Go ahead and pronounce that term, with as generous an appropriation of that thick, Märzenbier-soaked Teutonic accent your tongue blade can inflect.
The Heideggerian term roughly translates to “thrownness,” as in, to quote Judaism scholar J.J. Kimche, the “existential disposition of being thrust into an environment of neither one’s fashioning nor one’s choosing.”
(Caution, gentle reader. More than a fair share of European philosopher quoting lies ahead. Proceed if you dare.)
As we enter into our third straight COVID winter (only second, if you believe the CCP and our dithering medical experts as to when the respiratory bug arrived on our shores), proper stock should be taken of our fettle.
By all counts, data, and morgue logs, we’re in a better place than two Decembers ago. The virus kills around 1,000 Americans per day—about a third of the death rate from last year. Three-quarters of the country’s adult population is vaccinated. The latest bogey variant—omicron, which, despite its Greek etymology, sounds like an economy-model Hyundai—doesn’t appear to be the big one, the SMOD contagion that will, at long last, wipe us all out.
As for Corona passing, to quote El Presidente, everyone knows the rules. Be courteous, give people personal breathing space, don’t fret over fomite spread, don a mask if you’re indoors deep in the crush of 500 of your closest friends, frolic face naked outside, and, if you’re feeling really gutsy, give one of the fancy-pansy experimental mRNA vaccines a whirl. I did—two in fact!—and have suffered no deleterious side effects, other than occasional diastolic rate spikes, which I’ll self-diagnose as being a sequela of parenting a three-year-old child who daily pushes the bounds of her mortality.
And just in time for Christmas, you can get even more jab for your tax-payer buck, with newly approved boosters for all. There’s even talk in some foreign lands of another booster being approved. And just like that, the vax is becoming the new iPhone, with newer incarnations available every year that you’ll want to rush out and acquire so as to not be denigrated by the cool kids at The Atlantic.
All in all, we’ve made leaping strides in the COVID war, as we’ve practically cornered its virii and lessened our casualty count.
But as hibernal centigrades creep in, we’re being unassured of our advantage over the coronavirus. Rumors of renewed lockdown are being put about. The Biden Administration has revived targeted travel bans. Some states and localities are considering reimplementing indoor mask requirements, just as others, including Washington, DC, binned them. Some deep-aquamarine cities never stopped mandating mouth coverings, even for the fully vaccinated at outside gatherings.
The federal vaccine requirement, despite its unconstitutionality, is imminent and necessary, we’re assured. Yet President Biden, in an ungainly attempt to save the holiday season, delayed the mandate until the new year, belying its urgency.
The logic was sound: don’t induce mass firings before Americans blow a wad on cheap Chinese plastic to honor Christ’s parturition. Plus we don’t even know if Santa’s elves transmit the virus minimally like children, or majorly like adults. But the delay was for naught. Supply chain issues caused by worker shortages and bureaucratic incompetence are leaving store gondolas empty, adding to the sense of general awryness.
A Christmas with an equestrian Barbie but no accompanying stable with detachable fluorescent-pink trusses is bad enough for little girls (or boys, too, in our PC inoffensive era). But kids have been on the receiving end of the brunt of nonsensical pandemic regs since COVID started. They couldn’t go to school for a while, relying on ersatz Zoom pedagogy that lacked proper paidagōgos. Now that most are back at the desk, they have to wear face masks for eight-or-so hours, which not only inhibit social learning, but become filthy disease vectors themselves. (If you don’t believe me, smell a toddler’s breath some time. You’ll get olfactory notes of Cheez-Its, stale milk, worm guts, and a nickel they found between the couch cushions.)
Now the New York Times reports that despite widespread vaccination, and the green light for most students to get their Pfizer owie, school districts are reverting back to Zoom instruction. “In an effort to keep teachers from resigning, some U.S. public schools are going remote for a day a week—sometimes more,” the Gray Lady tweeted.
(Insert requisite libertarian quip about public schools being lucre-funded brainwashing factories.)
Teachers are, to borrow a Freudian term (I warned you about European overthinkers!), claiming nachträglichkeit trauma after spending twelve-plus months of screen-staring and peeking at Teacher’s Editions in their sweatpants. The return to the classroom, with all its BEWARE!!-VIRUS-OMG protocols is too mentally and physically cumbrous. So the burden must, once again, be passed on to parents, who have to, once again, contort their schedules to make sure little Susy participates in critical race reading hour.
This only adds to the growing feeling of anxious uncertainty: uncertainty about when the pandemic ends, when the arbitrary masking rules cease, when schedules can be solidified, when the crazed talking faces on the TV stop predicting imminent death and destruction every second of every minute of every hour of every day.
Suddenly Tommy’s “tempestuous sea of liberty” feels more like a never-ending squall that threatens capsizal. From COVID’s outset, we’ve been assured time and time again that the draconian measures taken—Shelter in place! Shut down your business! Don’t breathe on anyone! Wear four overlapping masks! Stuff your children in a closet for a year!—were only for the nonce. Then the vaccines came, and we were told that the dark days of masking and isolation were kaput.
But the booster treadmill is revving up, and the definition of “fully vaccinated” is, to borrow a term from our woke friends, becoming fluid, to be changed at the whim of limelight-craving doctors.
All of this inability to pin down a real, concrete, no-caveat return to normalcy brings to mind the Marxian phrase “all that’s solid melts into air.” Marx was describing the uprooting effect the industrial revolution had on traditional stationary existence of the peasant and manorial class. But just as capitalists irrevocably transformed life, so too are our governing authorities, both medical and governmental, pushing for a radical change of life. Their checklist would, in non-pandemic times, be regarded as brazenly authoritarian: biometric scanning, immunological passports, barred entry into social establishments based on medical history, forced quarantining, even concentration camps, in the strictest definition, for shot dissenters.
Extreme virus-containment measures were accepted by Americans at COVID’s beginning. But, since at least the first vaccines were administered, it’s become clear the restrictions are not temporary. And worse, they’re evolving, mutating like the virus itself, into unpredictable incursions on everyday life.
Accepting COVID-19 as endemic and here to say would obviate the justification for the entire slate of COVID transmission-reduction measures. But our esteemed archons aren’t willing to surrender their excuse for powermonger. So we’re stuck in the hamster wheel, which stops, goes, sputters, and accelerates arbitrarily, leaving us dependent and confused. Or “thrown,” in the Heideggerian sense.
Don’t think it strange if you feel dizzy or uncentered by the absence of COVID consistency. You aren’t alone.