My wife and I had a pleasant, albeit low-key, Thanksgiving.
Laurel's apple pie tasted great. The Trader Joe's meatless roast turned out fine once I realized that because I forgot to put the frozen roast in the refrigerator a full 24 hours before it went into the oven, that's why it was mushy. After another 15 minutes of cooking, the roast was perfect.
Not so perfect was the news I woke up to on Friday. A new Covid variant was freaking out the world, including me.
The world reacted with alarm on Friday to the highly mutated new coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa, as the United States, the European Union and nations across the globe imposed new travel restrictions, financial markets swooned and visions of finally emerging from the pandemic started to dim.
Just two days after the world learned of the variant, the World Health Organization officially labeled it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category — the first since the Delta variant, which emerged a year ago. The designation means that the variant has mutations that might make it more contagious or more virulent, or make vaccines and other preventive measures less effective — though none of those effects has yet been established.
Yeah, the financial markets sure did swoon. Actually, plummet is a better word to describe the carnage. The Dow dropped 2.5%, 905 points. The NASDQ and S&P 500 declined 2.2% and 2.3%. Investors were spooked by the prospect of renewed Covid-caused economic disruption.
It'll take a few days before scientists can figure out whether the new variant, Omicron (15th letter of the Greek alphabet, though it sounds like a supervillain), is more dangerous than the Delta variant we've been dealing with.
Hopefully it isn't. Or at least not much more so, due either to increased transmissibility and/or greater virulence.
Regardless, what worries me the most isn't that scientists and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna won't be able to come up with sound advice to deal with Omicron, along with updated vaccines to combat its spread, but that the United States is too politically fractured to handle another Covid wave.
We're the only advanced country where public health measures like wearing a mask and getting vaccinated have been politicized.
Because of the inexcusable malevolence of Trump, Fox News, and Republican leaders, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died unnecessarily as a result. We've known what needed to be done to combat the pandemic. Once vaccines were developed, we've had the tools to prevent Covid.
But what we've lacked is the social capital needed to transform what could be into a vibrant what is reality.
A story in the October 2021 issue of Scientific American, "Social Resilience," contains a definition of social capital: the ability to solve problems and thrive by forming mutually trusting, engaged relationships and networks.
The focus of this story is on the ability of people in Black communities to work together for the common good even though those communities often are disadvantaged in other respects.
In fact, Mattis and other Black researchers have found that even in the most resource-poor neighborhoods, high levels of social capital not only exist but are used as a means to buffer the community against systematic oppression. In a world racked by a pandemic and climate disasters this form of social consciousness, they say, should be celebrated and deeply studied.
I learned in the story that the first use of the term social capital was in 1916, "when L.J. Hanifan, a progressive serving as West Virginia's state supervisor of rural schools, used it to argue for community involvement in schools."
The individual is helpless socially, if left entirely to himself. If he may come into contact with his neighbor... there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the entire community.
Here in Salem, as in most places in the United States, we suffer from an excess of individualism. The story quotes Traci Blackmon, a Missouri pastor.
In the Black community we have to take care of ourselves... Black people, in my opinion, and all nonwhite people have this sense of community embedded in our DNA out of necessity that says we have to share what we have in order for everybody to be okay.
Yet here in Salem, lots of well-off people, mostly Republicans, refuse to wear a mask in indoor public spaces because they reject the notion that everybody has an obligation to help protect other people from coming down with Covid-19.
That sort of selfishness is the opposite of the altruistic social capital on display in Black and other nonwhite communities -- which are less materially well-off, but more advanced morally.
It'd be great if the next Mayor of Salem (Chuck Bennett isn't running again) could make it their mission to foster more of a sense of community in our city. Bennett and City Manager Steve Powers have been almost completely silent about the need for everyone to do their part to combat Covid.
The progressive city councilors have been more vocal, but none of them have the sort of soapbox that the Mayor could command.
Naturally there always will be vehement political disagreements among Salem citizens. But we should be able to come together for important common purposes like fighting a new Covid variant, should Omicron prove to be a marked danger.
Increasing Salem's social capital should be viewed as important as making sure our city has adequate financial capital. Black communities have a lot to teach us in this regard, as the Scientific American story made clear.