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Opposite indignations

I just posted this set public on Facebook:

A big part of the reason why we are so divided over Covid is that different groups have widely different opinions about what sufferings connected (directly or indirectly) with this virus are properly blamed on someone. One group treats catching the virus itself as presumptively blameworthy. Someone, somewhere must have been careless, must have not worn a mask, must have been disregarding what the speaker regards as mere reasonable caution. Perhaps the sick person himself. Perhaps someone he came into contact with. In contrast, this group tends to regard tragedies that result from virus restrictions (suicides, loss of business, lack of social contact) as either the inevitable results of the virus (hence not blameable or a proper cause for indignation) or as *also* blameable on people who don't follow other restrictions: "If we'd all just worn masks or if we all would just wear masks, be reasonably cautious, etc., this would all be over." The other group (in which I openly include myself) thinks this is about as opposite and incorrect as it gets. Catching the virus itself is *normally* not anyone's moral *fault*. The proposed cautions and rules are *far* beyond mere "minor caution" (partly because we disagree with the first group about what counts as mere "minor caution"), and there is no reason at all to think that some particular person's death was the result of someone's failing to abide by some kind of obvious prudence. And the restrictions, especially *but not solely* those imposed by fiat/law (some are imposed by officials of particular organizations, some imposed by relatives and parents, some imposed by insurance companies, etc.) are rightly to be blamed for the harms they cause because they are unnecessary, are caused by human choice, and ought to be able to be *seen* to be doing more harm than good. Therefore they are a rightful target of righteous indignation, and people's getting sick with a highly contagious virus is not.

Once we recognize the vast differences between these perspectives and realize that people like me think that people like someone else have literally *reversed* "what/who should be blamed" with "what/who should not be blamed," we can recognize that it's futile and will probably do more harm than good to tone-police each other, to ask each other merely to feel sorry for people, to tell each other not to "politicize" the matter, etc. However these differences of belief arose in the first place (and I, for one, hope that I would have held the beliefs here that I do even if that had meant aligning myself with "the left"), they are a combination of deep differences both about the empirical realities of the situation and about who is to blame and what is important. Unless you can change those, we're going to be indignant with each other.

This comment was occasioned by a long debate on a friend's wall (with someone other than the friend) about one of the myriad heart-string-tugging posts by a nurse. You see them everywhere: Here's a blow-by-blow description of how stressful this nurse's shift was with several Covid patients dying. Ends by telling you to be more careful, because by not being careful you're stressing out these hero nurses by causing people (perhaps yourself) to get sick like this. It's because someone wasn't careful enough that this nurse says she now has PTSD. Shared everywhere.

Yet another person quite brilliantly pointed out on the thread that the post (written by the nurse herself) gave the distinct impression that patients are presumptively to be blamed for getting sick with a virus that is highly contagious in normal activities, and that that's a pretty unprofessional attitude for a nurse to have--resentment of patients for catching an easily contagious virus. I was much struck by that. And I remembered too all the people who have told me that the virus itself is the cause of the business closures. No, it's not. And then I realized what I said in the main post above: That this is part of why we get so ticked off with each other. It's certainly why I get so ticked off with other people: I think they are blaming precisely the wrong set of people.

Moreover, in the thread that sparked this, those siding with the nurse were trying to tell me that "all" that is being asked is "compassion" for the nurse. Well, no. And frankly, this is what that reminds me of: It reminds me of homosexuals telling Christians that "all" that they are being asked for is compassion in their churches for people who "struggle" with homosexual feelings. Nonsense. There is always some concrete further attitude or action being requested. At the least, they are being asked to encourage the homosexual to be "out" and to go on and on about his feelings in public and to ask everyone else to feel vaguely guilty about being insufficiently sensitive to him. And that's obviously just the beginning. Usually much more capitulation on concrete moral or policy matters is sought.

In this case, the "compassion" we're being asked for, for the nurse, would *not* be deemed rendered if I said: "I feel sorry for that young lady. She has a very stressful job and obviously is suffering emotionally in it. But it's a job she chose, and she does need to toughen up. Moreover, it's very unprofessional of her to be talking like her patients are to be blamed for catching this virus. And she's being emotionally manipulative by using her experience to angle for all manner of restrictions--voluntary or involuntary--that are both harmful in themselves, will probably cause deaths in themselves, and that people understandably are resistant to. So another reason that I feel sorry for her is that she's being irrational, perhaps led to it by what she's hearing and reading."

No, that wouldn't be the desired compassion, would it? So we might as well just admit that we respond very differently to things like "the nurse" posts when we have such vast disagreements. Then we can move on if we recognize the futility of changing each other's minds over such vast differences. Because we might as well not act like some little gesture of compassion for a stressed, freaking-out nurse is going to bridge the gap.

Comments (39)

Compassion is a competitive sport among women, but it is a race to the bottom where the light of reason does not penetrate. The winner is the one who expresses the most compassion, and no one checks her numbers to see if they add up. Because that would be mean. She breaks no rules if she implies her opponent may actually be heartless.

I am blunt on this: we are not morally or otherwise responsible for chance events, a set including the transmission or reception of an infectious agent. Period. We are not obligated, and cannot licitly be obligated by any civil authority, to forego our livelihoods for the prevention of such chance events, not only because we are not responsible for respiratory infections, but because the state cannot require of anyone a supererogatory work, which surrendering one’s livelihood to achieve the good of another, especially a good so uncertain, assuredly is. More than this, the state forbidding one to earn a living is an act of theft unless compensated fully and equivalently.

I have grown weary of the moral posturing. I have faceborg contacts who react with laughing emojis to stories of people literally losing everything. They are moral monsters. And while I am content as a matter of social etiquette to acknowledge the intractability of the underlying judgments, and not to pursue arguments to the ends of the earth, the opposed moral intuition is simply wrong. We are not responsible for chance events. That way lies madness - madness and the bugman hive society of the Grand Inquisitor. We must live in acceptance of our finitude, or we shall bring Hell to Earth.

You are so right, Jeff. That's one reason why I react so negatively when someone says to me, "Just show some compassion about this nurse who posted this [passive-aggressive] lament about how rough her shift was." Said lament ends with some-such statement as, "Be careful and avoid catching this virus, because we can't save all of you." Seriously? Frankly, I find such posts maddening, yet I'm supposedly hard-hearted for not joining in all the violin-playing for the nurse. Had a FB contact try to chide me for being "selective" in feeling so sorry for the people losing everything from the lockdowns but not saying enough about the poor nurses like the one whose hysteria was being portrayed at the moment. As if I have to *balance* my expressions of indignation to prove that (according to this person) my "selectivity" does not occur "along political lines." As if there is something "political" about feeling more indignation on behalf of the person who lost everything unnecessarily than emotional connection to the nurse who is using her rough shift to try to make people feel guilty for catching the virus itself. No way, Jose. I'm downright proud of my "selectivity." And sadly, I know better than to expect to change the minds of the pro-lockdown folks by asking them to feel sorry for the person losing everything. They'll just say that if we can just print enough government handouts we can take care of that.

Oh don't even mention printing money. I don't even want to know what the Modern Monetary Theorists are chattering amongst themselves right now. "Look, we're keeping the economy running with no issues! What if we kept doing it, but more! See, it's been tried and it works!"

As for the allegation of "selectivity", and its being somehow invidious, I will point only to the selectivity of the liberals in decrying certain high profile incidents of real or alleged police misconduct, arguing that the risk of getting beaten or shot by a suspect is part of the job, while simultaneously arguing that respiratory infections spiking in the cold months and working long hours are extraordinary circumstances in medicine. Except that they're not.

Shut up and do your job, and maybe refrain from venting people to death when mere supplemental oxygen will suffice, on the specious ground that the latter would spread covid everywhere, and that covid had an IFR of infinity, or whatever they were claiming, and are still implicitly presupposing.

I have no desire to get into the whole MMT thing, and I don't even believe that the evidence shows that the economic crisis in Venezuela is uniquely a product of whatever from of socialism they claimed to be implementing - it's more complicated than that - but metaphorically, the demand of the Left, and the lockdowners, has been for Doing a Venezuela: shut down the economy, even the food plants, if you remember that discussion from spring and summer, and just give people money. Infinite money chasing a world void of goods and services. Yeah. That'll work out well. The whole thing has passed beyond stupidity and folly into sheer nihilistic malevolence; but it works out stupendously for Bozos & Co., which tells us something about this thing in the West that identifies as the Left.

Infinite money chasing a world void of goods and services. Yeah. That'll work out well.

Right, we haven't agreed this much in fifteen years, Jeff. A toast.

I have always said that remembering (or just believing in the first place) ex nihilo nihil fit would help a lot in economic considerations.

My only slight disagreement is that I think you may underestimate stupidity and folly. I know people of good will who are enmeshed in them in these very areas. As far as I can tell, they are sincere in saying the most jaw-dropping things. I'm willing to consider it vincible ignorance and hence blameworthy to some extent, but my faith in the fundamental rationality of man has taken a massive hit in 2020, and I thought I already had a sufficiently low view of that human property on January 1, 2020, to be beyond surprise. I was wrong.


Since I happen to be reading "The Gulag Archipeligo", your loss of faith in people's fundamental rationality brought to mind that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was so committed to the communist party that he remained faithful long after being absurdly and unfairly imprisoned by the communists after fighting for Russia in WW11. Communism was his religion, he could not bring himself to question it. I believe we are witnessing a little bit of that kind of leap of faith from frightened and hysterical people who will not, can not, question their Utopian dreams.

I greatly enjoyed your series on the biblical Nativity story and have enthusiastically subscribed to you on youtube.

Thanks, Paul. There are two more in that series coming out. One more in about thirty-five minutes today and the last before Epiphany. Then, not sure what the next one will be, actually.

I had a sad experience today: I've been going to my gym with a clear face shield for a few months, ever since they re-opened with a face covering requirement. Nobody minded. The face shield reaches from my forehead down past my chin. The employees have been nice, friendly, I've smiled at them, everything was fine. Today an elderly couple complained about it and the manager came apologetically while we were walking the track and told my husband and me that our face shields were not approved coverings and that we would have to switch to masks instead. The woman in the couple sat a few feet off on an exercise machine and said audibly, "There's such a thing as the CDC," grumbling at us triumphantly on top of the (nice) manager's telling us we'd have to wear masks. It was so sad. I've smiled at that elderly lady and her husband when I've seen them there before. But they just tossed that little bit of friendliness and community out the window by getting us restricted from our gym. I was nice to the manager. It wasn't really her fault. I'm pretty sure the management would have continued accepting the face shield if no one else had complained. But this couple literally believed that my husband and I were endangering their lives by walking around a track anywhere near them wearing large plastic face shields, breathing in and out. This is civilization-breaking insanity, breaking so many normal social bonds. Sad for them that they are so irrational and interfering in other people's harmless lives as a result of their irrational beliefs. Sad for me to lose my gym. I'm not going to wear a full mask for cardio exercise. I politely told the manager that I'll be giving up my membership. But I wished her a happy New Year.

We are not responsible for chance events.

If the virus were purely random I would agree. While I admit it is very difficult to control, some countries and areas have been vastly more effective at doing so than the (not very) United States. Singapore has one of the highest population densities in the world and 29 total deaths. Japan and South Korea have two of the largest metropolitan areas in the world in Tokyo and Seoul, yet their countrywide death totals are 3514 and 942 respectively. These are orders of magnitude less per capita than the US. According to Lydia and you, to even observe this fact about our collective failure as a nation, currently being compounded by an incompotent rollout of the vaccination program, is to irrationally assign blame where it doesn't belong. If someone had told me fifteen years or so ago that Christian conservatives, who profess to be guided by the commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself," would be so indifferent to a mass casualty event like a pandemic spreading like wildfire through the country, I would have assumed they were lying.

More than this, the state forbidding one to earn a living is an act of theft unless compensated fully and equivalently.

If taken at face value that statement is glibertarian nonsense. There are plenty of laws about which kinds of work are illegal; and many, many more about which policies and procedures are permitted within legal professions, including transport and storage restrictions of potentially dangerous items, even if one feels they are qualified and morally justified in pursuing that career in whichever way they deem safe or sufficient. Second, the stinginess of the national GOP in giving relief to those forced out of work should cause some indignation based on this idea of theft, but that is somehow transmuted into a lament over printing money.

Step2, you know well (and would have remembered if you had reflected for a moment) there is a vast difference between a state making a law saying "starting on 1-1-2023, doctors shall be required to add X requirement in order to continue to be licensed physicians", and making a law saying "starting tomorrow, barber shops will be closed until we say otherwise". Closing down an entire industry, (not merely adding one more minor regulation), overnight rather than through long lead time, is the same thing as taking away their livelihoods without recompense.

It turns out that oddly enough, the illegal aliens who had been working under the table (such as cutting people's lawns and cleaning their houses) were NOT impacted nearly as much as most legal day laborers in service industries, because they simply ignored the new rules and kept working. The rules landed on the legal employees of service industries horrifically.

I know that this doesn't apply equally to Korea and Singapore, but scientists are honestly baffled by Japan's low rates, because they DIDN'T engage in highly restrictive measures - rather less than most of Europe.



Japan has not engaged in expansive testing, contact tracing, or strict quarantine measures and yet is reporting a slow growth rate of infected persons and a death rate that is currently just 1/10 of the world average. It is difficult to make direct comparison of infection rates, because the number of tests per capita varies dramatically between countries. However, this low death rate cannot be simply explained by lack of testing or reporting, as no surge in death from respiratory syndromes has been reported either.

I noticed you did not include China. Of course, China's methods might have left something to be desired: welding shut sick people's doors might not garner much compassion. But it is equally true that Americans were RIGHTLY wary of certain kinds of contact tracing, (such as used in Korea) as putting too much information into the hands of others and violating privacy - maybe not such a terrible risk right now, but potentially a very great risk for a more oppressive government. The RIGHT balance there has not yet been settled upon.

When the science and history books are written 3 to 10 years from now on COVID, it is possible that the US will have been found to be stupid on MULTIPLE counts: using too oppressive measures to shut down, AND not doing enough in other methods to prevent / treat illness. But one thing we can already be certain of is this: there were far too many political leaders acting to be seen acting and just making it up as they go, without even an ATTEMPT to reasonably balance non-COVID harms, illnesses, damage, and deaths against projected COVID harms, illness, damage and deaths.

There is another aspect of the argument that seems to have been little-considered. Some claim that the government should have recompensed / re-imbursed those who were impacted from the shut-downs. And say we didn't do enough. But the question is: how? The devil is in the details, and it isn't easy. For example, increased unemployment benefits is one pathway, but it doesn't help those who owned their own business and weren't laid off "employees". Similarly, PPP "loans" (and boy, what a problem that name "loan" is) also work for paying employee pay checks, but what about the interior designer who didn't have paychecks (just took profits from the business)? (Not to mention the difficulties of employers who can't QUITE meet all of the criteria to get their "loans" forgiven, but whose company revenues will never recapture the lost business of 2020. And what about the persons who had NOT BEEN part of the work force in February 2020, but who were ABOUT to be part of the workforce in May 2020 after schooling? While I can agree in principle that "we could have done more" to cover those directly impacted by the shut-downs, identifying the right affected persons and specifying the right mechanisms to help them is far from obvious.

But perhaps the biggest problem is this: "the government" is a mis-nomer. There is the federal government, and then 50 state governments. The federal government has an interesting and complex relationship to the Federal Reserve, and while it is not SIMPLY true to say that the federal gov. can simply "print more money" at will, there is some element of truth to the phrase. But state governments can't. They are not the arbiters of the monetary system, they are mere players in the system (like individuals and businesses). They have to balance their books. (In many states the state constitution requires that they balance the budget every year in certain specific senses of "balanced", unlike the federal gov.) So, if they start handing out new money, they have to GET it from other sources. And while there are ways of raising state revenues (by raising tax rates), that is a well that has a VERY certain bottom to it, i.e. there is a negative feed-back loop in raising tax rates to increase revenue. There is no certainty that it would have been POSSIBLE to raise tax rates high enough to cover dollar-for-dollar hand-outs to those put out of work by draconian shut-downs, given that the shut-downs crimp the very economy generating the revenues to tax. You can't shut down 1/3 of the economy and glibly expect the other 2/3 to simply carry the full load of government AND pay the other 1/3 their living expenses.

I trust that anyone reading my words recollects, with a degree of clarity approaching divine illumination, that I am anything but a glibertarian. It is a source of consternation and shame that those of us who are not libertarians are surrounded by people who, quite far from holding freedom, narrowly construed, as the summum bonum, don't even consider it one of the goods in the bundle, to be balanced amongst the others. Far from propounding a philosophy of liberty, they propound a philosophy of submission, a philosophy of the fist, the boot, the truncheon, and deprivation. Liberals and the Left, and all too many conservatives, well, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and in so doing they reinforce all of the worst trends of the age, in governance and political economy.

I fully subscribe to the maxim, "Love your neighbor as yourself", which is why I cannot endorse impoverishing the neighbor over fears of a virus. I would not will uncompensated deprivation for myself, and so I will not will it, or endorse it, for my neighbor. It is truly that simple.

As for the success of Japan and South Korea, many actual scientists suspect that, among other things, the Asian nations have a higher degree of innate immunity to coronaviruses owing to the origination of most novel coronaviruses in Asia. It is also worth mentioning that most Asian nations have not followed the Pharma-dominated West in the prohibition of the use of old and established medications that, when administered properly, have proven successful in the clinical treatment of this virus.

I endorse Tony's observations in the last two comments. There is no such thing, in sane policymaking, as optimizing for one variable, and what our cynical pols, and their public health retainers, have done is attempt to optimize for the lowest number of deaths *that can be attributed to covid*, regardless of the impact of this decision on deaths *that can be attributed to other medical crises and to the fallout of the lockdowns themselves* - and optimization for this one variable is, ultimately, optimization of the reputations and publicity of the pols themselves, who must be seen to be *doing something*, even if it is pig-stupid and destructive, but likely to garner the favor of the jackals in the yellow press. I can say nothing more of them save that Hell Awaits.

Lydia, you make a very good point about the chasm of differing assumptions and perceptions of reality; but I'm going to add something I've mentioned several times now: the substantial policy variation across states. These variations produce significant effects on the way folks perceive pandemic-related events.

By way of example, about three miles from my house, we have for months observed an extraordinarily consistent and somewhat baffling pattern at a particular strip-mall: it's constantly crowded with cars and people, and has been since late spring. Now, of course, in Georgia, we have had no government restrictions on regular activity since May, so this conduct is perfectly legal. But still, we have often wondered, what the hell is going on in that place? Well, finally I drove through one time in September, and discovered, tucked away in a somewhat hidden corner, a thriving sports bar, crowded with unmasked people. Then, last weekend, my daughter drove through and investigated more thoroughly, concluding that, in addition to the sports bar, there was a night club with a valet service and whatnot. Now I'll add the final touch: the clientelle at both establishments is overwhelming African-American.

So, for Step2 (and that side of the argument): Would you recommend promulgating various draconian measures, and then sending the police to coerce compliance at these establishments?

And for Lydia (and that side of the argument): Do you think I am wrong to view the crowds at these establishments with a markedly censorious cast of mind?

To be clear: I don't favor draconian measures (I think strong recommendations not mandates are the way to go with masks, for instance), and I would actively oppose sending the police to break up these crowds; but I do firmly believe they are taking dangerous and irresponsible risks.

But, I can easily see that, were this going on in New York or Massachusetts or Michigan, and the police did show up and forcibly break up the crowds, I might very well swing to the other side of the argument, swelling with indignation that government officials have rendered edicts that make watching football with some friends illegal activity.


Tony: what's your view on the idea that the 2002-03 SARS outbreak at least partially explains the successes of east Asian nations, because of cross-immunity and behavior changes?

Paul, I have no specific views on how SARS may or may not have affected the Asian countries with COVID results. It is plausible but there are a lot of other factors that may play a role. It may turn out that there is even a genetic issue - maybe something broadly found in the eastern Asian nations' genetics helps. Or diet. Or, as you mention, behavioral things (like wearing masks). I have a healthy respect for what we DON'T know yet. As a result, I am interested in what the low rates of COVID in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore may (eventually) tell us, and increasingly skeptical of drawing inferences too soon about different shut-down approaches and how they affected COVID rates.

I have been hearing much recently of speculation that different strains may have (wildly) different rates of communicability. If so, it might be necessary to track the prevalence of different strains of COVID over various time frames in order to have any hope of making valid inferences from different social attempts to corral the disease(s). Given that currently we are still not fully able to deploy adequate numbers of testing kits (and process them) that merely detect COVID and not different strains, I am not confident we will EVER have the information needed to successfully parse out the human-decision-based factors bearing on COVID levels, if different strains are 2 or 3 or 10 times more communicable than others. I hope this concern is unfounded (i.e. that the communicability of the different strains is relatively similar), but I don't think we know enough yet to simply set it aside.

I will not include China for the simple reason they have lied about this virus from the beginning and presumably are continuing to do so. Furthermore, their genocidal treatment of the Uighurs and brutal treatment of Hong Kong have caused me to categorize their government as international outlaws.

I fully subscribe to the maxim, "Love your neighbor as yourself", which is why I cannot endorse impoverishing the neighbor over fears of a virus.

You do so by advocating for little or nothing to reduce the number of other neighbors permanently harmed or perishing. The complaints about randomness, pure chance, etc. are a based on a denial of the germ theory of disease. Moreover, for someone who disdains libertarian philosophy, you mimic them with a heavy concentration on economic issues.

Would you recommend promulgating various draconian measures, and then sending the police to coerce compliance at these establishments?

The notion that recommendations in an American context are going to be largely followed without imposing penalties seems very improbable and ahistorical. One of the interesting cultural points in Tony's links about Japan was that the public did, almost universally, follow the recommendations without requiring coercive measures. They also apparently have no social stigma of any sort connected to wearing masks.

Do you think I am wrong to view the crowds at these establishments with a markedly censorious cast of mind?

The night club, no, not wrong to be censorious, because it's a night club. :-) That causally overdetermines the whole issue anyway and would be in place even if we'd never heard of Covid.

The sports bar, if this were early in the year when things were just revving up and we knew little about the virus, you wouldn't be wrong to think the sports bar should be voluntarily less crowded. Now, depending on how "markedly" is "markedly," you're probably overreacting, because now we know that the virus is much less deadly and damaging than we at first feared it was. That doesn't mean people don't die of it. But there is a *legitimate* scientific argument over whether we have a significant number of excess deaths as a result of it, and the plummeting numbers this year on seasonal influenza are a scientific puzzle that, as far as I know, nobody has explained yet. Naturally, I would be markedly censorious if some of these people then came down with symptoms they suspected were Covid (or should suspect) or any other serious, communicable disease and then went, "Hey, Grandma, how about if I come visit you?" without giving Grandma so much as an opportunity to have full information and demur. But that would be true even if they never went near a crowded sports bar in their lives.

The complaints about randomness, pure chance, etc. are a based on a denial of the germ theory of disease.

Step2, that's one of your zaniest comments in well over a decade of your comments that I have seen. And that's saying a lot. And "zaniest" is a polite word. But Jeff doesn't need me to defend him here.

It is difficult to see how a denial of responsibility for chance events, such as the transmission or contraction of an infectious disease, entails denial of the germ theory of disease - except on the presupposition that individual incidents of transmission or contraction can be connected with specific individuals beyond all reasonable doubt, and to the exclusion of all other potential sources of exposure. I have previously expressed my doubt that this is possible outside a laboratory setting and a deliberately constructed and monitored experimental situation, and I reiterate this doubt. The best we can do, even with testing, is to express probabilities within a certain range, probably not even as high a range as most people believe possible, in most circumstances. However, on the assumption that such highly specific and certain connections are possible objects of knowledge, they are, or would be, possible objects of knowledge only by means of highly intrusive means of surveillance and control, so intrusive as to be totalitarian and destructive of virtually all goods of human flourishing other than those related to not contracting or transmitting a virus, and would properly be referred to as elements of a regime of biosecurity as described by Giorgio Agamben.

And I should think that anyone sane, of any political persuasion, aims at something more elevated than bare biological existence.

The notion that recommendations in an American context are going to be largely followed without imposing penalties seems very improbable and ahistorical.

This is true, Step2, but not an answer to my question.

As a result, I am interested in what the low rates of COVID in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore may (eventually) tell us, and increasingly skeptical of drawing inferences too soon about different shut-down approaches and how they affected COVID rates.

Agreed, Tony. There was a time, probably around mid-April on 2020, when I half-hoped that increased humility would be one of the few positive effects of this plague. Well, turns out, nope.

because it's a night club. :-) That causally overdetermines the whole issue anyway

Ha! Okay. But on the sports bar: I personally despise night clubs and always have; but I like sports bars. Back in 2011, there was a Denver Broncos sports bar here in the ATL suburbs that I hung out at regularly, to watch that crazy Tim Tebow season (Tebow to DT against the Steelers in the Divisional Round -- still a top-5 Broncos highlight of all time). But if someone asked me "hey Paul, do you think it's wise to watch a football game at a sports bar?" I would say, "hell no; it's reckless and irresponsible; don't do it."

Also, the question of hospital capacity is a huge one, isn't it? My wife's aunt (central Alabama) had a serious medical emergency, but the hospital was full and could not take her. Meanwhile, my wife's uncle (south Alabama) had a serious medical emergency, and only was admitted because he knew personally some of the hospital staff.

I know many people in Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta (which just completed a huge expansion) struggling with overwhelmed staff. Maybe we should build out our hospital capacity. Maybe our PPE supply-chains have been grossly mismanaged -- I'll agree to all that; but when we get to the point where people die of treatable ailments in ambulances waiting to get to the ER (as in NYC in April and LA now) -- well, that ain't good.

Since you seem inclined to agree that Americans are often rebellious, the only way to get a high degree of compliance is to threaten and use coercive methods. For starters, I would set curfews on all bars and indoor restaurants at 10PM, as the level of drinking and other "loud" activities generally seem to increase around that time. For most scofflaws there would be a system of escalating fines. There are always the egregious cases that require a more strict first response though. In those cases, for example known carriers violating quarantine, I would require electronic monitoring and vehicle impoundment.

Simply because there are doubts about the source vector doesn't mean we should discount known probable vectors. If I increased your chances of getting the disease from say 10% to 80% by not wearing a mask when I feel congested and then start coughing directly in front of you, the claim that we can't know with absolute certainty that your infection was directly my fault doesn't negate my recklessness in exposing you to that higher probability. Of course that is an exaggerated example, but the general point is that some degree of blame, even when there is reasonable doubt, can be assigned to actions that increase the probability of harm to others through intent or negligence.

A friend of mine who owns a bar/restaurant has mostly ignored our state's strictures from the very beginning. His argument is that his customers are adults, and that no one compels them to enter, or to stay once they've come in. "We're all grown-ups. If people walk in and look around and don't like what they see they're perfectly free to leave. No one is holding a gun to their head." He has repeatedly said this or some equivalent since the early summer.

Funny thing is only two of the regulars, i.e., those of us who've showed up at least once weekly since July, have gotten COVID. One of them got it from his girlfriend, who isn't a regular. The other was me, and I have no idea where I got it.

Point being, not only is state power being ratcheted up (and it never fully ratchets back down), but the populace is being infantilized. It seems to me that an overreaching government combined with an infantilized population is a recipe for disaster for a civilized nation, but also that certain forces desire precisely that recipe in order to consolidate control.

"I should think that anyone sane, of any political persuasion, aims at something more elevated than bare biological existence."

Del Noce argues somewhere that a society that prioritizes biological life over truth is on its way to ruin.

"for someone who disdains libertarian philosophy, you mimic them with a heavy concentration on economic issues."

Ah, for Auld Lang Syne, when "the left" actually gave two figs about economic issues! Things are bass-ackwards when a faux-lefty calls a true lefty a libertarian because he has "a heavy concentration on economic issues."

Mere probability doesn't cut it for the assignment of moral responsibility, let alone legal liability, as the occasional unhinged pol has demanded over the course of this pandemic. Were I, knowing myself to be ill, to go about in public and, with full knowledge of the potential consequences of such actions, deliberately cough or expectorate in the faces of other people, that would - I imagine - meet the burden of proof. But this pandemic has precipitated a secondary pandemic of mass hysteria, in which people assert that merely not wearing a mask, even outdoors, constitutes a legally actionable threat to the health and safety of others, even in the absence of illness and the knowledge of illness, and surely in the absence of any willful intention to transmit a pathogen to others. In other words, that not wearing a mask is not merely a minor or misdemeanor violation of a public health ukase, but a form of assault against other persons.

And that is lunacy.

It evacuates from our common moral language, and in prospect, from the law itself, the categories of knowledge and intent, collapsing the entire weight of judgment upon the bare occurrence or non-occurrence of a legally-specified act. It would be like categorizing any act of speeding as assault with a motor vehicle, on the grounds that some unspecified, and probably unspecifiable persons, might have been harmed should you have lost control of the speeding vehicle. It would thus collapse the hypothetical into the real, as in all of those scenarios conjured by the neocons during the springtime of the Great War of Terror: this possibility, however remote, is so awful, so terrifying, that we must regard it, in law and policy, as an imminent threat, even as something that has already occurred, and act accordingly. This mindset has already subverted the rule of law and undermined civil liberties, and its extension to yet another domain of policymaking, in a way that will benefit both the surveillance state apparatuses and yet another set of connected economic interests, will further erode law and liberty.

As I have said, it might be possible to approach such an hypothetical world of ubiquitous and inescapable moral and legal responsibility by means of biosurveillance. Why anyone should want to live in such a world is a mystery to me. It would be a living death, with every other human good obliterated by the purely negative goal of minimizing a particular type of physical suffering. Not even the beasts wish to live in such a way.

As I have said, it might be possible to approach such an hypothetical world of ubiquitous and inescapable moral and legal responsibility by means of biosurveillance.

Indeed, one of the rabid rumors I have read is that the Moderna vaccine introduces specifically identifiable radio-active protein structures - specific to each individual person who gets the vaccine so that governments (and companies) can "literally track your every movement" by the presence of these signatures. Now, I consider such rumor to be idiotic on several counts, but not on the count that it will always be impossible to create such signature substances. I hope never to live in such circumstances.

Nice, I am sorry you got COVID, I hope you have recovered fully (or are well on your way.) Several members of my extended family have had it: some are fully recovered, and some (having it recently) are still in the process of getting better. None have severe lasting effects, so far.

It evacuates from our common moral language, and in prospect, from the law itself, the categories of knowledge and intent, collapsing the entire weight of judgment upon the bare occurrence or non-occurrence of a legally-specified act.

Okay, explain how Catholic doctrine considers an act immoral by its object if knowledge and intent are the proper lens of moral language.

It would be like categorizing any act of speeding as assault with a motor vehicle, on the grounds that some unspecified, and probably unspecifiable persons, might have been harmed should you have lost control of the speeding vehicle.

Your actual position is that there should be no laws against speeding, because unless there was intent or knowledge to cause harm to a specific person there can't be public rules against possible harms (despite all the laws to the contrary). I would love to be able to use this argument, "Sorry officer, I wasn't attempting to endanger anyone therefore speed limits don't apply to me."

...this possibility, however remote, is so awful, so terrifying, that we must regard it, in law and policy, as an imminent threat

In what world is 350,000 dead citizens not viewed as awful?

The niceties of Catholic moral theology are irrelevant, inasmuch as *not wearing a mask* cannot, under any plausible analysis, be considered an intrinsically immoral and disordered act. It is not immoral by its object. Moreover, the various modalities and types of cooperation considered in Catholic moral theology presuppose knowledge and intent as categories of moral analysis. For example, if one votes for the pro-choice politician for the express reason of her support for abortion, and with the object of securing the legal right to provide and procure abortions, one intends one's vote to express agreement with legal abortion, and to aid in the securing of the legal regime that undergirds abortion.

No, my position is not that there should be no laws against speeding, merely that speeding is not assault with a motor vehicle, owing to speculations about hypotheticals; analogously, *not wearing a mask* is not assault with a pathogen, or killing grandma, or any other such thing, similarly based upon mere hypotheticals. Moreover, there are analogies and disanalogies between speeding and not wearing masks, mostly having to do with the respective degrees of control over motor vehicles and the transmission of respiratory diseases, and with the other human goods that may be impacted or even infringed by regulation. It does not follow from the case for speeding laws that there should be laws mandating masks; nor does it follow from the case against mandating masks that there should be no speeding laws.

The analogy to the War of Terror fearmongering concerned the absurd hypotheticals about someone not wearing a mask killing grandma, or causing a superspreader event, such that criminal sanctions against the mask refuser should be imposed, as some pols and commentators have suggested. Not wearing a mask is not assault. Not even close. To suggest that it is, is as absurd as suggesting that espousing a religion, or opposing American foreign policy, renders one a terrorist likely to seek a recapitulation of Sept. 11, 2001.

350,000 deaths are indeed awful. But there are worse things in this world than death, even many deaths. Being locked in Zoom world forever, one's life subjected in all of its details to the dictation of bureaucrats in a regime of biosurveillance, will be one of them, precisely because it will be one in which there are no checks and balances upon the powers controlling your life - and worse still, because that power will be simultaneously omnipresent and centerless, the product of overlapping and interpentrating agencies, institutions, NGOs, corporations, and networks of elites and their retainers. The worst thing is not death. It is power without recourse, without opposition or exit.


Yes, there are all manner of absurd rumors and theories about the vaccines. As I grow older, though, I come to a greater understanding of why people are susceptible to such theories and speculations. Technologies that could, if sufficiently advanced, track your every movement, and transmit your biodata, from within your body, are being studied, and are a staple of transhumanist fantasy. Those technologies, even the quasi-embryonic forms now being experimented with, are not contained within the vaccines. However, the manifest and undeniable corruption of virtually the entirety of the elite class leads many otherwise normal people to connect dots that don't actually form a coherent pattern; and the insane musings of the technocrats and transhumanists, which is more and more known among the general public, also encourages the connecting of dots that don't actually form coherent patterns. Perhaps, if elites don't wish for the general public to fall prey to such theories, they ought not have such a suspicious obsession with surveillance and data; nor should they be developing nanobots and speculating about introducing them into human bodies, nor about, having introduced them, using them to gather and transmit data - among many other bizarre things that are being, or have been, researched. These things are genuinely unnecessary for the advancement of human health, which can be improved by rather prosaic means, and for much less in expenditure.

In what world is 350,000 dead citizens not viewed as awful?

(1) Would you rather have it be a world with 100,000 US citizens dead of COVID by taking successful steps to reduce COVID deaths by 5/7?

But wait: (2) would you rather have it be a world with 100,000 US citizens dead from COVID;
and 700,000 citizens dead of causes that would not have occurred had we not taken successful steps to reduce COVID deaths by 5/7?

For those who didn't notice, I am showing that question (1) is underdetermined for figuring out which one you would rather have.

We will NEVER know how many life-years will (in the long run) have been lost due to the steps taken. Parts of it will (eventually) be counted, but parts will not: for example, the stress of (at the same time) being out of work and being unable to socially interact with people normally WILL show up as reduced health, and (in the long run) will reduce the effective number of years lived by those more stressed by our efforts. These will never be tallied up. We might, possibly, put a number on the years lost due to cancer and heart disease treatments being delayed, but we will not do so for all diseases and other factors than disease.

Nor am I even attempting to show that there can be other measures besides years of life lost in the balance, though it is manifestly true since merely "being alive" is not the only good.

No, my position is not that there should be no laws against speeding...

You can claim that but it is the logical consequence of your position. If speeding laws are not creating a legal liability for causing possible harms, with the intended consequence of a preventative effect upon those harms, then there is no moral justification for having them. I know you will not say they are capriciously arbitrary, so there needs to be a moral reason for them.

...merely that speeding is not assault with a motor vehicle, owing to speculations about hypotheticals

While I wouldn't say speeding is automatically an assault, in certain contexts (for example an ice storm) speeding or even going the regular speed limit is beyond idiotic because the odds of harm are so much greater. In other words the context matters greatly on the moral analysis. Being in a pandemic is analogously equivalent to being in an ice storm while driving. Acting like everything is normal, or should be normal, is living in a fantasy. Speaking of which, your doom and gloom scenarios presume that nothing will change once the pandemic is finally under control which doesn't seem very plausible. I guess a few people might prefer to continue living like that, but once the threat is gone there isn't a strong reason for doing so. As for tracking technology, anyone who carries a cell phone is potentially under GPS and audio surveillance even when it is turned off. I have yet to see people stop utilizing their cell phones because of this possibility.

At this point, with so much damage already caused by the failures of this administration (claiming it was a hoax, PPE sabotage, anti-mask rhetoric), if they could simply care about an effective distribution of the vaccines it would be a cause for hope. Don't even begin to discuss stress today, when our federal seat of government was violently disrupted by a seditious group of thugs who were incited by a malevolent narcissist. My blood pressure is through the freaking roof from watching this monster dismantle the republic with his endless stream of lies.

Thanks for the kind words, Tony. My bout with COVID in early November was very mild -- not any worse than a moderate head cold combined with a few days of tiredness/fatigue. What prompted me to get tested was a diminishment of the senses of smell and taste; otherwise I would have just waited out my 10 days and then gone on my way. In any case by the time my quarantine was over my symptoms had already been gone for several days, and I felt perfectly fine returning to the real world.

Speeding should carry the legal liabilities that already does, which escalate with the magnitude of the violation, but never rise to the level of “you’re literally killing children and grandma by doing 100”, so we’re charging you as though you deliberately mowed them down like an Islamist in Nice. The most that can be reasonably claimed for not wearing a mask is that it could be treated as speeding is presently. I don’t think this washes for reason of the disanalogies, but the stronger claim can no more be sustained in the case of masks than it can in the case of speeding. So no, my argument does not logically entail that there should be no speed limits, as much as I might enjoy that on certain roads.

As for doom and gloom, the people rolling out things like CoviPass and vaccine passports do certainly intend for the police state nonsense to be permanent. That’s why they keep up with the cynical flatulence about a New Normal, because they do not intend for the normal normal to ever return. Will they succeed? Damned if I know, but that they are trying at all, and that they are the wealthiest and most powerful people in our society, is reason enough for concern. We are not feedlot cattle, nor should we be treated in any respect as such.

This is the kind of thing that Jeff Martin rightly refers to as attempting to tell people that they have a duty to commit economic suicide:


And it's the kind of thing that makes me very angry when I get sneers about you wimpy Americans who just aren't public-spirited enough to take a little hardship, cling to your petty freedoms, etc. Disgusting. Tell that to Amy Kidwell. You know, the little guy.

This past weekend I went to IKEA and it was packed. Everyone was wearing masks but it was far too crowded to engage in "social distancing" except in the checkout lines where the floor was marked.

I mentioned this to the owner of my local pub on Saturday night and his response was, "Yeah, but it's the 10 of us here that are going to destroy the world."

That contrast between the leniency extended to Big Capital and the authoritarian closures imposed upon small businesses is one of the things that exposes the cynicism and malevolence that has characterized the response to covid. When our state's lockdown ended, and the surviving small businesses reopened - the ones that survived - it was immediately obvious that they could have operated all along with whatever social distancing requirements were in operation post-lockdown, assuming that social distancing is the magical measure they say it is.

And this not only could have been known before the lockdowns, when they were being threatened, it *was* known, because the small business owners said it at the time.

The campaign funding registries for all of these lockdowner governors would be incredibly illuminating, as would lists of grants various oligarchs have given to universities and hospital networks that backed the lockdown decisions.

Actually, though, I think our governor is a true believer. As she tells it, the restaurants have to be kept closed precisely because you have to take masks off to eat and drink, and so people from multiple households end up in the same room maskless, which spells Doom, whereas you can all be wearing masks at IKEA. The mask is the magic talisman indoors, and she believes in it implicitly. If you open restaurants, coffee shops, and bars for indoor service, you will actually have open-faced people facing each other across tables, some of them from more than one household, with masks off, talking to one another, laughing, eating, and drinking, and this Spells Danger.

I'm not at all convinced she is cynical, though she did make an exception for the BLM riots. As I nowadays say quite often, hypocrisy is the tribute that nonsense pays to sense. That is a religion or ideology that she thinks well of, so (since exceptions must be made) she thinks it deserves an exception. The policies can't be maintained in an exceptionless way, so her values decide when they are and are not. But the ban on indoor dining is a rather queasily *consistent* application of the anti-social policies that the oracles have informed her are necessary to Keep Us All Safe. As Chesterton said, the problem with a madman is not that he is not logical but that he is only logical.

At this point rank partisanship is really one of our only hopes, since it is otherwise doubtful that even the vaccine will bring down case counts to the minuscule numbers previously demanded. We already see rumblings that the shamans have looked at the sheep entrails and returned with a new revelation--namely, that "we must open now or we will have nothing less to open," and the like, from Cuomo and Lori Lightfoot. Newsweek finally published the news of an anti-lockdown study. Thus far this has all had little concrete effect, but that may change, and the crazy thing is that it is even possible that the various governors and mayors won't even recognize that they are just doing something they could have easily done before. So great is the power of groupthink, they may even believe they are being led by Science when they arbitrarily open after the inauguration of Biden even when (unrealistic) case count lows have not been reached. Yet that is what we have to *hope* for, crazy as it sounds, because at this point it doesn't seem that much else will stop them.

"The mask is the magic talisman indoors"

Not just indoors. Almost daily I see people walking or jogging alone with their masks on. When I go to the nearby parks to walk or hike, people are hiking or walking their dogs with masks on. People drive in their cars by themselves with masks on. Surely by now they know that the virus isn't carried freely through the air? I used to consider such outdoor donning of masks to be based on ignorance, but this late in the game I think a great deal of it is virtue signaling. Along these lines I saw clips of a speech by Nancy Pelosi the other day in which she was speaking at a podium with a mask on, yet it appeared that there wasn't anyone within 50 feet of her. So why the mask?

I take the point about madmen and true belief, but I draw the line at the universality of hypocrisy among the advocates of lockdowns: they all exempt themselves and make arrangements to have their hair done, dine with their cronies and donorist masters, and to vacation - all things they deny to the proles. I rather think that the unprincipled exceptions are like the knowledge of the moral law spoken of by St. Paul, in that they know precisely what they are doing, and that it is wrong on their own principles. They simply don't care.

In any event, I ceased regarding any of them as arguing and issuing ukases in good faith, albeit contrary to my own principles and sense of things, the moment they sanctified the BLM/Antifa riot summer. After that, they are entitled to no authority, no deference, no respect, no obedience, no anything, really. Everything they have done, are doing now, and will yet do - inflict upon us - was and is and will be done in male fide.

In an odd way, all of the work I've been doing over the past several years on New Testament studies, and even on the sociology of evangelical New Testament studies, has shown me the massive degree to which human beings are self deceivers. It is almost frightening. In fact, scratch that. It *is* frightening. I've seen people convince themselves that a person is saying exactly the opposite of what he's clearly saying. I've seen people believe straight-up gaslighting concerning video evidence and committed fans accept it contrary to what they can see and hear with their own eyes and ears. I've seen people convince themselves that I am saying something I repeatedly, credibly, explicitly deny. I've seen intelligent people who can't even bring themselves to believe that a controversy exists, insisting that it's all a misunderstanding (mine, of course). It boggles the mind. So at this point I'm not entirely sure to what extent this is going on with any given individual in the political realm. In that sense I've changed. My confidence in the rationality and self-consciousness of mankind has been shaken.

Seven years ago I was engaged to woman who was extremely intelligent but had quite a few emotional problems stemming from a very troubled upbringing. The bright point was that she knew she had these issues and could recognize them most of the time when they surfaced. There were times, however, when she would be about to do something irrational, or had already said something off the wall, when I would have to say to her, "OK, hold on -- step back and think about what you just said for a minute." The great majority of the time this would work, and her rationality would kick in and take over. But this only worked because she was very rational to begin with, and she was able to see, eventually if not immediately, what was hindering that rationality.

I fear, Lydia, that we're in a place today where, unlike my friend, people do not self-reflect enough to know either the limits of their rationality or the things in their lives/minds that serve as hindrances to it. I read something not long ago that said that contemporary culture seemed almost to be designed to make contemplation impossible. Does anyone just sit and think anymore? If they can't, or don't, there's no self-reflection going on, which contributes to exactly what you describe.

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