A People And Two Lifes

Regardless of where you are with the pandemic today, one point we can agree on is the difficulty it’s presented to the American people.

Think about your view of and attitude toward the pandemic, whatever your stance on the topic. You could agree that “difficult” describes it. Think also about people who disagree with you. Somewhere along the line you’ll encounter the word “difficult” or you’ll recognize how easily it fits. So, let’s stipulate that as a point of agreement.

The thing is difficult. Stay with me as we go on. It’s only a few minutes’ time.

I’ve written extensively about the bridge between the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 and the coronavirus pandemic of 2020-2022. One of my most important findings is this: a pandemic collides with a people as they are.

I won’t dwell on my next finding other than to remind you of what it is: that the dominant and defining public issue of the day will affect the experience of the pandemic, and the pandemic will affect the experience of the dominant and defining public issue of the day. They interact and interweave. Remember the terms I coined? Yes, it’s Warfluenza (for World War I and its effects) and Warcorona (for World War Trump and its effect). But enough of that. I have other fish to fry with you today.

Candidly, I’ve missed something. It’s been there and I just didn’t see it…until now. I now realize that “dominant and defining” must extend beyond the political and the body politic. Yes, must. Read it again, must.

I must tell you that this extension of the dominant and defining must encompass the way of life, the way of living, the way of being. That’s important and vital, and more fundamental, too. That belongs in exploring the collision of the pandemic and the dominant and defining Life led by the American people. That is what I want to share with you now in using 1918-1920 to help illuminate 2020-2022. There are Two Lifes of the American people.

Then, in 1918-1920, the pandemic collided with a particular way of American life. It was the Life of Death.


Life expectancy for all Americans in 1920 is 54 years of age. For nonwhite Americans it is 45 years of age. When you get to 27 years old you’re middle-aged. If you’re nonwhite your middle-age hits at age 22. In your twenties.

These people knew death. Many had seen death in their homes, be it as the dying or the dead. It’s as if they lived death.

But there’s more, and here’s where we need to exercise creativity, imagination, flexibility of mind.


In 1920, 30% of the American people lived on a farm. Three of ten. The average size of that farm is 100 acres. 50% of the American people lived in a rural area that might include a farm or might not. One of two. And when half of the American population lives on or near a farm, you know what death is. Life is death.

Those farms and rural areas in 1920 know life has a pace and a reality. Livestock are slaughtered every year. The blood and the screaming are part of it. Scalded flesh, carved muscle. A killing act seen or heard or smelled. In addition, livestock not slaughtered might die for other reasons every year, due to age, accident, sickness, or predator. No matter how death occurs, many of these animals are also known to the people around them. Their loss is felt.

In addition, farms and rural areas have a routine of plant and vegetable life that is born, grows, and dies. Something green and alive becomes something browned and harvested. In some years the death of a crop comes with a lack of rain, with too much rain, with windstorms or hail or fire. It’s a cycle of decay and a randomness of fate that is marked down as the nature of life, a life of death. 

And for those Americans who don’t farm or live in rural areas in 1918-1920 they likely know someone who does or came from a background where someone lived that way for generations.

My point is that, along with the shortness of life and suddenness of death in age-spans, a similar reality marks the days and weeks and months—the seasons—of vast numbers of American people. They know death.

When the waves of the pandemic roll across the American landscape from 1918 to 1920, it does so over a people who live a Life of Death.

That’s not true for most of us in 2022. We not only expect to live longer, we expect to live well and to live well far longer than others have done in the past. We elevate youth, youthfulness, youthful-acting, and youthful-looking as ways of not living a Life of Death.

But that hasn’t made anyone happier, better adjusted, or more content. And that’s not helped withstand the waves of pandemic from 2020 to now. We have our own Life of D___.

Ours is a Life of Doom.

For wide swaths of the American public, doom and dread are daily truths. The climate is dying and there is only a little time left. So it is said. The chemicals and unnatural substances slipped into foods have disastrous consequences for our bodies. So it is said. The power and position of the Bigs—in Tech, in Pharma, in Banks, in Government, in Brother, in Brands, in x and y and z—are squeezing the people into manipulatable peons and bytes. So it is said. The pandemic itself isn’t ending and requires constant attention and action. So it is said. The sinfulness of people brings on the code of judgment and revisitation. So it is said. The next armed conflagration of Great Powers on the world stage will darken the screens and stop the lights. So it is said.

All of the saids, all of the saying, adds up and counts down to Doom.

Look at polls that ask about the future. Doom. Dig down to see how the ages of respondents reflects the response. Doom. Look at the themes of films, shows, songs, and gaming. Doom, or if not, a feverish resistance to it in the form of fantasy and escape to the degree of nihilism.

There’s even further deepening of Doom in the crowd politically, socially, religiously, or culturally opposed to these assertions. They are the Anti-Doomers, notable often for their virulence in denouncing, scoffing, and ridiculing those caught in the Doom cycle. In a sense, their Anti-Doomness weds them to the targeting of Doom as a central force in knowing who and what they are not. Maybe they need the Doom, too, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, til doom and death do us part.

So, we live a Life of Doom, and this is the landscape of our times submerged in the rolling waves of pandemic. This is our version of your ancestors’ Life of Death. The Life of Doom plays out in our ways, in our effects, in our implications and consequences.

In our difficulties.

Wonder why the struggle?

Let the collision explain.