One of the ways a distant king garners direct power over his distant subjects is by offering and providing them protection and relief from their more immediately located feudal rulers and their policies. This “offering protection” doesn’t have to mean much more than “hearing constant petitions and seizing convenient opportunities to increase his power.” In other words, the low-level ruler, whether exercising legitimate or illegitimate power, does it poorly and so creates a need for relief in his subject. The subject petitions the far away king and the rest falls into place. The king gains loyal subjects until he has enough to clearly have real power, while, at most, the low-level ruler continues to rule in name only. (And at worst, war precedes lasting peace.)
Hold that thought for a second and follow me from kings to doctors.
Who among us hasn’t been fed the idea that going to the doctor is a good thing for our entire lives? We may not have wanted to go sometimes, but that wasn’t because we didn’t believe in the doctors ability, it was because being ill clouds judgement.
From the earliest times, our parents may have helped us through minor illness or trauma, like a fever or a scraped knee. But there was always a possibility that we would need to go to see the doctor. Hear me carefully here: once we hit a certain circumstantial threshold, the doctor was the only solution. So if one doctor couldn’t help, there was no other solution, just a more specialized doctor. It wasn’t ever, “I can’t help ya, let’s get you to a lawyer (or a plumber, or a pilot).”
From another angle, if you have ever needed legal help, you were advised by all to see a lawyer and eventually went to a lawyer. And if the first lawyer proved incompetent, then you went to a better lawyer etc.
But when you’re with the best lawyer and about to win whatever the dispute is, if in that moment you get sick enough, then you enter the doctor realm and remain there. A failed doctor visit only leads to a different doctor, not a visit to a different profession. Again, once certain situations unfold, you never leave the doctor realm.
And another angle: if you need to travel, you call up a pilot, or some specialist delegated by the pilot, to book a flight. But while on that flight, if you get sick, you are diverted to the doctor—and at no point will you, in the process of solving the sickness problem, be diverted to anything other than doctors.
Put plainly, we all have been living, pre-pandemic and now, under the belief that doctors-as-problem-solvers were meaningfully all-powerful.
And the trouble with this can be made clear with the analogy to kings gaining power. Serfs and others needed protection or relief in a way that they couldn’t achieve from their direct rulers, so they went to the next level up. They eventually went to what had to appear like an almost mythical character called a “king”. They brought, more than anything, hope to the king, hope that no matter how inept or unqualified he had proved to be thus far, that he would be able to help me now. The position itself, rather than the individual holding it, turned out to be the thing that mattered in many cases.
Fast forward to 2022 and even the “king” (POTUS) defers to the doctor when faced with a challenge.
The President defers to the doctor.
And that’s what makes the pandemic the most compelling conversation topic. The king didn’t provide relief. The pandemic is not over.
We serfs still have pressing problems.
Putting this all together, then, the definitive reason why the pandemic is the most compelling topic of conversation is we have no one, literally we don’t even have a position or concept of a position, to help us. In the analogy I’ve used, we are the serfs being harassed by the Lords. Who is our equivalent, distant king? Who can we write to? Who can we appeal to?
The definitive reason we can’t stop talking to each other about the pandemic is because it has made evident the lack of a relief valve/person/position.
We want relief. We know that. But to whom do we address the letter?
(For my Christian readers, surely Jesus is our deliverer. But He was still on the throne when the serfs petitioned the earthly kings of old, too. So I’m suggesting that even if all prayer was directed to Jesus, we still are not set up for earthly relief. Remember that even the Israelites appealed to their neighbors’ having kings when they asked for a king. It wasn’t like Yahweh is in the business if inventing political systems.)
And, for better or worse, this seems worth discussing.