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Take It Personally: How to Keep the Pandemic from Becoming an Abstraction

For most of us safely quarantining at home with the help of Zoom and Netflix, the pandemic’s body count may seem as abstract as the casualties of a war fought on foreign soil. Bombarded with bad news, we shake our heads and look for some distraction to calm or amuse us. Maybe a YouTube concert, maybe Tiger King. We do our best to keep up with the latest advice from medical experts, or the moving accounts of health-care workers on the front lines, but after a while we—or at least I—become inured to the shots of bodies stacked in freezers. In her Regarding The Pain Of Others, Susan Sontag argued that photos of raw death and suffering fail to pump up our empathy. Maybe she was right. So what then? How should we feel about the hordes of lives being lost every day. How should we grieve?

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