[This post is dedicated to Michael Ejercito.]
For months, veteran prolific Ethics Alarms commenter Michael Ejercito peppered the blog with various versions of the same question: “When are you going to finish “The Pandemic Creates a Classic and Difficult Ethics Conflict…”? He was referring to this post, which went up way back in May of 2020. The rest of the title was “…But The Resolution Is Clear.” It was designated as Part I, with a Part II supposedly coming soon that would explain what that resolution was and why. It never arrived.
Stalling, I posted a Prelude to Part II. It was so long and covered so much territory that I doubt anyone read it all the way to the end (except Michael). It didn’t inspire a single comment. Here’s a precis...
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….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…
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. Freedom has always had a price…
…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, [or]…the U.S. having a catastrophic expansion of its national debt… !
…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…On this 75th Anniversary of V-E Day, it shouldn’t be hard to understand that lost lives can be acceptable when the most rational, responsible policies involve unavoidable risk.
But “Part II,” when it arrived six months later, still didn’t deliver the promised resolution. Except for the (again, long) introduction, in fact, it was a dud, but a dud that illustrated the problem with the topic. I wrote about the non-media coverage of a Johns Hopkins study that seemed to indicate that the despite the daily lists of pandemic deaths, the total deaths had not varied significantly from the previous year. As it turned out, the study was flawed, and its conclusions were not supported, though the Ethics Alarms indictment of the bias and partisan agenda indicated by the news media’s lack of coverage still applies.
So what was going to be Part II was then going to be Part III, and again stalling, I wrote a prelude to that as well. This one was mercifully short, and endorsed a statement by then President Trump as the Ethics Quote of the Century. He had said via Twitter in October, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” The post concluded,
“President Trump is among the Americans I would view most unlikely to utter an ethical statement, much less a great one, but this was a great statement, essential, inspirational, and right. I assume this is sufficient notice of what the conclusion of Part III will be.”
But there was no Part III, much to Michael’s disappointment and annoyance.
In May of 2020, my conclusion regarding what we should have done about the pandemic is exactly the same as it is today. The only difference is that my resolution was politically and logically impossible in May of 2020, and thus not ethical. (What is impossible isn’t ethical, it’s just ethics static).
We should not have closed the schools. We should not have shut down the economy. We should not have been subjected to the relentless fearmongering by the media in its efforts to ensure slavish obedience to the panicky edicts of power-mad governors, mayors, and CDC officials. The fact that these measures also had the tertiary salutary side effect of making it easier to push Donald Trump out of office by blaming him for the economic and social secondary side effect of them was, no doubt, considered a bonus.
The United States of America allowed its health experts who had, we now know, no idea what they were dealing with then and little more now, and who were driven as much by politics as “science,” force perhaps permanent damage on all levels of society because it proved impossible to do otherwise. What made this worse is that it was done in the name of priorities that reversed those that made the existence of the United States possible, and that sustained its excellence and success for centuries.
In my first draft of the Post I Never Wrote, I looked at the risks undertaken by the founders of the nation—not The Founders but the ordinary, courageous, sometimes desperate people who settled the land between the continents. If they had begun with the fearfulness and aversion to risk of their perpetually terrified descendants who now wear cloth mask talismans alone in their automobiles, they would have stayed in Europe. They would have never rebelled against England. They would have definitely never moved West, an adventure that cost the lives of 20-25% of the families that tried. They would not have fought to keep the south from seceding. They would not have fought Hitler and Japan; they would have negotiated for concessions and to Hell with Europe. They would definitely not have risked nuclear war with the USSR: Better Red than Dead after all.
In the quest for liberty, which included, they believed, great economic opportunity, better lives for their children, and strong, unique nation that celebrated what its citizens could do if left alone to do it, they took far worse risks than braving a China-bred virus that had a death rate of less than 1% for those infected beneath the age of 35, and that, when it did kill, overwhelmingly killed the old, obese and unhealthy.
In 2020 I started listing all of the ways the fear of the Wuhan virus was ruining almost everything, just as our enemies foreign and domestic would have wished. I makes me sick to have to feature Bill Maher approvingly in the video above: he’s the same toxic creep who said on the same show three years ago that it would be worth destroying the economy to get rid of Trump. The economy, I guess, but not the supply chain, art, sports, movies, theater, education, the mental and emotional health of children, law enforcement, trust in each other, the national spirit, what remained of the credibility of journalism, support for due process and the rule of law, and everything else, right, Bill?
There were various studies by economists of the “value” of each human life in terms of realistic costs that society could responsibly bear, but in an era when Obama’s “if it saves one life” nonsense is applauded as compassionate and profound, I decided they were futile to mention.
The course we were taking nauseated me in May, 2020, and I was certain that it was a tragic, disastrous mistake. I was also certain that my position would be characterized by many readers as a brutal “let the old and sick people die” shrug. Would I be willing to set that fate for myself to avoid the consequences the lockdown has had?, I expected many to ask, eyebrow raised in skepticism.
And my answer would be “Absolutely.” Of course absolutely. I never had the opportunity to fight for my country and its values, but my father did. He and his whole generation put their lives at risk so that his unborn children and whole unborn generations could experience and improve upon what our brave ancestors built for us. If I had to die in the last third of my life so that children could see each other smile and have the chances I did to grow up learning from face to face encounters rather than a damn Zoom screen, not to mention feeling that I had the freedom to succeed or fail without being hobbled by the government, I would regard it as a price gladly paid. I would shuffle off this second, if it would undo all the damage cowardice, ignorance, flawed expertise and abusive power has done to the nation I love.
You don’t believe that? Bite me. It’s true.
Donald Trump doesn’t understand much, but I think he understood how disastrous the reaction to the virus was and would be. He also knew, I feel sure, that this was a situation where, in the words of my father’s favorite obituary,
“He was right, dead right, as he sped along
But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.”
The news media and Democrats were going to blame every death on him, no matter what the President did. If he did nothing, if he fought a lock-down, and impeded the efforts to close schools, which anyone should have been able to see would cause a chain reaction of unemployment, the accusation would be that he deliberately let people die. Joe Biden and others repeatedly claimed that Trump had had the power to stop the pandemic at our borders, and had “blood on his hands” even while he was capitulating to Dr, Fauci’s “let’s see what the dart hits” orders and advice base on “science.” Now Joe Biden, by his own standards, has more blood on his hands than Trump did.
And here we are. I’m not a gloom and doom guy, so I’m not inclined to say all has been lost. But nearly all will be lost if there isn’t a national realization that we screwed ourselves, our children and future generations in 2020 far more certainly and unnecessarily than an our non-response to climate change speculation has or perhaps even will. When I read that New York’s Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul compared children wearing face masks in schools to the requirement that they wear shoes, I felt like I had seen the Grim Reaper smile
“My daughter had a meltdown about having to put sneakers on to go to kindergarten,” the governor said yesterday during a press conference after being asked about a timeline for removing mask mandates in schools. “She got used to wearing sneakers in school. They adapt better than adults do.”
This is what we let the virus do to us. I knew that it was the wrong course, but I also knew, given the erosion and rot in the American spirit, that no other course was possible.
That’s why I never finished the post, Michael.