Not long ago, there was talk of anthropological studies of personality cults — ways of life, and even of personality cults that can be traced to people within. Now — in the throes of a pandemic — we need to turn our attention to one of the things that people seek when they try to shelter from things like pandemics: willowy blondes with strong personalities.
The downside of raising community against a pandemic is that people can be badly split up — having to walk from farm to farm, from their friends’ house to a shelter. They may lose touch with the outside world. How are we to be sure of their wellbeing? How do we know that someone in a network of rickshaw drivers will be able to fetch someone at the hospital, or that a prisoner will be able to vote, or that people on the outside won’t find it easy to sell the food that they have been forced to grow, and buy the means of transporting it, themselves? If, for instance, someone in our community has grown up with childhood stories of children who have died of a pandemic, will that reality have been transmitted to their children? We try to avoid this kind of thing, because it is all too easy to believe that the “gooddies” will take care of “the poor.”
Let me try to avoid having this conversation with my son. He is upset because his aunt has ordered him not to talk about her. His sister explains that it is because the viruses won’t accept auntie’s innocence. He insists that she is a great aunt and, as a matter of fact, knows all the charities that receive money from auntie. The stories she has told him as a child about people who had died from a pandemic, he asserts, will help her survive the outbreak. And really? Will she have lots of money, the kind that Auntie and her friends are able to give? And will she be able to keep up with her activities — buying food, giving up a house and her material things — if, through a quirk of her genes, she has a “native immune resistance” that will inoculate her against this kind of illness?
My son must try to come to grips with these questions. We want to have conversations about topics like this, even when they seem as prosaic as the ones we are talking about here, because it is the way of people who are part of networks to find each other and help each other when the system runs through a crisis. It may be right that I would go to Auntie and say, please help my son to be kind to his aunt. But as much as I would like to have that conversation, my worries about what the times will be like make it not the best time. The future is a lot scarier than the past.