Why arguments about COVID survivors don’t actually convince anyone to care

Professor Mike Baldwin of “guess I’ll die” meme fame.

Y’know how a common adage in pro-COVID response communities is that it’s not just about deaths but about how many people will suffer in the process? How many people will get long COVID, end up with permanent respiratory damage, etc? This is one of those things that often goes in one ear and out the other of someone who’s anti-COVID response (anti-mask, anti-shot, anti-intervention in general). We are then inclined to think, “Oh, well, that person doesn’t actually care about people, because they don’t care about suffering”.

I mean, no, they don’t. But let me ask you this: how is anyone in this country supposed to care about suffering?

I have a long-term chronic illness. I was born with it. It will never go away. It has gotten worse as I’ve aged. I do everything I can to stay healthy and live as long as possible, but it is likely to continue worsening my quality-of-life and possibly shorten my life expectancy. Like 1 in 7 people on this planet, I am disabled because of my illness. However, the material support I receive on account of being a disabled person is… well, it isn’t. If I did not have the ability to succeed in academic environments, where little is expected of me physically but a great deal is demanded of me intellectually, I have literally no idea how I’d survive, but I do know I’d get blamed for not being able to.

We live in a country where suffering is not materially recognized. It is actually easier to get on SSDI as a disabled American if you have the privilege of someone paying your bills and rent, because applying for SSDI when you are working to survive out of necessity means getting told “You’re not disabled, because you are working”. Even if you do qualify for SSDI, at an average of about $1200 per month, it is a pittance at best. Moreover, my suffering is barely recognized by medical professionals. I lived with EDS for nearly three decades before receiving a diagnosis; it was mostly largely speculated that I was suffering with psychosomatic symptoms on account of mental illness. Women particularly are misdiagnosed or exclusively diagnosed with psychiatric conditions instead of their real physical ailments.

We must also consider that our nation’s elders, who are the likeliest of us to become disabled and also suffer complications due to COVID, are treated like shit in comparison to other cultures. This has nothing to do with national wealth, either; collectivist countries in the so-called “Global South” often institutionalize elder care as essential for families, revering community elders. In the US, we outsource the caretaking of elders to long-term care facilities, if our families are fortunate enough to have that access. Otherwise, we keep them on a pittance of SSI and Medicare, generally treating them like burdens for unemployed women in the family or another chore in our “second shifts”.

Speaking of the second shift, let’s talk about children. I use the acronym ABCDE when determining if I can trust another human being: how well do they treat animals, babies, children, disabled people, and the elderly? I judge society by no less a standard. The way we have treated our children during this pandemic, especially lately as schools have reopened and delta moves swiftly through communities, is really telling of our refusal to take their healthcare needs seriously. Children suffer by the millions in this country with poverty-related problems, and routinely their families are told, “If you wanted kids, you should’ve been more responsible”, ignoring their suffering in the process. It is only recently that poor children have had state access to healthcare.

This is obviously a consequence of the American flavor of capitalism. All of these people I’ve discussed–the elderly, disabled people, and children–are in the unique position of being unable to contribute as much (or at all) to our economic system. We are then devalued by the system, and our suffering is minimized. If you are suffering in the US, and your suffering impedes your ability to participate economically, you might be accused of malingering or simply not trying hard enough. Our culture is obsessed with catching welfare fraud and “exposing” people who fake their disabilities.

“You’re not disabled. You just don’t want to work.”
“If you don’t want your kids to be poor, then get a better job.”

So, no, I don’t think most Americans are equipped to consider suffering when discussing the consequences of COVID-19. This is because we are simply not equipped to consider suffering. We do not recognize suffering because recognizing suffering means we are negligent if we do nothing about it. It is more convenient for our master class to simply teach us all to disregard our suffering instead, so that there is no more problem to solve. The most vulnerable Americans have all had their needs institutionally unmet, and we live in a masculinized culture where ignoring one’s ailments and health challenges is considered–particularly in places like mine, with low vaccination rates–effeminate and wimpy. Asking questions like “How many people are gonna get long COVID?” or “How many people are gonna end up with long-term respiratory problems?” is not part of our social repertoire. The main thing we are trained to think about is “How am I going to be able to work?” because we generally don’t have any other option.

If you die, you can’t work.
But if you’re disabled, you can just try harder, right?

Therefore, arguments about long-term complications, long COVID, and permanent damage after COVID infection are easily disregarded. Who’s gonna take care of all these people COVID disables? Themselves.

Like we always have.

“Well, you can cry forever about human nature,
and your hopeless feelings but I don’t really care.
‘Cause we’re all suffering and it don’t mean nothing.
Just keep on walking and never slow me down.”

–Barefoot Surrender, “Faith No More”

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