Caste

Months and months ago, some friends were discussing the book Caste. In my continuing KonMari frame of mind, I didn’t want to buy it and don’t own a Kindle, so I got onto the Hawaii Public Library website and put my name on a list. I think I was number 457.

Yesterday I got an email saying the library had a copy for me and they would fine me a dollar (an entire dollar!) if I didn’t get my tail up there post haste. For a minute I was stumped. It had been such a long time since I’d wanted the book that I didn’t recognize the title. But given the Covid world we live in, I was up for an adventure. And the journey would give me an excuse to drop by Island Naturals (the cool kids call it ‘The Natch’) and top up my cardamom and wild rice supplies.

The usually jovial fellow who works the check-out desk was instead looking morose as he held vigil at the entrance. ‘I need to see your vaccination card,’ he said.

‘Golly!’ says I.

‘Governor Ige has mandated that everyone has to show their cards to enter public facilities,’ said Jovial.

I had it with me, of course. All those decades that I lived in Japan, I was required to carry my foreign registration card at all times so I’m familiar with the concept. But it surprised me that I had morphed from being a suspicious foreigner to being a suspicious book borrower.

As I was leaving, a woman was just getting out of her car in the parking lot. Jovial turned pale behind his mask and said, ‘This could be trouble.’

Golly. I don’t know if she was a demanding reader or a local nutball or a militant anti-vaxxer. I’m not even sure there’s much of a difference among the three, and to be honest, I was much more interested in topping up my some lemon balm stash so I wished Jovial luck and skedaddled.

Once back to the peace and safety of my pretty little house, I sat looking at the cover of the book and wondered, not for the first time, about the way today is going to shape tomorrow. In one sense, we’re all in a big, leaky boat together, sharing a common enemy and trying to hold it together while we wait for some sort of rescue and release.

On the other hand, we’re also going through a continuation of what the Cheetoh wanted so desperately: division and suspicion, opposing camps entrenched in their own beliefs to the point that being right is much, much more important than being safe or even being alive.

But if I’m to believe what I read in the papers, we’re developing a division, a system of castes in a sense. The Blue States are pretty much vaccinated. The Red States are experiencing higher rates of infection and illness, overflowing hospitals, overworked health care workers. As long as those states keep insisting they’re right, I can’t see anything but a dark and ominous future ahead.

So we find ourselves facing a deep division of profound significance that goes way beyond I’m-right-you’re wrong. It seems to me that the only way to move forward is to abolish this caste system and pull together. But how can we do that without someone wallowing in rightness and someone else having to accept wrongness? There should be some sensible way to come to terms without having to cut the baby in half.

Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon.