Updated: Feb 26
Closed off behind the curtain of political platitudes and stale defenses of the even more stale quarantine measures are a set of assumptions that are devastating in their misguided compassion. It is not the Dow Jones index that has been closed, it is our society, our culture, our civilization. The Financial markets have been doing just fine as they snort another line of cheap debt and scrabble red eyed up the indices once again. What is in jeopardy is our life in common.
Weighing the common goods of society against the lives of individuals is like weighing the smell of a spring morning on one side and trying to balance it out with equal parts of sunset on the other. Some things aren't quantitative and seeking to make them so is violence and reductionism. There is no amount of math that tells us how much sunset and spring air would optimize one's life. These things don’t exist as a scaler nor will they be chained down to a liken scale.
It ought to be apparent that sunsets are attached to the sun and its setting. The smell of spring is due to the changing of the seasons. Likewise sickness and death attach to the “Common Bad” of Coronavirus. To snap off the experience of the thing from the thing itself and seek to scientifically apportion its effects is to snap yourself off from reality.
Does that leave us with fatalism? Far from it, it is people who watch for night and walk outside. People who open their doors to witness the stillness of the morning. It was not our will that caused the sun to set but neither was it determined that we would see it. We are not God who created the sun nor are we the tree that must be subject to its light. The Virus will come and go and we may choose to be indoors for this event but it is not our doors that make it to be or not to be.
A see-saw may look like a scale but it's actually a big toy. If one is found at a school it is in the playground not the science lab, or worse, the ethics lecture. However, such sense doesn’t extend to the monkey bar heights of the intelligentsia. Utilitarianism has been brought out of the academic playground. The giggles of the professors are gone as they slide off each side to the make room for war casualties and corona statistics. This assumes that the two are somehow comparable, which is frankly ridiculous. One is a threat to a nation in total, the other to a group of individuals in that nation.
A Nation is not like a bottle of colored grains of sand, all mixed together but ultimately separable. It is more like a family. In a divorce the wife doesn’t get half of the marriage and the husband, the other. No, together they had a marriage and apart they both are reduced from a family to a set of individuals. If it were otherwise, a child would not mourn the loss of her family in divorce. After all, the pink sand grain, her mother, is here and her father, the blue grain, is still right over there.
If we must play see-saw ethics I would propose that the value of a family of 4 is greater than the value of 4 entirely disconnected people (if such people could even be found). Destroying the family destroys the good of all 4 individuals plus the good of the real relations between them. Destroying a nation would destroy yet more goods that exist through yet more relations. Regarding the sum total of individuals lives as the measure of goodness is like inquiring after the health of each of ones organs to determine whether one has a meaningful and rich life. In this context it is no surprise that casualties in war are acceptable to defend a nation. Would Churchill have added up the deaths that would result from Nazi occupation and place them on the see-saw with those of casualties from war?
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. That is, until our model suggests that the cost weighted average of lives dictates that surrender is the mathematically optimal strategy”. Nonsense, “We will never surrender!” is the right response to such a threat.
The Coronavirus is no Hitler and its border crossing is no invasion. Our nation is in no peril and our beaches can safely host sunbathers instead of flak cannons, sand castles instead of concrete bunkers.
The government thinks of Americans as ignorant children who refuse to take their medicine as they spoon it forcibly down our throats. But what if the medicine saves our toes but paralysis our legs? Why shouldn't we wiggle free?
Many of the Experts seem to think that we control the sunset. That said, many protesters against the lockdowns seem ignorant that there are real numbers that help us know when in the sky it will appear. What is left in the ever dwindling middle is prudence. Prudence says that there are high risk and low risk areas and people ought to take proportional precautions like social distancing, testing, hygiene or masks if necessary. Prudence also tells us not to sacrifice our face to save our nose.
Restaurants are more that tiny food manufactures for generating revenue. They are places where people, laugh, tell stories and connect with friends and family. Churches are where we share the common good of God himself. Offices are where challenges are overcome, friendships are forged and work is turned to the service of others. All parts of our society are essential even if some must be temporarily modified or suspended.
With laser precision the medicine of lockdown seems to have targeted for destruction the goods of life in common. Meanwhile, it seeks to protect our individual lives with a blunderbuss of top down regulations. Prudence would suggest we return to reality where the sun will rise and fall, and the seasons turn once more to spring. Let's return the see-saw to its playground and dispense with the reductionism and scientisim that leave us counting infections against invitations, lives against livelihoods.