Sanity is not statistical

Glyn Carragher (Ballygar)


Passing the café, the obligatory witty chalkboard read ‘Smiling it’s infectious, you catch it like the flu’. Well, they fixed that didn’t they? The rebel in me slipped my mask down so that while my mouth was covered, my nose was exposed for all to see. No matter, I didn’t want to smile anyway.

‘Excuse me!…could you put your mask on correctly…we are all in this together you know…we have to stop the spread of the virus’. I apologetically complied.

The temptation to confront the dictate welled up inside me. I could quote some of the many peer reviewed medical studies on the ineffectiveness of wearing masks, but the effort has become monumental, an uphill struggle, a self-effacing exercise in the face of overwhelming odds. I kept silent.

We stood on the street waiting, together but separately. A true devote perhaps might have noted that not everyone was quite ‘the mandatory two metres apart,’ but without the guiding yellow boxes, who can tell? One person in the group wore their mask below their chin. But everyone silently understood, only the very young and smokers do not have to wear a mask. The acrid smoke of the cigarette permeated everything. I pushed my mask closer to my face, but it offered no protection, the smell of the cigarette, each molecule of the noxious, cancerous vapours flooded my lungs with every breath I took. I said nothing.

This was the perfect opportunity; in my mind I had rehearsed the speech. I would turn to the group and say, “you do know of course that tobacco smoke is actually an aerosol, with up to 20% water vapour, 10 to the 10 per cm cubed actually, you are all inhaling thousands of chemical substances, through those masks of yours, each of them hundreds of times larger than 120nm width of the virus you think you are protecting yourselves from?” But I kept silent, I did not even attempt to face the group.

In the dystopian landscape of George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Winston, his fictional everyman, mused that “perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one”. Am I insane? Is questioning the virus ‘thought crime’? It certainly seems to me that the further we go through this pandemic, the more two and two seems to be making five. We have suddenly entered a ‘new normal’ where adults can no longer choose to hug their grandchildren, where it is acceptable to have a higher death rate from cancer, suicide and influenza than from a virus which presents as asymptomatic in eighty percent of all cases.

This new normal has been foisted upon us, without our consent, it has been delivered up to as unconscious orthodoxy. Our television news shows, our current affairs shows, our live Covid briefing shows, they do the conscious thinking for us. Serving up the fear and the ‘contradictory facts’ as entertainment, the telescreens sombrely proclaiming the daily infection rates…read out like some macabre bingo spectacle – today’s number of infections is forty-five, that’s four five…bingo…we all fall down. Orwell’s ‘newspeak’ and ‘doublethink’ has actually come to pass.

Where did the ‘R’ number go? Where are we on the infection curve? Has the second wave arrived? What happened to terrorism? World hunger, demonstrations, the stagnant world economy, homelessness, unemployment, peak oil …‘War is Peace’…ask yourself the meaning of that just as Winston did. The explanation is that the slogan is interchangeable. ‘Peace is War’. While we are war with the ‘virus’ we are at peace with everything else, and everything else is where it really is at!

They say we are in unprecedented times, but what is happening all around us is not unprecedented. New restrictive laws, suspension of civil liberties, banning mass gatherings, the desensitisation of human emotion through separation and fear, the acceleration of wealth of the elite and rapid descent into even deeper poverty for everyone else. War with the virus validates all actions, all diktats, all restrictions. It is the new norm.

The new normal has sidelined logic. Doublethink – the acceptance of contrary opinions or beliefs and to believe both at the same time – is the new logic. Everything else is reckless, simply a madness believed by a minority. But ‘being in a minority, even in a minority of one, does not make you mad. There is truth and there is untruth, and if you cling to the truth even against the whole world, you are not mad’.

There…I have stopped saying nothing…I have said it. I am no longer prepared to hide behind the mask.