mineshaft gap

4 minute read Published: 2022-02-23

I rewatched Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb along with my partner and a close friend, neither of which had seen the movie before. The movie satirizes the bureaucratic, process oriented mindset of cold war era politicians and military men, and remains both prescient and relevant to this day. There's a scene in the movie where the great men are panicking over a percieved "mineshaft gap". Many actions in the cold war were driven by the paranoid minds in charge of the military-industrial-inferiority complex. Every percieved advantage the other side had was deemed a "gap", in the movie we watch them decry the "missile gap", the "doomsday machine gap", and finally the "mineshaft gap".

Mind the gap...

I'd like to preface this by saying I'm not trying to make any argument or convince any reader to change their outlooks, I just wanted to write down the way I've observed things play out during the pandemic. I'm writing for writing's own sake. I'm not trying to make this a screed for or against anyone's particular level of risk aversion. I just want to jot down an idle thought I had sometime last year, that has been rattling around in my head ever since. By now, if you know me IRL, you should understand where I land on this topic.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic has drawn on, my friends and I have naturally segregated into our own little groups, each of which exhibiting varying levels of precautionary measures. Personally, I'm willing to adapt to my most cautious friend's requirements, despite my own opinions that N95 masks and ventilation/air filtration are sufficient, I know people who have been uncomfortable hanging out without covid tests and short quarantines beforehand. Thankfully, my partner and I are capable of accomodating these friends. Unfortunately this causes me to be somewhat discriminating of when/where I hang out with friends who are less cautious.

The night of watching Dr Strangelove, much adult beverages were consumed, and our friend was inebriated enough to take up our offer to crash on our couch rather than venture home. Our friend woke up the next day and shared with us a humorous dream they had: It was that I had made an announcement at the end of the night that I had already been ill with covid nearly a year earlier.

I believe my friend was cut short from finishing their thoughts either by my own questioning about what to have for breakfast, or our collective laughter. But I assumed the conclusion was that I was just keeping up appearances to be able to maintain actively hanging out with my friend. I thought that was very cute and endearing, but I'm confident I would have told my friends if I was ill with covid, and it wouldn't change my level of caution towards the disease. As an aside, thankfully neither my partner nor I have caught covid roughly 3 years into this global pandemic, and I'm somewhat proud of that. But it brought to mind my previous thoughts of how during the course of this pandemic maybe we've all been collectively matching our own social circle's expectations of safety.

Similar to the "mineshaft gap"; I wondered if there was some element of "runaway" precautionary measures, so to say? And if that's the case, is there also the inverse reaction of throwing caution to the wind? These two things are somewhat incompatible in the sense that overlap between the groups cannot exist cohesively. Are my more cautious friends actually cautious because they perceive me as being cautious and am I more cautions because I perceive my friends as more cautious... ad infinitum... ? Are people who throw caution to the wind only doing so because people in their social circle are throwing caution to the wind, yadda yadda yadda... Maybe I have just fixated on a tiny cultural signifier here, which is actually just a microcosm how how societies and social groupings naturally arrange themselves? Some folks might've been coerced in some ways to participate in social groupins they themselves haven't chosen, the same way the B-52 crewmen were ordered to execute Wing Attack Plan R. Or maybe some folks enthusiasticaly embraced their assigned social grouping similary to Major T. J. Kong.

If you've found yourself reading this with a similar expression as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake to Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, and saying "I don't follow", then you're probably in good company, thanks for reading.