The Artful Dodge: Care in a time of Covid

Michael Onsando
12 May ,2020


When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he will see is his pockets.

In Sacred in the Everyday, Ram Dass talks about how we see through the projection of our desire. Another common way this is phrased is  expectations cause suffering. Take away expectation, you take away suffering. This happens because what we want will always colour how we see a situation – no matter how objective we try to be.  

Nothing has been more frustrataining than listening to the debates around COVID-19. Between mass misinformation and in the absence of historical data to back our decision making, we have seen who people are when they are forced to think on their feet. We have seen who people are when they feel fear. 

And it’s been something to watch. 

Whenever you  use the internet there is a self enforcing principle at play. Filter bubbles, described by Eli Pariser here, ensure that you get the content you like, so you can stay on the site. This means that if you’re left leaning politically, you’re likely to get more and more left leaning news. To the point that you might even forget a right exists. This is dangerous –  Cambridge Analytica showed us how it can be used to change election results by swaying undecided voters. While that kerfuffle opened our eyes and forced some oversight into play, there is little that has really changed. This is because that same functionality that creates filter bubbles allows for super duper micro targeting, which is convenient for meeting KPIs. The only real fix would be to take away the dependency this industry has on advertising but, let’s be honest, you’re not going to pay for Facebook any time soon – are you?

In many ways the restrictions imposed by countries seem to have drawn a line in the sand between the blue collar and the white collar. And the people talk and echo and talk and echo on all social media. We talk in public and in smaller social groupings discussing what next. How should we handle this global crisis. And every argument made matches who we are. The digital worker wants to stay home while the salesperson wants to go outside.Those who can stay home insist that those who must leave are being selfish. Those who are in bad jobs are called ungrateful for wanting to leave. Those in good jobs, can’t express their satisfaction for fear of social sanctions. 

Suddenly there must be silence and suppression – as if different pains cannot exist at once. As if any half of the economy could generate enough to produce to support the other half. As if the machine is not a sum of its whole. 

There is no hoard of plenty. “
Elon Musk 

And because we know this, we are uncertain. Even while we bay for accountability, testing and just better in general (as we should get and deserve), the question remains unanswered in the back – then what? This thing is in the air and the data is still unclear. The cogs that deal with this kind of problem have only communicated one thing. They’re going to need some time. And time is exactly all of us who are  dependent on this machine staying in motion (as we were assured it would) do not have. 

So tensions rise. 

But didn’t expectation cause suffering? Now, not knowing what to expect, we find ourselves falling onto another truth – having expectations gave us a sense of direction. In its absence we are left confused about what to feel and, if clear on that, where to put those feelings. 

Frustration builds.

It is in this environment that we drive around masked, breathing in our own carbon dioxide, unable to recognize even the people we know. Every trip outside the house begins with a pause “do I need this? Is this urgent? Is this important?” We realize the definition of important can vary. Some days are good, some days are bad. Most days are just days. Living in a more quiet, almost pious existence. Maybe punctuated by a risky venture to talk, to sell, to buy, to see, to get. 

Isolation increases. 

And the news tells us numbers. Every day there is a new number. Daily, weekly, monthly and comparative death rates, infection rates, number of tests, number of beds, number of ventilators, amounts of stolen money (this is a regular tho), days of lockdown, months to a vaccine – there’s tonnes of numbers to be worried about. If the numbers don’t get you – the incompetence will. It seems like no one who is doing anything knows anything about what they are doing. 

Fear and skepticism spread.

When the pickpocket comes across a saint, all he sees is his pockets. The saying seems to admonish the pickpocket. Look at him, marked by his own sin so badly that he fails to notice when a saint passes by. On closer inspection we see another implication. If a saint sees a pickpocket – all he sees is a saint (Or a saint in drag). We see what we want to see. And just knowing this makes it important, especially in this time, to make room in our debates and perspectives. To pause and ask ourselves at every moment. Does this position that I passionately hold on to leave space for the needs of others? Am I genuinely trying to help, or am I just looking to pick some pockets for change?

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