Not Me!

The coronavirus has much of the world holding its breath –as it were. And while we read about more case in Italy than in China (where the virus seems to have weakened somewhat) many people in the United States fail to take the warnings seriously. For me, the main reason to take the warnings seriously and keep “social distance” is the fact that there is so much we do NOT know about this virus. It appears to be relatively mild in many cases while in others it is fatal. It doesn’t only attack the aged and infirm — though that is the main target — but is now attacking the young, especially in this country.

Despite our ignorance and the rapid spread of the virus the young in this country appear to be ignoring warnings and have decided to carry on as usual. I recently saw an ATV packed with six high schoolers (out of school because of the virus) bopping around our town of 1200 refusing to allow that the virus could possibly affect them. It reminded me of the photo in the paper of several youngsters in a convertible driving around after the leak in the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island. In any event, at present the Florida beaches are crowded with Spring-Breakers perhaps because Florida has been reluctant to take the warnings seriously and close down public venues. And the Mardi Gras in New Orleans has seen a tremendous upsurge of cases of the virus which is being called a “disaster.”  Heaven forbid that these events should be cancelled. After all, there is a great deal of money at stake and that’s what it’s all about!

So in this regard a recent story on Yahoo News was of more than passing interest. It said, in part:

At least five students from the University of Tampa have tested positive for coronavirus after traveling with other students from the school for spring break, the university announced on Twitter. This comes after crowds of spring-breakers in Florida were criticized for ignoring social distancing guidelines and packing beaches in complete disregard of the potential risk.

University of Tampa announced on Friday that it learned that one student, who resides off-campus, tested positive for the virus. Just a day later, the school confirmed that five students, who were part of a larger group traveling together during spring break, had tested positive.

In a word, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Or, rather, don’t you dare to tell me what I can and cannot do! Whatever the reasons given, this sort of mental blindness is a serious problem. Those young people, who are, presumably, among the better-educated in this country, will doubtless carry the virus back to their homes and spread it among those who would otherwise be safe from it. But they don’t seem to care — and this is the heart of the matter.

The steps that have been taken (lacking as they do any real sense of urgency from our feckless leader who holds science in very low esteem) are small and probably not terribly effective. But they are steps and they ask us to keep a safe distance from others and not to travel unless absolutely necessary. Above all else, they ask us to show some concern for others. If we get the virus it may be a fairly weak form and not in the least debilitating. But at the same time we may transmit the disease to someone with a weak immune system who could quite possibly die from it. That seems not to worry the young on Spring Break who are working on their carcinomas and melanomas and increasing their capacity to drink beer.

It is a sad commentary on us as a people that there are more young people — seemingly healthy people — carrying the virus in this country than in any other country in the world. For the most part the virus ignores the young and healthy, but not so in this country. At least, this is what we are reading from the World Health Organization. I put it down to the widespread use of antibiotics in the very young which weakens the immune system, unhealthy food, and a self-absorption that borders on delusion.

I have argued in a previous post that we should be the ones making the decisions about what we do with our own lives. Others should butt-out. But in this case it is evident that there are a great many people in this country at least who have decided to ignore the relatively weak guidelines and go on with things as usual. This is simply stupid. As I say, there is much we do not know about this virus. It could mutate and become as serious as the Spanish Flu. We just don’t know. There’s a point at which folks must be forced to do what is good for them and for others.

Safety in this case is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition of good health. Anyone with half a mind should realize this and act with caution. The rest need to be told, sad to say.

Paternalism

The coronavirus has the world in a dither — like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis (as Tom Lehrer might say). Despite the fact that a very low percentage of those who contract the virus actually die, steps are being taken that must give us pause.

Italy has banned all spectators from all sporting events during the month of March. There’s even talk about cancelling all sporting events. Around the world, and increasingly in this country as well, events are being cancelled right and left. Additionally, we read that the ASEAN Conference, Google News Initiative, Geneva International Auto Show, various concerts in Asia and elsewhere, and the Mobile World Congress, among many others, have been cancelled despite the fact that many of these events bring a great deal of money to the region and are immensely popular. Some companies in the United States are prohibiting their employees from air travel — even for personal vacations!

And so it goes. Big Brother is taking care of us. The assumption appears to be that we are not able to decide for ourselves whether we can take a chance to be with other people in the face of a growing pandemic. But isn’t that our decision? On what grounds can we defend the determination by various agencies to keep us indoors and away from others who might pass the virus along?

Most of the expert opinion I have read suggests that if we take precautions we can avoid contracting the virus. But apparently we are not trusted to take those steps so we are being told how to behave. This is what is called “paternalism.” Daddy is taking care of us because we are too stupid to take care of ourselves.

There are other instances of paternalism, of course, such as laws enforcing the use of infant car carriers and, my personal favorite, the law requiring helmets for motorcycle riders. Laws are generally made to protect us from others who might harm us, but in the case of helmet laws one hears the claim that when a person is thrown from a motorcycle he or she may incur health costs that will eventually be passed along to us all — as will the increased insurance rates. But this argument is weak and we simply look the other way as someone with Big Hands puts our child in a car seat or a helmet on us before we take off on our motorcycle.

What’s the problem here? It is, among other things, an attempt on the part of those in power to tell others how they must behave: it is a diminishing of our freedom. And while we love to kick and scream about our freedom, we seem perfectly content to have various agencies tell us what is good for us. I do wonder if it comes down the the fact that we really would prefer not to take the responsibility that freedom involves.

There seem to be a great many forces in this culture that deprive each of us of our autonomy. Many of the laws we obey are not only well-meaning but also necessary. There are the things we do that might harm others and which ought therefore to be prohibited. But when our behavior affects no one but ourselves — such as wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle or attending a sporting event — those restrictions seem to me to be well-meaning but unacceptable. We must presume not that folks are too stupid to take care of themselves; we must presume that folks can take care of themselves. And if they can’t so much the worse for them.

Paternalism is one of the many hidden forces that operate upon each of us and are based on the faulty premise that we cannot take care of ourselves. We should be much more upset about those restrictions than we are. And this is not an angry young radical speaking. This is an aged somewhat moderate but occasionally outraged retired person who is simply astounded by what is going on around him.

I do not mean to belittle the seriousness of the coronavirus. It is something we need to take seriously. But it is also something that we really ought to be able to handle with expert advice and not by needless restrictions on our behavior based on the assumption that we are even more stupid than we are in fact.