On Those Who Are Not Getting Sick

The most disturbing and dangerous aspect of The Pandemic that Ate a Planet, according to our friends at Chicken Little News (the official information forum of foxywoxy.gov), is the fact that such a high proportion of its victims never get sick, as though it would somehow be better if a higher proportion of the infected required hospitalization. In this irrational End-Times climate of “one death is unacceptable,” the word asymptomatic has become the new seventh seal of the apocalypse.

This demonization of the seemingly good news of widespread natural resistance to the virus — a vindication of the Swedish approach, and thus a spit in the eye to the authoritarian “experts” condemning that approach — is a sure sign of fearmongering at wit’s end. 

In more shocking medical news, there are indications that COVID-19 lacks even the basic humanity to abide by the preferred fantasies of our modern self-esteem industry. In a stunning slap at feel-good egalitarian materialism, this virus is beginning to force the experts to concede, at long last, that obesity is not merely a civil rights issue and a triumph over the historical injustice of the beauty myth, but also a risk-increasing health condition.

In the early stages of this virtual reality cataclysm, I was sometimes challenged to explain how Korea’s death rate remained so low, even when this adopted home of mine was still a recent global epicenter of the pandemic. A major part of my answer, admittedly an educated guess or reasoned speculation, was grounded in the fact that the high-risk groups for this new virus were clearly the elderly and those with serious pre-existing  health problems.

With regard to the first group, whereas a sadly high proportion of Western seniors are sedentary, generally unhealthy, socially discarded, and personally averse to physical or mental exertion, their Korean counterparts, my neighbors and fellow trail-walkers, tend to remain active and energetic into very old age, and to maintain practical and social functions — farming, raising grandchildren, even working as day-laborers doing physically demanding tasks — that enhance willpower and resilience. As for the second high-risk group, people of any age with underlying health problems, the most obvious distinction is that Westerners in general, and North Americans most particularly, have transformed sedentary obesity from a frustrating personal problem with which a few individuals always struggle into a near-universal social norm, to the point that an entire cottage industry — comprising entertainment, fashion, psychology, and even progressive politics — has grown up around the need to excuse and justify unhealthy overeating as a worthy and reasonable “lifestyle choice” and a “new beauty.” 

Last week, I visited a nearby small town on the south coast of Korea, for a long walk. Part of the stroll involved passing through a small, hilly neighborhood of tiny old houses on narrow lanes, a quaint remnant of the country’s impoverished, pre-boom years. Most of the residents of this little village, naturally, are elderly; typically, it seems, ancient widows who have lived in these tiny houses with their sizeable garden plots for generations. All the plots are still fully planted. On this day, I happened to see a very old, bent-over grandmother working alone in her large vegetable garden. Sitting on a mound of dirt, taking a short break, she was a real-life embodiment of the sort of traditional, hard life that only exists in artificial folk villages in North America, designed for tourists. Ninety minutes later, returning through the same little neighborhood, I saw that she was still out there, working away at her fully-planted garden in the heat and humidity. This woman was seventy-five years old if she was a minute, probably considerably older.

That grandmother, and the kind of healthy food she grows and cooks — and that her children and grandchildren eat for two or three meals, almost every day — is probably a very big part of the explanation for Korea’s relatively insignificant outbreak of COVID-19, and of North America’s far more robust one.

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