For some, instructions to wear masks in public places have been an opportunity to chart new courses in fashion or have simply been a minor inconvenience in the effort to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. Alternatively, for others in more libertarian and sometimes conspiratorial groups, the face mask has become a symbol of the overreach of the state. I suspect for many of those reading this blog post the opposition to wearing masks seems deeply irrational and perplexing. Likewise, I have found these sentiments troubling and an affront to my own sense of community and ethics. For myself, wearing a mask has become a way of publicly presenting my commitment to stopping the spread of viruses and an acknowledgement of science and evidence as a guide to public health policy. So how has the face mask become a symbol of such divergent meanings?
Having meaningful conversations about systemic racism and social immobility can connect people as much as the act of absorbing someone else’s microcosm of grief and relating to it. Ideally, I think, the conversations should encompass both the macro issues and the micro everyday scenes: acknowledging the social values that might hinder social change and communicating the process of witnessing everyday pain that reminds us of our shared humanity.
Religion is no "opiate of the masses." Rich and poor, educated and ignorant alike flock to the call of certainty in these uncertain times. Rather than action based on the fear of an angry deity’s surveillance and judgement, this is an escape from the unease within. Certainty is a kind of social power. It indicates authority. Certainty reinforces identity through the use of prescribed language. Certainty is a foundational part of action. Today’s pandemic religion is about something you can be sure of. It’s about a bid for authority seen as stolen by science, by government, by secularism, and by technology. In the same way that 'thoughts and prayers' are more of a dismissive platitude than an actual step towards healing, it’s “Amen” at a distance without much in the way of getting directly in the trenches to rescue the drowning.
While last year I was busy being quite the adventurous backpacker, this year my biggest achievement has been to walk beyond the well-worn path between my bedroom and kitchen. It might have been the intensity of the lockdown slowly rotting away my brain, but I couldn’t help but start to draw some parallels between my time locked up in my bedroom in Melbourne, and my practice of Vipassana in Thailand.