If, as Kelis sang, her “milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” a pandemic, it seems, brings all the armed men to your garden.
One would think that at a time when the globetrotting virus continues its lethal assault not just on people, but on health systems and entire societies as well, guns would not be the weapon of choice in this particular war.
Well, newsflash: the violence COVID-19 wreaks upon everyone it visits will not be subdued by firearms. And yes, there is violence in the way the coronavirus goes about its stealthy conquest. There are families wrenched apart by the necessity of containment and mitigation. There are health workers confronted simultaneously by the fragility of the lives they try to save, and the inadequacy of their equipment and manpower. There are everyday workers with their everyday source of income suddenly ripped from them. And then there’s the violence in the way the disease itself progresses within the body of the infected – the desperate gasping for air, the rib-shaking, throat-choking coughs, the extreme, debilitating fatigue and the fear, the relentless, soul-wearying fear that death is imminent.
What does it say about a society, nay, a so-called republic with a Constitution that enshrines certain inalienable rights, when it resorts to threats of violence to quell purported violators of quarantine? And it’s not just in the Philippines where leaders think sending in gun-toting thugs achieves better results than sincere, open dialogue. Indian police have a rather nasty habit of beating quarantine-defying citizens with a stick or worse, conveniently overlooking the fact that many of these people have nowhere safe to go and need to eat – a glaring failure of their government. And just look at the United States, where the president’s narcissism and desperation to win re-election propels him to carelessly, albeit knowingly, foment rebellion amongst his gun-crazy, Second Amendment-worshipping supporters, encouraging them to “liberate” their states from the supposed tyranny of their far wiser and more even-tempered governors who insist on keeping stay-at-home orders in place in the midst of the most virulent enemy the world has ever seen?
How, tell me, in case I’m missing something, will those Armalites and AK-47s protect people from COVID-19? If anything, the coronavirus is probably overjoyed at the prospect of jumping unimpeded from host to host as these so-called patriots with petrified brain cells release a tsunami of droplets into the air as they spout their ridiculous inanities like “Give me liberty or give me death?” Don’t they know that the virus has quite the macabre sense of humor? Just ask the Republican bar owner in Brooklyn who believed Trump when he said the coronavirus was a hoax and promptly booked himself on a cruise. He’s now another COVID-19 fatality. Or the pastor who thundered that the Lord would protect him as he continued to encourage his worshippers to pack his church? ‘Rona got him, too.
Unless one is in the military justifiably defending the sovereignty of our country against aggressive, territory-encroaching provocations by an enemy, carrying a gun is rarely a good look on a man. Far from communicating manly confidence, it really screams masculine inadequacy: “Look at me! I’m insecure about the size of my penis.” And trust me, the virus is laughing at him all the way to the morgue.
It is often said that the coronavirus is an equal opportunity afflicter, “the great equalizer” that, like a cheap date, is ready latch on to the respiratory system of anyone and everyone, unimpressed by wealth or status or race. While that’s true in the general sense, we know that socio-economic factors make certain sectors of the population more vulnerable than others. Like Jesus, the virus loves everyone, but most especially the poor and the disadvantaged. “Come to me,” it calls out to those beings crammed into small homes with no running water, to those in slums unable to work or feed their families, to those thronging the city limits trying to find a way to get to work, “and I will give you rest.” And it may well do. But not without literally sucking the breath out of your lungs first.
Let’s face it, quarantine may have been imposed upon the country out of the necessity, but to be able to confine ourselves to our homes while having access to Netflix, food delivery services and Zoom parties is a luxury the majority of our fellow citizens do not have. Social distancing, which some of us initially considered to be such an affront to our way of life, is, frankly, yet another abstract term that means little to those living a hand-to-mouth and shoulder-to-shoulder existence in single-room dwellings. And despite the grim warnings that COVID-19 could exact a cruel and unrelenting death, or that our hospital system would be overwhelmed, really, what is another disease to people who have lived with disease all their lives?
Our leaders love to play the cheerleader and parrot the line, “We’re all in this together.” To a certain extent that’s true. But again, being “all in this together” is yet another fraud stripped bare by the entrenched structural inequalities in a society such as ours, and yes, even the United States’. We have our freezers full of wagyu steak, our bars stocked with wine, our internet connected to fiber, allowing us to take out social lives virtual via Zoom, and our children to continue their classes online through Google Classroom. And we have the space to relax in our gardens, designate a room to do our workouts, with full access to our domestic staff quarantining at home with us.
But our less fortunate neighbors? They don’t have a buffer to keep them financially comfortable for at least two months. Even being able to wear a surgical mask for their own protection is beyond their immediate reality. Inasmuch as we tirelessly raise money and devote our kitchens to churning out meals to feed them, how can they be with us in this together when they really are the ones suffering disproportionately?
As a Washington Post piece recently noted, referring to the US: “The coronavirus has been anything but a great equalizer. It’s been the great revealer, pulling the curtain back on the class divide, exposing how deeply unequal this country is and how deep the fissures are. Rather than trying to cover it all up with pithy sayings — rather than trying to sweep these divides under the rug with platitudes like ‘we’re all in this together’ — we should use this moment as an opportunity to take a hard look at the broken systems that perpetuate inequality: education, health coverage, distribution of opportunity and wealth, to name a few.”
This holds just as true in a country such as ours, more so. And yet we learn about events such as the warrantless entry of the PNP into a residential complex last Sunday afternoon. Just take a moment to consider the utter stupidity of illegally entering the premises of a private condominium in an upscale neighborhood with zero confirmed COVID-19 cases when other constituents in the same municipality do not have the luxury of social distancing or indeed being without work due to quarantine. The backwards nature of it all is breathtaking.
And what of the PNP officer barging into private property, brandishing his gun, on the pretext of enforcing quarantine protocols while not wearing a mask himself? Oh, the irony.
Now that the coronavirus has exposed the profound structural problems in our society, it has also revealed, to a deeply touching degree, our almost boundless capacity for compassion and action. Unfortunately, it has also revealed, to a deeply alarming degree, our almost boundless capacity for stupidity.