Learning To Live With It

The following snippet is from Robert A. Heinlein’s early novel The Puppet Masters:

     I dialed for him, and told him about the success of the experiments with the apes.
     He nodded. “Yes, I had heard. Sounds good.”
     ” ‘Good’, the man says! Colonel, we are on the one yard line and goal to go. A week from now the game will be won.”
     “Oh, come now!” I answered, irritated by his manner. “In a short time you’ll be able to put your clothes back on and lead a normal life. Or don’t you think our plans will work?”
     “Yes, I think they will work.”
     “Then why the crepe-hanging?”
     Instead of answering directly he said, “Mr. Nivens, you don’t think that a man with my pot belly enjoys running around without his clothes, do you?”
     “I suppose not. As for myself, I’m beginning to find it pleasant. I may hate to have to give it up-saves time and it’s comfortable.”
     “You need not worry about having to give it up. This is a permanent change.”
     “Huh? I don’t get you. You said our plans would work and now you talk as if Schedule Sun Tan would go on forever.”
     “In a modified way, it will.”
     I said, “Pardon me? I’m stupid today.”
     He dialed for another beer. “Mr. Nivens, I never expected to live to see a military reservation turned into a ruddy nudist camp. Having seen it happen, I never expect to see us change back-because we can’t. Pandora’s box has a one-way lid. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men-”
     “Conceded,” I answered. “Things never go back quite to what they were before. Just the same, you are exaggerating. The day after the President rescinds Schedule Sun Tan the suspended blue laws will go into effect and a man without pants will be liable to arrest.”
     “I hope not.”
     “Huh? Make up your mind.”
     “It’s made up for me. Mr. Nivens, as long as there exists a possibility that a slug is alive the polite man must be willing to bare his entire body on request-or risk getting shot. Not just this week and next week but twenty years from now, or a hundred. No, no!” he said, seeing that I was about to interrupt, “I am not disparaging your fine plans-but pardon me if I say that you have been too busy with their details to notice that they are strictly local and temporary. For example-have you made any plans for combing the Amazonian jungles, tree by tree?”
     He went on apologetically, “Just a rhetorical inquiry. This globe has nearly sixty million square miles of dry land; we can’t begin to search it and clean out the slugs. Shucks, man, we haven’t made a dent in the rats and we’ve been at that a long time. Titans are trickier and more prolific than rats.”
     “Are you trying to tell me it’s hopeless?” I demanded.
     “Hopeless? Not at all. Have another drink. I’m trying to say that we are going to have to learn to live with this horror, the way we had to learn to live with the atom bomb.”

     The malady that Nivens and Kelly are discussing in the above is a sentient macroscopic parasite – an amoeba-like creature about the size of a dinner plate – that takes over the afflicted man’s mind and all his decisions. While the campaign against them has achieved a smashing victory, it could never be a complete victory, for the parasites can never be deemed completely extinguished. Thus, the measures instituted for the emergency – i.e., Schedule Sun Tan, a nationwide de facto ban on the wearing of anything that could conceal the parasite – could never be retracted in their entirety.

     That fictional parasite threatened to enslave Mankind completely and permanently. By comparison, the Wuhan Virus merely threatens us with something about as serious as conventional influenza. However, viruses, once they enter the Earth’s biosphere, never go completely away. Like the fictional inhabitants of Heinlein’s novel, we’re going to have to learn to live with the Kung Flu. What will that entail?

     The first requirement will be the radical de-escalation of the Pandemic Panic. A high percentage of Americans have been scared out of their wits, largely by a campaign of “fear porn.” They’ve been living radically constricted lives for almost a year – and to what end? Except for those with aged family members who suffer serious co-morbidities, the constraints have cost them far more than the exceedingly modest peril the Chinese Lung Rot poses. It is impossible to conduct normal American society when half or more of the nation is paralyzed with fear.

     The second requirement will be the acceptance by Americans that some among us will remain fearful, even extremely fearful. In any interaction with them, we who are less burdened with fear will be expected to accommodate their concerns. It’s easy to see what that will mean for retail commerce, a bit harder to envision the effect upon non-commercial society. The most fearful among us might become hermits in effect. Those slightly less burdened might demand that the rest of us wear masks, “social distance,” and obsessively wash our hands after every contact with any surface or object.

     The third requirement will be general acceptance that people will fall ill with the Kung Flu…and that some will die. If the statistics amassed to date continue to hold, the disease will prove lethal to about 3 out of every 1000 persons infected. That makes the virus just one more among the many we already suffer.

     The very fearful will continue to hope for a vaccine that genuinely immunizes the patient against the virus over the long term. At this time, there is no such vaccine. The ones already devised confer partial immunity that lasts for less than a year. Moreover, those vaccines are reported to possess side effects that can be more serious than the disease itself. Whether these problems will ever be conquered, no one knows.

     One way or another, the Chinese Coronavirus is here to stay, and we must learn to live with it: live, not cower in terror, and certainly not consign ourselves to a living death.


    • paracelsus on February 5, 2021 at 10:51 AM

    Thank you very much; beautifully written.

    • Amy Bowersox on February 5, 2021 at 6:41 PM

    You know, I was thinking much the same thing, back in April 2020.  You took the analysis further, but now, of course, we have the benefits of ten months’ hindsight.

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