Friday, October 16, 2020

Streets 0 - Next

Photo of a paved trail and the caption "street"

This is not the proclamation of an expert. This is the confession of a fool.

In the months after the 2016 election, while still reeling from the permanent demolition of the reality I'd known, and the betrayal of every fine principle I’d thought our nation shared—by institutions and people I’d thought trustworthy, into open white supremacy and authoritarianism—I wrote an essay called Sky. It was my lament.

Near the end of the first year, I posted Bubbles. It’s a series of essays about a nation I’d failed to see, and the terrible lies I saw it has been founded upon, the spiritual desire of such terrible lies, and what I perceived as our role in that world, which is to live as good stories, as works of art.

I learned what they were about by writing them, and then thinking about them after.

Here, then, is the next one.

It’s the thing that comes at the end of my four-year revelation of American menace and cruelty. I’m calling it "Streets." I don’t know what it’s about yet, other than that—like those that came before—it’s about where I’ve arrived, and how we got here, and where I think we should go from here, if we're interested in survival as a nation and a species—an open question, I realize.

The things I’ll be saying are things I’ve learned recently, but they aren’t things recently true. Only my awareness is new—and yours, maybe. There are others who’ve known all these things, and more besides, for a long time. How long? Their whole lives. They’ve been telling us about it all along, and we haven’t heard until recently.

We? I. I haven’t heard until recently.

Heard? Listened.

I have to conclude we haven’t wanted to know.

We? I. 

If you’re one who has been wise to these matters your whole life, I hope my words honor your experiences, and I apologize for all the ways they will fail.

If you’re a fool like me, still reeling even four years later from new knowledge of old truths long known, this is for you. I’m hoping to put words to how my frame has moved over four years—about what is broken, and how healing could occur.

Three years ago, I wrote that you don’t move people’s frame through argument or debate, but by telling stories. 

I still believe that.

Let me tell you two stories; Here, and Now.


Here: let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that there's a virus. Let’s pretend it’s deadly. Let’s say it’s a novel new strain of an old structure that we’ve known about for a long time. In this story, the virus appears quickly, and it spreads quickly, rapidly becoming a global pandemic. It harms a lot of people, and many of those it harms it kills. In some places, people are better prepared for a virus, and less people get infected, and less people die as a result. In other places, people are worse prepared for a virus, and more people get infected, and more people die as a result.

Now, imagine that one reason this virus spreads so effectively is because a large number of people who get it—perhaps even a majority of the people who get it—are asymptomatic. Unaffected, they transmit it freely. They aren’t in danger themselves, but they’ll put other people in danger, simply by walking around. Some people will be harmed, and some will suffer permanent damage, and some will die, because of these asymptomatic super-spreaders, who will never even need to know that they were the cause of all this needless pain.

Now, let’s pretend it's discovered that the best way of containing such a virus is for everybody to agree, for the sake of those who are most vulnerable, to do some things that are inconvenient. Let’s make up some random examples … let’s say … they’d need to wear something on their face that is very slightly uncomfortable, and to keep to their houses as much as possible, and to avoid travel and social contact, and perhaps to spread out during necessary human interactions, for a few months. And, let's say that the best way of defeating such a virus was for governments to invest heavily on meaningful and sustained financial relief for people whose livelihoods depended on engaging in newly risky behavior, and also on a vigorous, nationally coordinated testing and tracing regime led by expert epidemiologists—in short, on knowing as much as possible about the virus, and then on spending what it costs to combat it.

We might dare hope that in time the virus in our story would be defeated. That, provided the virus is not too deadly and efficient, enough people would eventually survive the virus to produce antibodies making themselves immune, or a vaccine would be developed, and then this virus would no longer harm and kill people when it infected them. The virus would then seem, for all intents and purposes, to be gone—but it wouldn't be gone, of course. Viruses mutate, grow, change, and eventually evolve to new strains. So, any society that was wise and knowledgeable about viruses would invest in vigilant prophylactic systems to monitor and guard against outbreaks—in short, they would commit to knowing as much as possible about viruses in general, and then on spending what it costs to contain them.

Let's pretend that, in our story, most countries decide to do exactly this. But, in our story, there's one country that, though it has more resources than any other, decides instead to ignore the virus. 

Photo of angry white assholes demanding to be allowing into a store so that they can spread coronavirus.

Can you imagine this? A society containing millions of people who absolutely refuse to participate in the minor discomforts needed to contain the virus, who oppose on the basis of cost all government intervention that would relieve those suffering very real distress because of the virus, framing their decision along lines of personal individual risk and intention and freedom; millions of people who deliberately fail to understand that they might be spreading the virus, who cite only statistics to support their contentions and ignore all others; who demand proofs of things already known and then refuse the proofs when they are given; who verbally (sometimes even physically) attack any who ask them to honor minimal levels of public health and social consideration. Pretend these people decide to be confused about all reports about the virus’s spread. Imagine many of them even choose to believe rumors that the virus is a hoax. Pretend such people become very angry when they see other people engaging in the minor inconveniences that would contain the virus—almost as if the sight of people exercising knowledge about the problem convicts them of their decision to align with ignorance.

And: let's pretend that in this society there exists a well-funded corporate media infrastructure fully committed to validating the choices of these deliberately ignorant people, and increasing their ignorance by broadcasting further disinformation, false equivalencies, and outright lies. Imagine such an apparatus, wearing the trappings of authority and trustworthiness, but aligned to delivering to their viewers reinforcements of their ignorance, fully dedicated to confessing that ignorance as wisdom, to urging their audiences toward increasingly extreme and aggressive acts in defense of that ignorance.

Before long you might decide that such a society was committed, as a first priority, to ignorance of things already known, in order to satisfy the temporary indulgence of their own convenience.

Before long you might even have to conclude such people have aligned themselves with the spread of the virus, no matter their stated intents.

In our story, these people don't align themselves with the spread of the virus by actively spreading it. They align themselves with it by simply refusing to know things that are already known, because they don’t want to accept the responsibility that comes with knowledge, because they are intent on avoiding any inconvenience that might come with that responsibility.

Photo of armed white supremacists terrorists occupying Michigan's state house in a pro-coronavirus demonstration.

Or: Imagine a government that decides only to fight the virus to the extent that corporate profit is protected, and, outside of those bounds, will simply exercise a practiced ignorance that the virus exists, or else claim the virus has been contained and now exists in the past, or is simply an unchangeable part of the new way of things. Imagine the leader of such a government who decides to suppress testing, because the report of infection makes him look bad, and without such report, the full truth of infection won’t be known.

Imagine a government that decides not to invest in monitoring and guarding against the next virus, or even dismantles existing apparatuses and safeguards in order to save a pittance in expenditure.

Before long, you might decide that such a government was not committed to the health of its citizens. Before long, you’d have to conclude that such a government had deliberately chosen ignorance of things already known, in order to satisfy the temporary benefit of other interests.

Before long one might even have to conclude such a government has aligned themselves with the spread of the virus, no matter their stated intents. They’d say that they are against viruses—of course they are. But any observer would know better, if they had eyes to see it.

Photograph of the superspreader event at the White House to celebrate the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

In our story, this government doesn't align themselves with the spread of the virus by actively spreading it. They align themselves with it by simply refusing to acknowledge things that are already known, because they don’t want to accept the responsibility that comes with knowledge, because they are intent on avoiding any cost that might come with that responsibility.

End of story one.


Now: let’s pretend there’s a disease called cancer, and that there's a person who has it. Let’s say it’s been growing in this person's body for a very long time. Let’s say it’s crept, stealthy and invisible, for long months and years. Let’s say it’s only made certain localized parts of the body less comfortable as it grew, twinges and aches that in retrospect might have been considered warnings to heed. Now let’s say that for the first time there is an unignorable visible sign; a tumor grown so large it distends the belly. Let’s imagine a doctor who runs some tests. She prescribes immediate surgery to remove all affected tissue, an aggressive campaign of medication and treatment, frequent testing, and, after recovery, a radical change to diet, exercise, and environment.

Now let’s imagine a patient who ignores all symptoms and refuses all the tests. You’d have to assume that—for whatever reason—they don’t want to know the frightening truth. Right?

Or let’s imagine our patient refuses the treatment, because in their estimation the treatment was too radical. You’d have to assume the patient had decided, for whatever reason, that the treatment was no longer worth the pain or the cost; that they'd decided instead to let matters progress on their established course, with all the likely consequences that choice entails. Correct?

But now imagine our patient refuses the lifestyle changes, insisting that diet and environment don’t affect risk factors for recurrence; insists that their body isn’t a system; that what’s happening in one organ in the abdomen can’t possibly affect any other part of the body. Imagine our patient decides, despite all available evidence and the exhortations of multiple oncologists, that the tumor is the only problem, that the cancer from which it grew doesn’t exist, that the clear proofs of the environmental factors that fostered it are unproven. You’d have to assume they’d decided that the likelihood of a recurrence wasn’t worth the effort to prevent. Yes?

And ... imagine our patient makes these decisions without facing the reality of what those decisions mean—refuses treatment and measures meant to prevent recurrence, not from a difficult but clear decision that the fight is no longer worth the pain of treatment or change, but because they imagine that the fight can be won—despite any evidence—without any cost beyond a surgical removal. Imagine our patient makes their only priority a return to the familiar comfort of their life exactly as it was before they received the knowledge of the diagnosis, and expects health to come as a result.

Photo of a protester holding a sign that says "IF HILLARY WON WE'D BE AT BRUNCH RIGHT NOW"

Before long, you’d have to understand our patient as somebody committed, as a first priority, to not knowing things that are already known, in order to try to return to a previous state that is no longer attainable.

Before long, you’d understand our patient is putting their entire body in grave danger, not because they've made a measured, aware, and purposeful decision about their being, but simply because they don't want to acknowledge the reality in which they now find themselves. Before long, you'd have to conclude that his patient is aligned with the spread of the cancer, whether or not they intend to be.

Our patient doesn't align themselves with the spread of the cancer by actively spreading it. They align themselves with it by simply deciding to not know things that are already known, and not taking active steps to oppose it.

Or: Imagine our patient exists within a healthcare system that made payment a higher priority than treatment and prevention. Imagine this healthcare system instructed doctors and hospitals to refuse to allow the tests or treatments, unless it could be first established that the patient had the ability to pay.

Imagine a healthcare system that let people die if treating them wasn't profitable. Imagine one structured so that existence of a health condition made it less likely for that person to receive health care, simply because treating an unhealthy person is more expensive than treating a healthy one.

Before long you might decide that such a system was not committed to health. Before long you’d have to conclude that such a system had deliberately chosen ignorance of things already known, in order to satisfy the temporary benefit of other interests. Before long you might even have to conclude such a system has aligned itself with cancer and every other type of disease, no matter the intents of well-meaning  people within such a system. It's administrators will tell you that they are against cancers—of course they are. But you will know better, if you have eyes to see it. 

Photo of a disabled protester being forcibly removed by a law enforcement officer.

This system doesn’t align itself with the spread of cancer by actively spreading it, but simply by refusing to acknowledge things that are already known, because it doesn't want to accept the responsibility that comes with knowledge, because it is intent on avoiding any cost that might come with that responsibility, and on reaping the benefits that come from the existence of the problem.

End of story two.


It seems to me that viruses and cancers have a number of clear similarities and intersections. Both are opportunistic, both committed only to the spread of themselves. Both are systemic, in that what they consume are healthy systems, first destabilizing them, and then, if left untreated, compromising them to the point of failure.

Both, then, ought to be treated, generally speaking. Surely we all agree on that point.

In both cases, effectively treating them involves: first, knowledge that they exist; then a short-term change—often radical, often targeted, to eliminate the threat; then a remedy—a permanent, holistic, watchful, strategic, systemic restructuring—to monitor for and prevent recurrence.

In both cases, aligning against the spread requires active, persistent, determined, informed, and transformative action.

In both cases, aligning with the spread requires only passivity.

Virus and cancer: all either needs to devour a healthy system is for you do nothing—they’ll do the rest.

The differences between viruses and cancers are also instructive.

A deadly virus has no place whatsoever in a healthy system. The treatment for such a virus is to contain it, expunge it, and eradicate it. A perfectly healthy system will have no deadly viruses whatsoever. A virus spreads by mutating a new form for which a healthy system has not yet developed a defense. The remedy against a virus is eradication: to monitor for new strains to detect them, contain them as they're detected, and eliminate them once contained.

To give a layman's understanding, a cancer typically grows when a system improperly prioritizes a part of a itself that would otherwise be healthy and natural: bone, breast, lymph, lung, liver. Treatment for a cancer is meant, hopefully, to restore the tissue to a right balance within the system, removing the cells committed to an unhealthy growth while saving the cells that the system needs. After treatment for liver cancer, for example, a recovering person will still have some part of a liver, just one hopefully free of cancer. And: though liver cancer springs from the liver, the existence of liver cancer doesn’t mean that livers in general are bad. And: a cancer frequently spreads because of environmental or lifestyle factors. The remedy for a cancer often involves testing and monitoring of the entire system, to ensure all of it is working in a way that is healthy and sustainable and fitting.

With a virus, the challenge is keeping it out of the system entirely. You defeat the viral attack on the body’s systems, then keep vigilant against the next mutation of the virus, because if you don’t, it’ll grow, and spread, infecting more and more, taxing our response systems, and making us more vulnerable, especially those of us who were vulnerable already, including those of us with … cancer.

With a cancer, the challenge itself is systemic. A tumor is often merely the most unignorable symptom of a systemic vulnerability, demanding radical changes to the configuration of body and lifestyle. In many cases, in order to preserve the body, things cannot go on as they have previously, because to return to such a state makes disaster inevitable, and failing to make radical changes compromises the entire body, making it susceptible both to recurrence of tumors and even external factors, like … viruses.

When we find our systems compromised by either cancer or virus, we should not avoid radical and transformative change, if we would align with health. We should seek radical remedy and transformational change. We should desire them as if they were survival itself—which they are.

And, if we would align against recurrence, we should never avoid a systemic restructuring, no matter the expense. We should seek it. We should desire it as if it were survival itself—which it is.

And, if we care about health, we must never refuse to know what we know about either virus or cancer.

The cost of ignorance is, eventually, everything. The cost of knowledge, however painful, can never exceed it.

Photo of a memorial for Covid dead, showing the lawn of the national mall covered with chairs
Each chair = 10 lives.


So: it’s time to talk about the United States and the world. 

These days, talking about the United States and the world means talking about the fascist white supremacist who is currently the Republican President of the United States, and who is—and I still cannot believe I am typing this—Donald Trump.

A.R. Moxon is a writer. His novel The Revisionaries, is available now, with the paperback edition releasing December 1, 2020.

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