The year common sense died
By Belinda Nzeribe
There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn is the belief of absurdist proponent, Albert Camus. The revolt we see against the existential threat of Covid-19 is a sort of coping mechanism for a world that's upended itself. A large population now lives in denial of the disease, playing roles that mimic Sisyphus' absurd struggles. After the inundation of prejudices, ignorance and misinformation, some have become victims of their own actions, donning the toga of Corona skeptic, staging irrational opposition to safety measures. Others are confused spectators in this theatre of the absurd, the death of reasoning, of common sense, of meaning.
Understanding infection trajectory
Pandemics are not isolationist; they affect everyone and are not to be taken lightly. Centuries ago, they led to the collapse of civilizations, decimating whole populations in regions. Even with medical advancements today, the global infection and death toll from the Coronavirus is devastating. The poet John Donne reiterates, "no man is an island... every man's death diminishes me ... because I am involved in mankind." Yet there is little understanding that individual behavior determines infection trajectories and underpins the success of public health interventions. The act of practicing correct, self-protective behavior - avoiding gatherings, staying home, wearing masks, washing hands - is influenced by the voices in our heads. These voices belong to opinion leaders - political officials, spiritual leaders and mentors, who are saddled with a responsibility to provide positive and factual messaging for followers during this crisis. The level of trust in authorities is directly linked to compliance with pandemic guidelines. Inaccurate messaging from the authorities is detrimental to compliance.
There is something about this pandemic that messes with the head and loosens the tongue. Like the most powerful man in the world suggesting a possible Covid cure by injecting Lysol and light into the human body - "knocks it out in one minute," (knocks you out forever, more like it). Like Pastor Talk-na-do boasting of his 'corrosive' anointing to clear out Corona virus inside the body. Like the tradomedic practitioners in Lagos spouting salacious claims of herbal concoctions that kill the virus, cashing in on the pandemic. Like the conspiracy theories propounded by flip-flopping billionaire pastors who lead mega churches in Nigeria. One said - with all the confidence of one who struts the pulpit - "it is 5G technology that is spreading COVID-19, it is facilitating a new world order." He forgot about the countries that have COVID deaths and no 5G network. What is his quarrel with the fifth generation of wireless communication to term it the Anti-Christ? He will be using it like everyone else soon enough (when it's deployed).
The easing of restrictions
Markets in Nigeria are now open three times a week, some offices are open until 3.00 pm and there is a dusk to dawn curfew but religious gatherings are not encouraged. The frustrations of continuing virtual churches prompted another big man pastor to speak, "I smell a rat. How can you keep churches closed and markets open?" He turned up his nose and repeated, "I smell a rat. Isn't the church a place of healing?"
Is there any sense in smelling imaginary rats? There is real healing to be done if the 'gods of men' would just visit the isolation centers and magically cast the devilish virus down the pits of hell. Right, easier said than done. Let’s reason it out folks, markets equal food. Church gatherings encourage the virus to spread. Better to keep the chapel doors shut until the infection rates are down. Not so? Sometimes you cannot come between a man and his religious observance, Archbishop Ambrosius of Moscow was lynched during the plague riots of 1771 for removing a revered icon that encouraged gatherings during quarantine. He wanted to curtail the spread of the plague but was irrationally cast as the enemy of the people.
It is the rise in absurd behavior during this pandemic that is most baffling. The governor of Rivers state demolished two hotels for violating lockdown rules. Did it make any sense to quickly demolish the hotels? Was it arbitrary? Was it legal?
Insidious Theories of COVID-19
The interconnectedness of the world has become its undoing - open borders, open skies, open seas, open virus spread. The yellow bus driver in the busy Lagos Ojota park listens intently to the new rules, "you must provide hand sanitizers for your passengers, or provide soap and water and you must carry half load, and everyone must wear a mask. Then he laments at the unfairness, "one pesin chop, all of us dey wash hand," meaning, one man ate the meat, now we are all washing our hands. The world is a global village especially in the COVID-19 world. That is if you believe the meat theory and aren't one of the pandemic conspiracy theorist.
Covid-19 has spawned many insidious theories. They don't need to be substantiated, just throw them out there and see it thrive on social media. Bill Gates wants to control the world, he needs our DNA. He is developing a vaccine to depopulate the world. He is masterminding the spread of the virus. One Abuja twitter ex-senator is making videos promulgating these claims and alleging the Gates have bribed the senate to summarily pass the new Disease Control Bill. "This is the end of the end," he says "we must all rise up and say no to the Bill Gates bill." It's sparked a barrage of bribery allegations and the bill has been put on hold.
Piers Corbyn, the brother of the former British Labor Party Chief opposes any vaccination for the virus and he also believes 5G towers are linked to Covid illnesses. In Germany, Atilla Hildemann, the social media vegan cook is alleging that sedatives have been added to Berlin's drinking water. His wild claim is unverified but he is garnering thousands of subscribers. A mind can take but so much! Mixed messaging and disinformation make us Mungo Parks navigating uncharted waters. Where do we find the truth?
The Common Sense Theory
It is difficult for the human mind to comprehend risk. More so when the risk is a perceived threat and 'invisible'. It would explain the blasé individual self-protective measures in this pandemic. For instance, the preponderance of wearing masks on the jaw, below the bottom lip or removing them to talk is simply a pointless, Sisyphean task.
Common sense is not common as witnessed by the face mask vendors in the Lagos traffic, allowing their customers to try on different masks for size until they make their choice. The vendor could well be selling Corona virus to unsuspecting buyers. Buy mask, buy Covid-19. Same with the tricycle driver who keeps a spare mask in the glove compartment for passengers in order to escape the wear-your-mask enforcement police.
Reasoning is a function of belief. The doubters of the validity of Corona virus believe it just doesn't exist. From the ubiquitous small street churches holding secret services behind closed doors, forgoing the noisy megaphones to the stubborn traveler sneaking out of town, bribing police officers at interstate check points. All behavior proclaiming skepticism of the virus.
There is Covid-19 immunity in the open markets. There is no semblance of physical distancing, you can wear the masks or not, your choice. Buyers gather around the traders, brushing up against each other to haggle, with voices raised and spittle flying around. Everyone seems to be fumbling, masquerading safety compliance and even the governments are clueless in these unprecedented times.
The Hydroxychloroquine Theory
One scroll through the twitter feed, and you can get sucked into the latest Trump twitter outrage, while hoping it's not too dangerous to health. The world is interconnected, you see. Ah, another one. "I've been taking hydroxychloroquine for the past two weeks, says Trump." One can tell what this latest Trumpian advice will do. Clear the shelves. I remember the last time he was touting the efficacy of the drug, it didn't turn out well for us. "Three admitted for Chloroquine poisoning," the headlines screamed.
The Presidential Covid Task Force has issued warnings to stop buying Chloroquine in large quantities. "The drug has not been certified for use in treating COVID-19 in Nigeria," says the coordinator. We are a stubborn people and we won't listen, after all Trump is taking Chloroquine!
Iya Bisola, my neighbor has a huge stash of Chloroquine for when it will come in handy. She drove to the big Lagos Island pharmacies - and the small one's too - buying them up. Iya Bisola is also a fan of Trump and believes he knows what he is talking about. I'm confused. Didn't they just release findings that Hydroxychloroquine is no good for treating COVID-19 and even causes deaths? Why is he still talking about this drug? Reasoning has bowed its head in shame. Mayhap this is the end of reasoning.
The Solipsistic Behavioral Theory
Napoleon considered the yellow fever obliterating his forces in the West Indies, and crippling his political ambitions as a personal insult. We can juxtapose this behavior with Trump's disdain for this 'inconvenient' virus, urging citizens to protest stay-at-home orders to bolster his re-election chances. A hoax of a virus that has embarrassingly refused to disappear, reminds one of the insensitive comment by Brazil's Bolsonaro, "everyone will die someday." It is this extreme egocentrism that propels his ridiculous and dangerous behavior - taking pictures with demonstrators, protesting lockdown orders, and doing public push-ups. From leaders to citizens it is the reign of solipsism.
The One-door closes, Window opens Theory
Some good came out of this. You can't wear designer fabrics in a pandemic. Where are you going? You want to be made an example of? Perhaps you want to perform community service for flouting lockdown gatherings like one Lagos celebrity actress. So, designer clothes are out but Ankra fabric masks are in. Our tailors have found another way to earn some living in a pandemic with the all-purpose Ankra fabric. Ankra masks are the thing; you can match by fabric or color code them to your clothes on a daily. Fashion lives on. Yay!
Belinda is a contributor for FunTimes Magazine. She runs creative writing clubs in high schools and lives with her husband and three children in Lagos, Nigeria. Her other passion is child literacy and she manages a charity working to improve reading levels of kids in low income communities. She is becoming adept at stealing time here and there to finish her novel. Belinda holds varied degrees in Theatre and Film, Public and Media Relations, International Affairs and Pre-Primary Education.