The Spread of Infection


Why do these two maps have an eerie similarity? Did the mapmakers inadvertently display their own fear-based assumptions that an ENTIRE STATE has been infected with a virus or a mass shooting, precisely border to border, when the reality is that the confirmed incidents would be little tiny dots – tiny dots! – scattered in specific address locations? Are we as a media-consuming nation obsessed with the look and taste of fear?

Yes. What I see on these maps are the locations of the battlefields of fear. The focus of our fears has been misdirected to specific threats. A few years ago, it was mass shootings. Firearms are the #12 ranked cause of death, compared to influenza and pneumonia at #7, below diabetes, alzheimer’s, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, cancer and heart disease. Taken together, as an oncologist I have overheard to say, these are “first world diseases.” In the third world, the causes of death are the plagues of poverty, such as diarrhea, pneumonia, measles and malaria, which kill millions of kids each year in low-income countries. In America those diseases are treatable and curable.

It is a paradox that one of the richest, industrialized nations struggles with what appear to be incurable diseases. We are responding to the current threat of a flu pandemic with panic. We don’t understand what is true health. We don’t understand that power. We give it away. We think we are victims of multiple sources of threat in addition to coronavirus, and we ascribe exaggerated powers to them. As a first world nation we are at war with ourselves, deathly ill with fear, a self-inflicted wound. Compare this map of stress with the two maps at the top of this article, and notice how the incidence of coronavirus cases and mass shootings tend to occur in states having the most stress:

We are literally killing ourselves with anxiety. We are immersed in fear and a loss of dignity and self-respect. We place no real value on ourselves or others. Instead, we value dog-eat-dog competition for the table scraps. One more map that may help illuminate this struggle is a map of gross domestic product by region, a measure of profits that are extracted through a paradigm of competition (i.e., stress), not cooperation. I believe there is a visible correlation here between competition, anxiety, shootings and disease epidemics.

Sometimes we have to hit bottom in order to find which way is up, have our hearts broken open repeatedly until they stay open. Perhaps in this crisis, we will finally be motivated to teach ourselves the inner state of nonviolence, an unstoppable source of calm, fearless power, health, self-respect and dignity. It will take some time, some practice, some real effort, and genuine courage to do what we as a nation have never done before.

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