No, I am not satisfied with the current draft of Part II, but I trust it’s obvious what the resolution referred to is. The lock-down has to end, and before vaccines, cures, or adequate medicine are available. One of the components of my research has been reading as many of the pro and con articles as I can stand. It is quite striking: the arguments for continuing the lockdown indefinitely are almost entirely authored by progressives, and are without exception characterized by bad logic, emotionalism, manipulated facts, biased analysis, fearmongering, and suspect motives. The majority of the arguments for opening up the economy soon are markedly more logical, unemotional, and based on sound statistics and analysis. Certainly one cannot choose between two options based on the quality of the advocates for each. Nonetheless, the divide is striking.
Ann Althouse chose such an essay today to critique, “Whose Freedom Counts?/Anti-lockdown protesters are twisting the idea of liberty” by Dahlia Lithwick, who has periodically been discussed here, the first time in 2010. It is e fair to say that her mind and mine run in different metaphorical riverbeds, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Lithwick’s article endorses yet another one of the same ilk, Ibram X. Kendi’s current piece in The Atlantic called “We’re Still Living and Dying in the Slaveholders’ Republic/The pandemic has brought the latest battle in the long American war over communal well-being.”
Ann makes short work of both, writing,
Aha! We see what you’re doing! What a distraction! But I suppose that because slavery was invoked, I’m expected to listen without protest while Kendi’s solemn, censorious lecture is promoted by an over-excited Lithwick. I resist. Sorry. I do hear what you’re saying, and I see how well it works to justify depriving us of all freedom. There’s never enough freedom from all the things in the world that might hurt us if we’re not kept in eternal lockdown.
Excellent. Althouse is a liberal, much as she tries to hide it, but she is not an aspiring totalitarian, like such a large swath of the current mutated progressives and Democrats. Her last sentence echoes two of my favorite quotes, “In order to have enough liberty, it is necessary to have too much,” (Clarence Darrow), and “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” (Benjamin Franklin).
I have another screed to deconstruct: a New York Times editorial by Charlie Warzel titled “Open States, Lots of Guns. America Is Paying a Heavy Price for Freedom,” or in my print edition, “Will We Get Used To The Dying?” I’ll let you read it first without my comments, here. That’s only fair.
Done? Maybe you don’t even need this: eviscerating Warzel ‘s analysis shouldn’t be too hard. Rebutting most of these essays isn’t hard.
Away we go…
The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying. I first saw it on Twitter. “Someone poke holes in this scenario,” a tweet from Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books, read. “We keep losing 1,000 to 2,000 a day to coronavirus. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. By December we’re close to normal, but still losing 1,500 a day, and as we tick past 300,000 dead, most people aren’t concerned.”
How old is Warzel, 15? We accept the mortality of modern life, just as our ancestors accepted the mortality of their own periods. That tweet is simply making sinister the adjustments that human beings have to make to get on with civilization. To that, it adds scaremongering, and Warzel joins in the virtue-signalling. Anyone who isn’t willing to keep the lockdown in force indefinitely isn’t concerned.
That’s crap. I’m concerned: both my wife and I are in the high-risk category; so is my sister; so are most of our extended family. I do not advocate the destruction of American society for my own self interest, that’s all. That’s how members of a community and democracy are supposed to feel.
This hit me like a ton of bricks because of just how plausible it seemed. The day I read Mr. Nelson’s tweet, 1,723 Americans were reported to have died from the virus. And yet their collective passing was hardly mourned. After all, how to distinguish those souls from the 2,097 who perished the day before or the 1,558 who died the day after?
People die every day, and from predictable causes, many of them a direct result of our way of life and societal choices. The Times has been running a feature showing selected photographs of recently succumbed victims of the Wuhan virus with a biographical sketch. I have wondered each time I see it: why are these people more worthy of ostentatious memorials in the Times than anyone who has died in the same period? The answer is, they aren’t. This is part of the news media’s effort to build anxiety and hysteria, which will be weaponized for political purposes. Hardly mourned? Every American is supposed to mourn everyone who dies every day? We mourn our loved ones. I am still mourning Dennis Nollette, a former law school roommate who was among the best human beings I have ever had the honor of knowing. He was carried off by the epidemic within a few days. That’s plenty for me right now. I’m not becoming callous because the deaths of strangers don’t hit me as hard as the death of a cherished friend.
Furthermore, it is not “plausible” that the pandemic will continue forever; pandemics don’t. And indeed, if they did, it would be an irrefutable reason to open up now.
Such loss of life is hard to comprehend when it’s not happening in front of your own two eyes. Add to it that humans are adaptable creatures, no matter how nightmarish the scenario, and it seems understandable that our outrage would dull over time. Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale, we get used to it.
Talk about complaining about an unchangeable feature of human life, sanity, and reality! But that kind of lament is irresponsible progressiveness in a nutshell.
There’s also a national precedent for Mr. Nelson’s hypothetical: America’s response to gun violence and school shootings.
Here we go, down the rabbit hole.
We often talk here about incompetent analogies. This is a lulu. It is embarrassing that the New York Times would consider such a contrived and illogical argument to be published as an editorial—embarrassing, and signature significance.
You should skim the next part; I know my eyes glazed over. It’s standard CNN/Don Lemon/ David Hogg propaganda and emotionalism.
As a country, we seem resigned to preventable firearm deaths. Each year, 36,000 Americans are killed by guns — roughly 100 per day, most from suicide, according to data from the Giffords Law Center. Similarly, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund calculates that there have been 583 “incidents of gunfire” on school grounds since 2013. In the first eight months of 2019, there were at least 38 mass shootings, The Times reported. Last August, 53 Americans died in mass shootings — at work, at bars, while shopping with their children. Some of these tragedies make national headlines; many don’t. The bigger school shootings and hate-crime massacres can ignite genuine moral outrage and revive familiar debates: over safe storage practices, gun show loopholes, red flag laws, bump stocks, comprehensive background checks, stringent licensing systems and, of course, the accessibility of endlessly customizable semiautomatic weapons like AR-15s. In every case, the death tolls climb but we fail to act. There are occasional marches and protests but mostly we continue on with our lives.
Yes, we are monsters for understanding the importance of the rights of self-defense and bearing arms to a functioning democracy. In reality, while there are usually, in hindsight, ways that any single abuse of firearms could have been prevented, gun deaths are not preventable as long as there are guns, law abiding citizens have access to them, and a police state doesn’t abuse its power to make us “safe.”
Notice that Warzel’s gun-virus analogy breaks down immediately. There is no societal value to pandemics. There is no right to get fatally ill. There are no Constitutional amendments preventing the government from eliminating a disease.
Changing our gun laws is politically untenable, we’re told. Gun lobbies are too strong and politicians’ hands are tied. Rather than address the root of the problem, we flounder to work around it, which is how we end up with high schools with hiding places and curved corridors to “reduce a gunman’s range.” Grudgingly, we learn to live our lives with the specter of gun violence hanging over us everywhere — when we walk into a Walmart, when we send our children to school, when we worship. Each time tragedy strikes, it feels both inevitable and completely avoidable.
Now the editorial has fully devolved into hyperbole and hysteria, as well as being misleading and irresponsible. If you are afraid to shop at a Walmart, then you should be more afraid to get into a car. If your kids are anxious about going to school, then someone, probably you, have unethically frightened them. The only way periodic gun violence would be “completely preventable” is to ban guns, and then have armed police go house to house to confiscate them. Even then, we would have gun violence.
This kind of paragraph so discredits the reasoning ability of any advocate that it renders his or her opinion on any topic dubious.
The coronavirus pandemic and gun violence are by no means perfectly analogous calamities.
The federal government, which has the power to pass stricter gun laws, has more limited powers to control states’ public health responses to Covid-19. And while other countries have curtailed gun violence, most are struggling to contain the virus.
Then there are the other hundred or so reasons. Here is a clueless pundit who thinks all nations, cultures and societies are the same, and the U.S. is behind the arc of history by stubbornly sticking to its quaint founding principles. Almost all of those other countries also “curtail” free speech, because they are willing to trade personal liberty and autonomy for safety and security, and there are few curbs on government power.
How much power the U.S. government has to tighten gun laws will be determined in the Supreme Court, and pretty soon the abuses of state governments in confining citizens to their homes indefinitely will also have to face the music.
But unlike many Western and Asian countries that are moving slowly to reopen and telling their citizens hard truths about the months ahead, the United States seems fixated on returning to normal, despite warnings from public health experts that it is too soon. As with gun violence, the data medical professionals and governments are relying on during the pandemic is piecemeal. And, as with gun violence, we throw up our hands and deem it intractable.
As I discussed in Part I, health experts focus almost exclusively on health. Health is not the only priority involved in the policy trade-offs involving the lockdown. The health experts don’t care about the other issues—literally, they don’t care—because it isn’t their job to care about the economy, or unemployment, or ruined careers and diminished quality of life. They should care about increased suicides during depressions, and inadequate preventative health care, and the deaths those and other consequences of the lockdown will cause, but Warzel doesn’t seem to be aware of these. Like the health experts he thinks should be calling the shots, he also appears not to think the U.S. having a catastrophic expansion of its national debt is anything to be “concerned” about either. Hey, it’s only money!
The federal government could have moved swiftly like some in Europe to “freeze” the economy and commit to paying at least part of workers’ salaries if their companies don’t lay them off.
Hey, it’s only money!
Instead, our economic stimulus has been scattershot and underwhelming. And the Trump administration has largely pushed responsibility onto states, offering an amorphous plan for reopening barely rooted in reality of our testing and tracing capacities. Rather than provide cautious guidance to states, President Trump has encouraged far-right protests to pressure governors in political battleground states like Michigan.
It’s called federalism, buddy. Look it up. I forget: is this a “Trump is ignoring democratic norms” day, or a “Trump isn’t enough of an autocrat” day? You guys really should put up the schedule.
Nor are those who believe that protesting is an essential activity in a democracy where various executives are proving that power corrupts “far right.”
Left to their own devices, states are opening up — many anxiously and with little idea as to how it’ll play out.
Right: nobody knows how it will play out. We do know, however, how it will play out if we lock down the economy much longer, never mind until there’s a vaccine. To give a tantalizing preview of Part II, this is a perfect example of a Scylla vs. Charybdis choice. (Hint: Scylla is better.)
The White House could lean on governors to slow the reopening process or urge caution until we can fully establish test and trace strategies that have worked in countries like South Korea. Instead, the administration seems to be cheering on the reopening while internally preparing for a substantial increase of loss of lives.
Exactly as it should.
Someone please explain to Charlie that the United States isn’t South Korea, and why.
An internal document based on modeling by the Federal Emergency Management Agency obtained by The Times projects that the daily death toll will reach about 3,000 on June 1, a 70 percent increase from the May 1 number of about 1,750.
Here is another smoking gun on the author’s competence. As noted at Ethics Alarms before, this was a model, a draft model, and one the scientist who created it has said that was not complete. Naturally, Warzel doesn’t mention any of this. All the news that’s fit to print! Democracy dies in darkness!
The advocates for Forever Lockdown refuse to argue honestly.
Along the same lines, on April 30, the day after Mr. Trump told Americans the virus was “going to go. It’s going to leave. It’s going to be gone. It’s going to be eradicated,” NBC News reported that the federal government had recently ordered more than 100,000 body bags. Mr. Trump has since predicted that the death toll from Covid-19 could be as high as double his earlier estimate, but that hasn’t stopped the administration from encouraging reopening.
Again, exactly right. When a reasonable response is described with the assumption that it is res ipsa loquitur for a false proposition, you know a writer is aiming at a pre-biased audience.
Last summer, before touring the sites of two mass shootings that killed 31 people in 24 hours, Mr. Trump argued that there was “no political appetite” for a ban on assault weapons, though a majority of Americans support one. Those remarks bear resemblance to the president’s March comments that the coronavirus lockdowns were perhaps too onerous and that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” His “LIBERATE” tweets in support of the lockdown protesters suggested a similar lack of appetite to do the hard thing, even as national polls revealed that Americans are deeply concerned about their safety and worried about reopening.
Yes, let’s have government by poll, after the news media has manipulated public opinion. President Trump is doing the hard thing. He has to open the economy, and he is guaranteed to be attacked and blamed for every death–“Blood on his hands!”—when he does.
For Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and Brown University professor who works on gun violence prevention, the dynamics of the lockdown protesters are familiar.“This group has moved the reopening debate from a conversation about health and science to a conversation about liberty,” Dr. Ranney told me. “They’ve redefined the debate so it’s no longer about weighing risks and benefits and instead it’s this politicized narrative. It’s like taking a nuanced conversation about gun injury and turning it into an argument about gun rights. It shuts the conversation down.”
Now that’s “res ipsa loquitur.” Imagine, these nut cases think preserving individual liberty is more important than maximizing safety and security!
Paging Dr. Franklin, Mr. Darrow, and Mr. Henry!
“Most of us in firearm injury prevention are not trying to ban guns…”
…though it is odd that the only way gun deaths become “completely preventable” is by banning guns….
…but the debate gets twisted by a small group of fringe extremists,” she added. “Most gun owners are smart and responsible and safety-conscious — just like most Americans want to do what’s right for public health. But the small minority dominates the conversation.”
One more time: there is more involved in the balancing act than public health.
As in the gun control debate, public opinion, public health and the public good seem poised to lose out to a select set of personal freedoms. But it’s a child’s two-dimensional view of freedom — one where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others become the chains of tyranny.
Collective duty, Comrade!
All through this polemic, the author drops hints of his orientation. You silly proles don’t know what’s good for you, but we do! This is exactly what the Founders rejected with the Bill of Rights and the Separation of Powers.
This idea of freedom is also an excuse to serve one’s self before others and a shield to hide from responsibility. In the gun rights fight, that freedom manifests in firearms falling into unstable hands. During a pandemic, that freedom manifests in rejections of masks, despite evidence to suggest they protect both the wearers and the people around them. It manifests in a rejection of public health by those who don’t believe their actions affect others.
Ew, “this idea of freedom!” You can almost hear the sneer. Warzel isn’t smart enough to avoid unmasking his intentions. How, short of banning guns and discarding due process, do you stop guns from falling into unstable hands? Naturally, he wants the government to decide who is unstable….you know, like that crazy President Trump. Conservatives. Republicans. Those who do not see The Light. The Soviet Union thought unstable opponents of Communism were insane.
In this narrow worldview, freedom has a price, in the form of an “acceptable” number of human lives lost. It’s a price that will be calculated and then set by a select few. The rest of us merely pay it.
Freedom has always had a price. On this 75th Anniversary of V-E Day, it shouldn’t be hard to understand that lost lives aren’t acceptable just because the most rational, responsible policies involve unavoidable risk.