Other People’s Grandparents

Now that SARS-CoV-2 (hereafter: the virus) has spread widely in the US, I’m hearing and reading a lot of commentary to the effect: Well, it’s really only dangerous to old people. As I’ve written previously, I think the lives of our elders matter, and the same goes for the lives of people with underlying respiratory ailments, autoimmune disorders, and even who are smokers or the type of people who vape in restaurant bathrooms or on crowded public transit. I understand the actuarial/utilitarian case (regarding years left to live, etc, etc), but, of course, that argument goes out the window as soon as we are talking about our own friends and loved ones, just as it would if say, I, as someone who doesn’t have children, expressed no concern whatsoever to my friends (many of whom are parents) about a potentially deadly disease sweeping the country: Please, it only really kills kids!

I’m also continuing to hear people compare this to the flu. I’ve previously done my small part to debunk the idea that COVID-19 (hereafter: the disease) is akin to the seasonal flu, but if people are referring to the flu pandemic of 1918-1920 (that infected something like one quarter of the world’s population and killed a low single digit percentage of the same), then, perhaps, they are closer to correct. We can hope for a different and less dire outcome in this instance, but only to the extent that we take the disease and our efforts to reduce the harm it is causing seriously.

The problem with the argument regarding the lack of risk to children in this particular pandemic is, of course, that children can very easily still serve as vectors. Are you a parent? Does your child ever interact with your parents (that is, the child’s grandparents)? Does your child seem to value that relationship, or does the child see that elder as disposable? Well then, there you go: It’s time to stop making that stupid argument. (To further dispense with this case, you could just imagine that you are an older person. You may even be one.)

Given the alarmingly early unset of spring which we are experiencing – courtesy of global climate crisis, which I continue to hear almost no one make a point of speaking about when they discuss the lovely weather – seasonal allergy season is upon us, which should make for confusing and uncomfortable days ahead for members of the double digit percentage of the population who suffer allergies now that all relevant medical and governmental authorities are advising that anyone experiencing cold- or flu-like symptoms self-quarantine. There goes the spring.

Meanwhile, it’s increasingly clear that – on top of the incompetence and denial about which I’ve written previously – the key element of the White House’s response to the pandemic has been a desperate desire to avoid responsibility. Call it image management or damage control in an election year. Unfortunately, the denialist urge now seems to be fueling hysteria, while the incompetence, in my view, is a key driver of the market implosion. Say what you will, there are a lot of smart people on Wall Street, and when they see an Administration lying, floundering, and generally fucking things up as a pandemic sweeps the country, they do what any savvy investor would and panic.

Sadly for an Administration, which has been built on deceit and artifice, as Charles M. Blow writes, You Can’t Gaslight a Virus. You can trigger an utter lack of public faith in your public health institutions though, and in light of the CDC’s colossal mismanagement of the disease to date, and in view of the (racist) conspiracy theories spreading about the virus having “escaped” or been “let loose” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and our own rabid, anti-science Anti-Vaxxer movement, I find myself reflecting on the harm done to the fight against polio by the CIA and the harm done – as documented in Katherine Eban’s (at times problematic) book, Bottle Full of Lies – to drug safety by capitalism.

Which brings me to my final thought for today: Isn’t it a scandal the way we handle the flu? Every year, tens of thousands of people die of influenza in the United States and tens of millions of people contract it. We are a rich society, unprecedentedly so in the history of the Earth. Tens of millions of people in the US can’t afford healthcare, and countless people every year in this country go to work sick out of fear of losing wages or facing retribution from their employers. And this is the example people keep pointing to in trying (fruitlessly) to dismiss the seriousness of our current predicament. Oh, it’s just like the flu: The disease that we’ve been chronicling mismanaging for decades and that every generation or two kills (tens of) millions of people around the world in a pandemic. Sometimes, the status quo can blind you to its own awfulness – the relevance of this line of thinking to the Democratic primary (in which I’m strongly backing Bernie Sanders and encouraging all Democrats to look deeply into Biden’s record of lies, militarism, hostility to popular social programs, plagiarism (!!), and, of late, general confusion) should be quite obvious, but rather than delving deeply into the need for Medicare for All or its equivalent in this country, let me simply continue to urge: Reject hysteria, and likewise complacency. We should be working towards the least bad outcome the current situation allows, and, as I concluded yesterday, it’s all about the math.

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