March 11, I guess

Today, maybe yesterday, I don’t know –the time change is big math– is, I suppose a pretty big anniversary. It seems like the day shit got real in North America. For me, at this remove, it’s not quite such a big day and not altogether a bad one. If anything, it was kind of a happy day. Not happy. That’s not really the right word. It was more of a relief. It wasn’t that America suddenly had a COVID problem. It had just finally, though clumsily, acknowledged it.

Here, of course, by the time that happened, we had been dealing with the thing since late January. There wasn’t a single day when things changed. Even the 대구 outbreak wasn’t a sudden “shit just got real” moment. Like, a lot of the outrage around that outbreak was due to the fact that gathering together in a church was already definitely something not to do.

It was much more of a gradual escalation here. Gradual but fast. The awareness of a new virus in China and that it had come to Korea. The fear of coughing in public and fear of those who did, the mask advice, sudden mass testing, emergency alerts, advice to avoid gatherings, and measures to make that possible, advice to stay at home. One outbreak laying waste to so much of our efforts.

That outbreak felt like a bomb had gone off. But it had been ticking. And we knew it was a bomb. We were trying to diffuse it when a church tripped over a wire and it exploded. I’m not sure the same can be said about North America. That’s not the feeling I got.

Speaking broadly, I remember watching the case numbers in America and Canada, which were really high even without much testing, and thinking “What the fuck? Are they doing nothing?” It left me feeling half-mad. How much of this was in my head? Had I lost it?

And it wasn’t just the government or the bozos on the beach either. Even just people I knew in North America seemed totally, blissfully, unaware of what was coming or what a pandemic would mean. I saw people –intelligent and well informed people- wondering what this would mean for science fiction conventions and spring training. What would the guidelines for the polyamorous be? Will this be over by summer? Isn’t thinking about closing this or that all a bit of an overreaction? That sort of thing. It just felt like they knew about it in the abstract but just really had no idea how much of life was now over.

I’ve never actually seen a chicken running around with its head cut off. But I imagine seeing one running around like that feels a bit the same. You’re already dead, chicken, lay down! I’ve also heard that after decapitation, the human head retains consciousness for thirty seconds. I now wonder if it also makes plans for next month. It would not surprise me.

I’m not trying to be judgmental here. I don’t have any judgements about the people who couldn’t quite process this before it happened. Just a couple months earlier, I was the same. So I’m sure not trying to say “THE FOOLS!” My goal, rather, is to point out the weird disconnect between what we had been going through over here between what was happening in North America. And why that day wasn’t really a bad one for me.

It ended a disconnect.

It felt almost like a reunion.

My feeling about it was pretty much FINALLY!

Not “finally they have the bug” because that ship had sailed. And certainly not “finally they’re lives are now fucked up too” because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. But just “finally, they’ve acknowledged the situation.” Finally, they might finally start to do something to fix it.

Of course, it didn’t exactly work out like that.

I expected a clusterfuck and a genocide and it sure looks like we got both. I wish I knew how to stop such things. I don’t. As far as I can figure it, people are far too concerned about distant and abstract power. They have too much imagination. They worry about a lot of shit that’s above their paygrade. They protest the president. They should protest their boss.

Like that fucking arm of power right in front of you? That little finger? Smash that.

I firmly believe that, in this life, people too often waste their time trying to extend their reach. If they were only more concerned with what was already directly in reach and focused their efforts on changing that shit, they could do much more, much faster, and much better.

There’s more risk in attacking the power right in front of you. It’s much scarier to confront your boss than it is to tweet at POTUS. There’s more consequences.

Does that explain the refusal to confront the power right above a person? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s cowardice. I don’t even think it’s a refusal. I think it’s more of a blind-spot. A type of ignorance. A lot of people just have a lot of it twisted. They just don’t know –right in their very blood and bones– that the power is with them. I can’t blame them. Not when almost every fucking thing in life, media, and our institutions is set up to occlude that power.

So they try to change things from the top down. They think the head is the most important thing and they aim at a head they can’t reach. So the problem must be the reach. They try to extend their reach. They think if they extend their reach, they can then reach the head and then they can change things. So they spend too much time trying to extend their reach and not enough time changing things. They ignore what is in front of them. But we already have enough reach. You’d be fucking amazed with what you can do with what’s right in front of you. If you just, simply, start to do it. Like, fuck’s sake — look how buff prisoners get! A cell can be a gym. As long as you use what’s in front of you even if it’s just your body weight. But if you keep spending your time sending membership applications to GOLD’s, well . . .

It’s just a confusion.

An understandable confusion but still a confusion.

To my mind, always go after the head you can already reach. That’s more than enough work and you actually stand a chance. Not a great one, but at least you stand some fucking chance. And, you do that right, you get more reach anyway so . . .

But, be that as it may, I think we can pretty much agree that this all could have gone a lot better. And although I understand that this may be a sad day for many, I don’t think there’s anything sad about opening your eyes. That’s all that happened a year ago. Eyes opened. The sadness is in the wasted months before and after this day. This was a day when something better seemed possible. And every day still has that possibility.

It was a disappointment, tho. No arguing that.

it’s fucked up

Depressing situation in the USA. I don’t just mean in general but with that whole one of the president’s top men being like ‘we’re not even going to try to control this pandemic.’ That attitude is not exactly news, of course. This gross indifference has been clear for some time.

Even before the pandemic. It’s not as if they ever gave a shit about anything else that kills people. About medical bills or pollution or housing or guns or anything really. Not like public health or safety was ever even remotely on their radar. Not when they can steal the pennies off a corpse’s eyes. The guy was just saying what everyone knows. They don’t give a fuck. They’ve made it clear.

Still, it’s just demoralizing.

The dumbest part of it is the part where they act like controlling this thing is MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Like, sure, it’s inconvenient and, yeah, it calls for a long overdue redistribution of wealth, but it’s not exactly impossible. I mean, just today:

And that gets frustrating. Because, I saw what East Asia did to buy The West time. Then I saw that time just squandered and The West turn around and blame East Asians. You hear some countries tell it and it’s like this relative success isn’t happening or it’s only happening because of some strange Confucian cultural magic that cannot possibly be replicated in The West. That’s such bullshit. A lot of South Korea’s disease control bureaucracy was based on the American CDC, for God’s sake. America has the knowledge. It could control this. It can be done. It’s not magic. It’s just fucking science.

And by science, I mean we have a good idea how this thing spreads. We know what needs to close and when it needs to close, and how it can reopen and all of that. Sure, there’s some variance and there will be some differences and some screw-ups but, in broad strokes, these are not mysteries. What the government needs to do to mitigate the economic fallout is not a mystery. It’s all a challenge. None of it is a mystery. There’s pamphlets and how-to guides.

In many cases, Americans wrote them!

The basic formula is still the same. Test, trace, and treat. Clear accurate communication. Shut what needs to be shut then open slow and safe and be ready to shut again. Make sure people can do the right thing and help them do it. Support each other. Act decent. Cushion the blow.

No one should go broke behind this virus. Not when some are making billions from it.

Just the government’s complete inability, its total unwillingness, to learn from anyone else or even their own nation’s experience is demoralizing. Because, like, a responsible public is one thing but the government and the bosses absolutely have to do their bit too – and a big part of the government’s part is making sure that businesses do their part.

You can’t just do fuck-all and let bosses run over everyone and then act like this is all on Bobby No-Mask. If your system has come to rely on 18 year olds, conspiracy theorists, and assorted delinquents acting heroically responsible, you’re kinda fucked. That won’t work. It just won’t.

I mean, Jesus Christ, ask anyone who has ever lived in a punk-house. Bobby No-Mask just isn’t going to up and do the dishes. I wish he would. We all wish we would. But he won’t.

That doesn’t mean the dishes don’t need doing. They need doing. They’re dishes.

And, at this point —at any point really— my hat goes off to anyone and everyone who is, without the support of their society, still doing anything they can. It does make a difference. That’s hard to see.

It shouldn’t be so hard.

I feel funny even mentioning this but, like, okay . . .

Got a friend from Toronto who is in Seoul. Serious family problem. Rough time. None of your business. Goes through the quarantine and is out now. Out and about taking pics and whathaveyou. You’d think a thing like that might make me irate or jealous or something. Like WHY IS HE OUT DOING THESE THINGS WHEN WE HAD TO STAY AT HOME and so on and so forth. To be honest, that’s about what I’d expect from me. I have a bit of a dim view on myself. Can be a bit of a petty bitch, you know? But I don’t feel like that at all. I feel the opposite. I’m so happy for him.

I know, right? I’m surprised too!

Like, seeing him snd his family out and about, able to wring whatever enjoyment they can out of this trip makes me feel good. It makes me proud that we were able to get to a spot where that can happen. I don’t give a fuck about whatever I had to give up to make that possible. That’s what we were giving it up for.

An early motto here and a great one, I think, was: I’m okay, you first. I’m okay. I can give up something so someone else who needs it more can have it. It’s fine.

More than feeling happy for him, I even want to thank him for going out. (Can’t think of a way to do that within acceptable bounds of weirdness but, uh, if he somehow happens to read this shit – Thanks!) Seeing his kids out makes so much of this feel worthwhile. It needs to feel worthwhile. And sometimes you need to see that it is worthwhile.

It just seems a tragedy that so many people will never get that feeling. That their leadership and society has put them in a spot where they’re all supposed to be angry and judgemental of each other all the time. Without the support of government that’s all you have left. Blame each other. Become cannibals. People in that spot don’t get to see the reward.

The reward isn’t just what you get to enjoy. The real reward is seeing someone else enjoying it. And you don’t get that feeling –I never would have gotten that feeling– without leadership doing their bit too. Without that, I probably would have given up.

Don’t give up.

Easy for me to say.

It’s just fucked tho. I feel like these criminals in leadership, this collection of grifters, fascists, and gormless incompetents, is stealing things people didn’t even know they could have. It’s fucked up.

That’s all. It’s not surprising. It’s fucked up is all. Really fucked up.

drown slower

This May piece from The Atlantic about American cultural and medical resistance to uncertainty and the importance of embracing it and, if not embracing it then simply dealing with it, in times like these rings pretty true.

Whether or not we have been infected with the virus, we’ve all been infected with the uncertainty it brings. The virus has forced the nation into what Keats called the great “Penetralium of mystery,” and it’s an uncomfortable and unsatisfying place to be. Granted, uncertainty is not where we want our scientists or our epidemiologists to dwell; we want them reaching after answers, pushing for vaccines. But the task at hand for those of us who are not scientists is to figure out how to remain patient enough in our uncertainty—until there is a treatment or a vaccine—that we can take care of one another and make wise choices as a society.

Though the piece was written in May, it may be of even more value now. If anything, the situation seems to have grown even more uncertain and we have now seen some of the consequences of this need for certainty. And, well, they haven’t been pretty.

From the beginning of this, I’ve had an almost allergic reaction to two ideas. And this reaction of mine has not always been pretty. It’s an overreaction, I suppose.

The first thing that sets me off is any mention of “returning to normal.” Someone, anyone, probably meaning nothing much by it, mentions “returning to normal” and I pretty much lose my damn mind. It’s not great.

And it’s not just because I’m physically nauseated by nostalgia and never liked Normal in the first place. Nor is it just because I think that desire to Return to Normal is incredibly misguided, deluded, and dangerous – a sort of root problem in how people are mismanaging this whole crisis and many other situations – an attitude that just leads to massive and avoidable problems. I mean, all that is part of it but it’s not just that. Be nice if it was just that.

I could probably keep my head a bit better than I sometimes do.

It’s more a gut level thing. Humpty Dumpty is an important part of my emotional constitution. My very bones know and accept that some shit, a lot of shit, is Humpty Dumpty. It’s fragile, it’s careless, and it breaks. It does not come back. It’s awful. It is what it is. And when that happens, there’s a lot better uses for all the king’s horses and all the king’s men than engaging on some ridiculous project to repair a shattered past. Why bother? So that The Egg can repeat his error?

Not everyone has this understanding or this feeling. Probably, not everyone even should. But the gulf between those who do and those who don’t is a wide one. Sometimes it feels like it can only be bridged by shouting. But it can’t. Not really.

The other thing that can set me off is this craving for certainty.

People demand cures, timelines, clear answers. This one simple trick and that incoming miracle.

I too like clear answers but sometimes, a lot of times, that answer is no, maybe, or I don’t know – nobody knows. And these are answers one needs to get used to hearing. A lot is not knowing.

A life spent in retail spaces has ill-prepared much of the public for this. One of my old bosses, The Chairman, once remarked how odd it was that customers would ask a question then get upset if the answer was “no.” “Surely,” he said, “if you ask a yes or no question, then ‘no’ is on the table.”

But in a public taught through dogma and daily practice that “the customer is always right” the mere existence of a demand is supposed to be enough to create a “yes.” “No” is an insult, “maybe” a dissatisfaction, and “I don’t know” an unthinkable. All are indications of total incompetence.

This is just not that world. A pandemic is just not that sort of situation. Not at all. Here, no, maybe, and I don’t know are exactly the clear and honest answers we often need.

It’s a hard adjustment for many to make – particularly Americans who are, well, frankly, Americans are a little spoiled by their interactions with a terrorized underclass of sevice workers or, as members of that class, absolutely inundated with disempowering pro-customer and pro-management propaganda – and often are a sort of combination of the two states. Don’t get the answer you like? Time to call a manager.

Pulling people out of that retail environment and putting them into this one is difficult. It’s a bit like throwing a fish onto land and shouting “EVOLVE OR DIE.” I suspect a lot of people feel like one of those polar bears whose ice has melted. A bit at sea. Needing some solid ground.

But, right now, there’s only staying afloat. Swimming hard at every mirage just makes you drown faster. For me, I can be content with drowning slower.

Maybe it’s because I’m a baseball fan. Then again, maybe that’s why I’m a baseball fan. God knows, I never understood those people who have a sense of the game rooted in triumph or even winning. Winning is weird. Unnatural. To be enjoyed but never expected. If you’re going to like baseball, you have to find something to like about losing. Most teams lose most of the time. It’s a long fucking season. Life is the same. Fail slower. That’s fine.

Or you can just root for The Yankees, in which case, fuck you. 😜

But we are almost a full year into this thing and I hope that, by now, some attitudes have or are finally ready to shift. I hope that some have given up on Normal coming back, that others have learned to deal with uncertainty, and that we’ve all stopped hearing no, maybe, and I don’t know as weakness, and that leaders have stopped believing that these are wrong answers. Often, they’re the only true ones. Uncertainty is certain.

Aside from that, the only certain things are the same as they always were. We owe each other and are owed a good and honest effort to learn and to do better. We need some fucking compassion and kindness. We need to do what we can to help each other. The only way out is through and the only way through is together. None of that is going to change. So we might as well get used to it.

I don’t like it either.

log: winter came early

wormdate: 1 – 246 – 15,761 – 306

With our fifth day in triple digits, it seems that 대한민극 has entered the second wave.

This outbreak is shaping up to be worse than 대구. A big problem is that the church playing a big role in this outbreak differs in one important respect from the church behind the 대구outbreak. The age of its members.

The church involved in the 대구 outbreak was made largely of young women, which reduced fatalities and pressure on the medical system. This one is largely made of elders. That might reduce the spread a little but it’s really going to increase the hospitalizations. And that, of course, means more strain on the medical system and, likely, more death.

The pastor of this church is a hateful pro-American religious zealot and anti-communist grifter. He’s one of the many monstrous products that American Christian missionary work leaves scattered throughout the developing world. A sort of abandoned toxic waste dump of far-right American ideology. At least, one hopes its abandoned.

His church reminds me of one of those old-fashioned, myopic, anti-communist CIA projects that quickly get out of hand. These days, it’s so hard to what’s what. 요즘, three amateurs with laptops and an internet connection can pretty easily create and finance the sort of fuck-up it used to take whole teams of trained intelligence professionals, bunker-chained telepaths, and the moaning eggs of a deranged salamander to produce. Throw in a moneyed backer and you’re pretty much good to go. You too can play Dr. Frankenstein.

Meet Hazmat Lookbook 2020! Our new ice-cream fetching unit. Heat wave resistant and second wave capable. Always friendly! Homicide disabled! Ready for pre-order and pick-up!

He just tested positive. In spite of this, he is actively interfering with attempts to trace and contain the outbreak. Faced with the public backlash and penalties, the 대구 pastor, being a more run of the mill, self-interested sort of Christian conman, kind of quickly turned his attitude around — begging for forgiveness on the TV and whatnot. But this guy? Slightly more skilled and much more ambitious strain of demagogue. Understands the political value of martyrdom. Seems intent on using it. The sort of person who makes me nervous.

He actually seems to be trying to spread the virus, using his followers as a sort of biological weapon to raise his profile, claim that he’s being persecuted, and to cause a conflict with the government while discrediting its response, seemingly hoping that people will blame the government rather than him. It’s some craven Republican party level bullshit.

He’s fresh out of jail and it looks like he’s about to head right back in. This nonsense is a violation of his parole. Jail is a pretty good place for him. And if the experience of the last century has any lessons about how to deal with these sorts of people, it might be a good idea to just keep him in there this time. (And don’t let him publish a book!) It might even be the safest place for him. The public is furious.

This anger is understandable. I’m pretty pissed off myself. Stray bozos compelled by hedonism, selfishness, or plain dumbshit ignorance are one thing. Frustrating, to be sure. But one hopes that the fortunes of any society or group doesn’t completely rest on its most delinquent members. You can make a certain allowance for that sort of shit. You have to. Shit happens. I’m not going to waste breath screaming at people on street corners. But this sort of mercenary political assault by someone seeking power or profit? That’s another thing altogether. And this already wealthy clown has his hand in my pocket! But even this anger can be dangerous. Rage creates stigma. That makes people hide. It’s a bad situation.

As for us, it’s a wait and see sort of thing. Right now, the outbreak in mainly in the Greater Capital Region but if there’s not a quick turnaround, we’re probably looking at a nationwide return to square one. So it goes.

Winter came early.

level two

Seoul has been raised to Level Two. It hasn’t yet hit the metrics that would cause that change of levels but the KCDC is showing some flexibility and foresight, which is good. The surge is large and concerning enough. There’s no sense waiting for the two week average to trigger this move. Level Two it is. Better off doing it sooner rather than later. If we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned that much. The fastest and safest route is to just get started.

A lot of the current spread seems to be through churches and small gatherings. Groups of friends and families meeting, that sort of thing. This kind of shows what a bastard this disease is. It’s easier to keep your guard up around strangers. It’s much harder to get it into your head and keep it in your head that it’s the people you know and like that might carry it.

The gathering of strangers feels dangerous. The little meeting with people you know and like? Not so much. It’s much harder to associate danger with the very people who you associate with safety. Over the long term, this doesn’t get easier. The longer you go without getting sick from these people, the more your brain wants to tell you that there’s no threat there. Those people, your friends and family, might feel safe and comfortable to be around. That’s how they’re supposed to feel and that’s how you’re supposed to feel around them. But a virus just doesn’t care about that. The shit is ruthless. It preys on intimacy.

And that creates a bit of a catch 22. Intimacy is one of the best tools we have against the virus. You have to get physically distant but emotionally close. Strange and difficult trick. All of society is in some sort of long distance relationship.

It’s one of the reasons why I keep trying to emphasize trust instead of anger. We have to view the basic measures as just caring about each other. That way we can tie these measures to our interactions with the people we care about and those people we feel most comfortable with. The option is being on guard forever. That external threat thinking is exhausting in a situation where exhaustion is an enemy. It’s also ineffective.

Being angry with non-compliant strangers only undercuts that important feeling of care. Such anger puts the disease in someone else, which makes you feel even safer around those you care about, and just creates in-group out-group paranoia, which does a lot more harm than good. You have to view yourself as a carrier. (Within reason, of course.) And what you do about that situation is an act of love, shared vulnerability, and basic giving a shitness.

And, like, fucking hell, I know anger is satisfying and I’m sure not above it. (Some of these bozos, so help me Satan . . .) We’re all going to swing at pitches and miss. That shit happens. But when we do that, we just got to get back in the box and try to get our approach right. The thing doesn’t stop. We need trust. We need care.

not really into this whole mask rage thing

Bumped into this piece about Mask Rage from The Guardian that says:

With face coverings compulsory in many settings, people unable to comply for health reasons are being challenged and abused

There are people who can’t wear a mask and they’re being shouted at and they’re being abused. The whole stupid thing is getting uglier than it needs to be. Wear your mask and wash your hands and all that. But this sort of shit? Shouting at people in the street? It’s pretty over the top too.

Like, on 토요일, I was out at 좌동 시장, a partially enclosed but basically open air fish-market, to buy some 오징아. While there, I grabbed a plate of 떡볶이. Good booth, nice lady, and I sat on a upturned bucket and ate in. (Also, strange thing — she gave me a little paper cup that I thought was cold barley tea and it tasted like hot fish, and I was like — the fuck? So I waited for my moment and politely asked her what it was. It was soup. Weird how much better it tasted when I knew it was soup than when I thought it was 차. The mind is a funny fucking thing. It was decent soup. It would have been awful tea. And what’s the difference between the two anyway? Like, if you think about it . . .)

Anyway, not proud or anything, but, after my meal, I forgot to put my mask back on. First slip-up since January. No one shouted at me, made a big deal, or did anything different. The ladies asked after my wife, taught me some new words, and we complained a little about prices, which is a thing we like to do. Only after leaving the 시장 did I realize – I’d had a naked face!

A naked red face! Gawd, embarrassing.

I don’t think being shouted at would have helped.

This is, in most places and at most times, more of a zipper-down situation than a YOU ARE KILLING US ALL situation. At least, it should be. The problem is, we have a lot of flashers outside schoolyards, falsely claiming their zippers are broken, while they swing their junk around, spraying all sorts of things on the swing-sets and teeter-totters. That sort of behavior is bound to generate problems for everyone. Like, issues emerge, you know?

All I’m trying to say is being kind, and trusting people with their own faces (and zippers) is important. But trust is earned too. Trust is more an environment than an action. Not only do you have to kind of mind your own business, a lot of motherfuckers have got to stop faking disability with those phony little cards to shirk their duties, and they have to stop putting other people at risk. That sort of shit helps the virus spread but, maybe even worse, it destroys the honest dealing that trust depends on.

And we all depend on trust to fight this thing. Faking and bullshit sets fire to the social dynamic we need to fight this together. It leads to anger, tantrums, wild claims and bizarre accusations. Soup should be soup, tea should be tea, and we should be able to tell the difference, and, if so for some reason we can’t tell the difference, we need to find some fucking way to navigate that situation and just politely get along. Fall back on manners, when and if you can. That’s what manners are there there for. (That and making people feel shame.) A great first rule of manners? Never point out someone else’s bad manners.

I mainly blame the shirkers for this shit but, whoever is to blame, this shit is still shit.

At the end of the day, faking really hurts the people who can’t wear a mask. And I have no real idea how you can rebuild trust once it’s broken but I suspect it’s hard and takes a lot of time. No one has the time or energy for that right now. So don’t do that fake card shit. And try not to shout at people. (You’re also not supposed to shout!) It’s just all fucked up. All fucked up. So totally fucking fucked up. Like, it’s fucked. Just fucked.

And, yeah, wear your mask. Do all the things. But everyone, there are better targets for your rage and, please, try to be kind. Try. Because kindness is the best and only vaccine we have right now. As they say here – people are our vaccine. Take that to heart. Try to, at least.

And that goes triple for the shirkers. I mean, give a shit about someone else for once in your lives. It’s not hard.

Surveilal Stresses and Scapegoats

The Itaewon cluster infection continues to grow — it’s now sitting at 94 cases. It might be better to say that the cluster of infections continues to be detected. Because this was always the thing about testing, it does raise your case numbers. But early detection combined with treatment reduces the death count while tracing these cases allows for targeted closures and self-quarantines that reduce the spread and also saves lives.

I’ve said it before — not testing doesn’t mean you have fewer cases, it means you have a lot more cases than you think. It also means you can only assume the worst, which is a bad position to be in. Aside from resulting in heavy-handed lock-downs, which work to a degree but are not a permanent solution and need to be combined with building these other measures and healthcare capacity– this whole state of not-knowing, especially when combined with a lock-down, can pretty clearly generate anxiety, paranoia, and a whole host of other problems that are likely to manifest in some pretty ugly ways.

Knowing is better.

But knowing has its own costs.

Itaewon is Seoul’s multicultural district. That term puts a bit of gloss on it. Gives it an aspect of the museum or a zoo. It’s not that. Itaewon reminds me much more of a Chinatown if you were were to replace the idea of “Chinese” with that of “foreigner.” (Indeed, sights like “Foreign Restaurant” makes one wonder how many various identities and ethnicities we in the Anglosphere reduce to “Chinese” or even if, really, there is such a thing as “Chinese” as popularly understood.) The district is electric. Full of people from all over the world, civilians, soldiers, and it has places like “Hooker Hill” and “Homo Hill.” There’s also a lot of tailors. I’ve had suits made there. And that combination of transculturalism, vice, and tailoring makes it one of my favorite places. Chinatown is usually my home-turf in any city.

Like any Chinatown, there’s a bit of an aspect of what happens in Itaewon stays in Itaewon. It’s a little bit outside the norms and rules. There’s limits, of course, but, on the whole, most Koreans don’t expect foreigners to act just like Koreans. There’s often a sort of concept of ‘outside the norms’ that gets applied, rather than one of ‘breaking the rules.’ This is, of course, a broad generalization, and like just about anything, this also has a darker aspect. Being outside the rules can also mean being outside of society. And, as anyone who has ever been outside can tell you, that position usually means you’re more outside of society’s protections than its enforcements. It means exposure and the fear of exposure. Less might be expected but less is given. I pay taxes, sure, but I’ve never been drafted. I could live the rest of my life here and I would never be a Korean, nor ever really expected to be one. It’s a bit of a complex web of obligations. That’s just how it works.

Many people, who come from countries where citizenship is ostensibly more a matter of choice (or, at least, where that’s the national lie and/or aspiration) view the Korean concept of citizenship through a lens that immediately equates it with the racist ethno-nationalism of their homelands. And, to be sure, there is some of that. There’s always some of that. *long sigh.* Why is there always some of that? But it’s also not quite that. There exists a sort of distortion between different understandings of citizenship. This distortion, combined with what might be a white man’s first ever experience of some mild discrimination, often produces a heavily exaggerated and inaccurate view of Korean xenophobia. I mean, you should hear some of these white people scream. Someone expects some basic decency, like wearing a facemask, and you would think they were migrant workers in Donald Trump’s America. It’s really something watching white people confuse expectation with persecution.

But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems nor does it mean that there aren’t inequalities. (Just that white people are, as usual, not the targets, whatever they might say.) This Itaewon outbreak is exposing some of these societal stress points.

The big one is homophobia. This clubber was, allegedly (a term I use not because I think there’s any guilt involved but only because fucked if I know where he was) was allegedly at a gay bar in Itaewon. Homosexuality is socially stigmatized in South Korea. It’s not –to my understanding at least, illegal. (I think it’s illegal if you’re in the army and there is a draft so I’m not sure where that leaves everyone.) There is a de facto illegality to it. Being outted can, and probably will, mean that you endure a public humiliation and lose your job, family, all sorts of things. It’s pretty fucked up, to be honest.

Like, I don’t want to come around like some big swinging dick telling people how to do things or whatever, especially when the record of my home countries leave so very much to be desired, and the situation is kind of different here in some ways, but still, it’s pretty fucked up. Live and let live, I say. Let people love who they love and fuck who they can. No skin off my ass. Never understood why I’m supposed to care about what gets other consenting adults off, let alone get angry about it. That’s their problem. I’m not nosey.

But you can see why oppressed people don’t want to be traced.

This homophobia has meant that fewer people than otherwise would have come forward in connection to this outbreak. It also means a lot of fake names on the club’s entry logs. People are having to weigh whether they would rather chance a test or ostracism.

We’re seeing a round of homophobic scapegoating. This is largely coming from the Protestant Christian community, who are likely looking to take the blame off themselves for the Daegu outbreak by pointing a finger at someone else. This basically how scapegoating works. Scapegoating creates a circular firing squad that eventually settles on the most powerless people in the bunch. It does disproportionate damage to these people.

I believe in accountability but I really fucking detest scapegoating. This disease can happen to anyone. There’s no justice in a virus. Just replication. Even with the Daegu outbreak, the scapegoating of Christians in general, and even that weird cult in particular, was unfair. That outbreak also exposed some fault lines. Korea, for example, experienced a higher rate of female infection and fatality because this Christian group targeted young women, who were often drawn to it out of the desperation and loneliness generated by patriarchy.

And all the scapegoating ever accomplished, far as I can see, is create an unwillingness to come forward, which makes the whole thing harder to manage that it might otherwise be.

When something like contact tracing meets a situation like homophobia, the ideas around surveillance have to be examined. While I don’t want to get too deep into this subject, my feeling is that the interest in surveillance is an intellectual fad. It is an important subject and, yes, surveillance can be oppressive and it is often intrinsically oppressive. (Like, I worked at and helped organize at a fucking Ralphs, where every movement is measured, ranked, and marked by computers in a panoptic system of cameras, surveys, and mystery shoppers aka professional snitches, that even Fred Taylor would have found to be a bit much, so I don’t really need Foucault or surveillance capitalism explained to me.) But the current intellectual obsession with this not-so-new but very sexy topic, in some ways resembles scapegoating.

The concern with surveillance is usually pretty damn shallow. The fixation upon it often occludes much more basic problems. The problem in this situation isn’t really the tracing, it’s the homophobia. Can tracing be a part of that problem? Fuck yes. But it is not the problem. The homophobia is the problem. That’s what needs to be fixed. If you can’t trust a government with a camera, you can’t trust them with a government. And a government you can’t even trust with a camera? Nightmare. Camera might be the least of your worries.

A situation like COVID-19 both simplifies and complicates. It makes the costs of homophobia starkly obvious but it also makes the conversation around these problems more difficult to have. You cannot, for example, have these conversations about the cost of homophobia without conceding the gay community, like everyone else, can spread this disease. Even well-intentioned people will often stop their thinking right there. People often stop thinking at the exact point they find someone to blame. You cannot talk about secrecy without giving some hint of dereliction of duty. People with bad intentions will latch right onto these things, act like this is the only community at risk or that they create a special risk, and they will hammer and hammer and hammer that bullshit using their old bag of stereotypes, cliches, and assorted fuckery. The conversation is hard. It’s both simple and complicated.

That any of this conversation, let alone most of it, is going to held over SNS, a format not exactly known for its nuance, is also a concern. It’s not the problem but it is a problem.

The situation shows some of the dangers of surveillance. These dangers can disguise the actual and underlying problems that surveillance largely magnifies. And, in this situation, a lack of surveillance, a lack of tracing and testing is also a serious goddamn tool of murderous oppression. Like, my old co-workers, now “essential”, can’t get tests but the president gets one a day? You think they aren’t tracing The White House outbreak better than they are the Hollywood Ralphs outbreak? Like Ralphs can pay people to snitch on its workers, look at scan per minute in real-time while a blinking red light says ‘faster, faster, go faster’, they can afford locks on every door and lock up the necessary items stationed near the high-mark-up items, affording the time it takes to open those cases, but they can’t pay for a test, track an epidemic, give sick-time, or pay its workers? Surveil or not, the whole fucking thing is fraught. And, for my money, the problem usually isn’t surveillance itself but who is being surveiled and why — and the question is what can be done about that.

But I do have some wild hope here.

And I hope my hope is not naive.

I understand that none of us and none of this is where we’d hoped to be by Mid-May. At this point, the Anglosphere should have had its shit together. We should be looking at incredible acts of international co-operation that would make us all proud to be human. It would still be a hard and uncertain situation but we could at least say that we’re handling it the best way we know how and trying our level best.

Instead we’re seeing acts of mass human sacrifice to make the stock-market rise again. There’s also a rise in bellicose nationalism of nuclear powers beyond already unacceptable levels. There’s the balkanization and collapse of the US, which will have to followed by its isolation on the world stage and its inevitably violent backlash to that. There’s the general disruption to the economy. Instead of a vision of the future we can build, too many are engaged in the fundamentally fascist enterprise of radicalized nostalgia –trying to violently return to some bullshit normal of yesterday’s perceived greatness. It’s looking increasingly unlikely that we’re going to get through this thing without some sort of war.

So that’s where I am realistically.

But I still have hope.

My hope is basically this: There is no way through this without adapting. There’s no choice. Homophobia and attitudes like it are just untenable. They can’t hold. You can either manage this disease or you can have that stupid bullshit. If your economy and society collapses, you think your hate will keep you warm? It won’t. Hate freezes a person. Hate starves. Every single society on this planet is going to come face to face with this sort of thing. The stresses within a society are more stressed than ever. Every single society is going to see this same thing and be challenged by it. Every single society is going to discover the same thing again and again, and they will keep discovering it until they fucking learn it. Inequality is a perverse luxury. Intolerance is decadence. Accountability is important. We move at the speed of the slowest and no one can be left behind. How a society chooses to deal with that information will be what determines its success going forward. Deal with it badly? Refuse to adapt? You are going to collapse. And it might be too late to stop this collapse once you start it.

Adapting won’t be easy and it won’t be perfect. Even the best case scenario will still a bit of a total mess. But adapting is the only way forward. We’re all going to have to be a lot more egalitarian — all of us, all of the time. As the man says, “love is the only engine of survival.”

And I do want to give the Korean government some credit on this issue. They are being very clear that this disease can happen to anyone, and that no one should be talking any shit or using ‘bitter and hateful words’ about anyone who catches it. They’re emphasizing that message hard right now. It also seems that they’re taking special care to protect confidentiality with this batch of Itaewon information. It’s not a perfect response and we’ll have to see if it’s even adequate but this is still a lot better than what we’re seeing in some places. (You know who you are.) Acceptance and legal protection against stigmatization and discrimination also have to exist and, when they don’t exist, they need to be built.

No one can afford intolerance. Never could. We especially can’t afford the empty comfort of scapegoats right now, when the temptation to create them is the greatest. This government’s policies to date, particularly that of allowing undocumented people to have tests and treatment without report to immigration, gives me some hope that this government, at least, understands the principle. It shows that they can apply it — even if only temporarily. Everyone needs protection if anyone is going to be protected. This protection has to be tailored to different needs. This shit really is everyone or no one. There is no choice.

“We’re all in this together” isn’t just some empty slogan. It’s the terrible fact of the matter.

And we have to adapt to it.