Some of you may have chanced on a piece from Rolling Stone magazine called “The Reason You’re Exhausted is ‘Moral Fatigue,'” by Elizabeth Yuko.
The main idea in the article is an invitation to reflect on the heightened state of collective awareness we find ourselves in because of the global pandemic. Every action we take or don’t take carries such a potential burden of life or death outcome for ourselves, our loved ones, and even strangers, that we are exhausted in our psyches.
We already were ground down, opines Yuko, even before the virus swept across the planet. I imagine she means that we work too hard and worry a lot, and didn’t have much bandwidth for anything new.
I would add (my own viewpoint) that we had been grappling with a global political shift to right wing politics for some years now, and the impact on many of us who identify as more liberal has been tremendous. We are fatigued from self education and activism, angry with friends and relatives who cling to conservative ideologies and who dismiss us as being overly iconoclastic, and awaiting the next round of elections with an appropriate amount of apprehension and horror. From across the chasm, I suppose our counterparts feel the same, in a mirror image kind of way.
American culture is not accustomed to placing limits on our own personal autonomy, argues Yuko, so this whole staying home so we don’t kill one another thing feels suffocating.
We can see other countries having a hard time with this too, I think, though for different reasons. Asian cultures are so highly social, and dense populations, plus a higher reliance on public transport mean that people, especially the marginalized, are together a whole lot.
The article quotes Dr Michael Baur, a professor of philosophy, on how we are grappling with our actions as they affect others, and why we feel so burned out:
“It’s a fiction to think that we’re not already deeply connected to one another–we always have been…we usually allow ourselves to be lazy and oblivious to our interdependence…we’re now forced to be aware of it…It requires an added level of mental effort, carefulness and reflectiveness.”
Personally, I have also been reflecting on how, because people we love, and who love us, might pose such a grave danger, and vice versa, we feel attacked on a fundamental level that is causing us dread and pain. Plus we keep hearing about how the highest act of love and civic consciousness right now is to distance ourselves; that clashes very badly with our need to believe that, even in the most formal and anti social of communities, we are still connected by some ongoing notion of tribal citizenry, going about our lives, largely ignoring one another, but still essentially united. We may not WANT to hang out with our neighbors, but tell us that we cannot, on pain of death, and watch us yearn for and strain towards one another, like teenage romance denied.
The fiction that is our sense of unity has largely been exposed, hasn’t it? That’s part of the fatigue in us, I believe. Some members of the community venture out and have gatherings despite the terrible risks, heightening our despair at the idea that our own isolation might be for nothing if others don’t take the same precautions. People hoard food and household supplies, while rich people hoard the wealth of the world, and hide at home, exhorting underlings to toil in their absence. Underpaid workers are fake-lauded as heroes, while not having any choice about showing up to work and being exposed. Qualified people at the federal level are thwarted from stepping up by appalling leadership, so we are forced to rely on state government and grassroots efforts. Never would we have imagined a day in the 21st century when healthcare workers in the developed world had to hope that home sewn masks would save them from death, but here we are. We dream a collective dream of returning to normalcy, but that normal world never truly supported everyone, and the marginalized have always been told in one form or another: Oh, pull up those bootstraps.
It is a burden to have to be aware of our interconnectedness with people we would not be friends with if we were thrown together socially. I mean, it’s true..
Back to the Rolling Stone piece: there is an appealing quality to the invitation being extended–to reflect on how we might benefit from shifting our thinking. But I am somewhat enraged and triggered by how preachy some of the rhetoric around this idea is right now. Autism families are just one group that have to live with this sense of heightened awareness all the damn time. People who are immunocompromised do too. And so many others.
Society is always a potential threat to our autistic loved ones. Yet we are fobbed off by calls to focus on the greater good, and to support decisions that benefit the neurotypical mainstream. If the public sphere is hostile to our children, well, people are mostly okay with us staying away, while also reminding us that it is OUR problem, not a collective one. Erasure is better than changing the way things already are. And when we try to have any sort of meaningful debate about what needs to happen, we are told that things are much better today, so why are we complaining.
The ongoing lack of effective infrastructure for the disabled is not urgent enough to warrant collective reflection. But leaving us to live in an eternal state of wariness is deemed alright. F that noise.
Some of you may be aware of how special needs students are not thriving in this era of online instruction. We can vouch for that chez nous. I am not getting into that today because we are living it, and it’s really awful. Poor A. I know that there is no other option, but he is miserable, and so are we.
Twice now, since this weirdness began, A has made his dad drive him to his old religious school. They sit in the car in the deserted parking lot, and my husband reads from the prayer book, while A noms on his favorite snack from back then, Britannia chocolate cookies. It’s his version of self care, as my therapist suggested, and why not; prayer is very helpful at such times, and intuitive, spiritually conscious A has understood its gifts.
However, if you cannot perceive that sitting alone in a parking lot, miming a communal experience, is pretty much the best image ever of what growing up neurodiverse in a community that devalues you is like, then some soul searching is in order. And I want to gently urge you to reflect on what toll that takes on the family too.
Watching the world from behind barriers is the norm for families like ours. It need not be. But it can only shift if collective ideas of liberation become more inclusive, and that will only happen if we are intentional about the pandemic’s aftermath.
Yuko, Elizabeth. “The Reason You’re Exhausted is ‘Moral Fatigue.'” Rolling Stone, March 27, 2020, https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/corona-exhausted-moral-fatigue-974311/