Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, April 19, 2020

Three myths Covid-19 has killed

I am soooooooo sick of Covid-19. Let me correct any misimpression – I am not sick WITH Covid-19. I don’t have chills, fever, or cough. I don’t have difficulty breathing. And I’m not in intensive care.

            I am sick OF Covid-19 the same way I’m sick of Donald Trump. And Brexit. And the way I used to be sick of the Democratic primaries in the U.S. Now, Bernie Sanders can throw in the towel and earn only a two-inch space on an inside page. 

            Surely something else is going on in the world other than Covid-19?

            Has Norway slid into the North Sea? Has Luxembourg declared war on Botswana? Has the Taliban professed Franklin Graham as their Lord and Saviour?  

            In the current pandemic of pandemic news coverage, how would anyone know? 

            The media’s obsession with Covid-19 makes me wonder what we might be overlooking. 

            I suggest that three pervasive myths have had a stake driven through their hearts, while we were focussing on those endless statistics about new cases, deaths, recoveries (from illness, not from death), neglect, bail-outs, comparisons of provinces and nations, and flattened curves.


Bye bye Reagonomics

            First, Reaganomics is now deader than Monty Python’s parrot. Ronald Reagan summarized his economic policies something like this: “Government is not the solution to the problem; government IS the problem.” 

            His answer was to get government – all government, any government – out of the way and let business look after itself.

            No one mutters his mantra in the midst of the coronavirus meltdown -- not even Mitch McConnell, who appears already embalmed. With some 16 million Americans (according to NBC) suddenly losing their income through no fault of their own, governments all over the western world are flinging financial lifesavers at victims like, well, LifeSavers.

            No one – at least, no one in their right mind – still propounds the Horatio Alger thesis that anyone can make it if they try hard enough. That by dedication, persistence, and hard work, you too can overcome all disadvantages and hoist yourself by your bootstraps and conquer the corona virus. 


Individualism gone too

            That’s the second myth toppled off its pedestal – the belief in individualism. 

            The coronavirus doesn’t care about individuals. It doesn’t respect race, gender, sexual orientation, or social privilege. It doesn’t matter if you’re a white supremacist or a brown-skinned migrant, a super-patriot or an indignant whistleblower, a beach bum or a prime minister. If you encounter that Nerf ball studded with golf tees or cloves – chose your own metaphor – you’re in for a dose of disease. 

            Ebola got confined to a few parts of Africa. Malaria is limited to the tropics, rickets to the northern latitudes. But Covid-19 knows no boundaries. Anyone anywhere is vulnerable. 

            And even those who take every precaution, who wash their hands until their skin is raw and who never venture out of their shells, are affected by shortages. Of toilet paper and face masks. Of fresh vegetables, prescription drugs, and coffee shops. 

            Covid-19 makes the abstract topic of globalization all too personal. As poet John Donne wrote 400 years ago, “No man is an island…”


Denial of human effect

            And third, Covid-19 should banish forever the delusion that we humans are too insignificant to affect the future of our planet. Scientists have started calling this time period the Anthropocene Age, meaning that a single species, we humans, are profoundly altering the earth’s atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, and biologic systems. 

            By comparison with volcanoes, earthquakes, forest fires, and other natural processes, deniers claim, our impact is negligible, a mere pimple on the planetary physiognomy. 

            But the shutdown of industries and the reduction of travel has already had measurable effects. Venice’s canals are clear. New York’s carbon monoxide levels are down by half, compared to the previous year. According to NASA satellites, China’s greenhouses gas emissions have dropped 25%. Jet contrails no longer scar the sky. 

            And seismic scientists have been able to hear sounds inside the earth that have never been heard before. Human travel and industry create a constant background noise that masks the earth’s abdominal rumblings. The reduction of human-caused vibrations has enabled seismic sensors to detect earth movements at a lower level than ever before. 

            There can be no doubt that these are human-caused effects. Anthropocene, in other words. 

            Whether these disproven myths will stay down, once we emerge from lockdowns and social isolation, I don’t know. 

            But I will remember. And perhaps a few others will too. 

            And we will no longer be sucked in by those who insist that long-held presumptions must be right. 


Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Maybe it was the fact of the Easter weekend. Maybe people were tired. Maybe last week’s Sharp Edges column wasn’t sufficiently provocative. Most of the responses came from regular correspondents. 


Tom Watson, wrote,  “We are, in fact, in a ‘new normal’ right now. At least, after a month of being radically restricted from what I used to do, it somehow feels ‘normal’ not to leave my home except for necessities and not to have anyone in my home. But a ‘newer normal’ still is yet to come and some adaptations will continue to have to be made. We'll adapt. We, as a species, always have.”


Although I apologized for being gloomy on an Easter morning, Isabel Gibson said,  “Well, oddly, that's a hopeful note for an Easter Sunday. May we experience a resurrection of sorts as we go through this. As a society, coming out smarter and more caring. And as individuals, coming out, um, smarter and more caring.”


Bob Rollwagen offered congratulations:  “Jim, you have given this some thought, hit all the right buttons, and stated it in logical sequence. 

            “Last week, a niece was in the office when a person who subsequently tested positive with Covid-19 attended the area. She was told to stay home and isolate, as was every other worker in the office that morning. Her husband, who works at a different firm, also working from home but needing to meet clients randomly has been told to stay home too as a result. How does a business survive if it has to close every time a Covid positive testing has such a wide impact? How do you enforce[it]? Most of our older or disadvantaged citizens do not have the luxury of care facilities. 

            “As you rightly remind us, there have been many pandemics and many have died and cures did not come quickly and that was life. I know people that live with the result of polio. SARS did not spread like this. Do we just roll the dice and hope for a mild case, or [expect] three weeks or pain, and suffering for families for the next two  or more years.

            “If we are going to respect each other, we are going to need rules for social mixing and enforce them. I need a haircut, my annual physical, my semi-annual dental visit and the ability to do what I do for my customers who are senior citizens without the fear of making them sick because someone was close to me. [If] I test, I am not able to get the results of that test for days.

            “The new rules have to based on how this virus works, not others. It is fine to plank the curve. It is not fine to ignore what is necessary to protect the vulnerable just because the odds of infection are smaller or the surge is over, but the level of new cases is still significant every day. If a mask I wear protects other, then everyone should wear a mask to protect me. Personal responsibility is a new norm. We have facial recognition AI. Not hard to isolate the irresponsible. None of this works until we take the actions to insure the safety of the disadvantaged and less able in our society.”


Peter Scott took a more cynical view: “’Back to normal’ to most people and governments means back to our carbon-based, global village, winner-take-all-and-the-rest-be-damned capitalism.  Another name for ‘back to normal’ is ‘business as usual’.  

            “Covid-19, frightening as it has been, has tried to teach us some important lessons.  By shutting down ‘business as usual’ Covid-19 has dramatically reduced carbon emissions and pollution levels, especially over major cities, almost overnight.  Covid-19 is not our enemy but our teacher, a harsh one but a teacher none the less.   A biblical phrase comes to mind.  ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear’.  Is anybody listening?”






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                       I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                       And for those of you who like poetry, you might check my webpage https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry. Recently I posted a handful of haiku, something I was experimenting with. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.



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