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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 16)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 16 March 30th, 2020

Trento, Italy

I Believe


Today my brother and I went to the bank in order to sign some documents, but ever since March 24th, they’ve been seeing clients only with an appointment, so that particular piece of business didn’t get done; in a quarantine, however, things like this are never perceived negatively because you always get a free walk out of it—at least if that’s what you’re after.


Back in the US, my brother and I would take walks almost every night, discussing current events, sports, history, and other things that were on our minds. Before the quarantine, every time I had the chance to visit him in Trento, we would resume our tradition; now that I’ll be in this great city for the foreseeable future, we take any movement that comes our way.


I don’t really know how long the government expects us to observe this quarantine with a straight face—and a straight body, no less. So much sitting is bad for your health—in fact, it might be more dangerous than smoking, according to a professor of medicine at Harvard. What kind of risk are you really taking by trying to avoid the coronavirus? If 1,300 people die of smoking a day and sitting might be more dangerous than smoking, what’s the real risk in this equation? Your Honor, I rest my case. God, I would’ve been a good lawyer.

In all seriousness, however, there aren’t just psychological implications at stake if we allow this “quarantine” to go beyond what most normal people can endure. In my last entry, I discussed the nature of laws, stating that they must be possible to follow in order for them to warrant that designation, using two reputable legal scholars to defend this assertion.


Hence, doctors and the government may rightfully demand, for example, a six-month extension for the quarantine (and this might be precisely what we need to solve our problem); however, is the populace actually capable of meeting this goal if that’s truly what’s required? Suffice it to say, authorities may demand many things that the public can’t carry out, for reasons which might have nothing to do with the endurance of their bodies—people’s pockets just aren’t deep enough.


The government can’t keep placing the entire burden of its failures onto the shoulders of the populace without taking, at least, some responsibility to relieve that pressure. So … they want longer quarantines because they themselves failed to contain the virus, do they now? Fine—we’ll accept their proposition; as respectable, law-abiding citizens, we’ll grant them that favor, but they, likewise, must assume the duty to make our goal possible—to give something in return for our sacrifice.


Otherwise, these so-called leaders of the world are employing policies which are no different than those utilized by the Soviet Union under war communism—except, in this case, it’s not the Russian Civil War that’s demanding the requisitioning of grain, but the coronavirus which is demanding that citizens live without pay because the situation simply requires it.


So, where are the programs for rent freeze? Where are the free counseling services? Where are the student-loan forgiveness measures? I don’t see any concessions. The goddamn government keeps asking but giving almost nothing in return; in fact, they’re taking away your freedom of movement as well.


Indeed, throughout history, democracies have turned authoritarian very quickly when the goals they set for themselves couldn’t be achieved with democratic means. The McCarthy trials are just one example where the free world used coercion, intimidation, and propaganda to either silence its undesirable citizens or completely isolate them from society. McCarthy ruined the careers of many innocent people while never finding a genuine spy in the process.


Likewise, when it became obvious that the US couldn’t win in Vietnam, the attempt to silence anti-war protesters in the Kent State shootings also showed that democracies aren’t as comfortable with dissent and free speech as people thought they were. This iconic photo from the massacre was used as the emblem of US brutality. After fifty years, it’s still hard to believe that the US government had the audacity to shoot students on a college campus.

In more recent times, when the Occupy Wall Street movement starting becoming a little too effective in spreading their message of corruption and greed in US society, the FBI infiltrated the group to create conflict among its members, which ultimately caused the movement’s collapse.

Let’s return to the freedom of movement, however. During the Great Depression—hopeless as it was—people at least had the right to search elsewhere for better economic conditions. Like the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath, most people’s circumstances weren’t improved by moving to a new place; however, at least they had the liberty to try and fix their lives that were ruined by the government’s negligence. Likewise, if the government wants us to stay put to resolve their own carelessness in handling what should’ve been a simple outbreak while paying our bills at the same time, a single check of $1,200 isn’t nearly enough of an offer to take them up on their offer.


I’ve never liked politicians—whether they’re Italian, from the US, or born in Burkina Faso; it makes no difference to me. Senators, prime ministers, presidents, and so on govern their people; however, they themselves are governed by money and money alone.


In his play, Major Barbara, George Bernard Shaw introduces a character named Andrew Undershaft, a wealthy arms dealer who returns to his family he abandoned long ago. Under the guise of Christian ideals, solidarity, and brotherhood of man, he demands a type of obedience from people that has nothing to do with respecting their wishes and more to do with bending their will to his own liking; this is exemplified by the fact that when Undershaft donates money to the Salvation Army (where his daughter works), it’s not because he wants to help her, but because he wants to influence her way of thinking. Why does all this sound all too familiar?


Likewise, when his naïve son, Stephen, tells him not to insult the government of his country, Undershaft replies, “The government of your country! I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus [his business partner]. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need.” Although Shaw’s play is more than 113 years old, things haven’t changed much.


Someone out there is influencing the government’s decisions and it’s not the people who are going to need help (or already need help) to survive the coronavirus pandemic; that’s why, to this day, there are no rent freezes or any kind of government assistance programs to help people get through this—at least not in the US. The only thing that exists are government requests to extend quarantines in order to crush this virus quickly, but, like the motives of Undershaft, this has very little to do with the government’s concern for its own people.


My brother and I asked both our landlords whether the government has instituted any programs to help students with paying their rent and they both stated that there are no such programs. My dad wasn’t even allowed to defer the student loan payments he had incurred in the US.


No, the government doesn’t care—they’re just looking out for the corporate interests and the billionaires that fund them. If ordinary people don’t go back to work, the entire economic structure which makes their political careers possible will crumble—that’s what they care about, not your average Joe and Jane. Is it a surprise, then, that the world’s richest man and owner of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is requesting donations from the public?


Another website states that Amazon isn’t really asking for anything—the button is simply there because of technical reasons. Well, if they’re not asking, why’s the button there for technical reasons? Technicalities and technical reasons always were the basis for why the richest people in the world ask for donations—sure, it’s all technology’s fault. The billionaires are, once again, never to blame.


I’m tired of taking directives from the government—even when it’s in my best interest to do so (and I admit that in this case it is); however, ultimately, I’m going to do what’s best for my own health. Does this really sound so absurd? I don’t think so. We place so much emphasis on making sure that the government doesn’t interfere in a woman’s decision to have an abortion—to decide for herself (not doctors) what’s best for her body; however, in relation to the coronavirus, we aren’t allowed to decide what our own bodies need? What’s more important than liberty?


The time will come—I’m sure of that—when governments will use this pandemic as an opportunity to violate our basic rights (if that’s not happening already). According to a Business Insider article, Edward Snowden has already “warned that an uptick in surveillance amid the coronavirus crisis could lead to long-lasting effects on civil liberties.” Let me pause here and state for the record: I don’t like conspiracy theories.


In the spirit of Kevin Costner’s famous Bull Durham speech, I myself believe the following: That, yes, Oswald did shoot Kennedy and that he acted alone; I believe the US went to the moon and that a simple weather balloon crashed in Roswell; I believe global warming is real and that chemtrails pose no danger to humanity, although flying does harm the environment a great deal.


Well, now that I’ve got politics and history out of my system, let’s go back to something more personal. After realizing the bank was closed, we continued holding our empty shopping bags during our walk to the grocery store.


Although I posted pictures of our full fridge recently, there was no bread anywhere in it, which proved to be quite convenient. The empty shopping bags also proved useful because we passed the scene of an accident, where numerous police officers were assembled, and not having to answer questions is always a good way to start an afternoon. As I’ve said many times, it’s never a bad idea to have a reason for going out.


After buying the bread, I walked past this oddity of a sight—although it’s a quarantine, I’m glad to know that a US corporation is happy to inform Italy about the arrival of the 2020 Harley Davidson lineup. Given the obvious circumstances, it’s always good to remember that you can still live out your Easy Rider fantasies—just don’t expect Jack Nicholson to bail you out for breaking quarantine laws.

Approaching our house, I took this picture of my brother carrying the much-needed grocery harvest to our residence—in more normal times, this task never seemed to have much significance, but when you can only go out to buy bread (in its most metaphorical sense), the very food you eat and the steps you take begin to taste and feel different.

Upon arrival, I realized there’s really nothing like bringing bread home, and even better is the feeling of putting bread on the table—here’s me doing exactly that; I just hope we can do this for a lot longer because many people are starting to have trouble with acquiring that basic staple of life.

And what about those who’ve had trouble meeting their basic needs before this pandemic? I find myself asking: Did life really just begin with the outbreak of this virus? The coronavirus has made it seem like we’ve solved all the world’s problems—hunger, gun violence, racism, discrimination against women, poverty, just to name a few—this pandemic is the only one we’ve got left; if we manage to solve it, there’ll be nothing left for us to do (as if there’s anything left to do in a quarantine).


All jokes aside, however, I really do want to believe that after all this ends, we’ll return to a world without the problems I mentioned; I’m inclined not to think this is possible because there was no optimism on the shelves today, however—maybe tomorrow I’ll see it. Oh, and happy birthday, Vincent Van Gogh! You’re not missing much.


All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.


Until next time.


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