When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring (Or Were Never Installed): The Covidiots

Once again, one has to ask:

What’s the matter with these people?

The Beach

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a shelter in place order for the Golden State’s  nearly 40 million residents to stay at home from March 20 to the foreseeable future. California is third among the states in number of Wuhan virus cases. So, naturally, people went to enjoy themselves at the beaches, hiking trails and parks.

The Hosts

New Jersey police arrested  Eliyohu Zaks last week after a neighbor notified law enforcement that a large crowd had been observed at his home. It was a wedding. Police dispersed the crowd of at least fifty and charged Zaks with “maintaining a public nuisance.”  Earlier in the week, police broke up two other weddings in the same neighborhood, and the day before, a fourth homeowner, Shaul Kuperwasser, was also charged with “maintaining a public nuisance” by hosting more than fifty friends at his residence.

This is something of an epidemic of its own. “The Lakewood Police is asking that its citizens be responsible and obey the directives set forth by the State of New Jersey for the safety and health of all,” local law enforcement said in a statement. “Those that choose not to will be subject to criminal prosecution.”

More than a dozen property owners have been ticketed for their actions in violation of  Governor Murphy’s executive order banning gatherings of more than 50 people.  Murphy was not happy, saying, “We basically have banned any social gatherings in the state. We want no gatherings of any kind. We want people to stay home, period.”

The TP Thief

Urban Dictionary recently coined the term covidiot to describe the people above, and especially “a person who hoards goods, denying them from neighbors.” One example given of a sentence using the word was “Did you see that covidiot with 300 rolls of toilet paper in his basket?”

You know, like this guy…

In Orlando, Florida, Angel Hernandezcinto has been arrested for allegedly stealing 66 rolls of toilet paper from a hotel. Though the rolls are valued at just 99 cents each,  he could be facing up to five years in prison for a third degree felony. A security guard for the Marriott Hotel in Orlando saw Hernandezcinto, who was a member of the cleaning crew at the hotel, pushing a trash can and bag inside his van. The guard checked, and there was the toilet paper.

Hernandezcinto explained that the rolls were for a poor woman he knows. A poor woman with a real problem, apparently.

15 thoughts on “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring (Or Were Never Installed): The Covidiots

  1. I am confused, earlier a post included the text of the first amendment and the context was that as Americans we have the right to peaceably assemble. You even made a point that a court challenge to these stay at home mandates should or could happen.

    I can see a governor mandating the closure of various public places but when he or she dictates how many people I can invite to a private gathering that goes to far for me.

    Private gatherings are just that, private. The home is not subject to public accomodations law. Moreover participation is totally voluntary.

    I also take issue with the concept of sheltering in place. We now are using it to mean stay home when the orginal use was to implore people to stay put wherever they are at the time the order is given. In short, hide.

    I am becoming conviced that many of these draconian rules and states of emergency are merely techniques to make the state eligible for big bucks. Two days ago they were talking about a whopping trillion dollar stimulus today that has escalated to two trillion. Why not, in the words of Dr. Evil, we go for 100 bazillion dollars.

    So Governor Hogan, now that you have made it impossible for anyone other than an essential person to do anything in this state do I get a pro rata adjustment on all my property and income taxes. In my county, we have more cases of rabies than we do of covid 19.

    • I am becoming convinced that many of these draconian rules and states of emergency are merely techniques to make the state eligible for big bucks.

      A couple of observations, in the spirit of the gadfly

      I am interested by the phrasing “I am becoming convinced”. This implies a dawning awareness, something that you have just come into. A recent realization. What interests me about such a statement like this is that it implies developing and unfolding levels of perception. If on Monday one begins to become convinced that some power or entity is abusing a crisis in order to augment levels of control, what happens by Thursday? and especially if the initial suspicion is enriched by research? So, there are two poles or directions: one toward increasing awareness, and the other away from it. It is this that is essentially fought over! The direction of awareness.

      So, the issue is awareness, and willingness to become aware, and then a fierceness in continuing forward with the critical realization. There has to be an initial awakening. Then a *will* to pursue it. But that implies a reason to do so.

      What interests me are the various *states of mind* with which people get involved when they pursue the project of *understanding their world*. But it is more than just grasping, in a temporal moment, one’s own society and culture (or *temporal modality*) when the impetus is extended to *world* in the largest sense. That is, to Being. The Ancient Rishis were existential philosophers who probed the very nature of existence, the very platform of manifest life. Though these men went farther than most in their epistemological investigation, we also have traces of this within our own traditions. At its essential point Greco-Christianity has a rather *paranoid* relationship to both *life* and *world*. By paranoid I mean ‘existentially probing and ultimately suspicious. But the core concern is for the very soul itself. It has to explain to itself where it came from, what it is doing (here), and where it goes . . .

      As regard *states of awareness*: One such state is simply no state at all. Docile placidness. The habit of contentedness. Referring again to the Allegory of the Cave, that would correspond to a general numbness, or sleepiness, or contentedness with all the flickering images and shadows that pass in front of one as one sits, immobile, facing what I might refer to as the TeleScreen. The Spectacle.

      Spectacle: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin spectāculum, from spectāre, to watch, frequentative of specere, to look at; see spek- in Indo-European roots.

      But as awareness comes to one, and how does that come about? the placidity of dreamy-life is disturbed. There, there kicks in what can be called *paranoid vision* as a start-point perhaps. I think this is where we find many people whose first efforts at awareness lead them to the errors of ‘conspiracy-thinking’.

      I get the sense that ‘something is going on’ about which I was not previously aware, and the mind searches about, impetuously, for an immediate interpretation that ‘makes sense’. So, we might agree that there are mechanisms of social control, but then there is a tendency, in a sort of folk-lore of thought, to project the suspicious attitude into fantastic and indeed rather impossible scenarios.

      Epistemological Pluralism

      It is interesting in this context to consider:

      According to critical scholars, conspiracy theorists make ‘the characteristic paranoid leap into fantasy’ – particularly because they connect many unrelated facts and events (Hofstadter, 1996 [1966]: 11). They may base their theories on (some) factual claims but go ‘wrong by locating causal relationships where none exist’ (Pipes, 1997: 31) and hence ‘inhabit a different epistemic universe, where the usual rules for determining truth and falsity do not apply’.

      A different epistemological universe? But that implies that there is a standard and agree-on epistemological universe! What is that, if such exists? Would that be the essential, non-metaphysical analysis of so-called *science*? Is that the sole *epistemological basis* we should refer to? (It has no interpretive capacity of course . . .)

      What is interesting is that when one reduces life and being to sheer materialism with no metaphysical dimension, one is in fact left with a *world* of managed culture where *the human unit* is reduced to absolute irrelevance and non-importance, reduced to something that powerful forces fight over in order to control. No *rights* and certainly no *liberty*. These are categories that have been usurped and outmoded. How we see, and how we think: these are the battle-grounds. Which in its own bizarre way is in a large degree what we see going on around us: the fight to control how we perceive and how we interpret.

      Bringing this back to the topic at hand, we now are faced with a world-scale event in which Draco appears as *what is necessary*. [A condition, principle, or conclusion that cannot be otherwise: something that just had to be].

  2. Our county is up to a dozen cases.

    Hosts: This has been my biggest concern in all this – government’s tendency to encroach on the Constitution in the name of safety. I think it’s good that – for the most part – the federal government is keeping its hands off and delegating these decisions to the states, but state interference is only one step removed and is just as threatening.

    I’m very hopeful that the intrusion is truly temporary and that once the virus wanes, freedom will re-assert its dominion. But my fear is that every flu or virus from here on out that crosses an international border will cause a similar panic and a similar response. If that happens, some of our Constitutional rights will be infringed.

  3. I don’t know if this helps — from the Public Health Law Center (dot org): The U.S. Constitution reserves the primary power to regulate health, safety and welfare for the common good, often known as the “police power,” to the states through the 10thAmendment.6 Police power in this context does not refer solely to criminal law enforcement. Rather, police powers may be used by states to promote laws in the interests of the general welfare and health of society. Public health examples of government’s police power include laws authorizing: (1) isolation and quarantine; (2) community vaccination; (3) licensure of medical professionals;7 and (4) response to public health emergencies, such as bioterrorism or infectious disease outbreaks. Though broad, police powers may be limited by fundamental constitutional rights such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression, subject to a balancing of community and individual interests.

    • Penn,
      I appreciate the edifcation.

      I would assume however the courts would interpret that to mean the states must use the powers surgically and not impose actions on the relatively unaffected. Again, balancing requires looking at the issue from multiple angles.

  4. In New York, where coronavirus has killed 32 people, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has no plans to impose a statewide mandate.

    “My job is to make sure that the state has a coordinated plan and it works everywhere,” he said this week. “I don’t think shelter-in-place really works.”

    This is the most confidence I’ve had in Cuomo. Acknowledging the reality that people need to go outside, even if their destination options options.

  5. Don’t worry, Trump is going to get rid of all of this pesky quarantine nonsense. Or at least, that’s what he’s saying now.


    The president all-caps tweeted on Sunday night, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!” And CNN’s Nick Valencia reported that Trump is “laying groundwork to ease restrictions” and the CDC is looking for a way for businesses to reopen in the beginning of April.

    • Zoe

      So basically your point is that we must destroy the village to save it and that we shall never reevaluate the quarantine rules.

      • I just came up with the Total Solution to this problem! The fear is that *many will die*. And that we might die. So, all we need to do to solve this crisis is

        1) To welcome millions and millions of deaths. To *embrace* death insofar as death can be embraced. “Ha ha ha!” we might say, literally laughing in the face of Death. “You thought we would be cowed! Go ahead, make your way among us. Cull the herd! We.do.not.care!”

        2) To become fearless about *encroaching death*. Today is a very good day to die!

  6. (Okay, is Firefox not playing nice with WordPress, that this is my n+1st attempt to post this reply???)

    What is wrong with these people? What options do we have to explain their behavior?

    1. If we look at the beach-goers and the party hosts, probably the first attitude that comes to mind is one of incredulity. It might be they cannot believe that the virus would either infect them, or that their actions would contribute to the spread.

    1a. They might be playing the odds. Maybe they think at the beach they will be able to keep enough distance from other beach-goers that the risk is minimal. Maybe they also think that the open air will make it far less likely to contract the disease than being in an enclosed place, like a mall. Maybe they are also hoping the virus dies in direct sunlight like many others do.

    For the hosts, maybe they have vetted their guests and feel safe enough, that the risk of someone with very mild symptoms showing up and infecting the gathering is small.

    1b. Also related to the incredulity is the possibility they are not even thinking about how being at the beach with beach crowds, or at home with all their friends might pose a contagion risk.

    2. They don’t care if they catch the virus, or spread the virus to others. This could extend from not feeling there is much danger, such as thinking they are plenty healthy, have no preexisting conditions, and so would not suffer much if they caught the virus, to the devil-may-care, I’m going to seize the moment and have fun no matter what the consequences are. The former attitude would be apathetic towards others because they think if others are willing to brave the danger, then they can sure well accept the consequences if they get sick. The latter attitude would hold that they don’t care who they hurt along the way in their pursuit of fun.

    3. They want to catch the virus. Some people have expressed they want to catch it just to have it over and done with. Others have suggested we should have (in a controlled environment) COVID-19 parties like the chicken pox parties of yore, when parents would send their kids over to play with a kid infected with chicken pox so that they would catch it at an early age. Then there are those fringe attitudes who would like the attention (or the paid time off from work, if their workplace offers such a benefit) should they get sick.

    3a. Hopefully this is the smallest category, but related to wanting to catch the virus is wanting to spread the virus out of malice.

    4. The last category I can think of, though everyone, please add other attitudes if you can think of them, is those who have decided they are going to go about life as normal as an act of courage. This may not be prudent, but such people would be looking at the panic that has seized the world, feel the reaction to the coronavirus is a gross overreaction, and refuse to cave to fear of the virus, or fear of social pressure. They confidently attempt to show the world they do not think we should cower in our homes, tank our economies, or treat this outbreak much differently than the annual influenza outbreak.

    I suppose that if I had to pick the category that best describes me (and yes, people could fall into more than one) I probably fit in 1a. If anything, I would like to think I’m a courageous person, but I really know that I’m not. I’m limiting exposure myself. But I’m not afraid to run to the grocery store or go to work, and it is mainly because mathematically speaking, I’m not likely to catch the virus, and I’m not likely to have life-threatening symptoms if I do. That does not in any way excuse the common ethical failing of each attitude above, which is a lack of care for other people. I might get sick, and I’ll probably recover just fine, but I don’t want to be responsible for getting others sick, especially those who are vulnerable, like my mother-in-law, who is immunocompromised due to her MS treatments.

    As a note, I just want it known that I said to my department at work before Trump issued his tweet that our reactions to the virus need to be carefully evaluated so that we don’t end up hurting more people in the long run by our efforts to fight the virus now. I don’t have any documentary evidence, but just wanted people to know that my thoughts were not influenced by Trump’s tweet, but were my own.

    As to why I didn’t mention the TP thief, well, I suppose I could say that he either is desperate, a profiteer, or sees himself as a Robin Hood and wants to emulate Jack’s example of handing out rolls of toilet paper to the poor and needy…

    • To add to your comment: Americans don’t like to be told what to do. Historically, that has been a really good characteristic. It isn’t always, though.

      How ironic that these kids would probably love Universal Basic Income, stringent climate change regulations, taxpayer-provided health care and free college tuition. But tell them they can’t go on Spring Break?

  7. Some of you all need to do some research! Pandemics have been successfully fought (until they mutate into something less aggressive or medical research catches up) precisely because of quarantines and “sheltering in.” In no case has Federal or state governments used those tactics after the fact for nefarious reasons. Want to live? Don’t want to infect others? Do your duty as an American, and, by the way, as a human being. Use good sense. Do not adopt the typical adolescent invincibility approach, or the far left “it’s all a conspiracy” approach.

    Do some reading about previous pandemics. Might actually make you think,

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