Sunday Morning Ethics Reveries, 3/15/2020: Oh, Hell…I Have To Write About The Wuhan Virus Whether I Want To Or Not..

Good morning…

The avalanche of Wuhan virus stories with ethical implications cannot all be squeezed Part III of the series about the pandemic’s ethical implications, especially since that one will concentrate on politics and the news media. So I’m stuck, much as I would prefer to think about almost anything else….

1. Here’s one that compels the question, “What’s going on here?” among others.  The Struthers, Ohio, police department posted this notice on Facebook:

“Due to the coronavirus, the police department is asking that all criminal activities stop until further notice. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation in the matter. We will update you when we deem it’s appropriate to proceed with yo bad selves.”

Before I got to the end, I assumed this was a serious message. It is far from the dumbest thing I’ve seen in response to the Wuhan Virus mess.Then I reached the end, and I decided that it was probably a joke.

Thinking some more, though: would it necessarily be futile to ask criminals to be responsible members of the community just for a while, for their own benefit as well as society’s? There might be some who would take the appeal to heart. If there were, however, the joke ending of the message would undermine any such impulse.

2. More on the Name Game: Our esteemed Mrs. Q had dubbed the illness the WuFlu. Checking on Google, there was a flurry or reports using that name in January and February; there was even a hashtag. I like it, but using Wuhan Virus does a better job of rubbing in the face of the appropriate parties the deceit and cowardice of the news media’s rush to follow China’s edict and pretend that the virus originated somewhere else.

Responding to the post on the issue where I announced that this site would use Wuhan Virus and not the Communist China sanctioned terms, a commenter chided me, writing, “…But at some point, after the rest of the world has decided that indeed this is a new version of corona, don’t you just become a jerk for keeping it up? Is your terminology ethical?”

My answer to the question, which goes to the essence of who I am, may have been a bit terse, for it is a fair query here, but I wrote,

No, the jerks are the ones who capitulate to political correctness manipulation, which is a form of indoctrination. Not following the crowd doesn’t make you a jerk. You need to rethink that. The acceptance of that mindset is how we get arguments about how the US should ban capital punishment and have government health care because “every other first world country” does it. Is the US a jerk because it has a First Amendment? Everybody I know, or 95% of them, take the position that the President is presumed guilty of something, and should be removed from office by any means necessary. I reject that unequivocally, and will continue to do so. When literally everyone I knew was telling me I had to listen to Top 40 radio, I became a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado. I refused to touch pot throughout my college years at a time of almost universal acceptance of the drug culture by my friends and peers, and was, in fact, called a jerk for doing so. When I was told in law school that I have to slave for A’s or I wouldn’t make the law review, and my classmates all believed it, I started a theater company, and told professors that I did not believe my grades would be my destiny, and would not alter my behavior or desires as if they would. I always regarded the “of color” linguistic foolishness creeping minority chic, and do not, and will not, use that phrase as a substitute for “black,” as it is pompous and meaningless except as a badge of political correctness. And so on. That’s been my life and credo. It was also my father’s.

Essentially, you just made a lazy argument for “Everybody does it.” I’m an ethicist.That’s not good enough. If someone can show me a reason why the news media pivoted from Wuhan Virus to “Coronavirus” (which is ambiguous) or COVID-19 other than the fact that genuine jerks like Rep. Omar and OAC were calling the name racist, the Chinese were working overtime to duck any accountability, and the newsmedia was searching for ways to make President Trump the villain in this, I’ll reconsider it. However, “But at some point, after the rest of the world has decided that indeed this is a new version of corona, don’t you just become a jerk for keeping it up?” is pure “Everybody does it.”

Yes, my terminology is ethical.

3. Stipulated: Fearmongering via speculation and prognostication is unethical. For example, here are a series of posts on The Intercept by a single nurse in a rural community who concludes, “We are Italy.” Irresponsible, and I’ll take that bet.  Here is  Andy Slavitt, Obama’s former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, telling the world that “by March 23 many of our largest cities & hospitals are on course to be overrun with cases” and that “the he stakes are higher than any most of us have ever experienced: wars, 9/11, whatever.”  People liek Slavitt do this so that if a worst case scenario occurs, they can build a career of of it. There is no downside to being wrong, since if that is the case, everyone will be relieved and uninterested in tracking down and shaming the doomsayers.

4. And here is why the most draconian measures never work like they are supposed to.

There are always unethical community members like this, and they always are part of any epidemic’s spread. Think of the HIV positive individuals who keep having unprotected sex. The technical term for them is “asshole,” or in Greek, malakos (μαλακός). Of course, the term also applied to many of the responders to the tweet, who opined that he must be a Trump supporter, a Fox News watcher, a Brett Kavanugh fan, or a Republican. In the end, deliberately spreading the Trump Derangement virus may prove just as destructive as spreading the Wuhan Virus.

5. Here’s another story I don’t expect the mainstream media to cover very thoroughly. We’ll see. Andrew Gillum, the “rising star of the Democratic Party and CNN contributor who in 2018 came within 34,000 votes of becoming Florida’s governor, was discovered by police at a South Beach hotel last week in a room with three clear plastic baggies of suspected crystal meth on the bed and floor. According to a Miami Beach police report, paramedics were called to treating Travis Dyson, a 30-year-old Miami man, for an apparent heart attack from an overdose on crystal meth. They say two other men were in the room.  Gillum, who was not arrested, was too intoxicated to answer questions.

David is a gay male escort with a profile on the website, and self-identified as a  “pornstar performer” who offers services including “gay massage.” Gillum, who is married with three children, offered this apology and explanation:

“I was in Miami last night for a wedding celebration when first responders were called to assist one of my friends. While I had too much to drink, I want to be clear that I have never used methamphetamines. I apologize to the people of Florida for the distraction this has caused our movement.”

Here’s CNN’s report on the incident, which omits some salient details.


24 thoughts on “Sunday Morning Ethics Reveries, 3/15/2020: Oh, Hell…I Have To Write About The Wuhan Virus Whether I Want To Or Not..

  1. 3. Go big or go home empty-handed might be the mantra of those seeking to feather their nests in this way.
    4. There are assholes of every political stripe. If the Democrat Party would like to keep score, I’m sure Republicans would fare better these days.
    5. The mainstream media omitting details on lefty misbehavior, shocking!

  2. Regarding #3: “There is no downside to being wrong, since if that is the case, everyone will be relieved and uninterested in tracking down and shaming the doomsayers.”

    Because there is no way to prove it.

    If you do nothing and the outcome is bad, they will say you should have done something and that would have helped. (unprovable)

    If you do nothing and the outcome is not bad, you still should have done something to make it even less bad. (unprovable)

    If you do something and the result is not bad, they will say they made a difference (not only unprovable, but an example of the post hoc… fallacy).

    If you do something and the result is still bad, they will say it would have been worse if they hadn’t done anything. (unprovable and the post hoc fallacy)

    all of these scenarios are based upon speculation. They are not provable because you can not replicate this as a controlled study.

    To that, they will argue that, a la Pascal’s Wager, it’s better to take action, even if it will have no effect because, from a decision-making stand-point, it is the safest course of action.


  3. #5: Was there really a wedding, or was it just Marion Barry day in Miami?

    I do like the last sentence of his statement, though… I will spend the next few weeks with my family and appreciate privacy during this time.” or “I’m going to go hide now.”

  4. Sort-of related to 4 (but you’d have to push it):

    NYTs article: “Throughout history, outbreaks of infectious diseases have often served as catalysts for overdue changes in the social compact, including the creation of public health authorities and water and sewer systems. Congress needs to take the broader lesson from this pandemic and pass legislation mandating that every worker can earn up to seven days of paid sick leave.”

    Since I feel that the American political center is being redefined — redefined and fought over — I think that this pandemic will have the further effect of pushing things toward more ‘socialism’. There you have ‘necessity’ and ‘fate’ working together to augment a direction already apparent.

    • I have concerns over that, but at the same time I’ve previously read some persuasive things suggesting that psychologically, survival situations and pathogen transmission both push people towards conservative worldviews (limits on immigration, purity taboos against promiscious behavior, religious faith, and individual or local control of resources.)

      On the other hand, the socialists are really loud right now.

      It will be interesting to see what wins out.

  5. Not to change the subject but I look into Ethics Alarm everyday. I’ve commented once or twice. I think I got batted around a bit. I look for reasoned dialog on both sides. I think it’s high time you consider an ethics Youtube Vlog where you can recoup some of the monetary value that this site is worth. You have a theatrical background and I think you could make it work. I’d watch, daily….. Thanks

    • It’s on the horizon, I think. I just have to dump Verizon so I can get high speed internet, which for some reason is unavailable from Verizon in my neighborhood. It’s Comcast soon for us, and then I can do the Vlog.

  6. #2 – I don’t like “Wuflu”

    I heard it in passing, and didn’t immediately get the pun. I thought it was a conspiracy theory name (that the disease was a “Woowoo” flu).

    • No. The woowoo flu is what the woowoo girls (bridesmaids) get the morning
      after the bachelorette party. Trust me, the aftermath can be readily found on Sunday mornings in many a summer resort town.

  7. From Counter-Currents [Jef Costello]. A perspective among many different perspectives circulating.

    At the same time, we are being told the whole thing may just be overblown. A few days ago President Trump tweeted “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” New York Magazine called this a “terrifyingly ignorant” message. But is it? Conservative journalists have followed Trump’s lead. Steve Hilton of Fox News quoted a public health official as saying “Most people — more than 85% — will have mild or no symptoms.” Hilton advised against panic. Rush Limbaugh claimed that Coronavirus is being “weaponized” to “bring down Trump,” and compared it to the common cold.

    So who’s right? It’s really hard to say.

    All I know for certain is that the liberal media really is corrupt enough to deliberately exaggerate the danger of Coronavirus just to try to damage Trump in an election year. The primary objective would be to create economic chaos, which seems to already be happening. Trump seems to have decided to run for re-election almost entirely on economic good news, so the best way to hit him would be for the economy to tank prior to November. And we must also note the familiar pattern: the media and liberals simply oppose whatever Trump says and does. Because Trump has suggested that the threat of the virus may be overblown, naturally the Left must take the position that the virus is a huge threat and that Trump is dangerously irresponsible for downplaying it. As Paul Joseph Watson has pointed out, if Trump had hyped the danger of Corona, the media would call his response hysterical, and accuse him of planning to cancel the November election.

  8. By George Friedman (I’ve highlighted in bold what are key points):

    Battling the coronavirus is essential. But the battle has costs, which are invariably measured against the gain. “No matter what the cost” – the approach many countries appear to be taking – is a principle that can be disastrous, particularly when the cost is so high that it cannot be borne socially. With the coronavirus, like all new and lethal diseases, alarm shapes the responses. As the cost starts to emerge, there is an inevitable recalibration. We are approaching that point of recalibration.

    First the risk. The coronavirus seems as difficult to contain as other coronaviruses like the common cold. Some people do not know they have been infected, and many who never fall ill carry the disease. Everyone is suspect. The only safe course is complete social isolation. That is of course impossible. Jobs must be worked, children must go to school, food must be bought and consumed, and so on. Humans are inherently social animals, and the perpetual threat of infection undermines a fundamental human imperative: to be with other people.

    Coronaviruses are persistent; they appear, disappear, reappear, mutate. There will be no clear moment at which the virus is eradicated, no moment at which the dread of a handshake or of a kiss on the cheek will go away. Obviously, there may eventually be a vaccine that can minimize if not eradicate the virus, but that is a ways away. In the meantime, fear will continue to haunt.

    The virus is deadly, of course. In South Korea, which has maintained by far the most comprehensive statistics on the disease, the mortality rate for those infected is about 0.7 percent as compared to 0.1 percent for the flu. As with the flu, the death rate is higher among the elderly, especially those with other afflictions. As someone over 70, I can be permitted to say that this is a bearable risk compared to other risks.

    In the United States, about 39,000 people died in automotive accidents in 2018. That is a bit over 3,000 people per month or 100 per day. It is a significant risk that most of us accept daily. We understand the risk, we take prudent precautions like not drinking while driving, and we live with it. We live with it because the price of not living with it is more than we are prepared to pay.

    Life is a calculated risk, and the question is whether protection against the coronavirus is possible, and if possible, whether it is worth it. I raise the number of automobile deaths to drive home the fact that we do take calculated risks. There has not been an overwhelming demand to create automobiles that allow passengers to survive crashes beyond the point where we are – with airbags, seatbelts and better engineering. We demanded steps within the framework of the cost of increased protection, and the price of decreased mobility.

    When the virus first appeared, the natural public response was to demand that the government stop it. Governments are useful things, but public expectations are sometimes extravagant. The next phase was to blame the government for failing to protect them. The third phase will be attacking the government for taking the steps it took to protect them. We are not there yet, but we are close.

    The cost of the protections is not merely disruption of how we live, but also a significant economic cost.

    The crisis has contributed to massive damage to the Chinese economy and, to some degree, to the decline in oil prices, since China is the leading oil importer. It has almost certainly contributed to the massive decline in equity prices. All of these will extract human costs as global economies move toward recession.

    Recessions are common. Uncommon is the refusal to attend public gatherings, which has caused significant economic loss. Here in Austin, South by Southwest laid off a third of its staff on Tuesday after the festival’s cancellation. In New York, the governor has decreed that containment sites be set up to protect people from people who have the disease. In Italy, the solution has been to divide the country into different parts and forbid the movement of people between them.

    The more sequestered the population is, the less efficient the economy becomes not merely for financial reasons but also because to produce things, even ideas, workers must be at their jobs, goods must be moved freely and so on. The coronavirus is frightening, but a recession that is more than just a cyclical event is also frightening, for it can extract a massive social cost as jobs are lost, banks fail and so on. The sequestration of larger and larger groups of the population cannot become a long-term feature of society without repercussions.

    If the virus has a higher mortality rate than it does now, the risk-reward calculus changes. If the virus can be quickly eradicated by current measures, the calculus changes. But if the mortality rate remains the same, and if the virus persists in spite of best efforts, the risk-reward ratio remains in place. What will emerge is not a bloodthirsty indifference to life. All our lives are at risk. Rather, it will be the process of accepting a new risk and staying our social and economic courses.

    The current imposition of increasingly intense measures, unless successful or unless the disease proves more dangerous, will lead to social adjustment and, of course, holding the government responsible for all prior fears.”

  9. 3. “Fearmongering” needs to be defined. I would not call trying to educate the public on the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19 by pointing to illuminating examples elsewhere in the world fearmongering. It certainly isn’t, per se, unethical.

    This Slavitt person may have ulterior motives, and some of the people stoking fears almost certainly do. Conversely, I should hope we can believe that a good number of public health and medical professionals worldwide are trying to inform the public out of a genuine concern for people’s health, not to affect the presidency of Donald Trump.

    4. Draconian measures may not work optimally, but that doesn’t mean they don’t help, nor that instituting them is ill-advised.

    • 3. Pointing to worst case scenarios like Italy and saying “we are them” is irresponsible and dishonest—hence unethical.Cross cultural and national comparisons are almost misleading and lazy.

      The problem is that since everything is politicized, there is literally no way to know what the ulterior motives are. Having this occur in an election year is disastrous. I will stipulate, however, that “future news” stories like “Pandemic might kill millions in US” are per se unethical, like the Ohio heath officials who admitted that he claim that there were 100,000 cases in Ohio was “just a guess.” He’s an asshole, whatever his motive.

      4. “Draconian measures may not work optimally, but that doesn’t mean they don’t help, nor that instituting them is ill-advised.” do you want to list all of history’s monsters who would endorse this sentiment, or shall I?

      • 3. I would say it’s more accurate to characterise the WHO (and general public health) stance on COVID-19 as based on observation of the situation in Italy (and other territories affected earlier than the Americas) and on decades of virology, epidemiology and general medical knowledge. Comparisons with Italy may be oversimplified, but they’re accessible. Those with the ability to digest more nuanced science-based arguments for social isolation/curfews/quarantine are certainly free and able to do so. Those who wish to study history to draw inferences from past epidemics can also do so. Barring the ability to create an identical planet for a case-control study, we must draw conclusions and make decisions based on that information.

        4. No need; that would still only make an ad hominem argument. I responded only to your observation that assholes exist and can reduce the effectiveness of public health strategies.

        • 3. WHO, like everyone else, can only work with what it has. That does not mean that we have to pretend that flawed models are good ones. Also, in such situations, scientists gravitate to worst case scenarios,as do doctors.

          4. But you’re ducking the point.(And I don’t see the ad hominem argument.) History’s monsters are monsters because they adopted that attitude. The attitude isn’t monstrous because those who adopted it are assholes.

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