COVID-19: Finding Fault (Part 3)

(CONTINUED from Part 1 and Part 2)

The natural next step to this reasoning has dawned on some of you — the ones who are still reading, who haven’t moved on in horror and self-loathing, or alternately who aren’t so pissed off at me they’ve dropped their subscription (or would have done if only they’d not been too cheap to pay for one in the first place).

What I’m talking about isn’t a matter of fighting COVID-19 so much as it is sweeping cultural change of a sort that’s not merely necessary but long overdue.  The fact that we’re in a crisis right now only makes it more obvious that our society is seriously broken; it’s not like it wasn’t broken before the virus came along.

People in the United States need to work forty (if they’re lucky) to eighty (if they’re not) hours every week or they starve and get evicted.  Children have to go to school while their parents are at work or there’s nobody at home to take care of them.  The price of rent plus transportation plus food is everything the market will bear, which means it’s slightly more than a full-time worker can earn unless they hustle for a little more on the side.  Oh, and most people can’t afford to get sick, not just because hospitals are so expensive but because they can’t miss that much time at work.

And somehow we think all this is O.K., that it’s the way our lives are supposed to be.

This still isn’t getting through to some of you.  That’s fine; it’s a hard concept.  Let me use an unrelated example to demonstrate it.

Imagine if you will that pollution has been proven to cause major shifts in the weather, long-term increases in the severity of hurricanes, droughts and new deserts and dust bowls and plagues of locusts and God only knows what else.  Imagine further that the only way to stop all this nastiness is to drop back to pre-industrial rates of emissions.  And imagine people Tweeting about the evils of jet aircraft and S.U.V.s on their ColTan-devouring cell phones, leaving the charger plugged in 24/7 because they can’t be bothered to unplug it, and think they’re making a difference by going meatless.

The only way to revert to pre-industrial emissions levels is to end industry.  We don’t eliminate S.U.V.s; we get rid of the automobile.  McDonald’s is no more because there’s nothing to drive through the Drive Thru.  There is no Twitter because power generation on any level that permits a billion people to access it cannot be achieved without burning coal.  While we’re at it, we’re going to put an end to refrigeration, the microwave, modern sanitation, and modern medicine, because all of that is vastly power-intensive.

Or, you can accept some level of industry as a necessary evil, some degree of pollution in exchange for an average life expectancy greater than thirty-five.  Yes, cutting down on meat consumption is probably part of a sane compromise, but only if we’re also willing to give up on cities of ten million people and hour-long commutes as remotely reasonable.

To fight manmade climate change is a laudable goal, but to do so effectively will require a complete change in our society, something unimaginable to most people living today.  It is absurd to even suggest otherwise.

The kicker is, we can either choose what our society will look like right now, or we can let the world change around us and adapt as we go.  That’s the only choice we have.

Back to COVID-19:

Spain did a limited antibody study not long ago.  The conclusions are startling; they suggest that antibodies will start to fade among survivors after a few weeks or months.  This is very different from the initial analysis, which was that five percent of the country had gotten the virus and is now immune.  If what’s presently being reported is accurate, it indicates that this epidemic will be with us indefinitely.

There’s room for doubt; these alarming conclusions are by no means certain.  We’ll know more in a few months.  But it’s possible there’s no end to this — ever.  That’s one option.

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. There is no immunity.  COVID-19 will be with us forever, killing hundreds of thousands of people every year.  Eventually, it might even mutate to a more deadly form.
  2. Treatments will be developed, even if there is no vaccine, and eventually COVID-19 will be like tuberculosis — once a widespread killer, but later only a background threat for a few people.
  3. This will burn itself out.  Either a little before or a little after an effective vaccine hits the market, two thirds of the world’s population will have caught this and recovered.  A hundred million people will have died, but at least it will be over — until the next virus comes along.
  4. Best case scenario is:  This isn’t as deadly as we think it is.  We can relax and go back to life as normal.  However, we’re going to all need to wear masks and never shake hands again.  And yes, a few million people will die of it every year, but that’s just a fact of life, like bone cancer and lightning strikes.

One of these will be our reality, more or less.  Some of the details will be different, but not many.  (Notice “This is all a hoax” isn’t on the list.  That’s because it’s not possible.  If you still think it is, I have no idea what you think you’re doing reading something this complex; try Dick and Jane.)

To fit the new reality, we’re going to have to change the way we live.  Our entire culture will adapt.  The world of tomorrow will be entirely unlike the world of yesterday.

And you’re still pissed off because someone’s making you wear a mask.


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