Mugwumps, Elon Musk, & #LongCovid

"Mugwumps!!" U.S. Senate Collection.

Puck, America’s first political satire magazine
June 23, 1886
U.S. Senate Collection

I spent several years tutoring economics. Not exclusively, thank God, but kind of wedged in between US history, world history, and government/civics. I have exactly zero interest in economics as a stand-alone discipline, and, frankly, it gives me headaches. But I do find economics interesting and necessary to understanding the subject areas I prefer: history, geography, political science, and sociology.

In all the hours I spent trying to help teenagers understand mind-numbingly boring economic graphs and charts, only two concepts piqued my interest in any way: scarcity and opportunity cost.

Which is interesting because those two concepts are inextricably linked.

Scarcity in economics is just what it sounds like. There are only a finite amount of resources on our planet and all of humanity is in competition for those resources. This, obviously, causes a vast amount of problems for us as we try to share our planet, hopefully/ostensibly in an equitable and sustainable way.

I always found opportunity cost tricky to explain to high school students when I was tutoring. I sort of feel like it’s a concept that you either “get” intuitively or you don’t. So because my job as a tutor was in the service of a junior elite hockey team, I usually started there–with hockey.

For example, if you play the center position and you have the puck in your opponent’s zone, you have a few choices.

  1. Head straight for the goal and try to score unassisted.
  2. Look around to see where the other forwards are and evaluate if they are in a better scoring position than you and pass the puck to the player with the best position.
  3. Give up and pass the puck to a defenseman, who may skate back behind your team’s net for a moment in order to allow your coach to make a line/shift change.

“Opportunity cost” in economics means “every time you make a choice…you are also choosing to forego other options.”

So if a hockey forward chooses to head straight for the net and tries to score unassisted, she is foregoing the option of giving someone else a chance to score, possibly someone who is a better scorer or who is in a better position on the ice strategically. If we were to put a moral value on this decision, we could say “that player wanted to score for herself/her stats/to impress her coach.” She sacrificed teamwork for her own success. Of course, that’s a bit of a judgmental way to look at it. Most hockey players I have known were “team players,” but I think you get my point. The opportunity cost (philosophically) in this scenario is valuing individual glory over teamwork. Possibly at the expense of/to the detriment of the group’s shared success.

Which brings me to Elon Musk.

I strongly believe that the best way to deal with a narcissist is to delete them from the conversation. So I am pretty reluctant to give Mr. Musk any of my oxygen.

However, I have Long Covid. I’ve been living with it–the medical/scientific term is post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC)–since March of 2020 following a covid infection that became symptomatic on February 21, 2020.

There is pretty much zero easily accessible support for people with Long Covid. I have survived this illness (plus my intitial covid infection) for 1,001 days now. Probably 75% of the “support” I received for dealing with and living with Long Covid has come from myself. About 20% came from a handful of my friends. The remaining 5% came from Twitter.

It was the #LongCovid community on Twitter that, finally, gave me some hope. On Twitter, if you say “I’ve been in bed for two-and-a-half years and can only manage a shower once a month” and then add the hashtag #LongCovid, you will be immediately supported and will receive the gift of hearing other peoples’ stories, advice, insight, and humor. If you make the same statement to a person or group that doesn’t believe Long Covid “exists” because they have not personally experienced it, you can expect some pretty dire and painful consequences.

Which is interesting because the latter group is therefore operating at Piaget’s first stage of cognitive development which, generally, occurs in humans between birth and 24 months of age. According to Piaget, it is not until an individual reaches the space between ages seven and eleven years old that s/he/they become “less egocentric, and more aware of the outside world and events.” And human cognitive ability to grasp abstract concepts and “make hypotheses” again according to Piaget (a stage which he called formal operational) only begins to occur once the individual reaches adolescence.

I’m not as big a nerd as that paragraph makes me appear, although I am a pretty big nerd. My master’s degree is in middle school education, and the concepts above regarding human cognitive development were the backbone of my graduate work. As a teacher, I taught seventh grade exclusively for many years. The beauty of seventh graders is that cognitively and socially they are the ultimate “mugwumps.”

What is a mugwump?

The Guardian newspaper put it this way in a 2017 article about Boris Johnson, who, as Britain’s foreign secretary, had just entered the general election campaign and was targeting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn:

“One 1930s humorist…define[d] mugwump as ‘a bird who sits with its mug on one side of the fence and its wump on the other’.”

Boris Johnson, a Conservative, called Jeremy Corbyn a “mutton-headed old mugwump.” Which, obviously, was not meant as a compliment.

The Guardian, citing Merriam-Webster, notes that historically the word “mugwump” was used in two ways in American politics:

  1. “A bolter from the Republican party in 1884.”
  2. “A person who is independent (as in politics) or who remains undecided or neutral.”

In terms of the original etymology of the word, Merriam-Webster says: “Mugwump is an anglicized version of a word used by Massachusett Indians to mean ‘war leader.’” And “The word was sometimes jestingly applied in early America to someone who was the ‘head guy.’”

The Guardian’s 2017 explanation of the meaning of “mugwump” as a bird sitting on a fence is also how the term was first explained to me at my summer camp in Vermont, where a Mugwump is a young woman in the counselor-in-training program. She is neither camper nor counselor. She is a former camper learning how to become a counselor. The ultimate in-betweener whose strength as a valuable member of the camp community comes from her unique perspective on both primary camp roles: camper and counselor. She is neither of those things–camper nor counselor–but she was recently a camper, and therefore “gets” the camper experience, and, simultaneously, she is learning how to be a counselor with new responsibilities, training, and partial inclusion in the leadership community.

Any Buddhist reading this will immediately recognize a mugwump as a concrete manifestation of The Middle Way, which, like scarcity in economics is exactly what it sounds like. The Middle Way can be considered one of the “prime directives” in Buddhism, insofar as Buddhism has directives. In the simplest terms, it means a practitioner should avoid extremes. One should pursue the moderate path whenever possible. It is a bit more complex than that but I hope that makes sense for our purposes here.

In my opinion, the reason seventh graders, mugwumps/Mugwumps, and Buddhists who work to adhere to the Middle Way are valuable in our society is because we, as humans with a “civilization,” have become astoundingly dualistic in our thinking, actions, and planning. And I say that in the context of Merriam-Webster’s third definition of dualism:

“A doctrine that the universe is under the dominion of two opposing principles one of which is good and the other evil.”

I’m fairly certain that I do not need to provide examples of this from 2022. Or 2020. Or 2016. Which is good because, frankly, I’m exhausted by all the black-and-white thinking/arguing, etc.

So what’s my point?

Elon Musk. Twitter. #LongCovid.

There are two people I follow on Twitter who are devoted leaders/guides to our rapidly-growing #LongCovid community. Dr. Alice and D.Dave the L.C. Barbarian.

This morning, I woke up and saw this:

And this appeared on the same day as fears that Mr. Musk was planning to dissolve or radically change Twitter. For some people, that would just mean an annoying switch over to Mastodon. But for others–many, many others–it would mean losing their only support system for their chronic illness. And I don’t just mean people with Long Covid. I mean people with MS, MECFS, Lyme Disease, POTS, and a myriad of other conditions that have been swept under the rug by society and a large chunk of the medical community.

These people finally have a voice. We should protect that space at all costs. As someone said today on Twitter, the platform is almost like a “public utility” for millions and millions of people all over the planet.

We, collectively, don’t need Mr. Musk’s issues/moods to manifest in such a way that makes Twitter, the center of #LongCovid grassroots organizing, evaporate.

We don’t.

We need to stop the dualism.

We need to work together if we are going to beat covid and begin to repair the lives of the millions and millions of people worldwide who have Long Covid. Many of whom don’t even realize they have it because government messaging globally about the single most likely bad outcome from a covid infection is, frankly, horseshit/nonexistent.

In closing, a few words from Samuel Clemens.

“I was a mugwump. We, the mugwumps, a little company made up of the unenslaved of both parties, the very best men to be found in the two great parties–that was our idea of it–voted sixty thousand strong for Mr. Cleveland in New York and elected him. Our principles were high, and very definite. We were not a party; we had no candidates; we had no axes to grind. Our vote laid upon the man we cast it for no obligation of any kind. By our rule we could not ask for office; we could not accept office. When voting, it was our duty to vote for the best man, regardless of his party name. We had no other creed. Vote for the best man–that was creed enough.”


North American Review, December 21, 1906

What NOT to Say About “Trauma”

When I was going through a very difficult time earlier this year and dealing with severe grief, loss, and ableism (as a person with PTSD/CPTSD, and thus, a person with a trauma history) a family member said to me:

“I understand PTSD because I have interviewed people with PTSD.”

Which is a bit like saying “I understand the experiences of Black people because I have Black friends” if you are white.

In other words, it’s toxic positivity horseshit.

Here’s a little video that explains it better than I can.


Never, ever be so arrogant and naive as to think you “understand” anything–at all–about someone else’s trauma.

Especially if you are also choosing to believe it does not exist and taking actions based on that belief.