Tag Archives: responsibility

Lock-down.

Here in Washington State I woke up this morning to lock-down. All nonessential businesses are ordered to close. If necessary, they have 48-hours to get things in order. That means I have a non-producing client for the duration. Doesn’t mean I won’t get the work done, but, well, we all have some sacrifices to make.

Photo by Luke Insoll on Unsplash

Update on worldwide numbers this morning is showing the US in a solid third place just now with 46,158 confirmed cases and 583 fatalities. At this point only 35 are confirmed recovered. I know China said they were good, but the reports are showing an increase of 1.78 percent in the last 24 hours. We are far from done with this — and yet we still don’t get it.

I am one of the lucky ones. My day job is connected to an essential service and I can work from home. We have spent the last two weeks planning so that everyone that can be remote is and those who have contact with our clients can do so through phone connections. I am proud to be part of such a team. And I am greatly blessed.

I hear, though, that there are those who think that our economy is more important than our lives. That, perhaps, we can sacrifice those in our population who are old, have underlying conditions, or too poor to keep the engines of industry running without risking their health. That the 40% of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck just don’t count enough to protect or support. After all, there’s always more where they came from, right? A fresh supply sits crammed in camps and detention centers on either side of our southern border.

There are several problems with that plan. You can’t control a virus by age group, socio-economic status, color of skin, or (obviously) nationality. The numbers coming out of California show a bubble in the 18-65 age group. No matter how good our models are, we can’t always predict the direction of a disease; especially one that can mutate in order to do what it does best – infect. Even those who flit about in the stratosphere of our society are testing positive.

Also, the United States, against any internal delusions to the contrary, is not an island. A search for photos for this blog ended in a barrage of photos of major cities around the world that were filled with deserted streets. There is no “business as usual” just now, so wake up from that dream and deal with reality as we find it.

I have grown weary of the mantra that flu kills tens of thousands of people a year, why are we so upset over this? First, those tens of thousands are people, not statistics. People who mean something to someone. In 2015 one of those statistics was my husband, those numbers represent real losses. Nor does anyone understand the full extent of the economic impact of flu season as workers show up to work because they have no choice if they want to pay their bills, eat, and have shelter. When they show up at work, several other folks get sick, and the cost in productivity, health, and financial stress on the economy continues. The fatality rate of the common flu is .01%. So far COVID-19 is scoring higher than 4%. You don’t have to know math to figure out that is a big difference.

Let’s take an example. During the 2018-2019 season the CDC classified the impact as high severity. From the CDC:

CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2018–2019 season included an estimated 35.5 million people getting sick with influenza, 16.5 million people going to a health care provider for their illness, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths from influenza [Table 1]. The number of influenza-associated illnesses that occurred last season was similar to the estimated number of influenza-associated illnesses during the 2012–2013 influenza season when an estimated 34 million people had symptomatic influenza illness.

So, high severity season and there was a fatality rate of .0963% (34,200/34,500,000). These numbers are for the US only. Let’s convert that to COVID-19 math. 34,500,000 people infected X 4% fatality rate is 1, 380, 000 people. That is a lot of living, breathing souls, most of whom will never see a medical professional or receive care of any kind either because there is none available to them or because our health care system is in triage mode; Italy has been there for days. An article published by the AMA on March 19th makes it clear that protocols are already being developed in expectation of limited resources. Protocols that might mean someone you care about does not get a ventilator or even a hospital bed.

Granted, these are broad, back of the envelope, numbers which are impacted by a myriad of influences depending on local or regional health care systems, access to basic needs, underlying health conditions, and duration. Even yet-to-be-quantified elements such as how fast this particular brand of bug can mutate to protect its survival and continue to infect. They are, however, an illustration of how incomprehensibly naive our society is about containing this under “business as usual” scenarios.

Have we become so brazen, so uncaring that we really don’t care about the repercussions of our actions? What changes in your life style are you willing to make once the people who serve you at the drive through, pick up your garbage, help you at the store, the bank, the wherever there are folks stumbling along on a minimum wage with no benefits, are no longer there? Was your trip to the beach worth infecting the next person you met at the grocery store who may be taking care of an elderly relative at home? Really? By the way, have you thanked the people who are still out there delivering, cashiering, making life tolerable for you at the risk of their own health?

I have written a book about my hero, Job. It is currently in the process of being published, although I’m not sure how the current situation will impact the release date. I’m not sure even my publisher can know. Then, of course, having a book out is nice only if folks can get one. As of now even Amazon is focused on essential supplies and book delivery dates can be as much as two months out. I’m now looking for other ways to get those ideas out into the world. My firm conviction is that we are called, whatever our faith or ethics, to help each other. To become informed and to act in responsible, compassionate ways.

You do not need an advanced degree in biochemistry to understand pandemics. You do need to kick conspiracy theories and “hunches” out the door. You do not need an advanced degree in economics to understand there are people hurting and you – yes you – may be one of those that can help. You may feel protected in your faith. You may feel like the end is near and you have a front row seat. You may be one of those who think a lock-down is a great excuse to do the spring break gig you never had in college (or had too much of). I am here to tell you that whatever your vision of yourself, you are not being brave. You are not being smart. I suppose if the only people affected would be those who chose hubris, willful ignorance, or selfishness I might be willing to shrug and walk away. Might. But, I can’t. I still must try to get people to think through their actions and how those actions impact themselves and others.

Please, find the sources that know what they are doing. If you have a medical question, seek out the medical profession. There are any number of places that have solid, actionable information regarding this current crisis. Check out the CDC, NIH, and WHO. Your state or local health organizations have information on what to do and where to go (or not) if you think you have a problem. Many states are already gearing up to support small businesses and hourly employees. Be informed and act accordingly.

And above all, see what you can do to help. If you are one of the privileged that still has cash flow and a reasonable assurance it will continue, then find ways to help your community. Pay your barber, hairdresser, or any personal service provider what you normally budget for that service. Support local restaurants that are providing take out or delivery. Add a bit to your utility bill or donate to the charity pool so that others can keep the lights on. Keep after your representatives to make sure they make the right decisions to protect us as a people and a nation. If they lose a sense of priorities (as so many have) – then they need to move on.

Most of all, keep your heart safe. Do not allow the urgency of the situation drive you to distraction and cause you to hoard or jump on every rumor. Be safe.

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Filed under Giving Back, Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Personal Journeys

A review, and a challenge, by a master

This post is shown in its entirely as published by David Gerrold on Facebook along with my comments. If you are not familiar with the name, perhaps you will recall the Trouble with Tribbles, a Star Trek episode. Or, The Martian Child. David knows how to spin a tale and has made a career of building worlds, and dissecting this one. First, my comments.

“Absolutely and unequivocally on point. While in college I talked a professor into letting me write a term paper on science fiction. Not literature in her opinion – but I wrote well enough to make my point and she conceded. In fiction, sometimes most effectively in science fiction or fantasy, we have the freedom to take a social or civil issue and put it far enough away from the reader we can challenge the person without being confrontational. It is a way to engender thought by leading. David Gerrold points this out beautifully below. Hopefully he won’t mind if I publish this, with credit, on my blog.”

I think Sarah Pinsker is a marvelous writer. I admire her ability to paint a picture in words. Most of all, I admire her ambition.

In the current issue of Asimov’s, she has a story called, “The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going.” It’s a beautiful piece of work and I would not be surprised to see it ending up on various award ballots.

It’s intended to be read as a sequel to Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

If you have not read the LeGuin story, go do that now. I’ll wait.

If I had to pick one story to represent the entire SF genre, possibly the most memorable of all tales anyone has ever written, it would be “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

Omelas is a beautiful city, filled with joyous people living joyous lives. But … its serenity and splendor depend on the eternal misery of an unfortunate chld, kept in perpetual filth, darkness, and misery.

When citizens are old enough to know the truth of Omelas’ success, they are shown the true price of the city’s glory — that this single child must be locked away in a cruel dungeon. Most of the city’s citizens accept this as necessary to the continuing elegance of Omelas. But every so often, a few citizens cannot. They walk quietly away from the city. The last line of the story: “The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

What occurred to me immediately, the first time I read this story was that the wealth and success of the United States depends on foreign labor — child labor, peasant labor, and in some places even slave labor. The braceros who pick our vegetables, the Chinese factory workers who assemble our iPhones, the children in Bangladesh who sew our clothes. We don’t think about them. We simply accept that the low prices of goods at Walmart are a sign of our national success, our splendor, our wealth — but in truth, our denial of the facts about the world we live in is a sign of our cultural sickness.

The trap — the real trap — is that we cannot walk away from our own Omelas. We don’t know how. We can’t survive without the technology we’ve constructed and all the hard work it takes from so many people to keep that technology functioning and to keep us fed and clothed and amused with electronic toys.

Never mind that for the moment — the point of the story, as I see it, is that we as humans always have a choice: whether to accept injustice and live with it or reject it and refuse to participate in it further. And this is why I think it is one of the greatest stories ever written — because it isn’t about Omelas, it’s about the reader.

And that brings me to Sarah Pinsker’s marvelous tale.

I hated it.

Not because it’s a bad story, not because it’s badly written, not because it’s wrong — but because it is a philosophical and emotional reversal of LeGuin’s story. Where LeGuin leaves us troubled, Pinsker wants to let us be okay.

SPOILER ALERT.

If you haven’t read Pinsker’s story, go do so now.

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In Pinsker’s story, someone has left the door to the dungeon ajar. The child, bruised and hurting, laboriously climbs the steps toward the dazzling daylight, wondering about the beauty that lies above, and speculating on how long it will take the city to collapse after the escape.

But by the time the child reaches the tenth stair, he or she (never specified) stops and turns around and heads back down to the dungeon. And we are told that this is not the first time that the child has made this journey toward dazzling freedom and then returned to the sanctity of the darkness.

Now, if the point to be made here is that the child cannot deal with freedom, is afraid of freedom, that’s horrifying enough — but that’s not Pinsker’s point. No.

Instead, this child is acting out of altruism, nobility — returning to the dungeon so that no other child will have to suffer the same fate. And again, this is not the first time this child has made this great moral choice.

And as a reader, I can feel good, I can feel proud of this child for willingly martyring herself/himself for the good of —

No. I can’t.

There’s an old joke. “How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb.” “None. Don’t worry about me. I can sit here alone in the dark.” That’s also the short version of this story.

And this is why I take issue with this story. Both philosophically and emotionally.

Philosophically: Where LeGuin was saying underneath the glory of this civilization, its foundation rests on a crime, an act of profound cruelty and injustice to another human being — where LeGuin was making a profound plea, Pinsker is now excusing the cruelty and injustice. It’s all right, because the child is there willingly, the child is making a noble sacrifice.

And emotionally — it’s all right, you don’t have to feel bad. The child is doing a good thing. He/she wants to be there.

Um, no.

There’s this thing called “the victim racket.” It’s where you give away your power to others so you can feel good about never getting what you want. It’s about being right about being miserable. It plays out a lot of different ways, “I have to sacrifice for my children,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “It’s okay, I didn’t want dessert anyway.” (Or even, “I deserved the award, but the vote was rigged.”) The victim racket is about excusing injustice.

Now that might not be what Sarah Pinsker intended. Unfortunately, that’s how I read it. And as much as I try to find another interpretation, I’m stumped.

I’m not against sacrifice — every good parent makes sacrifices so his/her children can grow up to have a life they love living. But that’s an informed consent. The child of Omelas isn’t there because he or she has consented, isn’t there because of a higher purpose, isn’t enduring a noble imprisonment — the child of Omelas is there because the people of Omelas prize their splendor too much to give up the injustice.

Still with me?

Do I think Pinsker was wrong for writing this story? Hell, no. I’m glad she wrote it — because it will start the kind of discussion that all good stories must start. It invites the readers to argue about the nature of Omelas as well as the plight of the child. It invites us to consider the very real implications for our own society.

I’ll add this — the LeGuin story is necessarily incomplete. It invites the reader to decide for himself/herself about the morality of this situation.

In the hands of another writer — not me, not today — a sequel to “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” would be about those who walk away.

Those who stay are accepting responsibility for the injustice, they’re owning it the same way the Germans who profited in the days of the Third Reich owned their atrocities. They decided not to care.

But those who are walking away, they’re rejecting responsibility. They’re leaving without trying to change anything. They’re fleeing the responsibility of rescuing the child. They’re unwilling to trigger the revolution that would surely occur if the city’s success were threatened. They’re unwilling to take a stand, unwilling to say, “I cannot be a part of a civilization founded on injustice. We must find another way. We must bring that child up into the light.” By walking away, they are running away.

And to my mind, the ones who walk away are just as detestable, maybe even more so than the ones who stay.

Whatever the case, I believe it is wrong to ascribe nobility to the child. It’s wrong to assume nobility among the oppressed. That’s a convenient fiction — that torture and oppression, discrimination and victimization somehow confer wisdom on the sufferers. Hell no. Torture and oppression mostly inspire outrage and hatred and counter-violence. Gandhi and Mandela and King and Frankel and Weisel are exceptions. Everybody else likely has a lifetime battle with PTSD.

That assumption of nobility through oppression — that’s why we have “the magic Negro” and the wise old native American and the sassy black lady and the insightful old Jew and the noble Asian and the spontaneously clever drag queen in American movies — because we’re afraid to acknowledge the real hurt and bitterness that our own Omelas has created, not in a single child, but in whole populations.

Perhaps there is a worthwhile sequel to be written to “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” I applaud Sarah Pinsker’s ambition in this effort. And I wish I could celebrate this story as a worthwhile sequel. Any writer this ambitious deserves applause.

But … I wonder if LeGuin’s original tale has left us with an unsolvable challenge. We are damned if we stay, we are damned if we leave. I can’t walk away — but I have no idea how to get that child out of that dungeon either.

That’s the story I want to see someone tackle.

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction