So why is this all of this? Why do I feel Americans would vote to make religion illegal and set us up as a police state if it means beating the Coronavirus? I'm not saying Covid-19 isn't a serious ailment. Its ease of infection and severity of symptoms is worth attention to be sure. I don't pretend I'm not concerned for my loved ones, especially my elderly Mom, as well as my sons working in the grocery and restaurant fields. I understand it is something that needs addressed and, to a point, we should do what we can to help mitigate its impact.
But I also think we've gone well beyond that point. I do believe that if the US declared all rights and liberties to be null, a great many Americans would happily don a set of leg irons and hop to the Gulags if it meant saving us from this virus. They would be the happy informants, turning in neighbors and calling for any deviants to be shipped to the prisons. Why? Happily the numbers are nowhere near as bad as they initially predicted when the news first broke of a mystery strain in China. Back then it was deaths by the tens of millions and billions infected in days. We now see it isn't that at all. Nonetheless, the hysterics and fear seem worse now than back then when the predictions were more dire. So why?
Granted, for the average Joe and Jane populace, it's because news is constantly focused on the Covid-19 outbreak, often with stories taking the most negative spin on the worst statistics and barely mentioning, if mentioning at all, anything positive. Constant stories showing the worst predictions and most heart wrenching cases are the norm. Worst weeks around the corner and endless talk of death stats are around the clock headlines. So I get why the average person is scared. As much as I try to keep my feet on the ground, it gets to me. But why? Why is it like this?
It's been pointed out that suicides have been spiking for years. Teen suicide rates are at an all time high. Suicide among children as young as ten years old are at never before seen levels. But we didn't do anything major there. Human trafficking continues to keep slavery alive, but we don't do much more than have occasional awareness specials on a newscast. HIV/AIDS and recreational drugs continue to kill people by the tens of thousands each year in our country alone. The only reaction to that, however, is to broaden the acceptable engagement in a variety of sexual activities while pushing to legalize and normalize recreational drug use. So clearly there isn't some 'deaths means snap to radical action' standard that defines our modern principles. Heck, on a good year, twenty thousand will still die of the flu, but we don't do much more than have the occasional 'Get your Flu Shot' PSA. What's different here?
Well, a few things I wonder about. I might be right or way off course, but I have a feeling I'm not too far on most of them.
First, we're watching the experts make the sausage. You know the old saying. You may enjoy sausage, but you don't want to see how it's made. Well, with this, we're seeing how the experts work things out when there is some new mystery they don't understand. Often, by the time we hear of such things, much of the footwork has been done and the experts on camera already know at least some of, if not most of, what they think is going on. That's not the case here. From the beginning, we knew one thing, which is that we know almost nothing about this virus. Every week it seems to change. Who is most vulnerable? How is it spread? What can we do? How serious is it? What are the infection rates? Sometimes we just don't have the numbers. Sometimes it's how we spin the numbers. Sometimes we're told one thing by one expert and a week later another expert is saying something else. Masks or not? Six feet or what? Who knows? After all, we've already changed the story many times already. And that's because we all joined the doctors and heard about it at the same time from the beginning. The only thing scarier than not knowing is knowing you don't know. So just the fact that we have no clue what will happen or what has happened is enough to keep everyone on edge. Especially in an age where the pop-culture narrative is that STEM knows almost everything, we know everything, and a thousand years from now there will be nothing else to know if we don't know it. Such lack of knowledge runs afoul of our dogma of progress that brings comfort to so many.
Second, it does not discriminate based on income. Fact is, many of the ailments I listed above tend to impact poorer people more than the rich and famous. Flu is a good example. It's well known that poorer people make up a much higher rate of deaths each year than those with money. In some cases, like HIV, if you're rich you can afford all the drugs needed to keep a more or less unaltered life. Think Magic Johnson. If you're poor? Well, you're not long for the world. But with Covid-19, since we don't know everything about how it's transmitted, and you might not know you have it until the symptoms are hitting you and it's too late, there appears no clear distinction between the rich and poor. You're as likely to wind up in the hospital - or worse - if you're a world leader, corporate CEO, or international superstar as if you're a janitor or truck driver. And that scares everyone - including those rich and famous who are used to mitigating things with their bank accounts; who happen to be in charge of things like businesses, news outlets, entertainment and pop culture venues, policy decisions and establishing the popular narrative. When those who divvy out the stew decide it's in their interest to take the birthrights, then that becomes what a nation must do.
Third, there's something about today and the speed with which we glom onto whatever media/social media wave is flowing. Whether it's the power of mass media, a generation with no foundational values, or a combination is difficult to say. Think on it. Just a few years ago, we went from a 'grab'em if you want'em as long as they're seventeen - if you know what I mean' approach to sexuality to 'radical feminism is truth, all men are rapist and all history is the history of rapist men raping women - so touch at your own risk.' Then we embraced the notion that such laughable ideas as due process, presumption of innocence and burden of proof have any value outside of old, dusty courtrooms. Turns out men should apologize for Jesus being male, if there is any such a thing as boys and girls to begin with. Because now we know there is no such thing as gender and procreation's connection to sexuality is a mystery. And we all know the Constitution is just a racist slave document anyway, so why not ditch that as well as the Bill of Rights, since ideas like free speech, religious liberty and even forgiveness are just tools of the white supremacy imperialism. We can do this while we move from destroying all Confederate memorabilia and begin taking down all those racist founding fathers statues. All of this has suddenly become standard wisdom and common knowledge, and in only a handful of years. That's a lot of essential foundational truths, values, ageless wisdom and common sense to just toss out the window overnight because it's all the viral rage on Facebook and the morning news shows. And yet, it is. It suggests with all of our access to unlimited information, we've become more, not less, susceptible to being swept away by the tides of all the latest rage.
Fourth, medical professionals are scared. Really. Never in my life have I heard doctors, nurses and other medical professionals complain, cry, shake with terror and bemoan their positions as front line fighters against a disease. While they are being lifted up as the new priesthood for our secular age, declared warriors, heroes, demigods, saviors, messiahs, and the culmination of all things wonderful and glorious that have ever been done, they have acted indignant and terrified. Why? It's what they do. It's why they get the big bucks. They are near serious diseases and infections all the time. Why is this different? Apparently, despite being in the front lines of any disease in the world, medical pros are rather low on the infection cases. Doctors and nurses don't die disproportionately due to things like the flu or other infectious diseases. You'd think they do but, at least from what I've found, they don't. Why, I don't know. Access to all the meds, their financial status, a built up immunity from being around them all the time? Whatever it is, this time it isn't. And like those rich and famous (who most doctors tend to be closer to than the average short order cook) they are just as likely to get hit by this and even die as that janitor or truck driver they are treating. Perhaps even more. Since politicians have logically turned to the medical profession for guidance, it's not shocking that the result of the political decisions has sounded as hysterical and panic stricken as the hundreds of doctors and nurses I've seen interviewed. Because when these gatekeepers of our secular priorities speak, the policy makers of our material world listen.
And Fifth, yes, there is some ideological exploitation here. Almost immediately the cries went out that this would cause millions to die and it would be Trump's fault! When the Stock Market dropped, you could almost detect glee in the voice of some as they reported we might be heading into a Depression. If so, Trump's reelection was almost certainly toast. Early on, pundits were calling this 'Trump's Katrina!', and making sure whatever happened would be around his neck. Even now, you have politics involved, with partisans gerrymandering the facts to make sure their side is always awesome, and everything is the other side's fault. Of course this happens all the time and with anything. In our age, politics has long replaced religion as a source of meaning in a great swath of Americans' lives. It makes sense that anything happening would be spun with the best political advantage in mind. So early on, with the Democratic primary collapsing into parody, the always Democratically aligned media, along with various Left Wing pundits, saw the advantage of jumping on the worst things happening and emphasizing the worst predictions in the hope of pinning it on Trump. Whether they still are doing so to the same degree or not, I don't know. But in this case, it was enough to encourage Trump opponents and never Trumpers to embrace the worst apocalyptic predictions, hang it around Trump's neck, and put the fear into the populace in the meantime.
While there might be others, and I feel all of these have influenced where we are, I'm wagering reasons three and four are the big factors that set this apart. The third observation is, sadly, merely part of the realization that what separates us from uneducated Medieval Peasants is toilet paper and digital coffee makers. Like it or not, we're the generation that has finally put to rest the idea that an education is all you need.
But it's that this hit those who are used to weeping for the disproportionate suffering of the low income masses while going on as normal at the country clubs and penthouses. This time, they're as threatened. And since they hold the scepter, orb and crown for defining what's important in our modern age, they get to define the terms, the priorities, the sacrifices and the price to pay.
Bonus reason. As I read over this, one of my sons mentioned another reason. Why are we doing what we're doing? Why are we going to all extremes? Why are we seeing things comparing us to the WWII generation, or memes saying we are now 'The Greatest Generation'? It could be in part, he says, that we are a loser generation that has been noting, done nothing, and accomplished nothing. We haven't hit the beaches to liberate the world. We haven't sacrificed everything and risked our lives for anything. Our big accomplishment as a generation is watching the 2500 year old civilization we inherited disintegrate under our care. The latest Netflix show and the next Smartphone dominates our age and our priorities. No matter how bad things get with suicide, depression, drugs, AIDS - we don't care. Let others die and we'll keep hoarding what we can. The Covid-19 pandemic gives us a chance to act the brave part, to finally come close to that generation that beat the Nazis that cast such a long shadow over subsequent generations. It's our chance to say 'we're now the heroes, celebrate us!' It's certainly worth considering. It's also interesting that my son would be the one to notice this.