You cannot argue a virus out of existence. You cannot logic it away or humiliate it into retreat or appeal to its conscience. It doesn’t have one of those. A virus doesn’t have goals or needs or desires. It doesn’t have a brain. You might just as usefully explain the military-industrial complex to your Peace Lily (although after a couple of weeks of self-quarantine we may all be talking to our houseplants). Covid-19 is a disease that largely spares children and disproportionally affects older men. President Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right demagogue, has the disease, and so do several aides who dined with Trump last weekend at Mar-a-Lago. When it comes to illness as metaphor, Covid-19 is not subtle. Susan Sontag would struggle to get a whole book out of it. But this isn’t karma. It isn’t divine retribution, though people in the grip of epidemics usually turn to simple stories like that, because they’re scared. Epidemics aren’t trying to punish anyone. We’re doing this to ourselves, and that, as the prophet Thom Yorke tells us, is what really hurts. That and the lack of potatoes.
She explains that our current challenges are as much social as they are physical:
The idea of the body politic is an old, old metaphor. If a nation is a “social organism,” the United States has an extremely weak social immune system. A lot of Americans can’t afford to stay home if they get ill. There’s very little sick leave, and missing one paycheck might mean disaster. A lot of Americans can’t afford to be ill, because their healthcare system is a lumbering behemoth of modern barbarism. What that means is that most of them have internalized some or all of the following ideas: We have to compete savagely with others, that nobody else can be trusted, that the health and wealth of our own nation comes first, and that long-term, collective thinking is less important than individual survival. And it just so happens that all these things are useful to the spread of a disease like Covid-19.