Discover more from Covid Underground
On the Diversity of Caution
And why we need it for a long-term vision
From space, the earth is so stunningly fragile that actors and astronauts alike are transformed by the sight of it. They return with a profound sense of our human-ecological interdependence—and a deep distaste for war.
I often wish that activists and everyday humans could experience this “Overview Effect.” Because up close, we’re primed to fight tooth and nail over threadlike differences. Examples from the Still-Coviding Life:
Recently, a friend’s efforts to organize a Covid-safe meetup blew up when one potential member discovered the others were a bit less cautious, even though the others were willing to accommodate her.
Another conscientious friend bristled at how I described my Covid-zero lifestyle, complaining that I act like I have a monopoly on Covid-caution.
A third cautious acquaintance had a bitter argument over precautions for a visit with a sibling who thinks they are already being careful enough.
Have you noticed the same pattern? The most acrimonious fights often seem to happen not between folks who are the most polarized, but between people whose values are actually, in the big picture, pretty closely aligned.
Covid Underground is a reader-supported publication.
Among still-Coviding groups, arguments over mitigation protocols are the new version of leftist infighting.
In the classic cartoon version, the leftists assemble in a circular firing squad, picking off their allies one by one for failing to adequately live up to their ideals, what Lenin called infantile leftism. Whether it’s a specifically leftist thing or a human-nature thing or some other thing isn’t super important.
What’s important is: how do we overcome group in-fighting?
When I came of political age in the early 2000s, the approach and the buzzword was “diversity of tactics.”
That’s the idea that allowed puppeteers to work alongside the Block Bloc in the 1999 Battle of Seattle. The term took on a distinct flavor during Occupy Wall Street and is still used today by movements like Extinction Rebellion. The history of the idea goes even further back. In a speech calling for civil rights leaders to think on a global scale, Malcolm X famously said:
Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods or tactics or strategy to reach a common goal.
This is the key: we still-Coviding folk have a common goal.
We may not be astronauts gazing down at the planet from unearthly heights, but we have the experience— sometimes painful, sometimes transcendent— of doing all we can for a common cause.
We are not just asking for clean air, for better vaccines and treatments, for basic decency.
We are demanding that health — the foundation of the pursuit of happiness— be the political priority.
We are demanding equality: that public spaces are accessible to all.
We are demanding freedom: our human right to live free from Covid.
To win these demands, we need to be prepared with a long-term vision. To win these demands, we need diversity of caution within the movement.
Diversity of caution sounds like a description or a condition. It’s probably more like an attitude, a practice, a set of tools. It’s the “soft skill” ability to regulate yourself during difficult conversations. It’s the “hard skill” ability to gather data on group needs to make fair decisions. It’s the understanding that among a group of people who have rejected the Establishment, no one’s likely to embrace a new authority.
Cultivating diversity of caution involves a bunch of other things, too, that we’re figuring out as we go.
Diversity of caution isn’t a given, nor an end in itself. But it’s a toolset we can learn — and a relational attitude that comes with unlearning traditional social and political roles.
To riff on Malcolm: as long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we take different precautions to reach our common goal.
Movement Resources & Updates
Went on a Mid-journey binge this week and made and found a bunch of beautiful artwork of masked people. One is featured in our new co-op postcard above. Free to use!
“It’s not too late.” Check out this Death Panel podcast (transcript) about Covid organizing & get inspired! Favorite quote: “You can hold optimism and pessimism at the same time.”
Finally: Do Nothing Earth Day
Today is Earth Day! Instead of doing something — DON’T do something. That is, don’t weed those dandelions in your yard. They’re great food for pollinators at a time when not much is blooming. And for you, it’s time and energy saved… perhaps for more earth-saving. :)
Covid Underground is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.