How many plagues can we handle at once? The answer might surprise you! (None, it's none, zero plagues is how many.)
I was supposed to get vaccinated this afternoon, with Johnson & Johnson. But that’s not happening anymore, as the FDA and CDC have ordered a nationwide “pause” on the J&J vaccine after six (6) of the more than seven million (7,000,000) American recipients developed a rare form of blood clot. That’s 0.000086%, if you like math. I would have taken those odds, but I’m no scientician, so who am I to second guess the CDC? Still, this morning I found myself fighting an overwhelming rage, far out of proportion with the scale of this minor delay. I had a place and a date and a time. I was going to go to a Hannaford’s Supermarket in Kennebunk at 4:30pm on April 13th, and the plague was going to be over for me. How dare they take that away? How dare they!?
Then I watched Carlos Maza’s newest video, “How To Be Hopeless.” I’m going to summarize it a little but you should watch it, especially if you’ve been alive and sentient at any point in the last 6 years, or possibly the last 740 years. Or the last 1,500 years.
We find ourselves facing the police murder of an unarmed black man, just miles away from the ongoing trial for another police murder of another black man, in a country that has always been racist, with growing wealth inequality, a collapsing commitment to democracy, and a vigorous fascist movement, during a global plague that has killed almost 3 million people so far, in a world that has about 9 more years before some of the worst effects of climate change become irreversible, while global carbon emissions continue to increase. And I’m furious that I have to reschedule a shot?
Maza identifies everything listed above as (at least) five overlapping and interrelated plagues we are currently experiencing. He uses Albert Camus’ novel “The Plague,” about a fictional disease outbreak in Algeria but written in 1947 during a very real fascism outbreak in France, to help us understand how this time is similar to that time, and to all the other plagues humanity has pointlessly suffered through. It also helped me understand my own anger as a predictable symptom of avoidance. I was ready to go back to being The Main Character. I was about to be free of this plague. But of course I wasn’t—which vaccine protects against racism? Against fascism? Against climate collapse?
Maza doesn’t have a solution, just as Camus, pretty famously, doesn’t have a solution. I don’t have a solution either. The real Oran, Algeria went through the pandemic in 2020, just like the rest of us. Maza identifies Camus’ lesson as “decency… a commitment to fighting for what’s right, and trying to protect the vulnerable, even if you know it’s hopeless.” A commitment to fighting the plague even though you know you can’t win. Camus abandons hope and finds purpose in a radical kind of stubborn hopelessness.
In the Times today, philosopher Tom Whyman1 tackled the question of why anyone would have children now, amid all these plagues. He finds an answer in Franz Kafka, one of the intellectual inspirations for Camus and the existentialists. “Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope — but not for us,” says Kafka. “Human beings exist transformatively in relation to their world,” writes Whyman, suggesting that while our hopelessness may still be inescapable, children represent the possibility of change. “The world might well be a terrible place, but by having a child, you are introducing something new into it.”
Shortly before I wrote this, my friend Becca Laurie, my own Dr. Bernard Rieux who found me the appointment I would have had today, managed to find me a new vaccine appointment tomorrow. “While the plague can often feel so lonely,” says Maza, “those who fight it are never actually alone.” I’m not alone. You’re not alone.
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The Iceberg Has No Chill
Bowen Yang stole the show on SNL this weekend cosplaying as the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Besides the absurdity of a man dressed up (in drag?) as the most famous iceberg in history trying to start a music career, some thought the funny lay in the schtick of a typical celebrity dodging accountability. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The case of Jost v. Iceberg is so similar to Lindsay Lohan’s 2013 interview with David Letterman that it’s kind of chilling. Lindsay came to talk about her movie but Letterman blindsided her with questions about rehab that weren’t in the pre-interview. Iceberg, excited to promote its hyper-pop EDM album, instead finds itself forced once again to explain why a boat crashed into it. Madness! What separates these two interviews, besides one being fictional and the other an example of real-life harassment, is about 8 years. In that time, we’ve seen a #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, a Britney Spears documentary, and now a brilliant skit that understands the true butt of the joke is the “professional” host asking ridiculously loaded questions, rather than the pop star (or iceberg) that is expected to answer them.
Wow that Lohan interview is excruciating. Talk about making a tough time worse, thanks a bunch Dave! You know what else makes things worse? When this happens:
Today’s Song: Titus Andronicus, “Albert Camus”
~ I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. ~
Ha ha subscribe to my funny newsletter of jokes! I might be off tomorrow joining the Moderna Mob, but you can bet I’ll tweet through it. I promise there will be links and jokes again next time. Thanks again to Becca who has found vaccine appointments for at least 69 people (😎) including my whole family, and is a genuine hero.
Has there ever been a better aptonym for a philosopher than Why Man?