This morning, I went into my Home Hardware on the Danforth searching for a metal box I could hide my secret stash of end-of-the-world cash in. They were out.
But what they did have fresh in was a shipment of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes. So fresh the delivery guy was leaving when I was arriving. Limit of 3 to a customer. These weren’t those wimpy cover-your-fingers wipes. They were the cover-both-hands wipes. 75 of them in each giant package. Which meant I now own 225 of them. If I wipe down our kitchen counter (1) and desks and chairs (1) twice a day, that should keep us safe for…..uh….
Now, flash back to just a week ago. It was Wednesday, March 11. I spent 4 hours teaching writing in a huge financial institution’s downtown office. I had coffee with an old pal. I didn’t shake hands with him; I hugged him. That night, Jean and I went for dinner with friends.
Dinner. With friends. In a restaurant.
Ah…so far away, and so short ago.
Since then, it’s not just our habits that have changed; it’s our entire story.
I stumbled across this idea via a blog entitled “Plot Economics”, by Venkatech Rao.
He talked of “global narrative collapse” as if it’s a medical condition. “It’s not that we don’t trust narrative sources when we lose the plot,” he wrote. “It’s that the narrative sources are temporarily at a loss and don’t know what to say.” Rao claims we’ve lost the plot at a global level three times in the last 30-plus years: the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; 9/11 in 2001; and the Trump election in 2016.
When you lose the plot of what sustains your reality, you find yourself tracking the rawest information you can find. “Even people who normally avoid math start to do math with raw, noisy facts. Pantry stocks math. Alcohol percentage math. Infection risk math. Toilet paper math…The average human only goes data-driven when narratives fail.”
That’s me. I’m hopeless at math and avoid it like the….whoops, avoid it at all costs.
This could also explain my strange obsession with the Johns Hopkins Dashboard that tracks to the minute the invisible contagion, giving COVID-19 sight and meaning. Yesterday, I learned five or six times that the tiny Faroe Islands, between Scotland and Iceland and owned by Denmark, has 47 cases of COVID 19 among its 50,000 people, for an infection rate of .01%. Meanwhile in Canada, we have 478 cases and a population of 38 million, for an infection rate of .001%.
So why is no one talking about the Faroes and the danger it presents all of humankind?
Because nobody goes there.
Except the people who do.
And unlike us, nearly all of them have to.
There’s some math we should keep in mind when we think of who this plague will come for.