Terminally Special & We the People
President-Elect Joe Biden will ask for 100 days of mask-wearing the moment he takes office — probably, in his inauguration speech. Even the current Covid-19 czar thinks that’s a good idea. So, I’m sure, do a lot of the citizenry.
Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, former emergency room doctor turned journalist, is of a much stronger mind-set. She says, “‘Mister Rogers-type nice isn’t working in many parts of the country. It’s time to make people scared and uncomfortable. It’s time for some sharp, focused terrifying realism.
“‘Fear appeals can be very effective,’ said Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology at New York University.”
I’d be the last person to endorse fearmongering as a rule, but something has to break through the rampant epidemic of terminal specialness that’s, to use the word loosely, “informing” a large percentage of We the People.
Dr. Rosenthal resumes, “‘I’m not talking fear-mongering, but showing in a straightforward and graphic way what can happen with the virus.’” She recommends a series of harsh public service announcements with, uh, (sorry, no better word) graphic graphics, pulling no punches like much of the tepid public health announcements that have accompanied the Covid Pandemic to date.
“These P.S.A.s might sound harsh, but they might overcome our natural denial. ‘One consistent research finding is that even when people see and understand risks, they underestimate the risks to themselves,’ Mr. Van Bavel said. ‘Graphs, statistics and reasonable explanations don’t do it. They haven’t done it.’”
What I want to know is: why is denial natural? How did it get that way? What in the human psyche sets itself apart from all others of the same type enough to exempt itself from the consequences that everyone else bears?
I say it’s Rugged Individualism taken to the umpteenth degree and perverted into Terminal Specialness. We have deemed ourselves terminally special.
Just as Dr. Rosenthal did, I lived through those spooky anti-smoking media campaigns. They made such an impression on her that she never smoked. They made quite an impression on me as well, and, regardless, when I had to smoke for a show my sophomore year in college, and I lost 30 pounds during the rehearsal process, I smoked on and off for 29 years.
I know whereof I speak relative to terminally special. The mental construct goes, I’ll smoke, but because … fill in your reason …, it won’t affect me like it does everyone else. Reading it here in black and white is chilling. [Full disclosure: I quit ten years ago.]
Looking back now, I find it hard to credit that I opted for the extremely illusory Specialness Exemption. Seriously, what was I thinking? I’m too special to get lung cancer?
I’m too special to get Covid is the present-day version. I remember a day months ago a small item on the front page of The New York Times when a Covid patient was reported in Texas to have died in his nurse’s arms protesting all the while, “I thought it was a hoax.” Died of it, and even then, could not credit the truth of the pandemic.
Dr. Rosenthal once more, “But studies have shown that emotional ads featuring personal stories about the effects of smoking were the most effective at persuading folks to quit.” In truth, emotional ads that feature personal stories sell everything better.
So, yes, I’m with Dr. Rosenthal, it’s past time to scare us all a little, and because humans learn so much more from what we see than from what we hear — only 7% of the population are auditories — yes, it’s time for graphics. Not slogans. Not ads. Not even P.S.A.s. No, I’m calling for the top ten major corporations in this country to create and pay for print and media ads to saturate the market and educate the public about what’s real. Let them take over Facebook and Twitter and every other social media platform, please.
Here’s another thing that’s real, and hugely disheartening: the vaccination debates have begun, as usual, from the macro to the micro, decided for the populace from a perspective that has nothing to do with us, We the People. I’ve been following it closely, and because I carry three co-morbidities to Covid, I would be in the second tier to receive the vaccine.
I think that’s wrong. To be clear, I think the methodology leading to the approval of the vaccines is wrong, and I think making me second tier is wrong as well. Here’s why:
The vaccine was never tested on the populations that are recommended to go first or second. It was tested in relatively healthy people, generally speaking.
Essential workers are the recommended first tier for the vaccination. First responders, medical personnel especially. Oh, you mean the population that is the most exhausted because of their service to those who have been ill? Whose immune systems are already taxed to the max? Yeah, them.
The elderly and those with co-morbidities are the recommended second tier for the vaccination. It was not tested in either of these populations. Not only that, but those with additional health conditions often take medication for said conditions. Do we know how the vaccine interacts with blood pressure meds, diabetes meds, cancer meds? We do not.
The most important issue, though, is that We the People have not been asked to weigh in on the plan. So here’s my nickel: I think we ought to be invited to self-select participation in what essentially amounts to a country-wide vaccine trial.
We won’t be able to vaccinate everyone on the same day anyway. It won’t be manufactured in quantities enough to cover everyone. What if the government asked us, like the 100 mask-wearing days, to chose whether we wished to take the vaccine early or later?
I could easily postpone taking the vaccine and still be safe. I work at home. I’ve been out in public six times since February. I am, basically, not at risk. Despite the fact that I qualify for the second tier, I think there’s someone more deserving and more at risk who should have my vaccine, like a single mother whose kids go to school. That’s what I’d choose if I were offered the choice.
What about you, Beloved? Could you, like me, wait a little while safely? What would you choose if given a choice?
So here, Beloved, is the emotion and the personal story. Go find a mirror and look yourself in the eye. What story do you want to tell about how you handled the pandemic in your family at Thanksgivings and Christmases and Hanukkahs and Kwanzas and Solstices through the ages?
Oscar Hammerstein II, known familiarly as OH2, is one of my forever heroes. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Hamilton, has an homage to OH2 in his marvelous show about Alexander Hamilton. The original line is from South Pacific and goes, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”
Hate and fear are what undergird the unwillingness to mask and the unwillingness to social distance. Hate and fear are informing so many of the decisions around Covid-19. Hate and fear are the monsters in the psyches that all of us with terminal specialness are working so hard to avoid.
There’s some good news though. Hate and fear, and, dare I say it, terminal specialness are not natural to our species. We learn them. And we can unlearn them, perhaps not as easily, but certainly as effectively. One way is to take the time to figure out how you want to deal with getting the Covid vaccine, asking everyone you know to enter into dialogue about it, and maybe then together we can figure out how it might work for everyone.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her website is susancorso.com.