Sunday, April 12, 2020

Virus As A Messenger

                                                                                                 written 5 April 2020
                                                                                           published 12 April 2020

            This virus has mutated to infect humans, and everyone is an equal opportunity, without discrimination.  This has stressed our flawed society, highlighting ways we pretend that we are not all equally human, manifesting through politics, religion, and economics.
            President Trump professes that he knows everything better than anyone else, not at all equal to other humans.  As a result, all his policies have been spun from his personal magical thinking.  He views everything from how it affects his fragile ego, and correctly realized that he would have no control over this if it was "real", so he minimized the threat from the beginning.  Unable to hear anything that contradicts his own ideas, he ignores advice from health and science experts.  
            Despite the pandemic being global, the official line is that the virus is an overhyped "hoax", pushed by Trump's enemies to discredit him personally, and is therefore "fake".  This deranged exceptionalism denies the virus will affect us as it affects humans elsewhere.  The Republican party trusts the free market to magically deal with everything, so there is no need for a coordinated Federal response to the virus. 
            Taking their lead from the president, those states with Republican leadership have been reluctant to take the virus seriously either.  Despite conclusive evidence that shelter-in-place slows the spread of the virus by asymptomatic carriers, avoiding hospital overwhelm, eight Republican controlled states are still holding out.  Those red states that have recently placed such orders allow serious exceptions, reducing the efficiency of the order.  By choosing to believe that the world is lying, rather than heeding the warnings from other humans, they put politics over humanity.  
            These fantasies were able to flourish for weeks as the virus spread first in some blue states.  But every day brought increased caseloads, eventually infecting all 50 states.  Areas that were complacent because they didn't have the spikes seen in New York, began to see a rising tide of infection.  The virus doesn't care about politics, and Republicans are now realizing they are actually human in the face of this pandemic.
            We see the same belief in exceptionalism manifesting in some evangelical churches.  At a time when large gatherings of people can become deadly, a few megachurches are defying orders to social distance.  With Easter coming, this has risen to front page news.  Part of this is the political orientation that religious freedom means no government can "tell me what to do", but there is the subtext that "Jesus will save us from the devil spawn of the virus".  Yet these folks are still human, and the virus doesn't mind what you believe.
            Finally, the virus has illuminated the dark side of our economic system, where people have never been treated equally.  Capitalists are very clear that keeping the economy going is top priority, even if millions die, demonstrating that killing people for profit is an acceptable economic policy.  This is not really news.  To keep the mortgage industry running, we allow 4 million Americans to be homeless. To keep the for-profit health insurance industry robust, we allow 44 million Americans to go without healthcare. 100 million Americans have diabetes and are overweight, but the sugar and agribusinesses are healthy.  A few million dead from the virus is just externalized costs. 
            But with no anti-virus medicine or vaccine, a coordinated nation-wide shelter-in-place order is our only option, and will shorten the pandemic duration.  The alternative is uncontrolled infection and a total collapse of our limited health care system, risking long term economic recession, perhaps even depression.  
            The virus shows us we are all equal and all human. This pandemic is a call to remake our socioeconomic systems to reflect that deeper truth.  The economic disruption of shutdown is huge, with a stock market crash and tens of millions already filing for unemployment.  Like it or not, a healthy society must support everyone, without regard to politics, religion, or economics.  Socialist economic responses, which were considered fringe ideas until recently, are now getting bipartisan consideration. Universal Basic Income and healthcare for all clearly make sense in the face of this pandemic, and will create a more vibrant society in the future.  Reality has a socialist bias, and COVID-19 is a messenger that will not be ignored!