The COVID State
In 1976, an ABC movie entitled “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” recounted the tragic story of a child suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Although the child died when he was twelve, doctors have since found a cure for this disease. Consequently, while SCID still occurs, the fear engendered by this condition has been alleviated.
This story highlighted the legitimate concern that people have long had when faced with any illness. While the search for vaccines has been the immediate focus in this struggle, long term solutions have been offered by the prospect of immunity.
It is immunity that provides security in the face of health concerns which have assumed pandemic dimensions. The achievement of a balance between this security and our personal freedom ensures that we can maintain a free society in which people enjoy an appropriate degree of autonomy. That includes having the right to choose in matters of politics, career choice, health decisions and other crucial matters. In Western society, public health is an important objective but the same is true of freedom in its various forms
Our history demonstrates the constant struggle between the legitimate need for security and our desire to maintain freedom. As early as the Civil War, the Lincoln Administration made well-documented efforts to limit constitutional freedoms in the face of the threat of secession. More recently, with the emergence of terrorism as a security issue, there was a debate about the need for intrusive measures to protect American interests and the continuing need for individual liberty. It is true that security and freedom are polar opposites and with freedom comes risks. Certainly, you could secure yourself in a fortified home and have guards to protect you but you would not be free.
While we immediately see the economic and social consequences of the COVID state, it is the political transformation that will have a greater long-term impact. This transformation is accomplishing something that did not occur during wartime or in other natural disasters. In short, Constitutional rights which have guaranteed our security for over two centuries are being dismissed in the face of what our authorities describe as a national health crisis.
After imposition of lockdown orders that shuttered “non-essential” businesses, there was a devastating impact on our economy. But an examination of this new order should also include consideration of the political impact of measures designed to slow the spread of Coronavirus. The economic destruction can probably be repaired in a few years but the political changes will have a longer lasting impact.
With the emergence of controversial measures for dealing with Coronavirus, there has been an increasing censorship of dissenting views. Thoughtful scientific studies that do not conform to official policy are not allowed to be permanently displayed. Social media and other mechanisms denounce contrary views as disinformation.
What should be regarded as policy or medical questions are treated with an emotionalism produced by consistent and hysterical warnings about sudden agonizing death for millions of people. Medical decisions are increasingly politicized. Doctors are told that they cannot prepare certain treatment plans for the patients whom they know best. Disagreements with administrative policies are denounced as malfeasance or even criminal. In far too many cases, administrative edicts are even handed down without any scientific justification.
In the Soviet days, repression was justified by Marxism Leninism. In the COVID state, repression is justified by the threat of invisible germs. When the justification for tyranny is a germ, since there will always be public health concerns, it is likely that there will always be tyranny.
Thus, there is a reliance on fear stimulated by a manipulation – or simply confusion – of statistics. Many doctors report that they face administrative pressure to cite Coronavirus as the cause of death even when the patient was suffering from other serious health problems. Coronavirus may have been a contributing factor but was not necessarily dispositive.
Lockdowns and other measures have disrupted the daily routines which helped insure stability and security. This, in turn, has exacerbated widespread popular fear. Under the best of circumstances, a visit to the doctor can prompt our fear. If we face a serious health concern, we have to rely upon a medical diagnosis that involves terms and concepts with which we are not familiar. In a non-crisis environment, this can be extremely disconcerting. However, in the midst of a pandemic, the diagnosis is constantly changing as public health officials begin to learn about a new virus. It is, therefore, not surprising if the average citizen, according to some surveys, believes that thirty million Americans have already died. With such a populace, even when some businesses finally open, popular fear ensures that many will stay away out of a fear they will become infected.
Another characteristic of the COVID state is the emotionalism of both policy and medical debates. There is public shaming of those who deemed to be dismissing the dramatic consequences of the Coronavirus. In an already fractured society, disputes over the wearing of masks have further divided citizens over the necessity of mask wearing. On numerous occasions, there have been fights because of these disagreements and, in at least one case, a mall security guard shot a person who was not wearing a mask.
Moreover, disagreements about the utility or efficacy of face masks are colored with moral judgements. There is always the suggestion that if you do not enthusiastically agree, you must be an immoral person whose selfishness is endangering the lives of others.
Controversies about the wearing of facemasks highlights the tensions between those who proclaim the mask is our final barrier against the spread of the disease and others who question the scientific case for wearing masks. Equally important, the very wearing of a face mask enables people to feel that they are part of a vital effort that is often compared to World War Two.
Moreover, the production of facemasks is becoming an industry in the United States and elsewhere. Attractive designs and skillful marketing of the masks are increasingly routine matters. Whether that industry has garnered the strength to pressure for rules requiring compliance with executive mandates remains to be seen but it is clearly an interest in its own right.
Community groups are being rallied to apply pressure to citizens reluctant to either wear a mask or to accept arguments in favor of wearing a mask. Neighborhood websites such as Next Door often feature warnings that people must reject “disinformation” they might receive in opposition to the policy. Critics or skeptics are often accused of backwardness for rejecting the “science” justifying the executive orders. Sometimes there are suggestions that local Klan organizations may be spreading such materials and that if residents see a person distributing these materials, they must contact authorities to report this.
In addition, the COVID industry is generating specific professions related to responding to this health concern. Movies, for example, are required to have a COVID advisor to insure “production standards” in the film industry. “Contact tracer” is now a job title with special responsibilities for keeping track of the contacts which an individual may have in order to study infection patterns. Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services has created the position of Writer-Editor (COVID-19) with an attractive starting salary of as much as $112,240 annually.
COVID concerns are also being used as justification for non-performance of what would otherwise be routine business matters. For example, sellers now refuse to ship packages overseas, arguing that the package might be an instrument for spreading the virus. If a business is slow in fulfilling commitments, Coronavirus may be cited as justification for their poor performance.
More recently there have been suggestions that wearing the facemask should be accompanied by a requirement to wear goggles since our eyes represent an important pathway through which germs might enter our systems.
Our political system is accustomed to controversies over tax policies and other routine issues. If you are a loser in the debate over tax policies, you will likely lose money. At worst, you may experience a certain amount of financial discomfort. But when you are faced with the prospect of having your business locked down and losing your life’s work, there is no room for compromise. When your livelihood and your ability to provide for your family are at risk, you simply cannot afford to lose. The stakes are too enormous and the consequences of a loss are unimaginable.
An interesting feature of the COVID state is that decisions are rarely made by elected legislative bodies and that public debate is limited. With this, the public is isolated from the political process while executives, claiming to operate on the basis of “science”, can dismiss popular rejection of their policies as simply “unscientific”.
Finally, the greatest aspect of what we might regard as the COVID state is the belief that constitutional liberties can be suspended because of the apparent threat posed by an invisible entity.
Moreover, the COVID state dismisses the significant place of consensus within a stable democratic system. In order to achieve a consensus on any policy, it is crucial that participants be willing to compromise. When the stakes of a policy dispute are so great that peoples’ vital interests are destroyed, the result is political instability. Journalists often ask officials about “how many deaths are acceptable”, a provocative question for which there is no answer. The draconian measures being employed in the fight against Coronavirus have led to a massive economic disruption with millions of lost jobs, along with the livelihoods they supported.
It is important to remember that, when there is a logical, fact-based argument rebutting an emotional argument, the emotional argument will usually win. In such an environment, facts will matter less than fear. We are seeing this now in many of the COVID arguments that are based on fear and hysteria. Too many experts, politicians, and media stars are destroying America with their proclamations of doom and their spreading of fear.
In the end, it may well be that all of these restrictions and intrusions into our personal affairs are absolutely necessary and that our future is that of a medical tyranny. Should that be the case, it is important to recognize how this will dramatically alter our concept of constitutional rights and freedoms. As a result of this and the availability of sophisticated technologies of control, our future will see the emergence of a totalitarian system previously unknown in the United States of America.