What’s the Opposite of Object Permanence?

Yesterday I took a vacation from Twitter for the sake of my mental health. This week I’m only going to check it once or twice a day to touch base with close friends. Even using a list showing me a mere handful of accounts, the crazy started to bleed through. What’s the opposite of object permanence? Does it have a name? Because there’s a lot of it going around.

Okay, if you don’t know, object permanence is the understanding that things continue to exist even when you can’t see, touch, or otherwise experience them. Playing peek-a-boo with a baby is an object permanence test; does the infant comprehend that you’re still there when you cover your face? The opposite is understanding that sometimes a thing you can’t see exists, based on the insurmountable evidence that it does. In this case, COVID-19.

It Affects You Even If You Don’t See It

I know that a lot of people still aren’t taking this seriously. They aren’t sick. No one they know personally is sick. It’s an abstract concept to them. They know that they want to go out to eat, or to drink, or to engage in normal social activities that they enjoy. Those things are real to them, and they have lived experiences to back them up.

It was when someone made a snarky remark about not seeing bodies stacked up in the streets that I decided Twitter had to go away for a while. I’ve seen the photos of the coffins piled up in Italy, and the military trucks being loaded to take them away. I’ve read accounts of the funerals that aren’t being held because of social distancing, leaving people to mourn at home, alone or with only a few family members. Of people who never got a chance to say goodbye, because they weren’t able to go visit the sick friend or relative.

But hey, there are no dead bodies piled up on your street, so fuck this inconvenience, right?

The conspiracy theorists who don’t want to do anything because bluster bluster slippery slope. Ideologues who think it’s going to matter a tinker’s dam which political party came up with the good idea. Assholes who think they’re set to ride this out telling people in need to bootstrap themselves and stop asking for help. The cruelty, the lack of kindness, the sheer selfishness on display is sickening.

What’s the Opposite of Object Permanence?

I found a new website, from the University of Oxford, that’s gathering and sharing statistical data about COVID-19 deaths. They’re only looking at mortality rates, not rates of infection. What they’re looking at is how many days it takes for the death rate to double. In their words:

“Let’s take an example: if the number of confirmed deaths as of today is 1000, and there were only 500 deaths three days ago then we would say that it took three days for the number of confirmed deaths to double.”

Why does this matter? Well, the longer it takes, the slower the spread. The slower the spread, the easier it is to get a handle on it. For example, as of this writing it says that it’s now taking China 36 days to double. We know that the rates of new infections are down, that they’re closing emergency field hospitals, so this high number reflects the fact that they’re getting a handle on it.

South Korea is doubling every 13 days. Iran every 6, Italy every 5. Those aren’t great numbers, but they’re slowly improving.

The United States is currently doubling every 2 days.

Allow me to explain the math again here. According to the data available to me there are currently 340 confirmed deaths in the US. If measures aren’t taken, in two days that jumps to 680. Two days after that it’s 1360. Another two days after that it’s 2720, and so on.

I’m writing this on 22 March 2020. If measures — which includes taking this seriously and keeping your selfish, entitled ass at home — in a little over three weeks the death toll could reach a million.

But people won’t believe it until it affects them personally, by which point it will be too late.

Published by