Once in a while, there is a diabolic symmetry in the choices we have to make. Sophie Zawistowska, played in the 1980s film by Meryl Streep, faced one such symmetry: which of her two children to sacrifice to Nazi brutality. I know the basics of the story (most of us do), but I have never actually seen the film. I don’t think I ever shall. I don’t think I could bear to.
Now we see it again. Those around the world, including in Australia, who feel they ought to protest in the cause of Black Lives Matter, are faced with a similar diabolic symmetry. Do they choose to protest and thereby, in all likelihood, contribute to the spread of Covid-19, and to deaths therefrom? Or do they choose not to protest and thereby, in all likelihood, contribute through complacency to the epidemic of black deaths?
Let’s look at each choice in turn. Most people would agree Black Lives Matter is a worthy cause. But SARS-CoV-2 does not respect causes humans deem worthy. It respects causes viruses deem worthy. Its mission is to colonize human body cells, using them as factories to churn out clones at exponential rates, destroying the colonized cell, and sometimes the host body, in the process. A mass protest of humans provides it with the ideal conditions in which to fulfill its mission. Ergo: we should not protest.
Now let’s look at the other choice. Black deaths in custody have persisted over the years with very little done by governments except token acknowledgement of the problem. This tokenism extended to an ineffectual Royal Commission charged to the Australian taxpayer and whose recommendations were mostly left unaddressed. Protest appears to be the only avenue remaining. Black deaths caused by custody and by other attempts to enforce law, exceed those resulting from SARS-CoV-2. Ergo: we should protest.
So here is the diabolic symmetry mirroring that with which Sophie was faced.
It is not helpful to dub those who choose to join protests as ‘selfish’. Would it have helped Sophie? It is the nature of such choices that, if one option can be regarded as ‘selfish’, the other must necessarily be regarded as ‘selfless’. Therein lies the diabolic symmetry, the other side of the same coin.
What was my choice? Well, there were no protests running in Rockhampton, my nearest population centre. Perhaps I should have been a lone protester like Greta Thunberg. But no. I didn’t protest. I can only applaud those in capital cities who did. They were faced with a diabolical choice. And they were brave enough to make it.