The Lockdown Left Has No Idea How Life Works

Their response shows they have no reasonable standard for disaster.

Gavin Newsom, governor of California, speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. Newsom outlined his plan to lift restrictions in the most-populous U.S. state, saying a reopening depends on meeting a series of benchmarks that would remake daily life for 40 million residents.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It happened so slowly — the masks and the social distancing and the economic wreckage were each gradually imposed upon us by slow degrees — that it’s easy to forget how oppressive the weight of our lockdown state has become. But the other day, as I stood masked in line at the grocery store, I looked at the beleaguered crowd of people trudging through their cramped existence and thought: what have we become? It got me thinking about how disconnected from reality our rhetoric has been these past few months.

We’ve lost all perspective. The black death, which ravaged Europe with repeated outbreaks of the bacterium yersinia pestis, killed between 30 and 50 percent of the populations it infected — 25 million people in Europe — during the 14th century. That is a pandemic. It hung grimly over the lives and careers of Petrarch and Boccaccio, of John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer.

It’s astonishing to contemplate what magnificent achievements were made by people who were just fighting their way through life as this fatal shadow swept across the world. By contrast we, who saw about .058% of the American population die this summer, have ground our entire world to a halt. This suggests to me a deep unseriousness about what life is, and what can be expected of it.

In brief: we have no idea what it is to be alive on planet earth. This world — this broken, sad world — does not offer any promise or even possibility of perfection. In our lifetimes, most Americans have seen levels of comfort and security that would have been unthinkable for the vast majority of human beings throughout history. That is something to be celebrated, but it has also blinded us — made us vulnerable to the absurd expectation that this life can be made permanently comfortable, permanently safe. The lockdown extremists have shown the results of this blindness: they have no reasonable standard for disaster.

One writer who lived through the Black Death and wrote searingly about the perils of the world was Julian of Norwich, an anchoress who spent her life in quiet seclusion and prayer. In 1373 Julian prayed for, and received, sixteen “shewings” — mystical visions of God and his love for the world. It’s often overlooked, but Julian began her spiritual journey by asking to get deathly ill. She tells us in her record of the experience that she prayed “freely desiring [her] sickness [to be] so hard as to death, that I might in that sickness receive all my rites of Holy Church, myself thinking that I should die, and that all creatures might suppose the same that saw me: for I would have no manner of comfort of earthly life.”

Julian asked to be so ill that she thought she would die, because only then would she understand what the lowly of the world were suffering at that time. In that way she hoped to approach the heart of Christ more nearly.

I make no claim to “understand” the kind of self-sacrificing ecstasy that drove Julian to pray in such a radical way. Speaking frankly, it seems insane to me. But if it is madness, it is the kind of madness that conceals a deep realism about what humanity is and how desperately in need we are. It was in the throes of her illness that Julian saw God, and it was God who led her at last to her famous proclamation that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Our ruling classes have disconnected themselves completely from the realities of life: death, sin, suffering, and God. Those things sound to our professors and our newscasters like quaint and outdated fantasies from a bygone era. But they remain the stuff of life, much as we might like to abandon them in favor of some imagined utopia.

If we allow them, our elites will disconnect us, too, from the realities of the world, seducing us with glamorous visions of a perfect future that can never be. But if we resist — if we accept the fact that death cannot be opted out of any more than life can be opted into — then we may find that indeed, in the face of everything, all shall be well.

More from Spencer Klavan: Leftist Rioters Don’t Understand Real Life

Spencer Klavan is host of the Young Heretics podcast and assistant editor of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind. He can be reached on Twitter at @SpencerKlavan.

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