Quebec and the curfew: Beyond the limits of control

Quebec and the curfew: Beyond the limits of control
When I was a kid, I went on the submarine ride at West Edmonton Mall — a faux submersible that drove on tracks beneath the fake lake constructed for Alberta’s monument to consumerism. I remember vividly the cozy sensation of the enclosed space when the hatch door closed, the closeness of our quarters, the feeling of anticipation as the ride was about to embark. But as it did and water surrounded our vessel, my excitement immediately turned to sheer uncontrollable panic; the knowledge that we could not open the hatch now, that we were confined in this tight, tiny space gave me my first panic attack.

Fear of confinement isn’t a medical condition, and if it were, it would be relatively trivial in comparison with the gamut of things that ail us. But it is real, and so are panic attacks, and I am just one of the — at this point many, many — Quebecers who are at an utter loss to comprehend the latest curfew, and are also now struggling to imagine how to safely get through it. 

Throughout this pandemic, people have been told to listen to the science, to trust the data. Since is no data to suggest that the first curfew was in any way successful, and plenty to the contrary, it logically follows that any science-loving person must oppose these measures. Add to this the curfew criminalizes the most vulnerable amongst us, and endangers many more who are living in less-than-ideal circumstances. Those with addictions, for instance, and those enduring abusive home lives are particularly at risk.

In 2020, during the height of the first lockdown, I wrote a book called The Limits of Control. In it, I spent a significant amount of time analyzing an essay by William S. Burroughs in which he outlined the U.S. military mode of control of its soldiers. The drill sergeant yells “TENSHUN!” and the soldier knows to salute. The drill sergeant yells, “AT EASE!” and the soldier relaxes. But what if the drill sergeant yells TENSHUN and AT EASE at once? The soldier is confused, disoriented, and eventually becomes angry and ultimately ineffective as a soldier. I’d like to think that a broad spectrum of us have been good soldiers throughout the past 20-odd months, tensing and easing on command — sheltering in place, masking, distancing, getting double-vaxxed, waiting in line for daily necessities, altering every single aspect of our daily lives.

Still, since March, 2020, we have been given a series of TENSHUN / AT EASE commands: Remember when we were told to wash every surface because COVID can live on plastic and cardboard for 24 hours, only to later find out that it’s transmitted through tiny droplets? Remember when plexiglass barriers were erected everywhere in an instant, only to find out via The New York Times that they’ve probably made things worse? Sending COVID-positive healthcare staff into the very hospitals that are being overwhelmed with COVID-positive patients — as well as the growing backlog of other sick people — is only the latest in contradictory head scratchers, which increasingly reveal that our decision-makers are just as confused as the rest of us.

Furthermore, when people follow the TENSHUN order, and there is no AT EASE, it makes for a permanently tense situation. As an intelligent, science-abiding citizen, I oppose another curfew. I do not condone chaos. But I do remember the uncontrollable feeling of sheer panic as that submarine hatch closed, and won’t be surprised if others find themselves losing control, too. ■

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