by Martin Yip
Insanity tends to be more salient in the mind than sanity. After all, being sane seems to be the default and thus unworthy of comment; any significant deviation from this default, however, merits attention. When Taiwanese basketball player Jeremy Lin took the NBA by storm in 2012, the phenomenon was dubbed ‘Linsanity’. He went on such a successful run that he even outscored Kobe Bryant in one game. Lin’s story reveals one way of understanding ‘insanity’: being astonishingly good at something.
Another way of understanding ‘insanity’ is being out of one’s mind. These cases are hard to come by, for obvious reasons. Yet, in recent weeks, this definition has become the more widely applicable one, at least in my experience. Wearing a face mask while walking on the streets of Oxford, I’ve heard people say these words:
‘Ni hao!’ said a man walking past. (That means ‘hello’ in Mandarin.)
‘Weird, isn’t it?’ said a father to his children.
‘Go home!’ shouted another passer-by.
Sometimes, a group of teenagers would walk by, and one of them would devote himself to a dramatic coughing fit in mockery. The others would laugh in great amusement.
There are people who might be labelled insane because of medical conditions (i.e. a range of mental disorders), and then there are people who seem like they just don’t know better. The latter aren’t necessarily insane: when Trump called the coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus’, he was clearly not losing his mind. He might be political, or he might be ignorant, but he was not insane.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out both types of insanity in people. Mental health support is readily available for people who might need it, especially in a time when lockdowns and quarantines prevent us from interacting with loved ones as usual, and when there is much cause for stress and anxiety. It has also unfortunately revealed the extent to which, in the face of a common threat that knows no boundaries, people refuse to see the bigger picture and be cooperative or at least sympathetic to or tolerant of each other.
People are going to suffer from commonplace insanity. Discriminatory slurs are the least worrisome in the grand scheme of things. ‘Herd immunity’ strategies entail that hundreds of thousands of people will die (it’s a simple calculation: multiply the total population of a country by the percentage required to gain herd immunity, and then the fatality rate). What about a lack of transparency and a refusal to share information? Taiwan was excluded from WHO emergency meetings regarding the coronavirus outbreak, despite the fact that it has combated the virus relatively successfully and therefore provides much for countries to learn from.
It has been said that outbreaks such as these will change the world forever, and indeed they will. An unthinkable number of people will suffer from the outbreak, losing their livelihoods, loved ones, or even their very lives. Others who are more fortunate will survive relatively unscathed – but life must not go on as normal. Those who have suffered and sacrificed shall not have done so in vain. In peacetime, insanity can be contained; but in trying times like these, insanity compounds suffering. We must face the questions that the virus asks of us, and not make the same mistakes twice.