At this time, America, like the rest of the world, is coping with the Wuhan virus. It’s brought about a number of (hopefully) temporary alterations to our patterns of life. These have not been easy adaptations for most of us. Our vibrant economy is badly hobbled, our social mechanisms are largely idled, and our politics has…wait just a moment…great God in heaven! Nothing has changed about our politics!
The whole point of establishing the nation’s capital in Washington was that it was a dismal swamp uninhabitable most of the year. The mosquitoes alone kept Congress out of session for long months at a time. This narrowed the amount of time each year that federal legislators could be in Washington wasting your money and destroying the country with their ridiculous ideas and votes.
Then along came air conditioning, and that ruined everything.
In reflecting on the COVID-19 crisis, we need not agree with MacIntyre’s wholesale pessimism about our political and social institutions. We need not question shutdown measures in place, nor even subscribe to their “biopolitical” critique. But if we care about the future of our societies, we raise a simple question: Do the managerial experts performing within the drama of this crisis have an adequate understanding of the hierarchy of human goods?
What is worrisome is not so much or not only the present, but what comes after. Just as wars have left as a legacy to peace a series of inauspicious technologies, from barbed wire to nuclear power plants, so it is also very likely that one will seek to continue even after the health emergency experiments that governments did not manage to bring to reality before: closing universities and schools and doing lessons only online, putting a stop once and for all to meeting together and speaking for political or cultural reasons and exchanging only digital messages with each other, wherever possible substituting machines for every contact — every contagion — between human beings.
Everything we do is a more or less educated guess, as far as what, if any, lives will be saved. It’s always a balancing act. Decreased economic activity kills people, too, a notion our Left seems congenitally disinclined to understand, but which is nonetheless completely obvious upon inspection. So, make good decisions, knowing it’s a trade off, seeking some less bad and essentially unknowable outcome that is largely independent of anything we may do.
Unfortunately for us, speed and scale have considerably broadened our notion of physical security. We know what kind of actions Mighty Pharaoh took in a plague. Given the technological limitations of his time, he could do no other. We modern folks, on the other hand….
… well, look around. We’ve decided, as a culture, that “physical security” now extends to “never getting the sniffles.” And we have, or soon will have, the technology to make that kind of monitoring a reality. The mud huts along the Nile didn’t have two-way Alexas installed; the McMansions along the Mississippi soon will. The state of the art of government really does allow for 24/7 individual surveillance. If we don’t want the sniffles, this is the only way to do it.
We live in an age where the unthinkable, like the fog, quietly creeps up on us until suddenly the unthinkable is the new normal. Just as “shelter in place” is the new normal whenever it snows, mandatory lock downs will be the new normal whenever too many people get the sniffles. The unthinkable not only becomes thinkable, it becomes impossible to think otherwise. It also means that everything unthinkable today is suddenly on the table, maybe even the menu, for tomorrow.
I’m not a virologist, and it would be presumptuous of me to make any pronouncements on the severity of the current apocalyptic threat and the best strategies for meeting it. However, I have observed human beings in action for more decades than I want to count, and can confidently say that, in matters of power and money, it is impossible to be too cynical. I suggest that, after your daily dose of hysteria from the medium of your choice, you see William M. Briggs for a different perspective, in particular his Tuesday updates.