March 13, 2020

Dear Drama Observers,

COVID-19 is somewhat like a Drama Person, I suppose. It’s unpredictable, people try to keep their distance from it, everybody’s talking about it, nobody quite knows how to deal with it, people will cancel gatherings to keep it from showing up, everyone longs for it to leave, and it drives people crazy and makes them sick. And despite its obvious danger, some people foolishly turn a blind eye to it, acting like it’s no big deal.

And its comparisons to Drama People will likely endure for a very long time. I can just hear it now: “I dread going to that party because Joe will be there and, as we all know, Joe is the Coronavirus of any gathering.”

Speaking of turning a blind eye to dangers, I’m involved in another writing project where I address the human tendency to look away from uncomfortable or inconvenient realities. Here’s a brief excerpt:

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I began with a fictional tale about Nazis, so it’s fitting that I should close with a real one. As a student in Germany during the 1920’s and a member of the German Reichstag in early 1930’s, Werner Pusch had followed with interest the rise of Adolf Hitler and his ascension to the Chancellorship in 1933. Pusch was deeply troubled by what he saw happening in Germany and was simply unable and unwilling sell his soul to Hitler and the Nazi cause. But no one dared to voice such opposition in Nazi Germany, so he decided to do whatever he could to resist from within. In the 1973 documentary series, World at War, Pusch recounted his experience of hearing Hitler speak at an early Nazi rally:

For the first few minutes, he wasn’t a good speaker; he was just warming up and finding the words. But then, he turned out to be a terribly good speaker. And the whole atmosphere grew more and more hysterical. He was interrupted after nearly every phrase by big applause and women began screaming. It was like a mass religious ceremony. And I listened to his speech and I feel the more and more excited atmosphere in the hall. For some seconds, again and again, I had a feeling of what a pity I can’t share that belief of all those thousands of people—that I am alone and contrary to all that. It was funny, I felt that he was talking all the nonsense that I know, the nonsense he always talked. But still, I feel that it must be wonderful to just jump into that bubbling pot and be a member of all those who are believers. 

En masse, otherwise normal German citizens were duped into participating in a tragic national drama. They overlooked what they saw in lieu of what they wanted to see. Individual critical evaluation had been replaced by a malignant groupthink. They disabled their observing egos and blindly followed a man who was leading them down a path of unimaginable death and destruction. Werner Pusch, who acknowledged the enticement of denied reality, was alone with his 20-20 vision in a bubbling pot of thousands who had turned a blind eye.

***

In the example cited above, people weren’t infected with a physical virus but with one of the mind. COVID-19 will run its course and its dangers will cease. But there will always be manipulators and those who blindly fall prey to their manipulation.

And those dangers will continue.

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