Before 2020 turned the knob rightward a few more notches in the past few days, something hit me about the emotional and social side of quarantine. I’m a strong introvert, perhaps with occasional misanthropic tendencies, so being holed up with media to enjoy, good food to eat, games to play, instruments to practice, and paychecks to cash is not exactly my worst-case scenario in the way I know it is for many people. There’s something nagging about it, though, even if you are one of the fortunate whose world blooms largely inward.
“Let’s just drop by for a minute.” No.
“No need to eat in the car, we’ll grab a table inside.” No.
“A haircut sure would feel great right now.” No.
No, no, no.
Material contentment is a balance between two forces: a relative scarcity of needs against a relative plenty of resources. Among many others, one’s social position has a hand in both of those forces. As do one’s character, beliefs, background, perspective, attitude, environment, and so many others.
I occupy the tenuous position of being aware of privilege while disliking it as a mental framework. It strikes me as a leaky abstraction, a net that simultaneously catches too much while letting the fish swim through. Perhaps it would work better as a differential measurement: not so much a charge as a voltage. “I am privileged” – or perhaps somehow worse, “I have privilege” – rings unhelpful to me. Everyone has “privilege” in the sense of having various advantages endowed, bestowed, or cultivated within their lives and experiences. I have no issue acknowledging that I have more privilege, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wish I didn’t have to ponder with Calculus IV-level effort which way to turn out of my local Home Depot parking lot, or that I could remember to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer without a data center full of network-connected reminder systems to attempt to prevent me from forgetting, or that I could take a one-mile run without my heels splitting in half like a lightning-struck tree.
It’s easy to focus on what we don’t have and just stew over it much longer than we should. It’s easy to feel disenfranchised, robbed of the blessing of true self-determination by outside forces, but it’s a whole other thing to be disenfranchised.
No, no, no, no, no.
I quite literally can’t imagine being in a position where I’m told by society in words, deeds, or strictures that I am not empowered to determine my path, live my best life, and effectively be the star in a movie for which I also maintain co-writer and -director credits. It’s clear to me that quarantine malaise is little more than a caricature of the devastating impact of that degree of true disenfranchisement.
I want to believe that most - but certainly not all - disenfranchisement in our country is self-imposed, or perhaps externally-imposed but self-maintained. It’s not pleasant to be presented with recent evidence and events that contradict that assumption and hope. In any case, the symptoms present a crisis even if the cause is not fully understood, and the treatment is no less urgent.