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Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? – T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

I love America. I believe in her institutions, traditions, system of government, capacity for good, and in her people. There is little we can’t achieve when we pull together as a Nation. Now is the time for us to pull together and pivot.

Control and Scientism

Right now, our collective need for a sense of safety and our scientism has created an incredibly dangerous situation for our country. Our need for control has paralyzed us in the face of the COVID-19 uncertainty. We are finding it difficult to move forward in the face of what might happen. Our blind faith in the ability of science to understand and protect is further fueling our doubts as we wait for definitive answers that are coming very slowly. Too slowly.

Just over a month ago, we began a massive social experiment based on flawed models and incomplete data. We made the best decisions we could with the information we had. In an attempt to slow the spread of a contagion, we turned our economy off. Yet, COVID-19 continued to spread and continues to spread. Yes, we flattened the curve but we also flattened the engine that enables us to live. We are just beginning to understand at what cost.

The Tradeoff

The trade-off was not economy for lives – people still died and continue to die. The real trade-off was living as we surrendered to the fear of dying. It is likely that we avoided some deaths. For now. But in a matter of weeks, our nation, our government, and our people decided that sacrificing the livelihood of millions of people was worth the potential to delay some deaths. We surrendered based on projections, imperfect models based on incomplete data and gaps in understanding. We gave it all up without a fight or much debate.

When did we start thinking that we should live forever? Never. We know it’s not the case. However, we have become convinced that any measures are acceptable to prevent death – Including running roughshod over individual liberties. COVID-19 has created a frenzy of fear-mongering at a level that few alive can recognize.

Fear, the ultimate justifier, penetrated the heart of our nation and spread far more quickly than COVID-19. We ran for the hills. We shamed those slow to react. We are still shaming them. Those who denied the “data” or the “experts” were unsafe, unsound. Those who argued were unenlightened. Meanwhile, elected officials seized unprecedented power with lightning speed, literally choosing whose livelihood was “essential” and who could be sacrificed on the altar of the common good. We are still having this debate.

“When do we turn the economy back on?” We still think we’re in control; as if some person says “all clear” and it will jump back to normal. The very notion is pure hubris. Those of us safely sheltered in place and still collecting a paycheck don’t yet realize how much damage has been done nor how long it is going to take to get back to any kind of “normal.” For those still drawing a paycheck, the stimulus band-aid will be put in a bank as a hedge against future uncertainty. For those out of work, it will quickly disappear on current necessities with no less future uncertainty.

Testing and Tracking

We have a duty to protect the most vulnerable among us. We always have. Nothing has changed. However, this time around, we made the decision to sacrifice the wellbeing of many of the strongest and healthiest among us in the hope that we might slow a virus that is a danger to a fraction of our population. We have risked everything for what will ultimately be a very small gain in slowing the spread. And, by the way, we’re told it is likely to return in force in the fall. Now we face a legacy of fear, economic uncertainty, and the permanent invasion of our privacy within a society bent on testing and tracking one another in the name of public safety.

Amazon says they will begin testing all employees for COVID-19. To what end? Keeping the infected out? Separating those with antibodies from those without? Choosing who gets a chance to earn a check in the hope of protecting against uncertain outcomes? What happens in September when we realize that half of our country is now immune and half is not while we still have to wait another 12 months for a vaccine?  What do we start testing for next?

COVID-19 is aggressive and contagious. Let’s continue to fight it. Let’s protect the most vulnerable. However, we need to change our game. Let’s allow people to make their own choices on what is tolerable risk. We’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s mostly worked out. Let’s quit waiting for the government to solve the problem and allow the brilliant innovators in the market figure it out. Let’s quit scaring people about what might happen and let them get back to living. 

Data-tism – a near worship of information, raw data, and what we believe it tells us. 

Data-tism – we are infected with it. Waiting for data to direct us. Waiting for clear answers. Guess what? Science does not have all of the answers. There are no guarantees. Let the individual take ownership of his or her safety and the safety of his or her family. Quit trying to direct a nation based on flawed models and the changing conclusions of expert opinions. Return to the basics: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Educate people on the risks and how best to protect themselves in a dangerous world, then let them do what they do best: keep living amidst a rough world full of uncertainty and danger. The unfortunate reality is that we are still far more dangerous to one another than any virus. 

The Biggest Danger

In the face of complexity, our natural reaction is to hesitate. Now is not the time to hesitate. We need to move boldly and intentionally. We need to flip our strategy around. Protect the small percentage of those vulnerable and let the stronger majority push our country forward. We’ve still got a lot of other battles to fight. Disease has not taken a vacation to let Coronavirus have its day. We cannot afford to wait for a sense of safety from COVID-19, it is many months away. Besides, there is no safety. COVID-19 remains far less likely to get us than so many other things.

The greater risk is that we remain paralyzed while our village crumbles around us. The biggest danger is that we stay hunkered-down while the suffering of our neighbors escalates far faster than the spread of COVID-19. Life must go on. Coronavirus is not the end – not even close. Each of us will have to face Coronavirus sometime in the next few months. Let’s have it. Meanwhile, let’s turn the machine back on and focus on doing what America does best: thriving. 

Showing 5 comments
  • Julia Ertel
    Reply

    Finally an attitude toward balance of common sense and science! One that I believe a great many Americans can wrap their minds and actions around! I know I am with you after this past month of riding the guidelines, recommendations and mandates.
    Thank you, Phil!

  • Bob
    Reply

    At 72, retired and therefore unproductive, it`s nice to know just how much value society places on my life. I always suspected this – a bit unsettling to have it confirmed.

    Having said that I will say I do agree with you. But before we do this I want to see a well thought out, achievable plan to ensure we are doing all we can to keep these deaths and suffering as low as possible.

    What I do not want to see is everybody going [rushing?] back to “normal”. Not washing hands, going to work or in public if sick, no masks, no effort, no changes at all to prevent the spread. To help we need to continue to stream church services and the like, for people to keep helping the vulnerable, and providing additional efforts to protect and support the vulnerable. Not a “lets open things and see what happens” kind of plan.

    Ensure that we have the medical equipment and staffs available to prevent as many as possible unnecessary deaths due to lack of medical support.

    In addition this administration seems to be so totally inept at handling this crisis I can`t trust them to do anything to facilitate this. We are going to have to depend on our local authorities and governments to develop the plans and enforcement to make it work.

    I see it up to the local businesses to work with the state and local governments to develop the local plans to open their economies. I realize that local entities still need the larger infrastructure to support them but it seems to me that it has to start at the lower levels by opening business which will then drive the demand for the products and material for the larger infrastructure to produce and deliver. This opening has to start at the bottom and grow upwards. It`s not going to start from the top down.

    So by all means get together with the other business owners in the area, get with the cities and county and state governments and put an achievable, workable plan in place to get us moving again. As I see it this all has to start at the local level so go for it!

    Anyway my 2 cents on your post.

  • NICHOLE PICKERING
    Reply

    Well said!

  • Michael McNeely
    Reply

    No one negates the value of your life. You have earned the right to take it easy. What the author has a problem with is forcing the young and productive to be unproductive at the point of a government gun.

  • Becky Lomax-Sumner
    Reply

    Brilliant

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