Simplicity Out of Complexity; and, The Golden Key
Dr. Marty Makary is a surgeon and a professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. His ideas about how to deal with Covid-19 are, to borrow an Obama Era word, evolving. Ours should be, too.
In “How to Reopen America Safely,” he writes, “The choice before us isn’t to fully lock down or to totally reopen. Many argue as though those are the only options.”
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the C.D.C. in the Obama administration, said this week, “We’re not reopening based on science. We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. And I think it’s going to end badly.”
I agree with Dr. Frieden. After some consideration, I think it’s going to end badly, too.
Here’s his upshot: “Having 50 states and more territories do competing and uncoordinated experiments in reopening is daring Mother Nature to kill you or someone you love. Mother Nature bats last, and she bats a thousand.”
One of the reasons I think we’re — and by that I mean the U.S. — in this muddle is because we have very little tolerance for complexity.
The world of data has extended to us a tantalizing promise that everything can be reduced to zeroes and ones, and we are so addicted to instantaneous answers from our devices that we cannot tolerate, let alone work through, anything that is a greater integer than these.
Dr. Markary again, “[T]he coronavirus will persist. We must take proper care in how we reopen, lest we discount human life in the race to prosper. Not all reopenings are created equal. Areas with continuing outbreaks or rising cases should postpone nonessential activity, and those with a declining case trend should engage in some basic practices.”
Here they are laid out as a simple list [I left the bold as it appeared in The Times]:
We need universal masking.
Spend more time outside.
Business must adapt.
We must prioritize safeguarding nursing homes.
Protect those at high risk.
Five simple sentences. I’m only going to write about the first one today. We need universal masking. Four words. How complicated can that be?
Dr. Markary explains, “I’ve worn a mask most of my adult life as a surgeon, and I had been skeptical that masks would play a large role in fighting this pandemic. Most masks don’t have the seal and filtration to protect us from inhaling the coronavirus. But that’s not the only way they work. Masks reduce aerosolized droplet transmission to others and to surfaces that others may touch. They protect your mouth and nose from the droplets of others, and they prevent you from touching your nose and mouth.”
Seems pretty straightforward, no? Wear a mask. It helps you, it helps the people you encounter. That should be a no-brainer.
Frank Bruni wrote this week, “[N]ow I’ve heard it all: A friend of mine was cursed by a passing stranger the other day for wearing a protective mask. There is, of course, a rather nasty virus going around, and one way to lessen the chance of its spread, especially from you to someone else, is to cover your nose and mouth. Call it civic responsibility. Call it science.
“But science is no match for tribalism in this dysfunctional country. Truth is whatever validates your prejudices, feeds your sense of grievance and fuels your antipathy toward the people you’ve decided are on some other side.”
What other side? We need universal masking.
Not opinions. Not ideologies. Not politics. Not tribalism. Not liberation. Not lawsuits. Not freedoms.
We need universal masking. In the face of all of these exigencies.
How can a simple, additional garment be causing all this angst? In the Northeast, we add coats, scarves, and mittens when it gets cold; we subtract them when it warms up. So, for now, we add a mask when we go out. Big whoop.
Mr. Bruni, again, “With soul-crushing inevitably, these common-sense precautions morphed into controversial declarations of identity.”
Ryan Lizza and Daniel Lippman, writing in Politico, headlined, “Wearing a mask is for smug liberals. Refusing to is for reckless Republicans.” They noted that “in a deeply polarized America, almost anything can be politicized.”
Mr. Bruni begs to differ. “I quibble only with ‘almost.’ And I submit that the entire story of our scattered, schizoid response to the coronavirus pandemic can be distilled into the glares, tussles, tweets, deference and defiance surrounding this simple accessory.”
Witness the principally video-conferenced Senate hearing this week. Some senators wore masks, some didn’t, some did and then took them off to ask their questions. A ridiculously demented response to a simple mandate.
Of that Senate hearing, James Poniewozik wrote, “What should be a matter of objective public-health practice has become one more polarizing cultural signal, splashed across your kisser. Fittingly, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the more moderate Republicans and facing a tough re-election campaign, began the hearing with no mask, then put one on, as if trying to keep one lung in each camp.”
Even the White House put a policy in place that employees should wear masks this past Monday — except for the Typhoid-Mary-in-Chief. No one gets to infect him, but he can infect anyone he wants. No comment.
Mr. Bruni again, “Those of us with masks on our faces or masks in our pockets, at the ready, are definitely doing what’s right, but we’re also making our own statements. I know this because I’ve hurriedly slipped my own mask on in uncrowded outdoor situations where it almost certainly wasn’t necessary but where others were masked. I wanted to signal them. I wanted them to know: I take my own tiny role in vanquishing this pandemic seriously. Rugged individualism ends where dying on this breathtaking scale begins. There’s liberty and then there’s death.”
“Masks have unmasked immeasurable distrust in America.” Truthfully, it makes me more certain than ever that there is no longer a social contract at all, and that We the People are in dire need of a reconceived, rewritten, and throughly reimagined social contract.
Where has our ability to hold conflicting realities, conflicting agendas, conflicting anythings gone, and how do we get it back, and restore a modicum of civility to our discourse?
Here’s a follow-up question, Beloved. If we no longer have an ability to hold conflicting ideas at the same time, how will we ever come up with a better world for any of us, let alone all of us?
Funny you should ask.
Enter from stage left metaphysician Emmet Fox, a hero of mine for many decades. Emmet Fox taught many things in his Wednesday night lectures at Carnegie Hall, but one of the major ones was what he called The Golden Key.
As he explained it, The Golden Key was to think about God rather than whatever problem was that you were dealing with. I’ve worked with it over the years, and I’ve come to see it as a little more nuanced than that.
So, let’s use it as a demonstration to solve one issue: Universal mask-wearing and Personal Freedoms.
These are the conflicting issues around what we want here.
Both/and, not either/or.
Note the ‘and’ in the middle.
Like Dr. Markary said, the options are not just totally locked down or totally open. But if we can’t hold in our minds partially locked down and partially open, we seem to be at a stalemate.
Now the protests we’re seeing are actually all about what we don’t want rather than what we do want. To wit, I don’t wanna wear a mask all the time! I don’t want to give up any of my personal freedom! I don’t want lockdown! You take my point.
Yeah? Okay, what do you want? is the question that must needs be asked here.
The Golden Key, or better said, what turns the key to gold and opens up a new future, is to think about what you do want and let go what you don’t want until a way to have both at the same time comes clear. It’s called imagination and we’re all endowed with one.
This requires the ability to hold tension till a new idea emerges. It’s standard in learning communities a.k.a. schools. Every one of us who ever learned long division or the conjugation of verbs knows how to live with this tension.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo supplies the reason. “All of this inconvenience, all of this turmoil, for what?” he asked this month. “To keep 100,000 people out of our hospitals, that’s for what.”
But we have to/get to stay focused on what we want, not what we don’t want. Remember? Free Will versus Free Won’t. Free Won’t is making every key we have to unlock cooperation tarnish and rust. We can overcome it. We actually have to. One choice, one decision, one mask at a time.
Dr. Susan Corso is a metaphysician and medical intuitive with a private counseling practice for more than 35 years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com
© Dr. Susan Corso 2020 All rights reserved.