There’s a quote that I quite like that I believe speaks perfectly to the growing animosity and chaos surrounding the spreading COVID-19 pandemic and attempts to mitigate it, but I can’t quite remember where it is from. I am certain it is a quote by either Nietzsche or Dostoevsky, which doesn’t exactly help me in perusing the many thousands of pages of their works that I’ve read. Due to the similarity between the quote and another quote of Dostoevsky’s from Notes from the Underground, I’d lean to it being from him; however, there is also the fact that Nietzsche once stated that Dostoevsky was the only psychologist from whom he had anything to learn, as well as the noted striking similarities between the ideas and themes of their respective works. It goes along the lines of (and if anyone knows the source and the correct segment, which may be significantly different from the way my memory presents it, please write it in the comments):
“Perhaps one day, you hear the news that 100,000 souls in China have died in some great tragedy. You will think to yourself, “What a great shame this is; those poor souls.” But you will not spend more than a few minutes reflecting on the tragedy, as even the slightest personal inconvenience of yours will distract you and demand your attention. Once distracted, the thought and worry for the other souls far across the globe will be subdued and buried. Inevitably, we will pay far more attention to the slightest pain, a hangnail on our little finger, than to the suffering of others we do not know.”
Here is a similar quote:
“Once it’s proved to you that, essentially speaking, one little drop of your fat should be dearer to you than a hundred thousand of your fellow men, and that in this result all so-called virtues and obligations and other ravings and prejudices will finally be resolved, go ahead and accept it, there’s nothing to be done, because two times two is — mathematics. Try objecting to that.”
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, Page 13
The COVID-19 pandemic shows exactly how little many of us care about the needs, challenges, and struggles of others, and how few of us truly stand behind the previously popular topics of “virtue signaling,” when even the slightest threat that could afflict them rears its ugly head. Mental health issues including suicide, drug addiction, starvation in the developing world, and income inequality were all incredibly popular topics of virtue signaling before COVID-19, and for good reason — they’re serious issues. When considering the combined repercussions of the lockdowns, the negative impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on human life far outweighs the impact of the virus itself. In totality, the loss of life that will accumulate due to the exacerbation of these previously mentioned issues will be exponentially higher than the deaths caused by the unchecked SARS-CoV-2 virus, had we done nothing.
This is not a popular opinion and, unfortunately, like virtually every other topic, the megaphones within society have boiled down arguments to black and white. Either COVID-19 is the greatest threat to humanity, or COVID-19 is a conspiracy and not a threat at all. Why can’t it be in between the two? Moreover, why can’t it be acknowledged that COVID-19 is a profoundly serious threat for which we need to find solutions; however, that our response to it is causing other, potentially larger, disasters?
The answer to my own question is simply: Emotion. As I wrote about in three other articles (COVID-19, the Aversion of Aging Science, and the Psychology of Fear, Politics and COVID-19, COVID-19 and Further Erosion of Opposing Viewpoints) regarding the psychology and politics behind the COVID-19 pandemic, our emotionally charged responses to COVID-19, and many other issues, have created a deep rift within society on how to handle this new problem. This self-centered, emotionally charged distortion of reality is why many have forgotten about the very issues they had previously “championed,” and I use this word mockingly, through social media posts in the past. Why else would otherwise good, moral people (as I believe most are, during good times) behave in ways that completely neglect morality? Selfishness and emotion. We have evolved, for the most part, to care more about a hangnail on our own little finger than about the suffering of others, no matter how much we wish it were not so. (Of course, many experience high levels of empathy that cause them physical and mental distress. In these cases, they do care more about others’ pain than about a slight inconvenience to themselves, precisely because their empathy causes them pain and discomfort).
Let’s look at some of the cold hard facts regarding the suffering of others:
During the “Great Recession,” an additional 10,000 people committed suicide in the USA and Europe⁵. Some experts believe the impact of the recession caused by the COVID-19 lockdown could be double this number, which is somewhat in line with another projection that states that the number of suicides in the USA could rise by up to 8000, with the number of suicides in Canada rising by up to 2000. “Sadly, I think there is a good chance we could see twice as many suicides over the next 24 months than we saw during the early part of the last recession,” Aaron Reeves, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Oxford University told Reuters. “That would be about 20,000 additional dead by suicide in the United States and Europe.”
Most of us don’t think we will commit suicide. But we can get COVID-19, and there is a chance it will be a serious case.
Deaths from starvation in the developing world are set to double due to supply chain disruptions as a result of our response to COVID-19. An earlier report I cited in a past article suggested the lockdown would cause an additional 130 million starvation deaths. A new report confirms the ballpark of this prediction and suggests that 121 million additional people could be pushed to the brink of starvation this year due to the COVID-19–related lockdown measures. This number is unfathomable.
We don’t live in the developing world. But we can get COVID-19, and there is a chance that it will be a serious case.
Poverty is on the rise, with estimates that an additional 70–100 million people will be entering the classification of “extreme poverty” due to our measures to address the pandemic. Some experts even warn that the COVID-19 pandemic will quickly transition into a poverty pandemic, including Michael D. Stein, professor and epidemiologist from Boston University. It is likely that income inequality will also continue to grow for numerous reasons, with large corporations continuing to succeed and even grow, while small and medium-sized businesses are overwhelmingly crushed by the lockdown and inability to gain support due to barriers such as bureaucracy. It should be noted that the vast majority of the people making key decisions regarding lockdown measures are not part of the younger generations and are not at risk for poverty.
But they can catch COVID-19, and the average age of our “leaders” increases their chances of having serious complications.
All of this is on top of the many other deaths that will likely significantly surpass those related to COVID-19 and that will occur due to our attention being solely on COVID-19, including the following:
- 80 million children aged under 1 year who are at risk of diseases such as polio, measles, and diphtheria due to COVID-19 impacts on vaccination programs, perhaps leading to a resurgence in polio in some countries
- Individuals not getting proper referrals to specialists, leading to disease progression and not getting elective surgeries, leading to worsening health, etc.
For some reason, we are even prioritizing social distancing over finding shelter space for evacuees from hurricanes, with shelter space already running out for those escaping Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and Texas.
Some would say that this is another reason to take COVID-19 seriously and obey the official guidance. However, these disruptions are a symptom of our tunnel vision on the subject, and not of the virus itself. The virus is serious. I have written extensively on this subject and will go into new knowledge on the devastation caused by it next week. But it is also important to be able to view the cause and effect of each individual challenge.
Unfortunately, when these issues are brought up to public officials or to some of the “science communicators” spewing out hardline shutdown narratives, they sidestep the issue. They do this by acknowledging the issues without actually changing their position, as if there were no direct cause and effect relationship.
Now, when others worry about the economy, job losses, etc., these hardliners become belligerent. They shame their adversaries, again, as if rises in unemployment, poverty, stress, social isolation, disruption to the supply chain, etc., have no cause and effect relationship with the rises in drug overdose, suicide, deaths from starvation in the developing world, or the growing gap in income inequality, which is important, as it will further lead to reduction in equality of opportunity.
“Disasters that disproportionately affect us, and affect us in different ways, truly elucidate the average person’s capacity for righteous indignation.”
— Alex Tarnava
Almost everyone is feeling a sense of righteous indignation at those not behaving in a way they deem desirable or backing positions that are most important to their own selfish needs. The pandemic, and disasters in general, serve to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some step up and seek to improve their communities, supporting and pulling people together in any way they can. Others fuel division, animosity, and resentment aimed at those who oppose their own self-motivated positions.
”I am on the side of following science.” I have heard from proponents of literally every side of the debate saying, “It is the other side that is ignoring science and harming society.” What does “following science” mean, exactly? For some, it means turning to the advice of the epidemiologists and virologists employed by our governments, even though these experts are not agreeing on many issues. We still don’t know nearly enough about the virus, which I will discuss in next week’s article.
For others, it means following questionable statistical analyses or half-baked analyses of what we know, pieced together to fit a political or economic-based motive. One side will say that following the official top doctors of our government is the “science-based” approach. But here, I ask the following: why are we looking to virologists and epidemiologists, tasked solely with battling one problem, to dictate “science-based” policies on how to govern society as a whole, while ignoring the multitude of other issues that arise from the exact policies they put forth? Shouldn’t we be considering all the challenges that the pandemic brings to the table, and not just transmission of the virus?
What exacerbates this tenuous claim of following a “science-based approach” is that the recommendations are not consistently or completely being put in place, and when they are, they are often being executed quite poorly. Laws are being adopted by the sociopaths we elect, cherry picking what “science” they choose to cite and what findings and feedback they choose to ignore. These spineless, slithering, sycophants survey society, suggesting solutions to subdue the most deafening cries of the majority, while soliciting support from their base and financial sponsors alike.
Chaos reveals our societal flaws, and more so, it reveals the shortcomings of those we elect to lead us. Moments where true leaders rise above and inspire are also the moments that accentuate the baseness of the pretenders parading as prophets, stripping away the pageantry, leaving the weasels scrambling to maintain their own image and power. For many of our “dear” leaders, guiding us through trouble is almost universally abandoned for steadying their own ship, while maintaining their own image. So long as there are majorities in which they may pander to, the way in which we are led through disaster will not change.
Unfortunately, as the emotionally charged responses trumpeted by various large groups show, the general population is not much better. As a whole, we are not significantly more adept at morality than those we elect. The duality of my own conflicting personality traits, fluctuating between hope and optimism for humanity and misanthropy, has oscillated back and forth at dizzying speeds. I believe that the vast majority have the capacity for a wide range of actions, with circumstances dictating the ethics behind our choices. Chaos and fear can turn otherwise good and moral people callous. We need to rely on our leaders and on the institutions that are put in place to protect us during disasters, if only we could consistently find good leaders and form reliable institutions.
Reform is needed. When we right this ship, we owe it to our future to not forget how disastrous our system is during the bad times. We must work towards solutions, either private or public, that overcome our own baseness. Increasingly, these institutions that we had previously put in place to help are now serving to stoke the fire rather than to contain it. I’m looking at the media and the government (politicians and bureaucrats alike) when I say this.
The media is supposed to be the fourth pillar of democracy, but it has become nothing but a demonic hybrid between capitalistic greed, political indoctrination, and political pandering. Indoctrination only goes so far, and when the “base” shifts, the media shifts with it and continues to churn out its propaganda. This is almost universally true, and not reserved for the media outlets that oppose our personal views. Unfortunately, I see no solution to this issue. How do we get “better media?” Public-owned media outlets are prone to political bias, and I am not speaking just about those run by countries such as Russia or others that are admitted dictatorships. One must only look to examples such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which, while not as egregious as many others, cannot shake a slight left-leaning bias even. This bias still exists after it has been pointed out and after commissioning studies and reviews to clean up its act, motivated by serious allegations about a decade ago.
I’m not the only one concerned by this, nor am I the only one who feels that media bias is more concerning during the pandemic. As a recent Gallup poll article shows, the majority of Americans are concerned about media bias in reporting on the coronavirus, both in regards to exaggerating it and downplaying it. The article also discusses how this type of biased media coverage can be magnified during times of crisis, such as now.
Unfortunately, to be a major player in media, you need a lot of money, and money corrupts. Inevitably, no matter the intentions, any improved voice in the media will be likely to eventually succumb to financial pressures. This is not a concerted war on truth, as some would argue, but a consequence of the selfish nature of our being. As our needs, desires, and stresses evolve, the concessions we make to our ethics and integrity bend with them. This inherent trend towards predetermined narratives with the media is all the more reason to seek to improve our critical and analytical thinking skills.
How is it that again and again, stories come out about small businesses being shut down and bullied by local bureaucrats while large corporations such as Walmart have been allowed to operate with impunity? During the height of the lockdowns, I marvelled at the fact that the Walmart near my house was consistently packed and had not bothered to take any of the precautionary efforts that the grocery stores nearby had, such as installing plastic guards for their tellers and sanitizing carts after each use. Walmart continued to operate with seemingly no scrutiny, while all small and midsize businesses were forced to close their doors.
Another example of large enterprises, comprising many major retailers, seemingly skirting regulations with no pushback are the malls. I’ve noticed lax and inconsistent enforcement of social distancing policies within every mall I have been in. One extreme example was noted at a major outlet mall in which the hallways and restrooms were packed, allowing for no social distancing. Even within the stores that had limits, social distancing was impossible. At said mall, I noticed something peculiar: All of the information signs were shut off, with paper signage stating it was for social distancing to avoid crowding around. There was no social distancing in the hallways/corridors, within the stores, within the restrooms, etc., yet the signs were a concern, signs that would expedite shoppers’ trips and minimize their contact points.
This was further accentuated by the running operation where motorized carts with various shaggy monster and animal characters surrounded the small vehicles being rented out to small children (noted disease spreaders). These children weaved in and out between the roads, almost exclusively without wearing masks. Further, the shaggy fabric of the carts does not allow for proper sanitation between each child’s use.When inquiring about this, I was shown that the carts were being “cleansed” via small, portable UV lights.⁹ While UV light can certainly kill the novel coronavirus,¹⁰ these small commercially available units do not have the power or capacity to do so in a reasonable time frame. In this scenario, the shaggy material on the cart would almost definitely decrease the chances of the radiation directly contacting the virus. Keep in mind, this UV treatment was weak enough to be operated in a retail outlet with customers and staff present in the room.
This trend in varied accommodation and punishment of businesses depending on their size is accentuated by many personal stories I have heard from friends and those in business with physical locations. I’ve heard of businesses being randomly shut down in California, despite no reports of infection, to test the entire staff and wait for an “acceptable percentage of negative cases,” while putting workers and businesses out of work for 2 weeks.This type of delay is often too long for the results to be clinically meaningful anyways,¹¹ and is insulting due to politicians and athletes getting tested often daily with expedited results.
Of course, most bureaucrats aren’t actively taking part in the war against the middle class; they’re merely unsuspecting pawns conducting work they likely believe is important, at the bidding of their superiors’ interests to which they answer. It’s an unfortunate catch-22 that many levels of government, whether it be in Canada, USA, or elsewhere, are impotent in protecting us against the multinational corporations, and it is the small and midsize businesses who suffer. Yet, with no regulations, the population would be even further endangered. It’s a no-win scenario in our current market system, and I do not believe any nation has figured out a winning solution. I was over 50 pages into my own political manifesto some 14 years ago before my computer succumbed to the blue screen of death and I lost everything. Maybe one day I will methodically detail my thoughts again. I’m sure time has altered my perception, anyways.
As I wind down my vitriolic rant, I’m reminded of yet another quote from Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground:
“My God, but what do I care about the laws of nature and arithmetic if for some reason these laws and two times two is four are not to my liking? To be sure, I won't break through such a wall with my forehead if I really have not got strength enough to do it, but neither will I be reconciled with it simply because I have a stone wall here and have not got strength enough.
As if such a stone wall were truly soothing and truly contained in itself at least some word on the world, solely by being two times two is four. Oh, absurdity of absurdities! Quite another thing is to understand all, to be conscious of all, all impossibilities and stone walls; not to be reconciled with a single one of these impossibilities and stone walls if you are loathe to be reconciled; to reach, by way of the most inevitable logical combinations, the most revolting conclusions on the eternal theme that you yourself seem somehow to blame even for the stone wall, though once again it is obviously clear that you are in no way to blame; and in consequence of that, silently and impotently gnashing your teeth, to come to a voluptuous standstill in inertia, fancying that, as it turns out, there isn’t even anyone to be angry with; that there is no object to be found, and maybe never will be; that it’s all sleight of hand, a stacked deck, a cheat, that it’s all just slops—nobody knows what and nobody knows who, but in spite of all the uncertainties and stacked decks, it still hurts, and the ore uncertain you are, the more it hurts!”
We cannot break through an unbreakable wall, which is to say that we cannot change the nature of humanity, or single-handedly revolutionize society. However, we can learn to work around walls and perhaps circumvent them and, dare I say, even utilize them to an advantage. Change is only possible with popularity. Now that I’m done ranting, I’m looking forward to next week’s write-up. I’ll be looking at where we are with our understanding of the current pandemic, where the hold-ups are in advancing treatment options, and some ‘outside the box’ ideas for improving our outcomes. Change doesn’t need to take time; it just needs inertia. Only by shouting to those in charge with megaphones can ideas work their way to reality.