A target for our feelings

A Chinese man apologised for The Virus. Case closed? Unfortunately not.

He appeared sincere, and unleashed a wave of sympathy. No! Don’t apologise, people said, it isn’t your fault. You are not to blame. Do not feel bad. I can’t see how it would be his fault, unless he took the particular pangolin to the Wuhan wet-market. He is just Chinese, as if all Chinese people are responsible for the “China virus”. I hope not, because if so I am responsible for the British Empire.

He seemed sincere, though he could just be zoom-bombing, to find out how people would react. I had not seen him there before.

If he was sincere- it is possible-

we have all- seven billion of us, perhaps, or a good proportion of that- lost a huge amount this year. We have lost human contact, jobs, family, our understanding of the world and our place in it. Imagine, the whole world in mourning. Imagine waves of grief of people who have lost a colleague and suddenly their job is dangerous in a way it had never been before, or people who bought a house then lost their job, or people who have lost a child, or have brain-fog from long covid. Their pain is explicable. Now imagine people who are a little less secure than they were, who are not good with change, who don’t like the feel of masks on their face. They are mourning too, waves of grief, and their feeling is less explicable.

Feelings are best responding to the moment. You see them in animals. A dog gets angry, fearful or amorous and it deals with the problem immediately. The whole body responds. Two hundred million years of mammal responses, those etched-in brain pathways, and a few thousand years of civilisation do not equip us for emotional stimuli without a clear, immediate response. Angry- do a dominance display- other backs down- sorted. Sad- stop, rest, accept, move on. Now, instead, we get stressed.

Bad things have happened this year, and everyone is affected. Loss we cannot regain. Fear of loss we cannot certainly avoid, or not by some instant act like a mouse fleeing a predator. So we attach it to something. Anti-maskers attach it to Bad Law: there is a conspiracy to take our freedoms away, the virus is either a hoax or wildly exaggerated. I know one. Suddenly all that feeling sloshing about inside is explicable, and has a righteous outlet- shouting in Trafalgar square once a week, for the moment, it must be liberating.

We all know this. In other circs it’s called “kicking the cat”. A lot of HoBiT rage is misplaced emotion. You can’t shout at your boss so you shout at some harmless queer. And there is so much now. We have a pandemic to rage at, and lots of rules to say that feelings should be suppressed.

The people who told him not to apologise did not help. If he finds expressing guilt to Americans makes him feel better, why should he not? It could be catharsis, and attempts to manage it- “No, don’t feel bad”- might prevent that. He could be trolling for reactions, though.

Passion can be well directed. Someone might start a campaign. Anger can be fuel. Anger which cannot be used as fuel can be felt and acknowledged.

That we are all in mourning could bring us together or drive us apart. I want that Chinese man to be comforted, but want to hold myself aloof from the feelings he stirs up.

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