Life in the Time of Corona: Liberty Under Threat

Many Americans are terrified by the coronavirus, but they are scared for the wrong reasons. The data repeatedly suggests that most people, 99% of the population, will survive this virus relatively unscathed. The real crisis concerns the ideals on which the United States were founded. In infiltrating our borders, the pandemic revealed a cowering citizenry that is authoritarian-oriented and completely unquestioning of government. Further, incompetent state and federal governments are using their failures to respond effectively to the coronavirus as an excuse to violate the civil liberties of all Americans, most of whom will never face a serious threat from the virus.

Authoritarianism, American Style

These past weeks have illustrated how conformist and obsequious towards government the American population has become. People have repeatedly responded to perceived failures to obey social distancing orders with anger and indignation. This highlights how utterly detached our society is from what it means to be human that individuals could be so patronizing of the basic and essential need for connection with others. Have we truly become so divorced from our own basic needs that we think being social is an easily dispensable luxury?

Underlying these criticisms is a hypocritical outrage against the perception of selfishness in putting self above community. Whence came this sudden interest in community and saving lives? Where was this concern when Ebola was ravaging West Africa or when the Zika virus was an epidemic in South America? In fact, respiratory infections are the top cause of death in low-income countries and kill millions around the world each year; where is the concern for those millions of lives? And it took this pandemic to get American elite concerned about lack of paid sick leave for lower paid workers in their own communities; the fact that the poorest among us had to choose between their health and income was never a problem until it threatened the lives of the affluent whose money and privilege were not sufficient to inoculate themselves against the transmission of the coronavirus.

The worry surrounding the coronavirus is narcissistic, having little to do with concern for others and much to do with self-interest. People in the United States are facing a marginally increased risk of dying by communicable disease—a fate people in the rest of the world face squarely everyday—and Americans are increasingly worried that they or someone they love will die. It is completely reasonable to worry about the risk of personal loss, but let’s not pretend the concern is due to a noble selflessness or love of community.

Flu 2.0?: Safety v. Freedom

The idea that people who are not compliant with containment measures are in denial or are defiant plainly reveals the tension between divergent philosophies about what living in society truly means. Many people take umbrage with attempts to compare COVID-19 to the flu, failing to appreciate that what people are really saying when they compare the coronavirus to the flu is that the virus does not justify upending their lives or restricting liberty any more than the flu does. They know that you cannot inoculate yourself against the risks inherent in life, that to attempt to hermetically seal yourself away from nature is to seal yourself away from life. Illness is a fact of life. Death is a fact of life. To avoid all risk and danger in life is to turn living into a soulless, stagnant enterprise. It is the paradoxical act of killing yourself in order to avoid death. For individuals with a more integrated approach to death and illness, such efforts are as foolhardy as trying to avoid life itself.

The “defiant” ones stand in contradiction of the contemporary culture of safetyism, which makes safety and comfort the primary goals of life and which seeks to place each person in a bubble that would remove all risk and chance of discomfort from their lives, leaving behind a sterile existence that makes the individual less resilient in the end. The coronavirus-flu debate is really a proxy for the question of how we should be living our lives, and people who compare the virus to the flu are in essence saying that this is a risk they are willing to accept in order to keep living.

Which is more valuable—freedom or safety? The question of what lengths we as society and as individuals should go to preserve life is a philosophical question that has no objective right or wrong answer, but the prescriptive criticism mentioned above implies a particular answer and demands agreement. They are not merely asking people to engage in a certain set of behaviors, but to adopt a set of beliefs and values that they would like to impose on everyone else, an ideology that is contradictory to the philosophy of liberty that our nation was founded upon.

Medicine as Religion

In his essay “Healthism and Disabling Medicalization,” disability advocate Irving Kenneth Zola wrote that “medicine is becoming a major institution of social control…,” and this pandemic highlights the idea perfectly. Medical authority is no longer limited to the sick. Though less than one percent of Americans are known to have been infected so far as of writing and though only a small minority suffer truly adverse effects from the virus, we are all—including the healthy and uninfected—being treated as patients-in-waiting and ordered by the government under the auspices of medical concern to cease our life activities. Millions of people’s lives have come to a screeching halt because the government has decided for us that suspending our lives is better than risking illness. The entire terms of the discussion, the framing of the question, and the solutions offered have been dictated to us by authority figures who have decided that their priority in conquering nature must be our foremost priority too. While medicine has, as Zola observes, a perceived “moral neutrality,” the very act of looking at a societal problem through the lens of medicine guarantees that the scales will be tipped in favor of control over the individual regardless of his wishes.

Zola’s argument that medicine has supplanted religion in its role in directing the social mores and daily life habits of the populace is directly relevant here. The reactions of anger and disgust noted above to perceived non-compliance contain an implied accusation of blasphemy. Medical authority is considered inviolable, and a rejection of or irreverence towards that authority engenders emotional reactions akin to vandalizing a portrait of the Virgin Mary. This dependence on authority is just religion under another name. Expert reports and quantitative data are their gospels, researchers and doctors their ministers. People who believe in this religion treat those who dare to question—heretics, if you will—with pejoration and animosity. They cannot understand that not everyone’s relationship with the world is an authoritarian one.

The authoritarian-oriented individuals are the ones who are almost comically trying to maintain a six-foot radius around themselves at every second of the day, as though if it were for an instant to shrink to 5.5 feet, they would immediately contract COVID-19 and die, their slavish obedience a testament to the fact that they have no understanding of the rationale behind the advice. They are no longer autonomous beings, but soldiers blindly following orders. But the independent-minded treat expert advice as just one input among several and ultimately rely on their own intuition and common sense. They do not cling to “social distancing” as though it were some new, magical talisman that will ward off evil, understanding that it is simply a codification to the extreme of the common sense defense strategies that humans have employed for years to stay safe. They have a resilience mindset and ask how they can triumph in the face of adversity while the authoritarian-minded ask, “how can government keep us from having to face adversity in the first place?”

As with any religion, the the underlying ideas of medicine can be twisted and perverted to effectuate the user’s personal desires under the guise of “saving” the heathen non-believer. Medical authority has become a club that part of the population uses to bludgeon the rest of us into complying with their hysterical efforts at assuaging their own feelings of fear and impotence. It is important to note that the control exercised over others does not actually have to be based on good science; rather, it is merely the fact that the problem falls within the province of medical authority that justifies people in thinking there must be a conformity of action by individuals. Because the crisis is a medical one, people believe that individuals should be divested of the right to make judgments for themselves. As with the wearing of facial masks that some people are pushing to make universal, the medical consensus may be mixed or weigh against the proposed social controls, because, as with any religion, the beliefs are motivated by faith more than reason. The proselytizers are merely rationalizing their emotional responses and using medical authoritarianism as their justification for forcing others to act in accordance with their emotions.

Emergency Declarations, the Death Knell of Civil Liberties

This authoritarian orientation explains why so much of the population has been uncritical of government at this time. Instead of the heralded land of the free, it feels like we have been transplanted into an Orwellian dystopia, replete with government disapprobation forcing us to pursue personal relationships in a clandestine manner all the while our fellow citizens repeat the party slogans (“social distancing,” “flatten the curve,” “#AloneTogether”) to justify the extreme restrictions on our liberty. It is in times of crises like these that people are most willing to cede their freedoms and refrain from questioning the government. Yet liberty most needs safeguarding during crises because governments expand their power at the sake of individual freedom in times of declared emergencies.

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It has been terrifying how quickly and unquestioningly people have been willing to accept the government’s pronouncements because it is a time of “crisis.” Government is granted more leeway in emergency situations, but it is not a free pass. The government does not get to discount civil liberties wholesale just because it declares an emergency. Government restrictions even in times such as these must be carefully balanced against individual liberty. Where the emergency creates a compelling reason for the state to act, the means chosen must be effective, necessary, and proportionate to the problem. Many of the lock-down orders that have been issued do not meet these criteria.

The Measures Are Overbroad and Ineffective

The measures commonly being instituted by governments include requiring individuals to quarantine themselves in their homes (“shelter-in-place”), ordering people to maintain six-foot radii between themselves and others, instituting curfews, prohibiting group gatherings, shutting down businesses not deemed essential, restricting travel, and in some instances requiring individuals to wear masks.

These measures are astounding because they are restricting the freedom of healthy, uninfected people as well as the infected. Usually, government measures in times of epidemic focus on isolating sick individuals and those who have had known contact with those individuals, and even that has often been seen as a huge albeit sometimes reasonable restraint on civil liberties. Everyone should be alarmed by the fact that government is casting its policing net infinitely wider to include the entire populace, most of whom (99% as of writing) are not known to be infected and may not have ever been exposed to the virus.

It is an alarming move for United States federal and local governments to attempt to quarantine entire populations. People should be astounded by this fact. Just as in criminal matters the government needs probable cause or at the very least reasonable suspicion of crime to detain an individual, to detain individuals in matters of pathogenic contagion, the government should have some individualized cause for the detention. Mass quarantine lacks that individualized cause and infringes equally on the rights of the sick and uninfected alike. Mass quarantine blatantly contravenes the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution.

The Fear Cycle

Further, each frightening restriction announced by the government terrifies the populace more and adds to the hysteria, causing panic-buying and anxiety. There are people who are scared to leave their homes even for essential services because the government said to shelter-in-place, people who seem to think that merely stepping outside their home would cause them to become infected. Many people seem to think contracting the coronavirus would be a death sentence despite the fact that 80% of identified cases are mild and over 95% survive it. The deaths caused by COVID-19 are tragic and experiencing even mild symptoms may not be pleasant, but it is not even close to the end of the human race. This crisis is not an apocalypse, but governments are making it feel like one with their actions.

Because of the emphasis on the six-foot radius, many people truly seem to believe that simply passing by someone at close range is enough to get them infected. The government has to terrorize its populace into believing that merely leaving their homes or standing near someone is enough to get them infected and die because that is the only way to stop people from doing what is innate to us—being social—without directly banning socializing. The government has effectively instilled a fear of human nature so individuals will prevent themselves from engaging in instinctive activities.

For the record, simply venturing outside your home will not infect you with coronavirus. Merely standing closer than six feet to another person is not sufficient to infect you with coronavirus. As the CDC notes, all the following elements have to be present for a person to become infected:

  1. an infected person
  2. has to expel “respiratory droplets” by coughing or sneezing, and
  3. then you have to ingest those droplets in some way.

Unless an infected person coughs or sneezes directly on or near your face, simply being near them is not going to make you sick.

Thus, requirements of “social distancing” are not appropriately tailored to the risk of infection because physical proximity is not itself the cause of contagion and because there is zero risk in socializing with people who are not infected, a group that comprises the majority of the population. The government is infringing on everyone’s rights because it failed at the more effective and preemptive strategy of contact tracing; it is not competent now to determine who is infected and who is not and is, consequently, projecting its failure and responsibility onto its citizens. The state’s real problem now is insufficient medical resources, which is a public policy matter and, as such, is not going to be solved on an individual level. It should be noted also that the World Health Organization recommends a minimum of only three feet of distance, further reinforcing how utterly unnecessary a six-foot radius is.

The fear response to this crisis has been counterproductive. In the first place, being in a constant state of fear for months on end creates chronic stress that is destructive to the health and immune system of the person. At a time of heightened infectiousness, a time when a robust immune system is most need, we as a society are taking actions that undermine the ability of individuals to fight off pathogens.

Secondly, this fear has led to irrational stockpiling and hoarding for some anticipated future doom, which hurts the community by depriving it of food and supplies in the moment in which it is needed. The scarcity mindset is self-perpetuating; when people who were responding to the situation rationally observe the irrational hoarding by their neighbors, they feel they must participate in hoarding as well or risk being left without. It is the prisoner’s dilemma in real time. We have been trapped for weeks in a hysteria feedback loop that is making the situation worse than it needs to be.

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The Measures Are Disproportionate to the Risk

As far as viruses go, COVID-19, while fairly contagious, is relatively mild and not terribly lethal Between 0.5 and 3.4% of people die from it, which may be a higher fatality rate than we wish to confront but is still fairly low, leaving the majority of its victims alive. That crucial fact has to be accounted for when deciding what infringements on civil liberties are reasonable. Currently, state governments are taking the unprecedented actions of requiring the entire populations in given territories—millions of people, most of whom are not sick—to cease most life activities to prevent the death of a tiny percentage of the population. Again, balancing these scales is a subjective question. For some people, there is no question that it is worth it, especially if those people are still employed and have the financial wherewithal to withstand months of government-imposed lock-down.

But in trying to protect a segment of the population from infection, the government has inflicted certain harm on many others. Millions of people have been laid off indefinitely and still have bills to pay. Many independent contractors cannot ply their trades due to business closures and social distancing orders. Small local businesses, even those deemed essential, are losing revenue every day that the lock-down continues. These are our neighbors who are now struggling to get by and who may after this is all over have to close the businesses they poured themselves into for years. This is not just a risk. These individuals are being harmed in real time under the guise of protecting them from something deemed worse by those who are not in the least threatened by the economic harm and uncertainty that the workers and business owners are enduring. Why should anyone be able to decide for someone else that it would be better for them to starve than risk getting sick?

Additionally, many governments will now be facing substantial budget deficits for the new fiscal year due to the costs associated with the response to COVID-19. The populace will be paying for this for a long time to come in the form of increased taxes; inflation; reduced and ineffective social services; and understaffed, overburdened government offices that lack the resources to perform their functions. The people who are most reliant on government services, those most in need, are going to be disproportionately impacted by the consequences of these deficits.

And there are harms that are certain but not quantifiable: students in low-tech households who will be left behind in the rush to digital learning; millions of students who will get a substandard education for this semester as schools rush put into place untested, passive remote learning systems; the elimination of life celebrations—births, birthdays, graduations, holidays, religious rites, proms; the inability of people to properly grieve their dead and hold funerals; the elderly denied visits by their family; those for whom social isolation will cause or exacerbate depression and anxiety; the medical concerns that are not being addressed due to the closure of non-emergency, medical offices; the loss of religious fellowship for those of faith; parents trying to juggle work with childcare; the child and domestic abuse that is no longer being observed and reported; and the damage caused to the body by chronic stress, fear, and social isolation, to name a few.

Finally, but not least, there is the incalculable injury to our dignity as autonomous beings on this earth: the impairment of our freedom of movement and ability to make decisions about what is best for ourselves and the denial of human connection. Denying the essential needs for autonomy and sociability is inhumane, especially when the denial lasts for an indefinite, extended time-frame. These needs are so hardwired into us that government interference with our livelihoods and social needs should be presumptively unreasonable.

Preventing the Normalization of Emergency Conditions

As noted above, people do not appear to realize how extreme and unprecedented these social distancing and shelter-in-place orders are, which suggests that government infringement on civil liberties is already pretty well normalized in the minds of the citizenry. In fact, many people in the media and in online discussions are encouraging the government to violate constitutionally protected rights. The apparent desire by some individuals for government restriction of constitutionally protected liberties is disconcerting.

The events following 9/11 have shown how easy it is for severe government measures taken in times of crisis to last indefinitely and become part of the fabric of our daily lives. Infection, like terrorism, is a vague and ever-present threat that could provide a basis for the ongoing abridgment of civil rights. We cannot let that happen. If the government can interfere with our bodily autonomy, freedom of movement, and livelihoods, then we have lost the things that make United States the free country we claim it to be.

This is a watershed moment and one that could potentially usher in a new era of medical-hygiene totalitarianism so bent on preserving every life that it will not permit anyone to live. Do you really want to live in a world in which a grandparent cannot hug their grandchildren because the government deems that a high-risk activity; a world in which you have to submit to a temperature check before you can enter a public place; in which your source of income can be shut down by the government at any time because contagious viruses are always going around; where children are not allowed to play outside because the government does not want them to get sick or infect anyone else; a world in which we are no longer permitted to breathe fresh air, but instead are mandated to wear facial masks that create a warm, humid environment around the mouth and nose that are the perfect breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses; one in which the elderly are deemed too frail for visits from family; where the government prohibits people from assembling together on the grounds that the risk of transmitting any infection is too high; where your consent to medical treatment is no longer necessary; in which farmer’s markets are outlawed, as though shopping for groceries outside in the fresh air is more risky than breathing in the stale, recirculating air of the indoor supermarket; where playgrounds become a historical artifact as they are dismantled for being too unsanitary; wherein we become a cold, estranged society in which fear governs our lives and the goal of safety takes priority over social connections and freedom?

This situation should not become the norm. In times of emergency, we must continue to hold government accountable, ensuring that the actions it takes are necessary, effective, and proportionate to the risk and strenuously object when they are not. There will always be threats to our safety. If we let fear rule us, then we will never be free.

The Long-Term Outlook

The concern about normalizing our current situation is not founded solely on fear of setting a dismal precedent in the abstract. It is grounded in an understanding that pandemics are a feature of our globalized world. The coronavirus was not a surprise. We were confronted with SARS in 2002, the swine flu in 2009, Ebola in 2013, the Zika outbreak on 2015, and MERS in 2015. The United States got lucky in those cases, but it was only a matter of time before a virus breached our meager defenses. And more viral epidemics await us in the future.

Contagious infection has always been a part of life. It has always been an inherent risk of dealing with other people. That is nothing new. What is new is the ease of travel and the number of travelers around the world. With the unnatural ease of travel that we have created, pandemics are merely an inevitable cost of our hyper-connected world. In making travel as efficient and accessible as we have, we breached the earth’s major defense mechanism against pandemics such as COVID-19: compartmentalization. A virus cannot spread far and cause this much damage if its hosts cannot travel far. Viruses will only spread as far as we take them. Travel, therefore, is the proximate cause of pandemics, not the virus itself. The cost of modern-day travel is pandemics.

Is it worth it? Is being able to cross an ocean in a day and visit several new countries in mere days worth millions of people dying? I love traveling. Some of my most cherished memories are from my travels, and there are many more places around the world that I would like to visit. But having to live in constant fear of my neighbors, having to imprison myself inside my home, having to distance myself from friends and family, having to refrain from being affectionate in day-to-day life, having to live digitally because in-person interactions are deemed too dangerous—travel is not worth that to me. The choice has to be conscious. If society is intent upon having such a centralized world, then the risk of pandemics have to be accepted as a part of life.

High transmissibility is now a feature of our centralized, global society, and individuals should not have to compensate for this by restraining their own liberty. Trying to get people to do the completely unnatural and “socially distance” perpetually to avoid contagion is unreasonable and foolhardy, as ineffective as trying to use a children’s pail to mitigate the fallout from a burst dam. Continually suspending entire populations’ life activities for months on end is not an adequate or sustainable solution.

Government Failure On Multiple Levels

While many people are lashing out at their fellow citizens for failing to engage in the wholly unnatural act of social isolation, the outrage at the federal and state governments’ lack of preparedness has been barely more than a whisper, a whisper overtaken by praise of state governments’ aggressive and ineffectual encroachment of civil liberties.

We should be appalled by our governments. Epidemiologists knew that a pandemic hitting our shores was only a matter of time, and governments had numerous close calls in the past two decades to provide advance notice of the need for a coherent plan. Despite two decades plus of time to plan, our governments still have no coherent strategy for containment of contagious infections. This is what elected officials are paid to do, not bicker and grandstand as a means of endlessly campaigning for office, but coming up with rational, thought-out strategies to large societal problems that cannot be solved on an individual level. That governments are now forcing individuals to take it upon themselves to contain this virus as a way of compensating for the governments’ lack of planning should not be lauded in any way.

It is too late to contain the coronavirus at this point. The federal and state governments missed their short window of opportunity. The best strategy for containment is to prevent breach of our borders in the first place. When it learned of the spread of the coronavirus in January, the government should have put some measures into place to prevent contagion in the U.S. It could have been testing people entering the country who had been in affected areas or in close contact with someone who had been exposed. The government could have identified cases of infection before they entered the country, isolated those that tested positive, and performed contact-tracing to identify others who had been exposed, thereby avoiding the sisyphean battle of stopping the spread in the interior of the country by making the entire 329-million-person population stop living for an extended period of time.

Containment plans are the bare minimum that government needs to accomplish. It should also focus on creating a healthier culture for its people, a population that is sedentary, overweight, chronically stressed, overworked, sleep-deprived, nature-deprived, overfed, and undernourished. Perhaps the coronavirus would not be so fearsome if we had a healthy populace that was not riddled with comorbidities like metabolic syndromes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, all of which increase the risk of fatality for viruses like COVID-19. Instead of focusing on the nigh impossible goal of having the entire populace avoid viruses, let’s focus on ensuring that our population is healthy enough to withstand exposure to viruses. If government had put half as much effort into creating a healthy ecosystem with a goal of eliminating chronic illnesses as it did in restricting our freedom, the coronavirus would not be such a threat to us.

Health and Resilience Are the Best Defense

This is a moment that forces us to determine what our values are and whether our society is furthering those values. This has highlighted many ways we can improve to ensure better lives for all and a more resilient response when the next pandemic hits. We should ensure that every worker in our society has paid sick leave so people do not have to choose between their health and their incomes. If we want people to stay home when they are sick to prevent infecting others, we need to make that an economically feasible option for everyone.

There is more to health and longevity than avoiding infections, and we cannot wait until a pandemic strikes to start caring for our health. The American way has been for people to dismiss as unnecessary the simple things that produce health—whole foods, vegetables, sleep, regular and varied movement, fresh air, sunlight, play, physical touch, and stress relief. Americans wait until the damage is done and then look for a quick fix, a pill of some sort, that will mask the symptoms of their dysfunction rather than correct the underlying issue. If we do not want to be ravaged by future pandemics, this needs to change.

We need to dismantle our workaholic culture, which encourages people to push themselves to the breaking point in a race to the bottom, in which the need for rest and recovery are seen as character flaws. We need a culture in which workers are encouraged to tend to their health instead of ignoring their biological needs for the sake of profit and efficiency. Delaying health needs is more costly and inefficient in the long run. It should not be a bragging point that individuals operate on insufficient sleep. The bulk of the body’s recovery occurs during sleep, so we need to make adequate sleep a societal priority if we want to minimize lifestyle diseases and strengthen our immune systems before the next pandemic. There are no quick fixes; we need to make significant lifestyle changes in advance.

We need to build more resilient communities. Every family should have an emergency savings fund to cover crises such as these. We should not be so beholden to convenience that we leave ourselves in a constant state of food insecurity. We do not need to panic shop when crises hit if our pantries are already stocked with the staples we need to sustain ourselves (See the concept of the larder as discussed by Joel Salatin in his book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”). Local supply chains should be strengthened to prevent the continual shortages we have experienced recently due to our reliance on overburdened, centralized and foreign suppliers.

Monocropping Humans

In addition to overcoming nature’s containment strategies for contagion as noted above, we are also actively undermining the regional diversity that could make us stronger. We humans have been not only domesticated, but mono-cropped. We eat the same few varieties of mono-cropped food that were produced by the same monolithic agricultural conglomerates, live in the same types of shelter, are exposed to the same substances, enjoy the same climate-controlled temperatures, and engage in the same minimal, repetitive movements. Our lifestyles are indistinguishable on all but a superficial level. Regional difference is mostly a relic at this point. Centralization and homogeneity has replaced local experimentation. Consequently, we all have the same strengths and same weaknesses. We have cultivated so much homogeneity into our lives that what can take one of us out could potentially take all of us out. It is hubris to think we can short-circuit all of nature’s built-in defenses—in this case diversity and compartmentalization—and somehow still thrive.

Much of this homogeneity is the result of trying to isolate ourselves from nature by creating our own artificial ecosystems. In doing so, we fail to experience and adapt to the regional differences nature confronts us with. We remain in a state of synthetic homeostasis, rarely experiencing the vagaries and extremes of nature. This makes us more comfortable but also weakens us. We increasingly isolate ourselves from nature while pretending that we can be as healthy without interacting with nature as we could be if we immersed ourselves in the very elements that sustain life. Our natural inclination to avoid discomfort has taken on unhealthy and obsessive dimensions as we have been able to control more and more of our environment. The goal of improving our quality of life has been supplanted by the quest for continual comfort.

Stress, adversity, and discomfort are necessary on some level for making us stronger and thereby improving our quality of life. Infectious viruses are a perfect example of that. In becoming sick, our bodies create defense mechanisms that will continue to protect us in the long-term. Similarly, it is those who encounter supposedly unhygienic, foreign microbiota early in life who are less likely to suffer from allergies and auto-immune disorders. In trying to obsessively avoid pathogens, we may do more harm than good. Yes, hygiene is an important strategy in warding off infectious pathogens, but let’s not forget in our campaign to eliminate viruses like the coronavirus that there are an abundance of microbes that are beneficial to us. The emphasis on hand sanitizer and avoiding exposure altogether could do greater harm in the long run than letting people’s immune systems do their job.

Creating An Essential Society

The coronavirus, in bringing our society to its knees, has highlighted our weaknesses and hypocrisies. The lock-downs have made clear what is actually essential for the functioning of society. Many of the careers that have been most valued and highest paid are wholly unnecessary for societal operations. It is the lowest paid members of our communities—cleaning and facilities staff, farmers, grocery store employees, people involved in food preparation and transport, mail carriers, transit workers, home health aides, child care workers, manufacturers, sanitation workers, laundry operators, repairmen and women, and utilities workers—who add the most value.

We have been given a taste of what life could be like if we stripped away the non-essential, including bureaucratic tedium, commuting, office confinement, air pollution, and busy work. We now know what it could be like to have a world in which we could have more flexible and remote work options, which would give us more time with family and friends, more time playing outside with the kids or helping them with their school work, more time at the homes that we spend a substantial amount of our working hours paying for, and more time for personal growth. The crisis serves as a reminder of the life that can exist beyond the confines of employment. This could be an opportunity to realign our society with the true essentials of life.

Refusing to Be Governed By Fear

We are now with our actions voting for what kind of society we want to live in. Our goal should not be to merely avoid death, but to live, to savor all the flavors of life, the bitter as well as the sweet; embracing the fire though we may be burned; understanding that in life, as in nature, the bugs have as much of a role to play as the flowers and the fruit. Rather than shrink from death, let’s celebrate life in all of its chaotic, unsanitized, sometimes painful, often joyful, savage beauty.

If we have to sacrifice our freedom and life to preserve the status quo, if we must sacrifice the very things that make us human, we have already lost. What is the point of extending life if we have to sacrifice the beauty of living to do it? Community, the outdoors, art, recreation, socializing, play, and touch are not trivial things to be dispensed with; they are the essence of life. Society cannot sustain itself if violating human nature becomes a condition of citizenship. We cannot save society by destroying ourselves.

If society is not robust enough to be able to withstand going outside, standing closer than six feet together, engaging in the physical world without barriers, socializing, engaging in recreation, assembling in groups, and being affectionate—in short, engaging in the most basic of human activities, the activities that make us human and make life enjoyable—then we are living in a society that is not worth saving.

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