The Underdog Won

11 mins read

In the battle of what would end the world the virus beat the atomic bomb in what can now, with the benefit of hindsight, be termed a massive upset. Now that we have reached the end of the road and look back at what was, one thing is clear: the virus may have dominated recent memory but cast against the expanse of time, it extricated far lesser tolls on our attention than the nuke. Pundits may argue that the virus has been a threat since hundreds of years, it’s early career highlighted by the plague, cholera outbreaks and of course, it’s first ballot Hall of Famer, the Spanish Flu. Despite having a strong pedigree of threat and follow-through the surprise factor was also on the virus’s side. Our minds only base their minds on “modern” history and there are no modern plagues. Personally, I have never understood what “modern” really meant – is it a time period? A style? An opinion? A frame of reference? An ideal? It is just something people say so you say it as well, not fully knowing what it means or implies. These are matters for more thoughtful humans than me.

Forgive me reader if I digress from the main event of the virus’s defeat of the nuke for this is a grave time and concentrations are blurred. It has to be said that the nuclear weapon had a sizable lead over any virus for decades before being upset by the upstart. Now, it’s not as if nukes were being thrown around like water balloons that we’d notice, it was more that the subtle threat of them reminded us of what could be. Throw in a mushroom cloud here to jog our senses, an apocalyptic movie there and we knew our place. All the political efforts in the world are ultimately to be in a position where you don’t get nuked and that’s the game we played. As long as we had one and they had one we were cool. It they had one and we didn’t have one, we better make sure they think we had one so everyone played nice. Then there were the ones who didn’t have one and everybody knew they didn’t have one so they made a friend who had one. There I go rambling again. What I am trying to say as my cough deepens is that despite all the AAA prospects like H1N1 and Ebola, you always gave the edge to a human being’s trigger-happy itch.

The virus snuck up on us because we let our guard down and that may have to do with the endowment effect, i.e., that we overvalue what we own and undervalue what we don’t. And it appears we have overvalued our government and public institutions, especially down south. As we see them unravelling now in the face of this calamity we feel either disappointment or rage, which one may argue are two emotions on far ends of the same spectrum. Then again everything is at the beginning and end, or both, of some spectrum. Now that all is in plain sight we bemoan our unpreparedness, feign surprise at their inadequacies and convince ourselves that we knew this all along. Did we? Maybe some part of us did but that part didn’t bother to tell the part of ourselves that actually does something about it. No, that part is too busy being busy. It’s like when I convinced myself that TJ Ford was actually good. In short, we overestimated our ability to deal with the virus and over-indexed on the threat of weapons. The media had a lot to do with it. A visible enemy of a different color speaking in a different tongue praying to a different God is a far more tangible threat than some molecule wearing a crown of proteins.

Maybe it’s the hoarding that amplifies our emotions and reminds us that while we may sip Chai Latte’s and delicately dispose of them in the proper bin when things are good, we will buy 160 eggs and 40 boxes of toilet paper if there’s a remote threat to our livelihood. Perhaps the severity of the panic buying is proportional to the trust we have in our public institutions and government. Watching a train of shopping carts winding around a department store tells me one thing: there is little trust.

These times remind me of the Hazratbal Siege back in 1993 in Kashmir when this observer was 13 years old. It lasted 33 days for us, no food coming in, no travel, no electricity, no water. In your house locked down with nothing but your neighbors to rely on and a water pump somewhere in the neighborhood. We survived, probably at the edge of our patience but still civil. It is the only experience I’ve had which I can compare to today. My only reflection is that I imagined it would be more than a week before saw a man buy 16 four-litre bags of milk. It’s apples to oranges perhaps – what isn’t really? I despise that phrase except when I use it to correct someone. I’m so vain.

Conflict is a focusing constraint. It inflames you enough to focus on it which makes you neglect what else might be important. It could be a source of great growth or dangerous regression. It’s not necessary but it’s convenient if control is sought. We invent monsters so children get in line but monsters lose their efficacy as children morph into adults. For a human being to get in line something more is needed, something like a man of flesh and blood trying trying to take away our “way” of living, is a far better distraction to divert our energies and certainly a more bountiful source of fear. All the wars – from the great ones to the cold ones – have classified another human being as different. Someone who disagreed with some aspect of what we “believed” in which became the source of conflict that took our focus away from things that matter, things that truly make us…happy? We’re inflamed to the point where being inflamed is normal and not being inflamed about something is inflammatory. We fear to be in flames if we inflame an inflamed entity and the inflamed entity feels the same. So there we lived constantly focusing on the wrong things while the virus took its sweet time having bat orgies. The nuke? It stayed locked and loaded. Mostly locked.

Forgive the dramatics. Maybe there is little what we could have done about it and we’ll probably come out of this just fine. It does serve as a reminder that we are all collectively weak enough to be taken out by something we can’t even see and that as people we’re not that different, just flesh and bones and fear and vulnerable as fuck. And to camouflage that vulnerability we opt for aggression as a defense mechanism. Maybe that’s what did the nuke in at the end. As game theorists say, it was a non-credible threat. A threat with no potential of follow-through because it was not in anyone’s best interest to do so.

This is a basketball site so some basketball talk: it would be ideal if the NBA could test all its players and essential staff and play behind closed doors so we’d have something to watch on TV. But equally entertaining might be filming the rush for toilet paper as a new crate is unloaded at Costco. How a non-essential item that does its job at 10% of the quality of tap water became the lifeblood of society is something I wasn’t paying attention to. See, I grew up washing my ass with water because it’s also how I wash my face, hands, hair and everything else on my body. Why someone would invent something entirely different to clean their ass while doing a piss-poor job of it was a mystery to me since the day I moved to Kansas City in the early 1990s. I didn’t say anything though, I figured people thought touching their shit was disgusting. Ah yes, basketball: I’ve always wanted a shortened season with a secondary competition, I just never knew that competition would be human survival.

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