There are big issues. They matter to society hugely. Things like why does an economic and social system foresee the arrival of pandemics, as ours did, but then not prepare to reduce their effects? Short answer, it wasn’t seen as short-run profitable to prepare. Market rules.
But there are also more personal and immediate questions. They matter to individuals hugely. Things like should I go out and about, or should I continue to hunker down? Short answer, we must each decide, it is a personal choice. But maybe we can see some variables at play and also see how this choice intersects with another big question: who gains, who loses, and why?
There is a gigantic and very healthy disputation of almost everything nowadays. But there is also at times a gigantic and very unhealthy disregard for evidence and even logic. Sometimes, that is, people decide what they will favor, or will do, and only then create a “supporting argument,” also called a rationalization. Want precedes rather than follows assessment. In such cases, people cherry pick or even fabricate evidence. They bend logic to arrive at their predetermined preference, chosen for reasons owing nothing to logic.
Okay, let’s consider our situation as we look outward from shuttered spaces. Do we seek open and join flow? Or do we remain hunkered and endure isolation or diminished access as we have for the past few months?
If we opt to assess first, which we should, some relevant facts seem irrefutable. Some other facts seem pretty damn certain. And some, also called facts, but actually mere musings, seem an indeterminate mush mash. Surely the first two categories ought to count for a lot. The third for nothing, not vice versa. Here is a summary of what I find, without numbers, without references, because these observations are so so established. Obvious verified facts from when shutdowns began. And obvious verified facts from now, when open ups are beginning.
In your state, at the moment that so much shut down, and when you began to hunker down, or, if you are an essential worker you kept working but made many other accommodations, there were some number of active cases, and likely quite a few more asymptomatic cases. There was no vaccine. There was no significant therapy or medicine to treat the illness. The illness tended to kill some: its lethality. The dead were particularly people elderly or with pre-existing conditions. The illness really harmed some others – including, we now know – sometimes with lasting and permanent effects. But the bulk of those infected didn’t seem to have lasting effects. The illness typically lasted about two weeks – but, we now know, sometimes a month or even months, debilitating for the whole duration. As to subsequent immunity, a very critical variable, there were guesses but no hard evidence immunity existed at all, much less its duration. We also pretty much knew that the virus spread via droplets emerging in the breath of the ill, and lasting some duration. We knew not how long, but also knew the droplets dissipated more quickly outdoors, and traveled from a source likely under six feet. The virus was virulent but the virulence could be reduced by social distancing, quarantine, masks, etc. We thought it might come in waves, and looking back at the Spanish Flu, that a second wave might be vastly worse than the first. And, back then, the economy was “normal.” And we shut down.
In your state, now, when it is or may be opening up, and you are or may be getting back into the swing of things, there are more (and often a great many more) active cases and beyond that even more (and often incalculably more) asymptomatic cases. There is still no vaccine. There is still no significant therapy or medicine to treat the illness. The illness still tends to kill some, lethality apparently unchanged, still particularly people elderly or with pre-existing conditions. It really harms others – including, we now know – sometimes with lasting and even permanent effects, though still the bulk of those infected don’t seem to have lasting effects. And the illness still typically lasts about two weeks – but, we now know, sometimes a month or months, debilitating for the whole duration. As to subsequent immunity, there are guesses but still no hard evidence it exists at all, much less its duration. We also know, as we thought earlier, that the virus spreads via droplets emerging in the breath of the ill, which last some duration, we know not how long, but dissipate more quickly outdoors, and travel from a source likely under six feet. No change. The virus is still virulent but the virulence can be (and has been) reduced by social distancing, quarantine, tracking and isolating, masks, etc. We still think there might be waves, and a second may be bigger than the first, though we are surely still in the first outbreak. Not much has changed in the above. But now, the big change, the economy is “abnormally” relatively closed. And we have or are preparing to open it up.
When I consider the above contrast between the earlier moment of initiating closing and the current moment of initiating opening, I can’t help but think the health reasons to self isolate and otherwise exert extreme caution are actually greater now, not lesser, than when such approaches were earlier initiated. There could be one caveat, perhaps, if for reasons of seasonal climate change, or for some other such factor, the dangers have been reduced because virulence is now much lower, or lethality is now much lower, then, sure, there would be a case to open the gates and flow on through. But I haven’t heard anyone claim that. Not even the advocates of opening up claim that. They just say “just do it.” There is ultimately no reason, no argument, no evidence, no logic. There is we wanna, followed by we will, followed by rationalization.
So, I think to myself, what a weird world we live in. The danger of health calamity has now been undeniably evidenced, and is, according to the variables we actually can have confident knowledge of, worse than before – but we aren’t going to do as before, but instead we are going to do the opposite. Earlier nearly everyone agreed on the necessity of shutting down. Now, nearly everyone is or is about to open up. Were we wrong then? Or are we wrong now?
To think it through, perhaps we ought to ask, what is different? Well, as best I can tell, to any substantial extent, only the economy the economy is different. We have endured shutdown. We have seen and felt that it hurts hugely. And rebelling against that, and deciding we want to end that, we simply ignore the rest.
But, well, why do we so want to re-open that we will risk dying to do so? I get that people who are unemployed by shut down, who are frustrated and infuriated by shutdown, or, for that matter, who had their considerable or modest power or wealth threatened by shutdown, or more seriously, who are enduring or fear eviction and hunger, want an end to the shutdown, or at least an end to the particular pains it has imposed. But why risk health calamity as the means to reduce very real and very debilitating economic pains? Why not protect against health calamity and also reduce the economic pains?
Well, I get why not for some of those on top of society. Parts of the top 2% and maybe even the top 20%. Not Bezos, who is growing in wealth at an ever accelerating pace. But some others. First, their health risk is less than for those below. They are easily able to avoid crowds, stay our of crowded places, eat sumptuously, get incredible care if need be. For them opening up is not no health risk, but much less health risk. So they have less reason to stay shut down. And their economic risk of shutdown, again, not Bezos but some of them, is already high, and threatens to get much higher. And there is a more subtle part, and this affects even Bezos. This is the big systemic issue that intersects our more immediate personal issue.
That is, the problem of shut down for those at the top isn’t just suffering a few months or even a year of more of reduced production in various sectors. It is even more so the immense danger of those below demanding protection and support and of the lessons of demanding it, and winning it, spreading into post viral times. That is the true nightmare in the suites, that Covid resistance leads to beyond Covid resistance. That demands to mitigate shutdown pain lead to demands to mitigate all economic and social pain. So sure, they want to get back to their normal “open” economy to avoid system threatening upheaval imposed from below. And then there is of course also Trump operating on his own off balance axis. He just plays with our lives like he owns them, like they are toys to maneuver for his own pleasure, for his own power. For him, sure, let’s open up, and let’s pray for rain. If it does rain – a vaccine, a cure, a miracle – I will take credit. If suffering persists and grows, I will blame it on someone else. The approach has worked for me lots of times in his past. So why not now?
But what about those lower down society’s hierarchy of wealth and power? What about the bottom 80% of our population. What about those who do overwhelmingly rote work, who do crowded work, who do already unsafe and debilitating work in the best of times? We too seem to want the economy opened. We seem to want to get back to it, even though the it we will get back to, even if no worse than before (and it will be worse due to persistent unemployment and its affect on the balance of power between employees and employers unless we serious struggle for better) was at best undignified and deadly and will remain so. The 80%’s reasons, our reasons, seem pretty clear. We need to eat, to pay rent, to support children and parents, to survive. Maybe we even need to get to enjoy a night out, time with others.
And now comes the punch line. Without major resistance, the ideas of the ruling elites, typically are the ideas of everyone. Business as usual looks to be the only option. Other than terror ridden, lonely, immiseration, somewhat less terror, loneliness, and immiseration. Covid shutdown is even worse than business as usual, already horrendous as it was and has been. So give me my job back. Give me mobility.
The alternative? Those lower down could instead think and say, hold on a minute. Going back to work, and for those who have never left work, still working, is a giant risk. Why not escape the pain of shutdown by a different path then reinstituting profit making by the rich? Why not guarantee incomes? Why not establish real health care and really healthy conditions? Why not cancel rent payments? Why not subsidize small business? Why not raise the minimum wage to a living wage, and beyond? If providing funds to big business, why not earmark it entirely for their workforce’s, not for their owners? If unemployment is extreme, why not cut it to shreds by shortening the work week and creating new jobs for worthy ends, like green transition, housing construction, and much more?
The answer is that all such efforts don’t just redistribute wealth in the present. All such efforts don’t just mitigate obscenely escalated pain and suffering in the present. The truth is, the ruling elites aren’t – mostly – sadists who literally delight in the pain of those below. The truth is they are calculating engines of class preservation – their class, that is. And they recognize what we should recognize. Indeed, it is hard to see how anyone can miss the potential pattern looking at the uprisings now raging.
Theirs is the logic, and it is logical albeit venal, of the mafia. When someone steps out of line, bring down the hammer. When things get horrific for any reason, before any other consideration, avoid a slippery slope of people resisting. To permit the rabble beneath – that is, 80% of the population – to demand and win even modest mitigation of outsized suffering from Covid isn’t anathema because it means in the Covid moment those on top make out a bit less well than they would without such modest mitigation. Mitigation of current pain is bad for them for precisely the reason it can become fantastically good for us. Work or die! Okay, give me alienated, underpaid, subordinated, disrespected, barely livable, work. That path means them still in power as usual class preservation for them. But work or die! No. I demand income, dignity, safety, even a say in my own life. That threatens a slippery slope of demands and struggles denying elites their power as usual. As there is a racial hierarchy at stake in current uprisings around the country, so there would be a class hierarchy at stake in rejection of opening the economy to instead establish safety and security for those below at the expense of those above.
The ruling ideas of racism are rightly and militantly under assault. The ruling ideas of class rule need to be rightly and militantly under assault as well. And the two assaults need to practice mutual aid, making each stronger, greasing the slope to seek and win more and more, up to and finally encompassing new societally defining relations.
Instead of little viral droplets and big ugly preservers of their own self interest determining pandemic prospects – that would be we the people determining pandemic prospects.