Moral Composure

Our reaction to the COVID outbreak is a moral panic. Not a panic over public health, but a panic over how we deal with risk.

Our reaction to the COVID outbreak is a moral panic. Not a panic over public health, but a panic over how we deal with risk. If our disagreements were solely over the medical facts and figures, we'd be done by now. What we're not done with yet is deciding what we can legitimately demand of one another.

What to make of how we scramble to lock down and mandate masks and vaccines in a panic, yet we are completely sanguine about traffic accidents? Anyone over the age of 16 is free to hurdle several tons of automobile down the public highways at speeds where even a split-second loss of attention can result in fiery, instantaneous dismemberment and even death, and no one blinks an eye. But an infection with a 99.95% survival rate makes us run for the hills? It seems to make absolutely no sense.

But it does make sense. It makes sense because we've already had our moral panic over traffic accidents. We've made our actuarial tables, calculated the costs, and come up with a price-point everyone is willing to pay. No one argues about automobile deaths anymore. We have reached the state of moral composure.

Personally, I am in a state of moral composure with regards to public viral infections. I've been there for quite some time. Not a single article I've read or discussion I've had has changed my point of view on the matter lately. There are no studies I can think of that would convince me, no disputed facts that I haven't examined already, no claims and counter-claims that haven't been widely circulated and considered.

My complacency isn't because I'm stubborn, uncaring, or hard-headed. I've simply made up my mind. I've considered the risks and rewards, and I am at peace. I'm done with it. Like I am with traffic accidents.

There is going to be a sorting out of the COVID moral panic. We will figure out the process and procedures. We will make up our actuarial tables. What will that look like? Here are my predictions.

Changes in personal behavior

Locking down, avoiding human contact, and wearing face masks won't be in our future. Those measures are too inconvenient and their benefits too diffuse and marginal. Even more importantly, they run completely opposite to every learned social behavior we've developed since birth. It'd be like trying to impose a universal speed limit of 35 mph.  Not gonna happen.

Mandated vaccinations, however, will definitely be in our future. A vaccine will be on the same moral plane as wearing a seatbelt in a car or a helmet on a motorcycle. Yes, it protects only the wearer, no one else. But it contributes directly to regulating the price of risk. It puts an upper limit on the carnage.

Changes in official behavior

Our public health bureaucracy has been shown to be not nearly as reliable and authoritative as we believed. Whatever faith and respect they had earned in the past will be spent by the time we are done.  Trust, once lost, is hardly ever regained. These organizations have probably always been more about politics than about medicine, but now we know that about them and there's no turning back.

Once the panic recedes, I predict that there will be limits placed on what governments can do in response. It will start in the courts, but ultimately will be expressed in who people vote for. We're already seeing some of this happen even now, with the overturning of the CDC's eviction moratorium policy by the Supreme Court, the stay of execution of the OSHA vaccine mandate, and the sharp turn right-ward in the off-year elections in Virginia and elsewhere.

At the same time, however, there clearly are some with a taste for authoritarianism in government, media, and big tech. They got a chance to exercise true nationwide social control for the first time, and no doubt they will want it again. It was amazingly easy to instill mass fear. A coordinated effort to regain control through crisis management is sure to come again.

The antidote is personal peace

The one thing no external force can touch is the individual conscience. The philosophy of 1984 to the contrary, God has, in fact, made us all unique and individual, and try as they might, they cannot force you to believe.

I am at peace about all this, and I most ardently wish the same for you.


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