"Children are almost... almost immune to this disease. I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do, somehow, for this. And they don't have a problem. They just don't have a problem... I had heard kids really don’t get it, if they do, they’re all going to be OK."
-- Unknown Fox News caller, Aug 5, 2020
"I want to decide who lives and who dies."
-- Crow T. Robot, Mystery Science Theater 3000.
We are living through a culling, make no bones about it. Those who daydream about the slack and worthless members of society being removed from existence for their uselessness ought to be enjoying their moment. The enochlophobes who wish for a flood should find a plague suitable for their misplaced sense of race-wide penance. The mistaken amateur statisticians should find the demon-god of overpopulation sacrificially appeased by current events. We have the bags, the potters' fields, and we have the working-class fodder, who rightfully fear every sniffle and cough for two bucks over min wage plus tips at Pizza Hut. Machinery of dark capitalism that sends its unwilling troops over the top, not with whistles and medals and glory, but with emails and posters thrown together by corporate's marketing team. BYO healthcare, but at least they've got air support. Grandmas in foxholes waiting for their Instacart relief, poking their unarmored heads above the dirt to glimpse the no-man's-land beyond their lines.
I want to decide who lives and dies, too. I want to storm nursing homes with a Thompson submachinegun, with chocolate bars and a flag. Escorting the liberated grannies to safety, dreaming of a promised land where the nurses listen and the cats purr, and the Bingo caller looks like a fine young person that they might have saucily chatted up if they were a few decades younger. I want to commandeer a supply truck convoy from Costco to the barrio. I want to launch KN95 masks from shoulder-mounted t-shirt cannons, repurposed for public safety, muzzling the frankly stupid rebellion of my fellow citizens at the supermarket with medical grade cloth at subsonic speeds. I want to see mothers riding to their 6:00pm jobs in high-suspension MRAPs. I want to buy a comic book that pledges to pandemic bonds. I want to shell tear gas into your fucking beach party. Oh yes, I want to catch the bastards to blame. It's an irrational impulse, one which can't be satisfied with abstractions or be chided into a measured temperament.
It may seem like our societal overlords actually decide who lives and who dies. But they don't, at least not with this virus. This disease is too random, too faceless, invisible and without agency. They can dial up the rate of death, or dial it back, but they do not choose the diers. We do. They can only decide who will be the expendable pieces in their economic scheming; who will be the under-educated, under-qualified tools that ultimately feel responsible for all this pain? They contracted to us their guilt. Observe their bloodless percentages and sanitary statistics, line charts and timetables typed up with clean gloveless hands. Even our cash wages are too filthy for them, the pure and digital rulers, the untouchable decreers. We handle this century's biggest disaster for them, and they will not ever shake our hands.
We've seen the still and sterile isolation rooms. The places where the casualties of this year's plague finally stop suffering. Beyond the reach of human touch, damned by the oblivious, the neglectful, the absent. Cold, distant, slow deaths in every town, every day. Connected to a strand of human activity most likely motivated by basic needs of survival, workers becoming vectors of a cruel fate to meet their needs. We will blame ourselves. How could we not? The virus entered our bodies, became transmitted by our breaths, took hold of our own people through our own actions. Taking unknown lives to by mistaken action. We are not built to feel things like random chance or social risk. Yes, we will eventually understand it. But we will not know it, not the way that we know things like guilt and loss and shame.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the duty belongs to all of us, that we are being the choosers by minimizing contact. Shrinking our entire existence into an asymptomatic uncertainty, treating our every breath as if it was the call of death. A two-week incubation period stretched into perpetuity. We are made to be the deciders, the quantum vectors, to protect or doom the fellow human in every moment. Given responsibility without a choice, duty without power, vigilance without relief. Their suffering is unshared, and our culpability is unearned. This is needed from us, and we are strong enough for it, but surely it is wrong.
Neither of us can control this plague. But fall is coming. A new front, new deciders all. There's a saying about orders you disagree with.
"Welcome to Sizzler, what can we get'cha started with?"