Monday, March 23, 2020

The New Yorker

How Loneliness from Coronavirus Isolation Takes Its Own Toll

By Robin Wright

At a White House press briefing on Friday, Peter Alexander, a correspondent for NBC News, asked President Trump about the psychological toll of the covid-19 crisis: “Nearly two hundred dead, fourteen thousand who are sick, millions, as you witnessed, who are scared,” Alexander said. “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” Trump shot back, “I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.” For weeks, the President seemed oblivious to the scope of the coronavirus threat; now he seems heartless about the spiralling anxiety among Americans and ignorant about the physiology of fear, after a week unprecedented in American history, during which much of the country has closed down, the economy has ground to a halt, and millions have been told to stay home. Since last week, state officials have ordered one in three Americans—living in New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, and Massachusetts—to remain indoors. For many of the rest of us, normal life has been suspended as the tally of cases soars. It all feels eerily apocalyptic—and, for most, scary.

The Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, demonstrated more compassion than Trump when he appealed, on the same day, for residents of America’s second-largest city to stay home. “I know there’s been a lot of crying, and it’s O.K. to cry,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of fear, and it’s O.K. to be afraid.” On Saturday, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, acknowledged the “truly significant” psychological and social stresses of our uncertain times. “People are struggling with the emotions as much as they are struggling with the economics,” he said. “This state wants to start to address that.” He appealed to psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists willing to volunteer to contact the state to help set up a network to provide mental-health assistance for people who are anxious or isolated.

As governors across the nation began ordering lockdowns, I talked with neuroscientists and psychologists about the impact on the human body—not of this new pathogen but of the various stresses that accompany it.  Read on...

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Finding Connection and Resilience During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Robin Wright

Across the globe, coronavirus culture is emerging, spontaneously and creatively, to deal with public fear, restrictions on daily life, and the tedious isolation of quarantine. “This is a bad science-fiction movie that is real,” Agustín Fuentes, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame, told me, in a late-night discussion this week, about how covid-19 may alter the human journey. He envisions a profound evolutionary process to insure the survival of the species as pandemics become more common. It’s already visible.

“What is so important to humanity is connection. The kind of quarantines—in New York and Seattle, and what will happen in thousands of other places in the United States—will require people to connect in other ways,” he said. “One of the amazing things about the human species—once harmless critters not much more than monkeys running around—is that, over time, we have become very creative. We’ve adapted to survive. That’s what people will rely on now—coming up with incredibly imaginative ways to find connections even when they’re not in the same physical space together.”  Read on....

Friday, March 6, 2020

A Hostage-Taker Dies in Iran and Other Coronavirus Stories

By Robin Wright

Hossein Sheikholeslam spent years studying computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, before he returned to Iran, in 1979, to join the revolution and participate in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy. “I was there all four hundred and forty-four days,” he recalled, the last time I saw him, in Tehran, in 2015. “I helped put together and translate the classified cables that the Americans had shredded.” He went on to become a member of parliament, the Ambassador to Syria, and the deputy foreign minister. He was one of the leading figures in Iran’s attempt to export its revolutionary ideology. He had been in Syria and Lebanon days before a suicide bomber drove into the barracks of U.S. Marine peacekeepers in Beirut, in 1983. In 2015, we had a painfully long argument about why the regime still rallied its followers to shout “Death to America” at public events more than three decades later. Sheikholeslam, who by then had a silvery beard and six children, had been nicknamed Gap Tooth by the hostages, for obvious reasons. I asked him if he knew that. He grinned wide enough to show me that the gap was gone. “It’s artificial,” he said, tapping his front teeth. Sheikholeslam died, on Thursday, of covid-19, which is caused by the new coronavirus. He was the latest in a growing list of Iranian officials to be felled by the disease. Eight per cent of Iran’s parliament has been infected; two members have died.

In just the past two weeks, the number of covid-19 cases in Iran has soared to more than forty-seven hundred—up more than a thousand in just a day. In Qom, the holy city that is the epicenter of the outbreak, the cemetery has been unable to keep up with the number of deaths. On Wednesday, the BBC Persian Service posted a cell-phone video showing row after row of black body bags awaiting burial in Qom. Other videos show men wearing hazmat suits lowering shrouded bodies into the ground.

Iran is one of the epicenters of the global disease that, as of Friday morning, had infected more than a hundred thousand and killed more than thirty-four hundred globally.  Read on....