It’s unlikely a coincidence that countries run by women have done far better controlling corona than countries run by men. They’re less obsessed with being “right” and more focused on taking care of things (and people). That’s just basic biology: When women step out of the spotlight to assess what needs doing, they don’t have to worry about losing their masculinity.
That said, among the impossible happenings last week was Dick Cheney launching the hashtag #RealMenWearMasks to coax guys with fragile egos to cover up. A whole industry has popped up to make masks macho enough for “real men”: whiskey bottle masks, Darth Vader masks, mustache masks. Seriously, this is a real thing.
Part of what’s wrong with our vision of “right,” no doubt, is our bloated diet of advice books, columns, TV shows, videos, Instagram feeds. They school us in right way to be content, raise children, have sex, succeed, be a man. It goes without saying these generalities almost never apply to individual cases. What’s right for which man? Which kids? Succeed at what? Content with what?
What’s right is what works in any given space, time, context. Newton’s laws of gravity are “wrong” if you want to explore a black hole, but can be right enough to get spacecraft around the solar system.
What matters is finding the right way to thrive in whatever world you’re in.
Corona’s environment is us, its all-too-welcoming “hosts.” It’s found the right way to use us to get it where it wants to go.
What do we have that corona doesn’t? Well, we’ve got science, we’ve got art, we’ve got fun.
Science tells us what’s true, what’s possible. Art reminds us of what it means to be human, what matters. Play lets us fool around with crazy ideas that might turn out to be brilliant. Between them, we’ve got tools for creating a sustainable equilibrium that preserves the best and discards the worst of our ideas for vaccines, for prevention, even policing.
Meanwhile, we’ve got families and friends we care about. We’ve got orchestras playing for houseplants, ballerinas dancing at home with their dogs and cats, Zoom charades, cat videos, now even dancing “Karen” videos. We’ve got magicians. We’ve even got search tools that reveal exactly how Houdini made that elephant disappear.
Viruses mutate to survive, to take advantage of changing environments. Corona can’t live without us. So it learns all about our lungs, our hearts, our behavior, our global health system, the better to spread and grow strong. In turn, it teaches us about ourselves.
Black people, in a weirdly analogous way, have been learning about white people’s worlds for centuries—in order to survive. Most white people haven’t felt the same need to learn about Black people’s worlds. So to some, scenes of brutality seemed to come almost out of the blue (pun intended)—an elephant if there ever was one, trampling on people for real—on their freedoms, yes, but also literally on their lives. What does that teach us about ourselves?
In the end, we must co-evolve. Like the spinning Earth, we roll along together, or not at all.
Trevor Noah recently said that if mutation is corona’s secret weapon, then “we’re going to have to mutate to fight back.”
He concentrates, muttering to himself: Mutate! Mutate! Mutate!
A third eye appears on his forehead. He can’t see it, of course, because it’s a part of himself.
He shrugs his shoulders. “I guess nothing happened.”
Maybe we’re already adapting and just don’t know it.
Photographs: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe/Getty Images; Andrea Savorani Neri/Getty Images; Steve Pfost/Getty Images
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