A few more thoughts on viruses. Skip to final paragraph if you’ve had enough of that today!
The precautionary principle is a good guide to action. If in doubt (for example, because a new virus has shown up), the precautionary principle suggests we take the option that involves protecting others and protecting yourself most reliably. Is it over the top to take the advice of my best informed and most rigorous friend and not leave home at all? Here’s the thing–I can take that advice until I am clear that there is an option that protects the health system, other folks and myself equally well.
Each person is only as safe as the worst decision of their relevant contacts. I return to the HIV epidemic, prior to the availability of treatments and fully accurate information about transmission, when testing took a lot longer than it does now and was less accurate… It became clear to me that each person I might have a relationship with would bear the consequences of all my prior decisions, the decisions of my previous partners and my preparedness to be honest about them. I would in turn bear the consequences of their decisions. And in each case, we could be only as safe as the worst decision either of us had made. If I was unable to negotiate safer sex, or if I made it hard for the other person to tell me all that I might wish to know—then I would not be affecting only myself, and might be acting in ignorance.
We need to think about this when we consider shaming others about what we believe they are doing right now, instead of listening to them. We need to bear it in mind when we are tempted into magical thinking–for example, that believing something is safe, is the same thing as it being safe. Viruses don’t care about your feeling of moral superiority or your feelings for special people in your life. They only care what we do–and even then they are only interested in whether it lets them replicate and travel, or prevents that happening.
Lives can depend on our ability to hold difficult conversations in this context. This is where we find out whether we can hold difficult conversations. And if not, it is tough to build those skills as fast as a virus can move. It is good to face the fact that this is part of the difficulty: while our government prevaricates and sends out mixed messages… members of my family are reaching different decisions about what it is OK to do. Most of them cannot be told that their ideas are not in alignment with current science. If more people could hear this message, we would not be in such a pickle about the climate crisis, eh?
So I am working to honour those who have taken the time to have difficult conversations with me. I want to be a person who can hear when I am told I am doing the wrong thing and seriously consider this. I have lived a life of swimming against the stream in many ways, including by being a queer person–but this is not a reason for me to hold a rigid position of never listening to others’ concerns about my actions.
There are places in life where others know better: after leaving an abusive relationship long ago, I decided that any time friends raised a red flag about my relationship/s, I should take that seriously. In our own lives we become accustomed to bad treatment that corrodes self confidence and the level of judgment needed for self-protection. Those who ask us to reconsider our conduct and to take more protective action are taking a social risk. They are placing trust in us, and they do it from their love and concern for us. Best not to skate right by such moments. Some of them have changed my life.
Are you ready to think about something else? I have been listening to the podcast Dolly Parton’s America from WNYC hosted by Jad Abumrad. No, I am not really a Dolly Parton fan of any note, though I did have a youthful love affair with ‘Jolene’ as covered by Olivia Newton John. *Cough*. And I do have a soft spot for Nine to Five, both the film and the song. This is first class storytelling that not only digs into Dolly Parton as a phenomenon, a songwriter, a storyteller and a phenomenally successful public figure and musician–but does so much more. The team working on this show take the story in such unexpected directions, it is quite wonderful and very disarming. I am loving listening to Dolly Parton’s laugh! But there is also such interesting social history, musical lore, and even musicology.
In the course of listening to the podcast, I came across this wonderful album by Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi. One standout track is Brown Baby (with Oud). Oh my goodness. So good.