Monday, August 3, 2020

Sick Leave

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- Explain why the United States is doing just about the worst among all countries in the world in the war against COVID-19. We have five percent of the world's population, but twenty-five percent of the world's COVID-19 deaths, and the war is just getting started.
- You adopt Trump's war analogy? Sure, I'll explain. But first you explain to me why doctors, lawyers, journalists, politicians all are silent on the obvious stupidity of the lockdown, the uselessness of it.
- I asked a retired physician that question yesterday morning.
- And he answered?
- 'No one wants to stick his neck out.' Later that day I asked a new medical school graduate the same question. He hadn't thought about it, he said and changed the subject.
- We are a country of people who put money making first among all other goals. How you look, speak, move, everything is optimized for the sake of making money. We are not interested in the world except in how we can make money out of it. Once money is made we permit ourselves some entertainments until we throw ourselves back into the principle duty of life, making money. Money making is not achieved by knowing anything about the world, by making a model of the world. What's required is predicting the meaningless panic behavior of a herd, calculating probabilities: do this, and that is likely to result, no one knows why and no one cares. It's not necessary.
- Not necessary for making money.
- Are you a typical American? Then you are a believer in free speech. Not really a believer, in the sense you can give reasons for why it is preferable. All you know of free speech is it helps you make money, so far at least, subject to reevaluation in the future. But what about the free speech of holocaust deniers? of Neo-Nazis? The people who differ from the majority are exactly those people whose speech has to be protected, you argue. But maybe you have argued at another time that it is wrong to enter into a debate into certain subjects, for example, the pros and cons of rape, or whether the holocaust really occurred. Then what?
- The opposed principles have to be balanced.
- To allow free speech to holocaust deniers is to promote the debate on the subject of the reality of the holocaust. A decision to advocate debate or not to requires a general picture of how human life is lived in all its complexity, not mere probability of 'this is usually followed by that'. Another example: assuming we want to decrease the amount of violence in the world, could it be that terror is an act of violence that reduces violence in the world? Can that be a probability? But can't the violence of terror produce its own longer term bad results interfering with the calculation of probable peace in immediate results?
- I know the argument: violent people are not capable of maintaining the peace achieved by their violence. And I know from whose biography you took these stories.*
- Good for you. If you like, I'll tell you a story from my life. A couple years ago I was offered a job editing a book written by the son of a retired Iranian gynocologist with his mother advocating cesarean section for all deliveries. If free speech should be protected in all cases, then my objection to this idea shouldn't lead me to refusing the job.
- What did you do?
- I decided there were other principles involved, including the value of my life story in which I didn't want some degree of responsibility for even one woman dying on the operating table from an unnecessary operation.
- You must be the only person in the country who thinks that way.
- Let's look at our lockdowned country. Who here pays attention to the real world? Like the huckster promoter who is our president we're willing to say or do whatever is calculated to work, we don't need to know why. The government says lockdown will reduce deaths so we must have lockdown. Instant unthinking compliance! that's where the money's at! Are there other principles involved like we saw with free speech probabilities and terroristic violence?
- Unless the lockdown is of the entire population some of those in lockdown will be infected by fellow residents who leave the house to do go out in public where they become infected. Those in lockdown who escape infection, when the lockdown is ended, will be exposed to thousands of the infected and stand a good chance of being infected themselves.
- Making any partial lockdown virtually useless.
- Yes. Imagine we are in, as the president says, a war against the virus. Lockdown is our army, the herd of people in retreat from the virus. We run away as far as we can go, close ourselves off from the world. Violence is bad, free speech is good: simple principles, probablistically established, like the financier's humanly empty predictions of herd behavior in the marketplace.
- An epidemic fades away when an infected individual can't find others to infect before the infection's time of contageousness expires because too many people are naturally or from past infection immune. People in lockdown can't perform this role of blocking the spread of infection and hastening the disappearance of the epidemic.
- Healthy young people could perform the role if they unlocked themselves, taking a risk minimal compared to that taken by the old and sick if they did the same who instead remain safely locked down. Our lives are full of calculated risks: from car accidents, violent crimes, unnecessary death from hospitalization, choice of profession...
- So in our lockdown when we soldiers stage a retreat, like selling in a declining market, following probabilities, we don't know what is going on in the world. We don't think about how a lockdown is supposed to work and what its future can possibly be. In our self concern and indifference to everyone else we must be complicit with the government if we are ever to make a whole lot of money. Then, later, our money safe and sound, we decide to throw ourselves back into the fray, from prisoners become again soldiers, and reduce or end the lockdown, and...
- People start dying again in large numbers!
- Yes, of course, what else could happen? We see it all over the world, in country after country, people who in lockdown had been protected from exposure now are blindly marching into a viral attack.
- Then what should we do?
- People who are sick ought to be identified and quarantined, and those who are not sick, who are young and healthy or simply risk takers, if it is their choice, should march back into battle and live their public lives.
- And the epidemic will die out?
- If it doesn't we look for another model. Anything is better than our huckster in chief's retreat to speculators' probability.
- Anything is better than our present living for money and dying for money.

Further Reading:
An Epidemic Of Bad Thinking
Narrowing Focus