Irreconcilable Differences, Part Two

     “Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It’s the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.”
     “But I like the inconveniences.”
     “We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
     “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”
     “In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
     “All right then,” said the Savage defiantly. “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
     “Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.
     “I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
     Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. “You’re welcome,” he said.

Brave New World, Chapter Seventeen

The only difference between this fictional conversation and the one each of us free souls is having with our families, our communities, and our governments every single day now is in the final line. Our World Controllers will never allow us even the dignity of clinging to our antiquated desire for a fully human existence. They will “cancel” us, reeducate us — or they will annihilate us.

I do not have a driver’s license, and have never felt inclined to get one. Almost every time I have ever shared that fact with a newer acquaintance, the reaction is the same: shock, incredulity, and a certain tone of condescending pity. And yet each year, approximately 1.35 million human beings die in traffic accidents worldwide. It is also the number one cause of death in the developed world for people under age 55. I do not begrudge anyone his car or his driving habits; I merely have no enthusiasm for it.

COVID-19, by contrast, has absolutely zero chance of killing as many people (let alone “otherwise healthy people”) as traffic accidents kill within an equivalent time frame, and a statistically minute chance of killing anyone under 55. (And remember, traffic accidents, unlike COVID, reach those mortality numbers every year.) And yet if I tell any newer acquaintance that I reject the premises of lockdowns, social distancing, and mask mandates from a public health point of view — even leaving aside the wider political implications of such policies — almost everyone reacts to my declaration the same way: with shock, incredulity, and a form of mocking condescension bordering on raw hatred. I do not begrudge anyone his desire to be healthy or avoid spreading illness unnecessarily; I merely refuse to make physical security the overriding priority of my existence.

Today, everyone must believe in speed, religiously — and in abject submission to the dream of personal safety, also religiously. We are cowards in the fast lane, craving perfect efficiency, continuous pleasure, and the impenetrable cocoon of protective authority in equal measures.

My religions, by contrast, are slowness and a refusal to hide from the inherent risks of living. I do not value efficiency, because I do not believe in time. I do not care for immediate pleasure, because I know that any baby tickled by an unknown hand, any heroin addict writhing emaciated on the floor, or any prisoner in the final delirium of being tortured to death, can feel pleasure. And for me, all protective cocoons are Plato’s cave, whereas the very meaning and value of life is to be found in every inch we may crawl toward the sunlight above.

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