On one of my recent lockdown walks, I was studying Illinois license plates on the many parked cars that would normally be at places of work rather than in driveways. What a fiasco that new license plate design was. The State of Illinois did the impossible, creating something even uglier than the old plate, a seeming impossibility. After about three design refreshes, they finally came up with a design that was at least legible, enabling the plate to actually be useful for identifying and apprehending criminals, but it was still a hot ugly mess.
Which got me thinking … Illinois can’t get a simple license plate redesign right, under no pressure and with all the time in the world. And here we are with this very same state issuing a statewide lockdown. How can the State of Illinois effectively manage the shutdown of nearly our entire economy, a state teetering on the brink of bankruptcy that has proven its incompetence and corruption time after time for decades? Even if lockdown is the right theoretical strategy, can it possible be executed without being disastrously bungled?
The lockdown cure for COVID, in practice, strikes me as being bad medicine. Attacking a predicted healthcare crisis with a real economic meltdown orchestrated through very imperfect government agencies is a questionable strategy, at best. It may save a certain number of lives from death by COVID (how many is something that will be endlessly debated) — but how many lives will be lost or seriously compromised due to other medical conditions not being treated because of lack of access to healthcare services, or being caused by the lockdown itself, such as suicide, abuse, stress, overconsumption of alcohol, lack of exercise and bad diet?
A bad economy is bad for health, too. People may scoff at the economic sacrifices required by the lockdown as insignificant compared to the necessity to save lives. A few reflections about this. (BTW, as I write this, oil is trading at NEGATIVE $7.00/barrel. Consider the implications of that over the next few months!)
- Of course saving lives is worth economic sacrifice and a lot of it. But is it worth economic destruction? At some point, the lives ruined or lost due to a decade-long recession or depression outweigh those saved from death by COVID. I certainly can’t say where the line is, but I’m also confident that leaving that decision in the hands of politicians whose thinking is driven by political considerations and questionable or even manipulated data is very unlikely to produce the right answer.
- To say that any sacrifice is worthwhile if it saves even one life is not an argument, it’s an emotional response. A natural, well-intended and very human response, to be sure, but logically, this position, to be consistent, must be applied universally: Anything that causes death merits the same “pull-all-the-stops” response. Clearly, that’s impossible.
- It’s easy to downplay the economic impact of an economic shutdown when it’s not causing you a lot of pain. I’m not hearing this point of view too much from people who have been forced by government decree to shutter their businesses, people who are seeing their savings evaporate and prospects for a secure and happy future obliterated. It makes one yearn for the old days before professional politicians, when government officials were not only servants of the people, they were the people. I think that gave government a certain balance in perspective we could really use right now.
Other justifications for the lockdown are also problematic — for instance, comparing COVID to a war. Now the Nazis, they were a threat. Losing to the Nazis meant permanent elimination of freedom, the imposition of a horrific moral code, and death camps for millions. That was a cause worth any sacrifice — although even with that, a considerable number of Americans disagreed prior to and during World War II. I do not mean to make light of COVID, because it is a potentially serious illness that can cause death, but the current situation is simply not comparable to what I just described. In areas where COVID approaches war-like conditions, such as major urban areas like NYC, extreme measures probably make total sense. But those conditions do not exist everywhere.
Another justification, that we must have faith in science, can also be questioned. First, “faith in science” is an oxymoron. Science is based on facts, not faith. When facts are limited, as is the case here, science is limited in what it can do. When facts and precedent are not plentiful, as is the case here, we should be more skeptical, not more accepting, of what science can accomplish. We have seen horrific projections that have not come to pass, and yet we implemented and persist in a massive response based on those projections. Is that good science? Are we being critical enough? Second, science is vulnerable to being politicized and not always as objective as we’d like to think it is. The scientific establishment, government, and the healthcare industry are deeply intertwined. None of this makes make science bad or wrong, but scientists and medical professionals are not necessarily objective in how they collect, interpret and report data. We, to be responsible citizens, have to use as much discernment as possible when evaluating scientific conclusions, difficult though it may be.
With all this in mind (my walk was almost finished by now), it occurred to me how important it is for us to use our extra time for serious reflection:
- Making incredible sacrifices for a worthy cause is noble. Making undue sacrifices for a questionable cause is dangerous.
- Are we looking for facts to find clarity, or are we merely looking for interpretations that fit our preconceived social and political bias?
I’ve changed my views about all these goings-on several times over the last few weeks. It’s a tough situation because we’re being deluged with so much contradictory information and watching so many horrific, unprecedented developments unfold.
But we cannot lose heart, nor lose our sense of community. We have to keep talking, keep thinking, keep evaluating, and I think most of all, keep politics out. Seems to me this is the best and maybe only recipe for influencing the outcome for the better.