Anthroposophy NYC Blog


(dispatches from social isolation)

COVID-19, Looters, and the Pentecostal Flame Rose

Walter Alexander

While the profile of COVID-19, as if we could put up a Post Office “Wanted” sign (even the Post Office is threatened!), has lots of quirkiness, the virus’s central MO is clear—it goes after the frail elderly, the poor and underprivileged, the already-stressed, the living too-close-and-cramped, and the eating-all-wrong minions. And two of the conditions amenable to pharmaceutical remedy rampant in these populations are diabetes and asthma. So it was with a usual modicum of disgust that I noted in a recent health article how the price of insulin has nearly quintupled since 2005, forcing many people to skip or scrimp on dosing and live sick as a consequence. Drug company profits perch atop the Forbes list, thanks.

But then it hit home harder. I take a half dose of a generic asthma drug daily. The cost, through a Canadian pharmacy in British Columbia, is $.74 per day. Lucky guy.

A month ago, I ordered a year’s supply. I was told, because of the pandemic, to allow an extra week on top of the usual 2-3 weeks for delivery from Mauritius, perched out in the Indian Ocean. So when nothing arrived, I called the pharmacy—the fellow there said with pandemic-related customs/shipping delays it might be another 2-3 weeks.

What to do? Get a high-priced month gap-filler—locally, so it can be delivered pronto! Obvious, right? I called the nearest CVS and learned from the pharmacist that a month’s supply of the available, comparable drug is—$473. That’s $15.77 a day! A 21-fold increase. While I eventually found a Canadian substitute that will arrive in a week for 85% lower, the sense, nearly palpable, of a someone, or a something not really human, reaching into my bronchia with a rake was unmistakable. What about those who can’t afford the drug and don’t know how to do an on-line border crossing?

And then I saw an interview by Chris Wallace on Fox News of Dr. Cornel West, the African-American Harvard Divinity School professor. Wallace asked West if riots, violence, and looting, subsequent to the George Floyd asphyxiation under a “peace officer’s” knee, especially in African-American neighborhoods, were doing any good for African-Americans. West’s reply was “…looting is wrong, but legalized looting is wrong, too.” When an unjust system is unable to reform itself, unable to serve the least among us, he continued, “…you get violence spillover… if we’re more concerned about the property and spillover than the poverty, decrepit school system, dilapidated housing, massive unemployment and under-employment, we’re going to be doing this every five, every 10, every 20 years.” At this moment, he added, “…we are witnessing the collapse of the legitimacy of leadership; the political class, the economic class, the professional class. That’s the deeper crisis.”

And then I read a June 1 Washington Post editorial by a noted conservative columnist George F. Will. It cited T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” opining that with the current void in leadership, “There is no such thing as rock bottom. So, assume that the worst is yet to come.”

What is growing along with the “the worst is yet to come” sense is the profound realization among an expanding segment of the population that our system, if “system” can be applied to the nexus of leadership class, political class, economic class, professional class relationships we find our ship of state steered by, no longer lends itself to course correction.

If the looters, those at the top for the last few decades who have successfully tipped the playing field so that all economic benefit drains toward themselves—and those looters at the bottom with sledge hammers strapped to their incendiaries-loaded backpacks—represent the only options—well, then what does it matter? Keep spiraling down toward virtual slavery, or watch violence utterly shred the fabric of life?

The age of the tweaker is over—we know it. A more massive, tectonic trembling and heaving has to occur. Because when the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, by law, has to put value to shareholders ahead of the lives of the individuals, the company’s products are meant to improve, both lose their humanity at the same time. Actually, all three suffer the same loss—the person walking a tightrope between diabetic shock and malnutrition, the CEO meeting sales and share price projections, and the shareholders holding her/his feet to the fire. The winners, the CEOs and shareholders, have all made a sacrifice not worth making: the right to a connected world. Meanwhile, the diabetic and asthmatic persons, unless graced with almost unimaginable powers of forgiveness, live with the knee on the neck, the rake in the lung, and despair’s cold and lonely breath.

What was it that the disciples spoke about so magically when visited by the tongues of flame on that first Pentecost day? The gathered listeners marveled at their own ability to understand what was said—seemed to hear it in their own varied languages—despite the disciples being Galileans, and they being Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia, Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews, and proselytes, Cretans, and Arabians. What was said—we don’t know, other than that it was about “the wonderful works of God.” We know also that the disciples were speaking out of the redemption of Babel, the Primal Language that is and was before the splintering and scattering of the Word—but now transformed and still transforming through an earthly sojourn.


So admiring the coming summer’s first rose, I close:


Flame Rose Speak


Arrive Pentecostal fire
this day
this night


Speak to us all
Flame Rose
to the looters
in high places
and to the looters
in places mean and low


Speak the Brother Word
speak the Sister Word
and stay with us a while.



Walter Alexander

June 2020


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