement has been placed upon them. As if American citizenship makes you immune to the harsh realities of our world.
I think it is this very sense of privilege which allows many Americans to deny Climate Change as well.
So how do we overcome such a sense of privilege? How do we overcome our inability to face reality? Sadly the answer is always the same with a sense of privilege. People overcome a sense of privilege when that privilege is broken.
SARS-CoV-2 will break that privilege with corpses. I fear that is what will be required to break it because half of us are so entrenched in our sense of privilege that they are actually unable to believe it is happening. It is too surreal to be real.
Death will be our teacher as it has always been for the rest of the planet. We are not immune.