• Joia

Today's rhaps is on ... Coronavirus Altruism


Italians singing in quarantine. Photo: Reuters

My compromised immune system as well as my age put me in the "vulnerable population" for this global virus; still, I was half way through yesterday's Friday the 13th before I stopped making valiant plans to fulfill the day's therapy schedule. Then it hit me.


It's the Altruism!


I can go out there and virtuously wipe down elliptical machine surfaces and sneeze into my elbow, but it doesn't help anyone else if I succumb to the thing myself.


So, lockdown began.


Bracketing weeks instead of days requires more complex time-management, though, with a concomitant rise in entertaintment options. What to do?


Let me think.


I started a sudoku but E. O. Wilson came to mind…he made a big splash in the late 70s with his snappy sociobiological answers to everything humanly gendered, and I was not a fan. If males spread it around and females chose carefully, where did I fit in? Arguments were hot and heavy at Bear's Donkey Kong happy hours, across from the History and Philosophy of Science Department. While I didn't care for the Venus/Mars approach, I did like the altruism gene idea Wilson took from Hamilton's rule, that people looked out for their kin. Of course, this was the exact part he disavowed years later, the idea that being good to others is ultimately good for oneself. He fell in with the SuperCooperator and tribal cohesion crowd, where kinship selection and Darwinian Gospel were no longer central to the theory. Harvard colleagues were not amused.


My philosophical general store leaves everything on the shelves, however. Forgotten stuff gets pushed to the back when more interesting items beckon, so I basically deal with clutter by disappearing it for a while. It might come in handy again, you never know.


Speaking of genes, I may have inherited this trait from my Great Aunt hoarders Clara and Gertie, the youngest of the German clan born in the Iowa cornfields. They never left the family farmhouse. In later years the kitchen was stacked high with flattened cereal boxes and old newspapers, while the other rooms hid broken furniture in the corners behind the stuff you could still sit on. I like to think my version of the family legacy is more streamlined, to simply shove ideas around, pulling them out as needed in the heat of the moment.


Like altruism. If there's a silver lining to this current scourge, it's got to be this. The coronavirus Covid-19 is reaching across borders, defying classes, sinking its viral teeth into any hospitable body, rich or poor, famous or unknown, on land or at sea. Simultaneously, the vast majority of the world’s population is openly receptive to a universal likeness, an awareness that we share the same hopes and despairs, that blood is always red, that all our tears are salty and our smiles crinkly. The more governments lie to us about the numbers, the reality of the sickness, the truth about its transmission, the more we join forces, the more solidarity—Solidarność—we feel with one another, the more we want to help.


Last night I heard that the quarantined Italians are singing. The whole country is on lockdown and everyone's out on their balconies and rooftops singing arias and folksongs, playing sonatas and strumming chords, belting out the National Anthem. A neighborhood in Turin danced the Macarena together. Sicilians are out on their varandas dancing and singing with accordions and tambourines.


Yes! Altruism reaching across streets and around corners, bridging our social distancing mandates with the heartfelt warmth of music, the worldwide language of harmony.


Time to resurrect my own voice therapy. Se tu m'ami....


It's been a few years, but I can find the practice notes. Nel cor piu non mi sento....


And: O mio babbino caro....


If I don't answer the phone, I'm out on the balcony, singing.


14 MARCH 2020


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