No blood on the door

This morning I wondered about far-right demographics’ reaction to COVID and health risk management. It led me to think of shibboleths and disease-as-punishment.

Perhaps the most basic of all stories is the in-group and the out-group. We belong. They do not. The brain is built to categorize. Language is taxonomy.

The idea of treating disease as a marker of the out-group also works, at least as far back as Hansen’s disease (once called leprosy).

And before it was called AIDS, it was called “the gay cancer.” There were fears and panic around its transmission before we discovered it was transmitted via sexual or blood contact. Sure, there were stories lamenting the innocence of those infected via blood transfusion. But that makes the point: Those people were innocent. They didn’t deserve it.

One of the larger stains on Reagan’s presidency is the refusal to deal with AIDS, the refusal to engage in public health programs or assist the afflicted, because Reagan didn’t want to draw attention to gay people.

(Users of contraband intravenous drugs were also in the risk pools, because of blood contact and unclean needles. The stigmatization of addicts is another story.)

COVID doesn’t work like AIDS. It doesn’t require sexual or blood contact. Just breathing. There is no in-group or out-group for aerosols. As much as people may want to believe they’ll be asymptomatic, or somehow immune, or just plain unaffected, none of that is true. None of it is real. It’s a story we tell ourselves.

There are, of course, other stories that influence people’s decisions. Stories about freedoms. About risk. About masculinity, or power. There are things left out of stories, externalities, shuffled off the balance sheet. And we are not just the sum of the stories we’ve heard, and we’ve told.

A person’s belief in their own righteousness is no blood on the door.

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