Fear — is it winning?
It is a legitimate question as we are within 30 days of having lived a year in some form of lockdown due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
More than a century ago the world got through a much deadlier pandemic by far in terms of death toll and the people who got sick plus the First World War. They did so with a less robust healthcare system, less science, and no social media.
California is on the verge of qualifying a gubernatorial recall election driven heavily by how Gavin Newsom has handled the pandemic. We have some schools with in-person learning and a lot of school districts where students haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for almost a year.
Last time around in 1918 there were those that ignored mask orders probably on a much higher level. That’s because every transgression, every out-of-control response to a lawful order, every theory, and every scientific data we can twist to our own conclusion is amplified on the Internet.
Take a look around. Do you really see that many people not wearing a mask when they are supposed to do so?
Next time you are out and about, look how cautious people are. I stop by the Postal Annex twice a week to collect my mail. I have yet to see one person put their hand on the push handle to open the door. They use either their foot to nudge the kick plate or their arm or elbow to push the door. And if there is someone behind them, they will hold the door open.
Yet it you spend a day going through Yahoo News postings you’re convinced everyone is channeling out of control social media influencers.
How many people do you see not wearing masks in Food-4-Less, Target, Grocery Outlet, Big 5 Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, Costco, or in outside dining tents at restaurants. I’ve been in all of those places and others in the past week and did not see one mask-less individual.
And for the most part people are social distancing.
By all historic accounts the last time in 1918 there was a health emergency declared and there was a local, not state, order to wear masks when in public places in many Valley cities most people did not comply despite the threat of a $25 fine which was a lot of money in 1918.
The two big differences today in terms of spreading sickness is the fact we are more mobile and we have instantaneous communication via social media.
The Internet is where hits are more valuable than vetted information. It explains the non-stop uproar about jerks that make scenes or react with violence when asked to wear a mask entering a store that is subject to public health laws. The need for hits — much like shooting heroin for addicts — is what influencers, Twits who think they are great communicators with 144 characters, social media companies and bloggers live for.
They thrive on attention. And more than a few get rich financially with the more hits they get from Internet advertising.
It is ironic, isn’t it? In an age when the politically correct play social media like a fiddle self-proclaimed foot soldiers in the war to change the world are busy uploading videos of outlandish behavior or posting rantings that serve to undermine efforts to balance the need to keep people safe against the need for keep civilization moving forward.
The Wall Street Journal and several other outlets that aren’t 100 percent click zombies have brought up a serious point in the past week.
It is a about what experts were saying last March but their message quickly got pushed aside by a rush to take butcher knives to day-to-day life instead of precision surgical cuts aimed at the most effective measures to balance the need to keep people safe and the need for the world to continue.
Even with vaccines, we likely will not whip COVID-19 into submission. That means it could be with us like the flu except as a year-round issue and not seasonal. The annual death toll we end up with going forward even with herd immunity can end up being significantly higher than that from the flu. Variants are likely to throw a monkey wrench into things as well.
That means we have to come up with a plan that keeps civilization going and doesn’t inflict undo damage that may never be recovered such as learning loss and the economic stability of households.
It will be a daunting task thanks to how fear sparked and spread instantaneously has created hardcore constituencies that latch on to “absolutes” such as conspiracies whether it is with vaccines, government overreach, the assumption that schools can’t be made to be relatively safe, the belief that vaccines aren’t effective enough and could have uncharted long-term issues, the belief vaccines will reduce the risk to zero, or just about any set of polar opposites positrons one can take with COVID-19 and the pandemic.
This may not be the best of times but it sure the heck isn’t the Great Depression, World War II, or the urban riots and violence of the 1960s.
I suspect if we weaned ourselves off of “liking” only views of pandemic rhetoric that fits our preconceived notions, pull our noses out of smartphones, and took a break from 24/7 talking heads devoted to tantalizing statements laced with inflammatory rhetoric all in a bid to get better ratings and fatter employment contracts we might calm down a bit and find common ground to move forward.
I bet more of us are like my Mother was after she was mugged, hit with a baseball bag and had her head slammed against the hood of her car breaking her jaw and costing the loss of most of her teeth.
My siblings and I as well as other relatives and friends were petrified for her safety and that of others. After all, things like that did not happen in a small town of 4,000.
Mom refused to give into the fear. She didn’t allow the incident make her a prisoner of life. Granted instead of leaving the front screen door unhooked in the evening when she was at home, she latched it. But she changed nothing else.
Life is a risk. You’ve got to gamble with a lot of things to live it. That doesn’t mean, though, that you put everything on one number or act as if it is a game of craps. You weigh risks and find a way to move forward without being paralyzed by fear.
That is where we find ourselves today. Masks and social distancing aren’t going to go away anytime soon. Given the significant drop in the flu and even common colds you might argue they would be wise to keep masks around in some form for part of the year.
We need to rethink how we go about life so fear of COVID-19 doesn’t control us while at the same time we refrain from throwing reasonable caution to the wind.