I’m writing this mostly for future historians for whom this whole period of our lives could likely appear to be one big blur. In fact, for those who lived it, it unfolded in stages with an obvious theme. And that theme, tragically, is rooted in class demarcations.
The elites wanted to avoid the virus for as long as possible. That was the point of “Stay home, stay safe.” It should be very obvious that not everyone can do that. We still need food, energy, medical services, sanitation, road repair, and so on. There are people whose work requires that they leave the keyboard from time to time.
Apparently, some people forgot that.
Or maybe they didn’t forget.
It’s a trope from all of human history that the clean people need to stay away from the dirty people, and that some people are more entitled than others to remain pathogenetically unexposed. Lower classes and politically marginalized people have been variously used throughout history as sandbags to absorb disease.
So in the 21st century, when we were supposed to be above that, the ruling class concocted all sorts of policies to shove the burden of herd immunity on their lessers, even if they didn’t say it or even overtly think about it in exactly that way. In the process, they attacked liberty, equality, democracy, and the rule of law, all in the interest of protecting themselves.
Once it became obvious that a bug was on the loose, the politicians panicked and the laptop class hid in the comfort of their own homes, while standing up from time to time to answer the door to get food or cheer health-care workers leaving after a long day of exposing themselves to the virus. No doubt that many of these “workers and peasants” got sick and gained immunity. It was the same for delivery workers who left packages and groceries at the doors of their betters. Later, they were forced to be vaccinated and many resigned rather than do that, and this is simply because health-care workers are more likely than not to know about immunity basics, unlike CDC officials. This stage lasted for a few months in 2020. But the virus was still there and spreading.
Once that group had been infected, many young people got exercised about police brutality and especially its disparate impact on the black community. That sparked the protests of the summer of 2020, attended by mostly young people. The voices screaming for lockdowns changed their tune and said, yes indeed, racism is also a serious public health problem so protest please (and just maybe they can carry this hot potato called covid). They gathered in huge crowds all over the country and yelled. No doubt many got infected and recovered, making a contribution to herd immunity too. They were later pressed into taking the vaccine to attend school even though many already obtained immunity. Regardless, the virus was still there and spreading.
By the fall, many working professionals in banks, law offices, and financial services came back to work and thereby exposed themselves to the virus too. Meanwhile, media stars, politicians, and elite intellectuals were still in a position to hide out in their pajamas in hopes of avoiding the bug. At some point, it is truly the case that if enough people meet the virus and gain immunity, the virus will find fewer people to infect and gradually go away. Again, this might not have been an overt intention, but the impulse is hardwired in our culture, going way back. Regardless, the virus was still there and spreading.
By the start of the Biden administration, the geographic differences between opened and closed began to follow party lines. The red states were largely open and people bravely exposed themselves. The blue states were packed with elite classes of people who had decided to hunker down for the duration. Thus were masks mandated for the whole population, in case some people had to get out and do things. Except when you ate: then you could remove your mask so long as masked and therefore largely anonymous servers kept you safe. Also, the vaccine was available, and gave another tool to scrub the country free of pathogens so that the clean classes could stay that way. This was the start of a very serious attempt to shame people for getting sick: they are clearly doing it wrong. Sadly, it turned out that the vaccine provided neither personal protection nor a blockage to spread so that didn’t quite work. Nor did masks. The virus was still there and spreading.
Finally, after all this time – the hiding, shaming, masking, vaccinating, and boosting having all failed to stop the pathogen – the highest of the highest echelon of society decided to venture out, attending various parties and gatherings, plus daring to hang out in public places, even be around the rabble. It was in this period, November and December 2021, that various media personalities got exposed and thereby gained immunities. They didn’t want it to come to this but because so much time had passed, and so many mutations had come and gone, the threshold for herd immunity kept rising higher and higher. It became impossible to avoid. Infections swept the blue states and the ruling classes, even including politicians. In this period too, this group began to congratulate themselves for having waited for Omicron, the mildest but most prevalent mutation yet. So clever! So clean!
Here is where we are today, in the spring of 2022, and who is getting the bug? Well, there is still a higher level. It’s the circle close to the president, the pro-lockdown epidemiologists who had become Twitter stars, White House correspondents, and finally BILL GATES of all people, Mr. Lockdown himself, one of the richest and most privileged human beings on earth. Like Prince Prospero in The Masque of the Red Death, the virus finally came to Gates. And it happened just as his book appeared that celebrated the great achievements of public health over the last two years.
Now, you can say: this theory – this political hierarchy of infectious disease – is fanciful. It didn’t really happen this way. It’s true that I can’t prove it for certain – that would take some mighty research chops – but it seems like a good picture overall of how we handled this disease, based on what we saw and what was reported in the media.
You could also say that even if this did happen, it was never intentional. Well, that depends on what you mean by intentional. Did the elites in society believe themselves to be more entitled to breathe virus-free air and thereby choose their personal interests over that of the working classes? Most certainly. Worse, they congratulated themselves for staying safe.
And look at the results: the patricians thrived and the plebeians suffered. This reality is what is driving the political realignment in unpredictable ways.
Fascinating isn’t it? We preach non-discrimination, equality, and democracy, but when confronted with what seemed to be a potentially mortal threat to our health and lives, we reverted back to pre-modern forms, almost overnight creating a new caste system, shoving the lessers among us in front of the virus to keep the elites pure and clean.
Whole social and political systems have been constructed around this habit. We were supposed to be better than that. When it came to a new pathogen, however, nearly the whole world overthrew every value we’ve preached for hundreds of years. Those who suffered the most are the weakest among us. And everyone got covid anyway.