Pandemania, Part 2
More on abuse, division, and the promise of coherency
I am impressed with the diversity and nuance of the comments on Part 1 of the Pandemania series. Super impressed. These are issues that provoke intense emotions, yet people were able to describe their experiences, feelings, and opinions with very little blame, self-righteousness, or dehumanizing labels.
(Note: here is a recording of me reading this essay aloud.)
I rarely see that even on forums where everyone is mostly in agreement, much less as here where so many perspectives are represented. That gives me a lot of hope. You see, if humanity cannot come to some degree of peace and coherence, there is no hope for a better future. Why? Because our main problems are self-created. The solutions to every ecological, social, and economic problem are readily available—if only we could come to agreement.
This hope coexists with the sober realization that we have a long, long way to go. Let me illustrate this with another story. I have heard dozens like it. A woman just wrote me in heartbreak. I’ll call her Jen. She is dying of liver cancer. Having exhausted every option, with the cancer metastasizing through her blood and lymph, she is entering hospice. Her daughter won’t let her see her baby grandson because of her vaccination status. She wrote:
My daughter is hysterically shaming, blaming, manipulating me to get the booster. She has said such unkind things to me that I'm too embarrassed to even write them to you.
Multiple doctors have strongly advised I should not get the booster after reviewing my medical history and recent test results.
Still my daughter won't listen. She's threatening to report one doctor for malpractice and considers another one to be a “New Age quack.”
So, here I am facing the probability that I will die without seeing my grandson take his first steps. At this point, my daughter exhibits all four the signs [of the potential for continued abuse] you list – it will continue. I am so hurt by the extreme violent language she used with me that I don't know if I feel safe being in the same room with her. 'She does not associate with people like me who believe “conspiracies” and will put society in danger and even my own children and grandchildren. I am a “crackpot.”
I can hardly believe that I am facing death in this way. My daughter and I have always been close.
This is a tragedy of enormous consequence not just to me personally but to our whole family who now walks this tight rope during my dying times. And I have no idea what wake I leave behind me for my husband who is extremely angry and protective. He's seen my tears too many times.
I wanted to share my personal story so you know this is continuing. These interactions have been in the past few weeks - even now!!!
I share this story for several reasons. First, to humanize what might otherwise be an overly philosophical essay. Second, to show that pandemania is far from over. It is a bubbling magma pit that could erupt again into the political realm at any moment. Third, I want to illuminate a reflex that might come up in the reader: the reflex of taking sides. “What a horrible person that daughter is!” Or, “What a manipulator the grandmother is, so insistent on being right that she is denying her whole family one last reunion so that she can remain self-righteously pure of a harmless shot.” The reflex is to try to make sense of the situation by assigning roles of hero-villain, innocent-guilty, perpetrator-victim. Given my opinions on the larger issue, I naturally tend to believe and sympathize with the grandmother. Others might read the story and come to a different conclusion. Notice, though, how the second judgement fits the pattern of society not believing the stories of victims of abuse, but accepting those of the perpetrators.
I am sure that each party believes in her own rightness. That does not make the two sides equally culpable for the conflict. Quite often, an abuser thinks he is fully justified in harming his victim. “She deserved it.” Or, “It was for her own good, I’m trying to help her.” I know this well, because years ago I was in an abusive relationship. My partner at the time fully believed that I deserved the harsh, unrelenting criticism and micro-management. I was pathetic, but perhaps salvageable if I would only listen. To a large degree I bought into it.
At such a time, it would not have been helpful for someone to point out that my partner fully believed she was right. What I needed was encouragement in setting boundaries. That is why I hesitate to give too much attention to the rationale for the abuse perpetrated against the unvaccinated—and society as a whole. Yet we are dealing with more than just the immediate problem of medical fascism, but a pattern that has repeated through the millennia. Please do not equate compassion with ignoring the crimes of the Covid era. Sanity requires we bring in all the data points. The divine innocence of each human being must stand alongside the full panorama of cruelty, deception, and crimes against humanity.
* * *
No simplifying narrative of fault and blame does justice to the deep mess we are in. The same goes for the situation of Jen and her family. It is a mess. We cannot with full accuracy attribute the mess to the fault of either or both the parties involved. It also enacts a broader social narrative in which the unvaccinated are crazy, “pathetic but perhaps salvageable if they would only listen. “ This activates and exacerbates latent abuser-victim dynamics. The situation seems impossible—a microcosm of the impossible situation facing the entire planet.
I had no practical advice for Jen. Instead I said I would light a candle for her and her family. It is the candle of the peace that passeth all understanding. It is the candle of the hope that draws from a knowledge beyond reason.
The lit candle is sitting next to me right now. I glance at it from time to time to remind myself that what I am writing is true.
Many of the comments on my original solicitation spoke of a loss of hope, a despair over the human condition and the direction of society. One person wrote:
Where is this great evolution of mind and spirit? I cannot see it. I am 69 - people were just the same all through the ages, nothing changed in my life time.
As a person who’s chased a gospel of transformation and human potential, I too am falling flat and empty handed.
The time of pandemania has surfaced ugly aspects of the human condition that had not been easily visible to most people living in affluent parts of the world. It became obvious just how little progress we have made toward an enlightened society. Yet, it also clarified the nature of the trouble and therefore, where real progress might lie. That is the hope I counterpose to this story, the hope that lies in coherency within and among human beings.
Our division comes in large part because of the way we categorize each other, reducing our brothers and sisters to caricatures of human beings. That has certainly happened throughout the Covid era, as enforcers of orthodoxy have labeled dissidents as conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, Trumpists, white supremacists, psychopaths, narcissists, crazy, kooky, stupid, and so forth. But it also happens on health freedom forums, where people apply equally degrading labels to the vaccinated.
Speaking here as a staunch critic of vaccination policy, I think that is a huge error. It is a moral error as well as a strategic error that will backfire.
Let us remember that “the vaccinated” comprise enthusiastic proponents, unthinking conformists, reluctant doubters, and people who were coerced by threats of loss of jobs, licenses, and civil liberties. Lumping them into one category obliterates the unique path each took to his or her choice. When that categorization comes with contempt, it conjures a phalanx of enemies that do not, or need not, exist.
The psychic field underlying pandemania draws its energy from the ancient pattern of scapegoating, in which a dehumanized victim is prepared for sacrifice. I wrote about this extensively in my Girard series in 2021 (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Whether we speak of witch-hunts, pogroms, Stalinist purges, Nazi death camps, slavery, genocide, or today’s campaigns of deplatforming and cancellation, dehumanization paves the way to remove the victims from society. Turning the power of dehumanization against those we see as the enemy may win a temporary victory, but it strengthens the field from which our current oppression arises.
When people do that to each other I am moved to despair. Today Adam Jackson, who was hosting me on the Sacred Sons podcast, related a conversation from a neighborhood barbecue in which a man asked, “My mother is unvaccinated—do you think I should still invite her to my wedding?”
What is this force that is so powerful that it can tear asunder that most sacred bonds of family?
Especially at this time when vaccination clearly offers no protection against getting Covid, the ostracism of the unvaccinated draws from something beyond mere fear of catching a disease. The vaccine is a badge of in-group inclusion, the sanctifying ritual by which one is recognized as fully human. Historically, this is no anomaly. Many cultures require some kind of ritual to be accepted as a full member of the tribe. Refusing the ritual renders one into an unperson.
Today, leading institutions have hijacked that ritualistic impulse toward ends of profit and power. Within families too, vaccination and other symbols of conformity become tools of dominance and abuse.
Our hope, for humanity and the planet, is to end that pattern altogether and accept each other in the fullness of our humanity. To do so does not ignore the heinous things we have done to each other, or that corrupt public and corporate powers have done to the public. It is not an invitation to tolerate or excuse abuse. It simply asks that we cease resorting to the non-explanation of “They are just horrible people. They are a lesser sort of being than I am.” That may be emotionally gratifying, but it won’t help win victory for health freedom. Worse still, that non-explanation, once established, will beget new cycles of othering. It will feed the awful power that turns daughter against mother, that can convert bureaucrats into murderers and decent citizens into their accomplices.
Pandemania has shown us that we have not yet evolved in consciousness beyond our ancient scapegoating patterns. That revelation is a precious opportunity. How can we consciously turn away from what we do not see? Now we see it.
The next installment of this series, I think, will be about sanity and lies.
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