The Price We Pay

Last week some of you thought that the observations about select members of my own generation were a bit harsh, and some thought they weren’t harsh enough. I think we can agree that poor judgment and selfish behavior are not confined to any one generation, and neither are sacrifice and good citizenship.

We’re another week further into the pandemic, and we’re seeing the range of behaviors we would expect. Sacrifices continue to be made for the public good, from the hazardous jobs on the front lines to the private citizens staying at home and exercising caution. At the other end of the spectrum we still have the selfish, mindless and even defiant behavior which is the all too human response to fear and hardship.

It can be argued that the latter behaviors are due, in part, to the weakness and indecisiveness in leadership which we’ve seen from the national to the local level across the country. A few weeks ago, for example, we were told there was no need for healthy people to wear a mask. Now we’re told that everyone who has to leave the home should wear a mask in public.

Some states immediately began imposing restrictions designed to limit the spread of the virus. Individual cities and counties followed suit, or acted on their own in the absence of state leadership. Others waited for the infection rate and death toll to climb before acting. (In the state of Georgia the governor says we have to stay home, but we can go to the beach.)

Many of us are frustrated with the fragmented, sometimes contradictory and often uncoordinated response of our leadership to the crisis. That (and this should never be forgotten by the remnant of Americans who look to individual liberty and not bigger government as the best long term solution to our problems), is unfortunately included in the price we pay for the freedoms remaining to us of our republic.

It takes a while for a democracy, or a democratic republic, to muster a coordinated response to any crisis. Authority is more evenly distributed downward, though we forget that sometimes in the shadow of the enormous bloat of our federal government. It’s easier for autocracies like China to act decisively, though few of us want to pay the price their citizens pay for the ability to make decisions quickly, especially when top down decisions are so often wrong. And unlike China, we will be given repeated opportunities to purge those leaders who failed us in this crisis, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot of incumbents losing their next election. In my opinion, many of them should be tossed out.

Here in the United States we’re also handicapped by the crisis of trust that we’ve discussed here before. We’ve lost our faith in “science”, not because we don’t believe in scientific fact, but because we don’t trust the people telling us what the facts are. We have decades of misinformation, marketing, spin and pure propaganda brought to us by our “wolf” crying celebrity talkers.

So lacking the best information available we make do with what we can gather, and we sort it with the inferior tools handed us by an educational system designed, not to produce thinkers and learners armed with logic and reasoning, but consumers and producers of goods and services for a society based on consumption.

One of the results of this mistrust is a growing number of resentful and suspicious people, chaffing under confinement and the sudden withdrawal of the drug of instant gratification, who have gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theory to conclude that this is all some kind of hoax or manufactured crisis.

Granted, people in power never let a good crisis go to waste, which is an unforgettable lesson for anyone who remembers the world before 911. But this does not change the growing death toll from a dangerous and all too real threat. Ignore for the moment what the politicians and the talking heads are saying. Ask the nurse you know or the doctor you trust, and take note of the exhaustion and the deep, soul crushing concern that is beginning to take its toll on the best of us.

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