What I’ll Miss About Covid
I’m so fascinated to see that the positivity and gratitude exercises of new age mindfulness meditators and social media transcendent bodhidharmas revolve not around living in the present, but around prospectively making a list of all the things to look forward to once Covid is behind us. The foods we’d want to eat, the restaurants/bars we’d want to go to first, with the people we’d like to see again first. The haircuts we’ll get, the Bond movie we can finally watch in theaters, and that beach we never enjoyed going to but had to pretend loving because hating the beach makes us fun-hating crotchetty old bores. It’s easy for me to be impartially fascinated because I’ve always hated going out, but that doesn’t mean Covid isn’t a big change in my life. Ultimately, a lot of this fascination is probably just masked envy because if they’re obsessing about regaining so many parts of their life they miss, it must mean their life was that awesome, and if I’m quite enjoying myself right now it must mean my life used to really suck. Still, whether or not I have locus standi to judge what others will miss, because I do or do not have such interests and drives is irrelevant to the idea that mindfulness and gratitude should revolve around appreciation of the present. Right now, when I’m not sick, no one I care about is sick, and I have food on the table (“food”), seems the best time to appreciate the present. It’s likely going to get harder and harder to do so later, and then easier and easier to regret not having done so earlier.
For the most part, my life is dull and unremarkable, the days leaching into one another without physical seams or color boundaries. For millennia, the classic metaphysical debate has been an Aristotelian view of reality as a combination of particulars (this apple) with properties (redness, sweetness, fruitness) with no independent existence of either vs the Platonic view of particulars being imperfect instances of the independently existing property in the realm of forms, ie (Properties+Particulars) vs (Properties-> Particulars). In my dour life I’ve discovered a 3rd possibility, the independent existence of particulars without properties. Apples without fruitness, pop songs without music, and time without events. Sometimes, I’m able to borrow properties from other particular+property complexes if I find that my particulars are similar enough. Particulars-> Properties. During these brief interludes, it is blissfully difficult to gaslight myself into believing existence is a lie, because there are ostensibly corroborative sources and evidence I could turn to if my skepticism reared its head too high, converting time from a free radical to a stable molecule. The Covid event is such a particular, of such similarity with other particular+property complexes around me that it’s a prime example of a particular I can add properties to, a stable molecule of time I will pay attention to when it’s here, miss when it’s going, and remember missing when it’s gone.
Things I’ll miss:
The absence of maddening cacophony from 24x7 construction, traffic and overhead airplanes. The sound of birds, crickets and frogs. Blue skies.
A grand unified theory of human existence: Across the world, with a high degree of confidence we could assume that the no.1 thing on everyone’s mind was Covid. It raised isolation to the most social activity ever. What is the difference between synchronized quarantine and mass collaborative online flash mobs? We’ve just conducted the largest IceBucket challenge ever, proceeds going to Covid instead of ALS, now that Stephen Hawking is dead noone cares about ALS anyway.
Distraction from humdrum: Since I’m not a firefighter, a zookeeper, or Chuck Norris, my life is b.o.r.i.n.g. Now, escape into fantasy isn’t just tolerated, it’s actively encouraged. Suddenly fiction is more admirable and worthy of water-fountain discussion than nonfiction, apocalyptic fiction even more so. I dread the thought of going back to a life where the sparkling conversation of the day concerns color coded spreadsheets, pointless agendas in shapeless meetings and smalltalk purposefully kept devoid of form and meaning so it can amoebically morph into any situation. What does it say about labor reform’s blindspots when employees would prefer pandemic death to corporate life?
Daily Tracking: I remember loving an interview with a hermit who’d lived alone in a cabin in the Colorado mountains for 4 decades, only seeing other people now and then when he had to head to town for supplies and fuel. One interesting observation he made was the importance of tracking something, anything, every day, and how much of a difference it made staving away the frustration and boredom that comes with isolation. He tracked weather patterns, cloud cover, temperature, migratory paths of birds and animals etc. Covid’s given us an easy answer to this discipline of tracking a single metric every day and charting its trajectory. In an age of 24hr news cycles thriving on flitting from one issue to the next like an anxious dormouse on meth dissolved in RedBull, this is an exceptionally consistent period of longitudinal reporting.
A glimpse of completeness when consuming information: Another consequence of the grand unified experience and longitudinal reporting is how clearly I can see my filter bubbles in real time. Everyone is talking about a single issue. Each person has their biases and ideologies and incentives flavoring their presentation and representation of the issue, and for the first time ever I have the time, discipline and interest in laying all these out in parallel and studying them in the context of building multiple facets of a single jigsaw puzzle. The plurality of political viewpoints, analytical frameworks, and conceptual approaches I’m getting with this is hopefully a wonderful lesson in building the skill of seeking, organizing and consuming information more intelligently when unifying issues aren’t laid out for me on such a platter. It’s like the blindfolded wise men touching different parts of the elephant have this one brief second where the blindfolds are taken away and they can see it’s been a large elephant this whole time, then the folds are put back on and the elephant is taken away and replaced with something else large, with the hope that the wise men carry over the lessons of asking for more information, incorporating additional evidence, and building more complete pictures. Just today I’ve seen 4 different views by eminent scientists, 2 of whom are Nobel laureates. The curve isn’t exponential. But wait, the curve is flattening. Testing is key. But wait, a small false positive% on a large base means a positive ends up having a 50% chance of being true or false. I wish I didn’t have to feel so guilty about being truly energized about this spectacular display of human reason, scientific method, and the asymptotic (a word that’s suddenly got me really confused because I kept staring at it thinking it doesn’t fit, before realizing I was thinking of asymptomatic. Ngram that.) search for truth in a messy, uncertain and ambiguous sea of data.
Demands on other people’s time: I know everybody is climbing up the walls, so I have no problems demanding my friends make time for word games and trivia nights even if they become repetitive and boring. Under any other circumstances, even if we managed to do it once and have a great time, the odds are the niggling doubt of ‘again? getting a little stale and forced isn’t it?’ is just about large enough to prevent it from crossing the threshold needed to demand time. I haven’t felt this way since college, when it was just assumed that you and your friends have nothing to do but hang out, anything else was low priority. Now I’m the low priority, but there’s so much time that even low priority events are given a slot. Now that I put it that way, it doesn’t feel as great anymore, but that’s just me trying hard to ruin a perfectly good thing.
Deserted Moonscapes: Grocery runs are a dream. Empty roads. Silence. I haven’t wished god’s balefire and furious vengeance upon anybody on the road in months now. Yesterday a bum blocked my car and threatened to smash my windshield with a big rock, and all I felt was the gratitude that this is the first time in such a long time that I’ve felt the malignant malicious ill-will of my fellow man, something the average Indian will experience with a frequency of about 15/day during the beforetimes. Someone should really conduct a goodwill survey during this perfect natural experiment and prove the remarkable increase in positive sentiment towards fellow citizens when we see them never.
The cat I’m fostering for a stranded friend.
Content Absorption: Fitting or not, this makes for a strong filter through which I can interpret such a wide variety of information to make it more relevant, emotionally resonant, and meaningfully anchored for better understanding, perspective, and recall. I doubt I’d have enjoyed World War Z and The World Without Us as richly or fully outside of this time, but at least that’s understandable. I also appreciated Hayek, Scott Adams, Joe Henrich and Tim Harford more using this filter lens, which is less obvious and not entirely encouraging that I should need a filter at all. Still, it’s here, and makes for an objectively better level of absorption, which is valuable information. It will be missed if I’m unable to replicate or replace it once it’s gone.