Nothing Novel

In the past year, we took a significant viral pandemic and turned it into a “PANDEMIC” worthy of ruining lives and livelihoods, and a rationale for doing far more harm than the virus might have on its own.  We have for a long time to come I fear, frightened ourselves into a stunted, furtive mindset that should have been the antithesis of the medical profession that instead encouraged it.  Yes, many hospitals are full, and I’ve had to ship appendicitis cases three hours away just to find an available bed.  Yes, one of the ER’s where I spend a lot of time was itself an auxiliary ICU for a time because there was nowhere else to put patients on vents.  Yes, I like many have suffered personal loss in this.

To all of which I must defiantly if sardonically respond, “So what?”  A pretty bright guy had something to say about it in 1948.  C.S. Lewis, over to you…

“How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

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