COVID-19 Isn’t the Problem: Our Exceptionalist Attitude Is
As COVID-19 continues to plague us, we should think about our attitude towards ourselves and our community before we blame it for all our woes.
This week, Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) returned to a more restricted lockdown as the number of cases of COVID-19 began spiking in ways we have not seen since the virus first emerged.
So, even as things were slowly shifting back to something a little like “normal”, residents of Melbourne can for the next six weeks only leave home to
- buy food
- exercise alone
- provide care for someone
- seek medical attention
- and attend work/school if doing this remotely is not possible.
The move has made Melbournians the pariahs of Australia. Other states have closed their borders to Victorians to stop the spread, and many people in Melbourne are feeling the heavy oppression of restriction of their lives once more.
A massive blame game has begun, with many levelling their criticism at the State government, led by Premier Daniel Andrews, mostly connected to the way quarantine hotels for Australians returning from overseas have been mismanaged, with the outbreak believed to have stemmed from this.
Virginia Trioli, a well-respected journalist, summed up her feelings about it in a tweet…
Hard to argue with that…
The problem isn’t the security guards, or the guests who allegedly slept with them, or the government department that didn’t manage the recruitment of the guards effectively.
It is with the attitude that lays behind it all.
Exceptionalism is the Enemy
We keep hearing that COVID-19 has put us on a war footing.
That we must battle the plague until we are victorious.
But it isn’t the virus that is the enemy — it’s the nefarious spread of entitlement and exceptionalism that has begun to derail society more broadly.
Think about it.
How often do you hear some proud mum or dad tell you how good little Jamie/Janie is at soccer, ballet, math, jigsaw puzzling, Minecraft, etc? All very normal and innocent, apparently, but this need to be special, unique, out-of-the-box, the next big thing has created a culture from birth that instils in us the hunger to be the exception to the rule.
American philosopher Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism codifies this:
“…the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (see rational egoism), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism…” (Wiki)
And our own egos play into it to protect themselves at any cost.
Sure, every day balancing this out are a million acts of kindness where we humans overcome these attitudes and see that our own happiness is in fact tied to the happiness of those around us, and can even be improved when we focus on that more than ourselves.
But for the most, many have become caught up in thinking they are the exception to the rule, and act up accordingly.
Take today, for example.
On my daily walk, which I’m still allowed to do under the restrictions, I strode past an outdoor exercise area and climbing wall where there were seven or eight people using the equipment, which is not allowed under the restrictions. I called out to them to remind them they couldn’t use the equipment now and was met with blank stares, dismissals and refutations of this.
Exceptionalism at its worst.
They all felt they could breach restrictions because…
IT WON’T HAPPEN TO ME. I WON’T GET COVID. I AM THE EXCEPTION.
And there you have it in a nutshell.
Sure, COVID-19 will kill more, will maim more, will make many more sick.
It will shut businesses down, cause mental health issues, break up marriages.
It will wreak havoc in ways that just 12 months ago any one of us would have said was impossible.
But this entitled, exceptionalist attitude in place of us all taking personal responsibility for helping manage COVID-19 lies at the root of why we aren’t getting ahead of the virus.
It was exceptionalism that encouraged the returned Aussie in the quarantine hotel to think they could sleep with the security guard (allegedly) and to believe they weren’t infected, so couldn’t pass on anything…even though they were meant to be completely isolating for 14 days.
It was exceptionalism that led the security guard to (allegedly) take up the offer of sex, then return home to their household and think they wouldn’t pass it on because they couldn’t have contracted the virus…even though this was in clear breach of their work responsibilities.
It was exceptionalism (and a bit of selfishness thrown in for good measure) that led those people I saw at the outdoor gym today to think they didn’t need to follow the rules.
And it just might be exceptionalism that will ultimately be the end of us.
Be the exception to this exceptionalism.
It’s really not that hard.