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The Battle Metaphor

Sunday, April 05, 2020

If you are self-isolating from COVID-19 related articles, this is not the blog for you . . . so please just skip it. You're not a captive cashier at a check out! No worries if you are a regular commentator here: I'm exploring an idea or two which interest me.


Joseph Brean in the National Post is writing about a philosophy of death from a perspective absolutely new to me.

He says that for most of human history, death was associated with disaster -- being attacked by a wild animal or another human, falling victim to a natural disaster such as a forest fire or a tornado. But now most of us most of the time aren't worried about such disasters.

And then, after disasters were more or less manageable -- fire departments, military reserves to be called in for emergency relief -- for a period of time, death was associated primarily with communicable disease. Tuberculosis. Polio. I'm just old enough to remember when everyone understood the need for quarantine from TB or polio and accepted the rules without any sense their personal liberty was being infringed. Tuberculosis and polio hospitals were unremarkable in their era prior to universal immunization which we thought had wiped out such diseases.

In the late 20th and early 21st century, death has been associated most often with decay. We die of old age. The non-communicable diseases we experience in old age that finish us off are mostly decay-associated: cancer, heart attacks. Even diabetes and obesity. We stave off decay with exercise and optimal nutrition. We discipline ourselves to work out!! We fight the temptation to eat hyperpalatable foods!! Junk food manufacturers are the enemy!! Seventy is the new forty!! Yup, that's what we tell ourselves. .

So, to sum up: Death was first about Disaster, then Disease and now Decay. Not so much the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but the three Ds.

Warding off disaster and even disease absolutely DID require an adversarial approach.

We fought off the sabre tooth tiger or the Viking marauder. We did whatever it took to battle with communicable disease. And we have tried to apply the same battle attitudes to decay: even though we absolutely know that more and more and more exercise, more and more and more rigorous self-denial around food doesn't actually work. And we will get old.

That ancient battle attitude was imported into our justice system: the notion that an adversarial presentation of opposing "sides" in a legal dispute would result in the emergence of truth through proof. Medieval knights jousting on horseback, each trying to poke the other off with a long pike. It's outmoded. Doesn't work very well to resolve, for example, family law disputes over children -- or many other complex legal issues.

That battle attitude was imported into our system of democracy too. Partisanship. Retaining power at all costs by slagging and demeaning the opponent and glorifying our side's unnuanced position.

Right now, we're dealing with disease again. But what the average citizen needs to do doesn't actually require much fighting.

We just need to wash our hands. We just need to stay at home.

We just need to accept that our precious right to do whatever we want whenever we want wherever we want can go on hold for awhile.

We can balance rights (long too much in the forefront) with just a little uptick in our sense of communal responsibility. We can support those who are actually fighting on the front lines for our benefit-- the health care workers, the truckers, the cleaners, the grocery store cashiers -- by suspending our individual liberties just a little.

Here in Canada, I've been so impressed with the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that is emerging between our federal and provincial governments. Our federal government is Liberal. Many of our provincial governments (including Ontario's) are Conservative.

But long term political adversaries are speaking of each other in glowing and complimentary terms. Some very unlikely people have become new best buddies as they work together for the common good and provide sobering transparency of clear scientific information to citizens so they understand what is required of us.

Canadian laws and social institutions have been pretty effective (not perfect, but pretty effective) in dealing with disasters and with diseases up until now. We don't have the universal right to bear arms. Gun stores are not deemed "essential services". We do have universal health care.

What's a potential legacy of COVID-19?

Maybe in future more citizens will be moved to vote for political candidates less along party lines and more from a perspective of weighing the individual's propensity to get along.

To work together.

We may be seeing an evolution of human consciousness from what Michael Neill calls that place before thought.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    54 days ago
    Interesting blog. It’s certainly you showing up the selfish characters.... but for how long.....?
    55 days ago
    Sadly all this togetherness, helping each other out, banding together will not last. Certainly it didn't after 9/11. Mother Earth is healing itself as the destructive humans are shut in, but the destruction of the planet will continue once this is over. For now, we can enjoy lowered pollution, fresh air, peace and quiet -no traffic noise, no sirens, no roaring of planes overhead. No one will remember that peace or want it after this is over. A lesson is being given but not taken advantage of and learned. Alberta and Sask have taken a huge hit with the tanked gas prices and will be fast to protest against any carbon tax once this is over.
    Wishing you well and here is to you enjoying a virtual online birthday party tomorrow!
    56 days ago
    Thanks for your thoughts and the link.

    The grip of fatigue is taking hold and energy reserves are running low. So, I'll read the article later when there's more in the tank.

    57 days ago
    Yesterday our chief medical officer for the province urged all of us to face reality and get our affairs in order, especially those who are in long term care. COVID is just beginning to impact health care facilities here; we have had no deaths and as of yesterday of 262 cases only 6 were in hospital. If the virus gets out of control choices will have to be made and it behooves us to be prepared for that consequence. Difficult for some to understand or listen to but the stark reality.
    57 days ago
    Loved your perspective of voting for those who can get along. That is so necessary. There is so much rubbish spouted.
    57 days ago
    Great article! Lots of food for thought.

    I've never bought into the notion that if we eat right enough, or exercise enough, or do everything right enough that we can hold off death indefinitely. I learned very young that death is out of my, or anyone's, control. The best we can do is to improve the quality of our life in the meantime through all of the above. I have no problem with the idea of prioritizing medical care. We've discussed this quite a lot as a family since this whole pandemic season started... that the pandemic is really a natural selection event and, while I'm not anxious to be 'selected' anytime soon, I can accept that reality should it come my way.

    At the same time, I emphatically agree with the concept of community responsibility and I, too, am very proud of our country and our leaders at this juncture. While I'm comfortable with realities before us (no matter how hard we try, people will die), I'd prefer that the deaths which will occur do so due to natural selection, not because we failed each other. I sincerely hope that a global movement in this direction is the outcome.

    Thanks, as always, for the opportunity to ponder.

    57 days ago
    58 days ago
    More of we humans need to adopt that "we're all in it together" community belief!!!
    58 days ago
    People like to pick ... a side... a political party ... to have a say in how their daily lives are governed. I think people WILL look after this at who was more human and caring than their party line :) hope so.
    58 days ago
    I love your blog.
    I hold out no hope for long-term cooperation. This cycle has come again and again. When the coast is clear and life goes back to normal, old issues come up.
    Sure, maybe a few brains have been changed and some good will prevail but from the ashes the phoenix of political rivalry will rise once more. It has for eons.
    What will be better is scientific collaboration without borders. We've always been a collaborative community and this has thrown us into a world less proprietary and energetic!
    58 days ago
  • HOLLYM48
    emoticon I just pray that the world comes out of this stronger and united. One can always hope.
    Be safe!
    58 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    Hmm. Mind all over the place right now and unable to form a thoughtful response. Praying that this COVID-19 crisis will bring about much good in mankind over the long haul.
    58 days ago
  • GABY1948
    emoticon and may God bless us all!
    58 days ago
    Lots of food for thought. I hope that in the future this DOES cause us to vote more for that candidates ability to get along vs. party lines. IT's time has come for sure.
    58 days ago
    58 days ago
  • NANCY-
    OMG The article actually quoted our narcissistic capitalist President. Scary! I wish there was more of a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. Without people there is no economy, people can rebuild an economy. The world will be a different place after this. I just pray that it is for the common good and not for the one percenters. But first we need to get though this. Thanks for your insight.

    58 days ago
    58 days ago
    Such an interesting question. We do still need laws, and fences/borders to protect us. But, as you say, the mediation process, rather than the adversarial process is starting to emerge. And hopefully can be an inspiration for every interaction, where we need to hold the needs of every party just as important, and then, find a way to mediate.

    But, before even this, we have to develop in ourselves and in our children, the sense of respect, consideration for the "other". I hesitate to use the word love, because so many atrocities have been committed in the name of love.

    This can start with us individually , right here, right now.

    And hopefully, it can be catching.

    58 days ago

    Comment edited on: 4/5/2020 5:00:53 PM
    58 days ago
    I pray a new dawn of humanity comes from Covid-19 - so far what I see is some people kinder than ever, some people realizing kinder is better and some people rethinking what they can get from being "kinder".
    58 days ago
  • ALICIA363
    58 days ago
  • no profile photo INCH_BY_INCH
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    58 days ago
    58 days ago
    Very interesting!
    58 days ago
    What a concept, voting: "less along party lines and more from a perspective of weighing the individual's propensity to get along." emoticon

    Something to chew on, related to the four horsemen concept, is something my mother said. My kid sis reminded me of this in a Zoom conversation yesterday (no, we did not get "bombed"). Mom said, "It used to be that pneumonia was the old man's friend, to die in his sleep. Now they won't let anybody die."

    Sis was seeing it echoed in the faces and demeanor of the health care workers who were devastated that they could not give CPR to folks who were on ventilators with Covid19. I see it in the devastation of reaction to the orders to not transport someone to a hospital who cannot be revived on scene. The truth of the matter is, should I, heaven forbid, contract this thing AND become that severely ill... I don't want others to put themselves at risk to take extreme measures with me. I have an advance directive. My son knows where it is stored. I live alone, so chances are, should such a thing happen, I might just be able to pull off either healing here or dying here, without harming others!

    And I guess that is the way I see the golden rule in this. The virus does not discriminate. No one has immunity from it. There is no vaccine yet. The treatments they are developing are still very much in the study stage. From me, my desire is to prevent getting it, and to not be a silent spreader. But if I should contract it, keep that philosophy of "first do no harm." (Yes, I know that's Hippocrates, not Jesus.)

    If as consumers of health care, we think in terms of "first do no harm" we might just get through this, together, and with our health care system intact.
    58 days ago
    Wonderful historical perspective. I do wish our leaders would see that cooperation makes life more bearable, and that going back to the original intent of the founding of this country would make a huge difference in how we work together. That said, I see neighbors spending more 6 foot apart time together and helping one another!
    58 days ago
    58 days ago
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