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The pandemic, the great augmentor

If anything saves us out of this evil mess, it will be the good people who became real saints in these most trying of times.

First published in Daily Maverick 168

In the early phases of the 2020 pandemic, a specialist friend attempted to simplify for me how Coronavirus wreaks  havoc on the infected body. What the many scientists noticed was that the virus had an uncanny ability to find the weak spots and vulnerable aspects of our bodies and then proceed to increase the amplitude of bad reactions. For way too many, sadly, their already weakened systems could not cope with the volume of multiplications and couldn’t make it to the other side. At the time of writing, almost 19,000 South African souls were not able to survive these extremes.

I am certain the true scientific picture is much more complex than this, but the image of Covid The Augmentor stuck with me. Still, as the damage these seven pandemic months have exerted on our society continues, I often think of this simple picture, of the system under stress, where an amplitude of every reaction is many times greater than in “normal” times.

How often do you catch yourself thinking “people are going crazy” these days? What used to be a normal, solvable problem often turns into an unscalable wall greased by the lard of desperation and incompetence.

Where politicians used to be wary of showing their true colours, they now wear them proudly on their sleeves. No normal times would have bubbled up to the surface our very own Stalinists, hell-bent on dominating the minutiae even of our private lives, banning smoking or alcohol consumption and deciding what clothes we can buy, even if that had nothing to do with fighting off the disease. Where politically-connected people were doing “normal”, run-of-the-mill enrichment in previous years, the pandemic has proven to be an exceptionally rich hunting ground – they were able to steal their way into record books. Even the horrific nature of their crimes got augmented – from the normal “jail-ready” crimes, they graduated to the “crimes against humanity” category.

Our everyday contacts are often shouting matches. Our politics are conducted through the barrel of a verbal gun, and sometimes the real one. Nutty conspiracy theories like QAnon would have been laughed out of the park just a few years ago, but these days they have entered the mainstream of our societies. Fuelled by humanity’s other pandemic disease, social media, we allowed the evil few to turn us into a screaming, hateful civilisation that is on the verge of a global self-harming event, or a series of smaller, equally painful and destructive ones.

And yet, as I ponder this extra hate of today, I would be wrong in not pointing out that the pendulum for so many has swung in the opposite direction too. If anything saves us out of this evil mess, it will be the good people who became real saints in these most trying of times.

The Community Action Networks which ensured that the people of South Africa did not starve when parts of the government tried to return to the ideological purity of the 1930s Soviet Union. The medical warriors who ran headfirst into the Covid fire, forsaking self-preservation imperative in order to help the sick and needy. The countless essential workers who kept coming to work, and worked hard, even as they knew they would be exposed to a risk much greater than the rest of the population.

The journalists and their media houses who fought back the threat of impending penury to keep the nation starving for truth, well informed, while all the while being dragged back down by the trolls and bots who, like opportunistic infections always do, knew just when to serve a disinformation attack or the latest round of bullying, just because.

How will we ever be able to repay these wonderful people and make sure we do not become evil, bloated caricatures of ourselves, who hate in order to stay alive?

Most importantly, understanding the issue itself will help. Understanding that we are making our living under terrifying stress, and might stay there for a long time. Making sure we do not explode but call out our better angels, that all of us have within ourselves.

Imagine, for a moment, humanity as a soldiers’ squad, and see this amplified hatred as an order to march over a bridge. Should we march over, the resonance we create will result in a wildly increased amplitude that will destroy the bridge, sending us all into the abyss. Or we can do what good officers do – come to reason and make sure soldiers walk quietly, at their own pace, thus not destroying anything. Which option would YOU prefer? If you don’t want to destroy anything, it would be good to start by understanding that you do not have to give in to your darkest motives. It is easy if you try. DM168

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