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Pickle Me This

May 6, 2021

On Specificity

What I find most fascinating about our pandemic times is the way that Covid-19 resists all generalizations. Are the kids all right or aren’t they? Are your chances of contracting the virus high or low? If you go become infected, will you have a mild case or become deathly ill? Will you recover easily or have persistent symptoms? Are you safer at home than you would be in the world? And one’s point of view certainly depends where it is coming from: an ICU doctor certainly has an important perspective, but such a person also has a highly specific experience of Covid that doesn’t necessarily inform anyone’s experience in general. The same can be said for any middle class white person ensconced in their bubble who doesn’t know a single person who’s been seriously affected by the illness.

A meme from a left-wing meme generator went around this week comparing infection rates in Calgary to those in India, which are apparently lower, and the meme was meant to be sensational, and it wasn’t wrong, but it was also highly irresponsible because with Covid-19, context is everything. And the contexts of Calgary and India are so far apart that comparison is ridiculous, but it’s also hard to get people really hyped up about specification. About a virus that affects so many people so very differently, and of course it’s hard to balance appropriate public health measures to control such a thing, and it’s even harder to really understand how to tell the story of it at all.

That racialized people and those living on lower incomes or in poverty seem to be disproportionately affected is one thing that seems to be true across the board. And after that, I don’t even know. Because there are people over 100 who recovered. There are people who are in their 30s and dying in their sleep. From the first time we encountered the virus, it’s been determined to defy the terms and rules that we set for it. Covid-19 is a non-conformist.

And what do we do with that? How do we tell of a story of something that’s affected each and every one of us on such a high specific level? Or are we kidding ourselves to ever suppose that any story is actually like this? Are there any universal truths? And I wonder if there’s not a lesson inherent in all of this about how complicated and specific most ideas actually are, and their lack of applicability across the board. I am starting to wonder if there is no such thing as a system, and if this chaos, however much we’ve managed to harness it, is the closest we’re ever going to get to order, and maybe instead of resisting, we should lean into it, which would be to see things as they are.

Specificity, right down to the atom. This is like how World War One broke everybody’s brain. I think I may be finally coming to modernism, and I’m only one hundred years late.

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