A metaphor that is used quite frequently today in dealing with Covid 19 is that we are fighting a war. On one level, I can see why such a metaphor would be used. As in a war, people have to be mobilized in order to carry out their role to eliminate the enemy as a major threat. In a war, people are urged to rise above their daily routine in order to defeat an enemy that threatens to destroy them. An attempt is made to elicit transcendental noble selfless emotions in order to fight the battles.
And after all, isn’t Covid 19 an invisible enemy that nevertheless has to be fought? Well, it depends on what one means by fought. It is my opinion that the way the average person experiences the actual fighting in a real war is very different from the way that he experiences the so-called war against a pandemic virus. Not only are completely different kinds of responses required for these situations, but the way that the different wars are experienced by the average person are completely different.
Wars in their traditional sense are abrasive and overstimulating. Even when weapons are fired remotely or set off remotely as they so often are today, both the targets as well as the witnesses experience the ravaging effects of the ammunition and bombs. Real war is bloody. One can see the external effects of destruction to the human body. One can see the blood and destruction. One hears the noise of ammunition and bombs as well as people writhing in pain. One smells the sweat and the rotting flesh. It becomes very difficult for people to assimilate these intense sensations. That is why people suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The average people who are fighting the enemy in a real war are actively participating in a concerted effort that requires a lot of energy. It is an effort much greater than anything required in daily life. It is definitely a tension-pocket experience with lots of different abrasive figures clashing with each other, hitting against each other.
In contrast, the so-called war against a virus in a pandemic requires the average so-called combatant to be understimulated in quarantine, sheltering in place. Here I am excluding the essential workers including health care providers as well as the scientists trying to come up with both a treatment and a vaccine. These latter groups of people, who are in the minority, are metaphorically fighting the Corona virus on a more active basis and are certainly not being understimulated. Regarding the rest of the people, I know I wrote a whole article about things one can do while sheltering in place. But most people aren’t going to read this article and follow the suggestions, most people aren’t going to go deep inside of themselves and most people are going to be bored. Most people aren’t going to be making, preserving or receiving any meaningful imprints while sheltering in place. Many people are going to be doing mostly nothing.
In other words, in order to fight a pandemic, excluding the previously mentioned exceptions, most people are not going to intensely engage the external world. Instead, they are going to withdraw from it. They are going to withdraw into what many people experience as an experiential vacuum. And for many people this withdrawal is experienced as uncomfortable, if not more uncomfortable than being caught in the middle of a battle in a real war. Look at all the American demonstrators in front of state capitol buildings to get rid of lockdowns. It’s not just freedom to open their businesses that they are fighting for. It’s freedom to move about freely and without masks.
Now modern technology plays a big difference in the way both fighting a war and fighting a pandemic are experienced. In both cases, the technology diminishes the presence of organic stimulation needed to create both grounding and bonding while the participant is engaged in the battle. There is much less hand-to-hand combat today. Certainly, sword fights are a thing of the past. Sword fights were an intense organic immediate experience where one was face-to-face with one’s enemy and grappling with him. But over time, warfare has become more and more remote. A quick superficial inventory can show us some of what has happened. Along came cannons and rifles and pistols. Then machine guns where one could kill without really aiming very intensely at a person or people and thus, on some level, acknowledge their humanity. And then bombing from airplanes. And now we have remote control bombs and drones. The trend has been an increased vacuum in the initial presentation of activation of the modern weapons (nothing happens close by when one presses a button) and then an explosive tension-pocket of the ultimate destructive effects.
Contrast this with the growing numbing effects for most people of the sheltering in place, the quarantine required today from Covid-19. Yes, there are people who engage with renewed vigor in their favorite hobbies and avocations. And yes there are people who use screen reality as the best available substitute for face-to-face contact with people – namely Zoom and Skype. But most people immerse themselves in other less salubrious manifestations of screen reality: movies, television, video games, computers, smartphones, and tablets. They immerse themselves in this numbing media that, nevertheless, frequently have tension-pocket overstimulating content. Movies and television frequently have a lot of violence. Video games the same. And the two most popular kinds of sites on the Internet are pornography and hate groups. People use shock content to pull themselves out of the incredible numbing effects of screen reality.
But, in general, both of these incredibly dangerous situations – war and pandemics – create much more dangerous sensory distortion in modern societies than they did in more traditional societies, due to the growing lack of organic stimulation in our fields of experience. This dangerous sensory distortion is an additional danger to the primary dangers of war and pandemics. It can lead to greater anxiety and depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. And as we wait out the Covid 19 pandemic, it is why, as much as possible, we should cultivate the primary experience hobbies and avocations we have from our pasts. And if we don’t have any, perhaps we should develop some now.
© 2020 Laurence Mesirow