The Hierarchy of COVID Fears

Franz Kafka

Now that we’ve had a chance to settle into what some refer to as the “New Normal,” we can begin to see how we have willed ourselves into compliance with suffocating, arbitrary and in some cases downright dangerous regulations nobody would have thought of consenting to in their wildest imaginations, prior to COVID.

At the root of what is more accurately described as the New Abnormal is fear. But what are people afraid of? (Just to be absolutely clear, throughout this post I’m talking about healthy people, not people with underlying conditions that make them extremely vulnerable to serious illness or even death through exposure to the new coronavirus, nor healthcare workers and others for whom exposure to this virus and other pathogens is an ever-present and serious threat.)

Are people afraid of catching the virus and dying? I don’t think so. If the new coronavirus were something as lethal as Ebola or AIDS, people wouldn’t venture out from under their beds unless their lives depended on it. There would be no parties or riots. As it is, most people go about their business as best they can. Some use COVID as an excuse to avoid things they don’t want to do, and ignore COVID to do things they do want to do. Some politicians, of course, use COVID as an excuse to keep other people from doing things they don’t want done, such as go to church, and ignore COVID to enable other people to do things they do want done, such as terrorizing cities.

So why have we consented to the extreme measures that have been purportedly put place to protect us — measures that appear to be more threatening than the threat they protect us from?

Number 1 is fear of having your business or organization shut down by non-compliance. By following every government guideline, recommendation and decree to the letter, no matter how stifling or costly or unjustified, organizations can breathe easier, knowing their doors will not be forcibly shut or funding cut off. It’s a big fear, and a completely legitimate one, given how unreasonable and capricious our political leaders have proven themselves capable of being.

Number 2 is fear of being hassled. This fear is not a fear of disease at all, but a fear of being ostracized and inconvenienced. It’s also the fear that more than any other gets its annoying grip on me. It’s just so damn hard to take a stand, for example by not wearing a mask, and then not being allowed to buy a furnace filter or gallon of milk. The hassle just doesn’t seem to be worth going through 100 times a day. Conforming is the path of least resistance. Go along to get along. In this connection, people are afraid of testing positive — not because they think they’ve been given a death sentence, but because they will be quarantined when they return home from a trip, forced to leave college, prevented from having an important medical procedure, or something else that seriously disrupts their lives and peace of mind.

Number 3 is fear of infecting a compromised individual. This is also a legitimate fear, and for some people certainly the number one fear. A lot of people have elderly parents or other seniors in their lives, and they don’t want to be responsible for getting them sick. People in that situation should take extra precautions, without doubt — in fact, we all should, because we can’t know how and where our germs spread. We should always taken extra precautions to keep our germs to ourselves, because a senior who catches the flu or any other viral infections is always in danger. So it would seem that this particular fear is not in itself a reason to create the New Abnormal, as is often cited; rather, it is a rationalization to accept it.

Number 4 is fear of thinking. These days, trying to think things out is not for the faint of heart. How many people are dying from COVID? How overburdened are the hospitals? How does the disease spread? Anybody looking for answers is confronted with a deluge of half-facts, contradictory data points, unsupported and contradictory theories and opinions, and regulations and guidelines arbitrarily articulated and applied. I can’t count all the people I’ve talked to about COVID who just say, “I don’t know … I just can’t figure it out … I guess we just have to live with it.” So sad, so defeatist, so understandable, so dangerous. Maybe this one belongs at the top of the list.

Fears That Matter

It is interesting to take note of certain things we are not, on the whole, sufficiently afraid of:

  • Greatly increased suicides, depression and other mental illnesses brought on by prolonged isolation and other side-effects of COVID lockdowns.
  • Massive disruption of primary and secondary education, putting enormous economic and psychological stress on families, and as yet unknown effects on children in terms of learning, mental health and physical health.
  • An enormous increase in illness and death from causes undetected or detected too late, such as cancers and heart diseases. The fallout from this may far exceed that of COVID under even the worst-case COVID scenarios.
  • The permanent loss of political and religious freedom.
  • An acute, perhaps unprecedented economic depression caused by COVID-response-induced unemployment, gargantuan, unfunded bailouts, and the mass leveling of entire industries and huge swaths of small businesses.
  • The realization that the U.S. has been massively over-dependent on foreign manufacturing, particularly Chinese manufacturing, for vital materials such as pharmaceutical products, putting us in a devastatingly vulnerable position.
  • The even more shocking realization that political leaders, religious leaders, educational leaders, and the scientific community as a whole, have performed haphazardly and ineffectively at best, and willfully at cross-purposes at worst, in protecting the public interest, of addressing all, rather than a narrow subset of, human and social needs.

These  issues that should have been emphasized by everyone from the beginning,  But it is only now, after so much damage has been done, that  serious, broad-based discussion has begun.  Allowing these issues to fester in the single-minded pursuit of COVID infection control will go down as the blunder of all blunders. We allowed a  threat we didn’t understand to be addressed with unprecedented measures whose horrific side effects were easy to understand. We continue to use a “ready, fire, aim” strategy to contain COVID and succeed mainly in shooting ourselves in our most vital organs. It’s Kafkaesque.

(Image credit – Wikimedia Commons)

2 Replies to “The Hierarchy of COVID Fears”

  1. Interesting as usual.
    I agree that fear of thinking should move up the list. It’s so fundamental to defining and resolving the problems triggered by the pandemic.
    The loss of religious and political freedom is probably further out, but it will happen if we stay on the current paths of “my ideology or nothing.” The loss of manufacturing capabilities has been eroding our national capabilities for about 30 years and maybe, just maybe, the pandemic will open our eyes before it too late.

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