Matthew Continetti, writing in National Review: “I revisited Brooks’s article this week while thinking about the differences between America during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918–1919 and America during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic today. What changed is the American ethos. Expressive individualism replaced self-restraint. Narcissism and the therapeutic sensibility triumphed over the reticence and sense of tragedy that comes from living in places and times where there is no safety net and death is a constant presence. The culture of debunking, revisionism, and repudiation informs education, entertainment, art, and occasionally sport. The size, scope, and ambition of the federal government and its managers is far greater now than it was then. So are the public’s expectations of government capabilities and performance. The institutions that stand between the individual and state have weakened where they have not crumbled. Family, community, religion, and voluntary association attenuate as modernity deprives them of their traditional functions.” Angst: A feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity. That’s the definition, but it’s no longer simply “a feeling”–it’s now awareness of what our country has largely become.
The United States is beginning to shut down and self-isolate. Its G-7 partners range from states of quarantine (Italy) to lockdown (France) to closed borders (Germany). Countries do not make such decisions on a lark. Nor is the reason for these extraordinary measures a secret. What terrifies the authorities is the prospect of surges in infection that would push public-health systems beyond capacity and result in mass death. To prevent a medical catastrophe, the authorities guarantee an economic one. The social capacity of America has received less attention. The worst-case scenarios anticipate an epidemic that lasts until a vaccine can be mass produced 18 months from now. Do we believe that American society could withstand until then the additional pressures that have been put on it over the past week?
Thucydides described the way the plague of ancient Athens brought about “lawless extravagance” in which men set aside the normal rules. “They resolved to spend quickly and enjoy themselves, regarding their lives and riches as alike things of a day.” He wrote, “It was settled that present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was both honorable and useful. Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them.”
“Restrain them” indeed. If you believe that humans are born good, or neutral, and it’s “society” or “injustice” or “religion” or some other external circumstance that corrupts them, you probably haven’t watched groups of very young children play with too few toys to go around….and you probably excuse yourself for all the insidious thoughts that constantly assail your mind. No one, even devout Christians, want to believe Psalm 14:3 or 53:3. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.– Psalm 53:1-3. That cannot be true, you hope, lots of people do good. Yes, they appear to……once they are trained up or can model themselves after those they love and respect.
However, I am concerned with the conditions Thucydides wrote about. I am living in Spokane, Washington. One daughter also lives here, and my other two daughters live in Seattle, the epicenter of our modern “plague of ancient Athens”. People hereabouts and thereabouts are behaving mostly positively, as I predicted days ago in my post Could the Coronavirus be more blessing than curse?, 6 days ago.
Another positive development, from FEE.ORG: As the rampaging virus wields its way around the globe, prevention and early detection are key to limiting its reach. While a travel ban limited US exposure to the source of the infection, unwieldy government regulations needlessly slowed the detection process for weeks.Federal regulations barred any labs outside the federal government from developing a test to diagnose coronavirus. When the CDC sent out its test on February 5, it soon learned many of them were defective. The kits produced false positives. The government reversed course on February 29 and allowed private labs to begin developing their own tests. The results have been spectacular. The old tests took two to seven days to process. The patient was left in limbo in the meantime. Within a matter of days of the government dropping its restriction, the Cleveland Clinic developed a test that delivered results within eight hours. Our central government, instead of exacerbating a crisis as they have been wont to do in the past–Great Depression, 1970’s gasoline shortage, 2008 collapse of the “mortgage bubble”–is finally getting the message “private enterprise does almost everything better than central planning and politically motivated edicts!”
There is no nation that can scale up production the way we can when we do take a war footing. I suspect that the risk-taking and entrepreneurial spirit embedded and fostered in American life will pay off. It took a week for an open-source project to come up with a 3D-printed ventilator validation prototype for hospitals. It takes only days for trucks to arrive with more food and supplies. In the United States, the instinct to hoard is psychological, not a matter of survival. I’m encouraged. Here’s some pics of the temporary “new normal”. Don’t use these to develop more angst–they are evidence that Americans are doing what it takes to slow the spread!
Well, not everyone is observing social distancing, or is the new definition the length of a Costco cart apart?