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Here at the beginning of 2022, as the Omicron wave continues to batter communities throughout Canada, politicians and bosses of all stripes have taken up the defeatist epitaph, “we need to learn to live with it.”
It is a phrase that is at once extraordinarily potent and supremely absurd.
It creates the conditions for its own truth, in the sense that accepting the inevitability of widespread transmission of the virus and the disease it causes means that there is no choice but to learn to live with it.
It is a phrase that gaslights anyone who has attempted to avoid becoming infected and avoid transmitting the virus on to others for the past two years, since now it is a given that “everyone will get it,” as they say. It is easy to wonder, why did we even bother trying for so long?
It is a phrase that indicates bowing to that base element who have all along used similarly dismissive rhetoric: “the cure is worse than the disease”; “stop living in fear”; “it ends when we stop believing in it.” It vindicates the irresponsible.
It is being used not only by public figures, but also by the bosses and managers, as a way to dismiss concerns by employees about returning to work in the context of widespread community transmission, as though workers have some irrational fear of “the sniffles.”
Begging the question
But it is also a phrase that has a blistering critique embedded within it, if we can get past the feeling of dejection it first conjures.
“We have to learn to live with it,” they say.
Learning to live with it has to be more than just giving up and pretending life can go back to the way it was before 2020, as if by some sort of magic. If we’re going to learn to live with it then we need to create the conditions for that to actually happen.
Otherwise, as we’ve seen over and over again throughout the pandemic, there’ll just be another variant or wave of infection lurking around the corner that will swamp the healthcare system and force the country into more lockdowns.
If the virus is here to stay, we need an actual plan and actual policies that are going to allow us to do the best we can to hold the worst effects at bay. It cannot just be hygiene theatre and it certainly cannot be hand-waving and magical thinking.
What is the plan to keep transmission of the virus to so-called manageable levels?
What policies are in place to look after vulnerable people in society?
What is the proposal to actually make schools safe for children?
How will workplaces be regulated and required to provide actual protections for workers?
What supports are in place for the vast number of people who have become disabled because of COVID?
If there are no clear answers to these and other simple questions of policy, then it’s not learning to live with it. It is capitulation and learning to die with it.
It is an astonishing dereliction of duty for those in positions of power to just throw up their hands, allow the virus to rip through the population, and say “learn to live with it.”
These are people who claim the right to make decisions on our behalf based on the premise that they have our wellbeing and best interests in mind.
Forget for a moment that there is absolutely no need to swing the gates wide open in the midst of the biggest wave of infections and that waiting even weeks for reopening is just simple prudence.
Governments and organisations of all kinds have had two years to get their acts together.
They had two years to figure out best practises for protecting kids in schools, workers in workplaces, vulnerable people in care settings, and generally to sort out some set of social conventions to allow people to live and work in the midst of the virus.
Saying we must learn to live with it while having no plan whatsoever for how to do that undermines the legitimacy of those in positions of authority, and the phrase is, in the end, simply code for “we give up” and “you are on your own.”
If any of us was assigned an important project and after two years came back with only irrelevancy and window-dressing, we would assuredly be fired.
The saying goes that when someone shows you who they are you should believe them. And in this case, what we are being shown is that a lot of people in positions of authority just do not want to do their jobs.
It shows that it is well past time for us to have a candid conversation about who it is we have in charge, and whose interests they really serve.
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