Describing coronavirus as a “foreign virus” seemed odd to me when I first heard it. Viruses seemed like part of the natural world, no nationality, no ethnicity, mostly to be avoided. But foreign? Do they carry passports? Do they salute a flag of red, white and flu? Did they ask for asylum before coming to the United States? And if so, why aren’t they in Mexico waiting for their court date?
Apparently this misguided notion of how viruses get around in this world is not unique to the coronavirus and its mis-namers. Daniel Defoe starts his “A Journal of the Plague Year” noting the same ill intention.
We have to be suspicious of Defoe and how he describes the Plague of 1664. He was only 5 years old during that year. So what he remembers or how it impressed him as a child might not hold up too well to Snopes.com. Defoe’s career as an author and journalist had elements that Trump would love: His political enemies had Defoe thrown in prison for slander. On the other hand, the two men had several things in common: They both “participated in several failing businesses, facing bankruptcy and aggressive creditors.”
Defoe wrote the “A Journal of the Plague Year” 58 years after it happened. But he must have heard stories about the plague all his life, gathered information from written sources, interviewed those who survived and wrote it as a grown man walking through the streets of London observing what it must have been like. Literary journalism at its finest.
His version of the plague strikes a chord with what is going on today. Calling the pandemic a Holland plague or a China virus exposes that you are in denial that the sickness is here now and you must deal with it. You could do that. Or, you could say things like:
“. . . We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
“It will all work out well.”
“We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”
“Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
“Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away,”
“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
“I’m not concerned at all. It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
“It’s going to be just fine.”
Defoe records that those at the top in 1664 were slow to take action.
Once the plague started getting around, concealment of sickness became a general practice.
(To be continued)