The Sissy Generation

Just 70-80 years ago we had what was dubbed “The Greatest Generation” – the people who had fought and won World War II.  Now, just a couple of generations down the road, we have unconditionally surrendered to a disease with minuscule mortality (for the vast majority of the population), and which is to a large degree treatable. How did that happen?

Roll back to the first months of 2020, when we just learned about the sinister new virus which was killing people and for which we had neither vaccine nor cure. We were scared – in the 21st century, we don't expect to encounter something to which our medicine has no answer. A lot of things about COVID-19 were unknown at the time, but one of the first confirmed pieces of information was that this virus spares children.

What great news! Whatever calamity befalls us, children are always our main concern. Now, when we know that they are safe, shouldn't we, adults, breathe a big sigh of relief, return to normal life and let the doctors do what they always do: treat the sick, research for a cure, work on the vaccine? I can imagine that this would have happened a few decades ago, despite the (incorrect) perception that the mortality rate was maybe small, but still meaningful, a few percentage points. Yet the only developed country that behaved more or less like that was Sweden. The rest of mankind locked themselves up and essentially stopped living normal lives.

The word that we heard the most during this time was 'safety.' Coming to work is declared unsafe -- sure, we can stop working, no big deal. Going to school is unsafe -- cheer up, kids, you are staying home today -- and next week, and then month after month after month. Wear your mask everywhere and stay at least 6 feet away (better 20) from everybody. Safety is king!

How did we end up here? As very often happens the course happened first gradually, then suddenly. The worship of safety began long ago and now it's everywhere. Everything we buy and use, from lawnmowers to toasters to toothbrushes, undergoes elaborate safety checks and is accompanied by instructions for safe operation. And not only is it a legal requirement but, for many people, safety became the most important feature of any device. There is a commercial on TV promoting gutter guards.  A woman asks her husband: 'Do you climb a ladder to clean the gutter?" "Yes." "But it's unsafe!" -- enough said, everybody needs to get the damn thing.

Of course, nothing is wrong with being safe, and many things that we do toward that end are good and reasonable -- like seat belts, and later airbags in cars. But more and more the idea of 'being safe' has morphed into 'feeling safe', so the natural desire for safety is now abused beyond recognition. In other times, the idea of banning a group of people from entering some location would be called 'segregation'; today the leftist students who don't want to be around anybody with different views demand 'safe spaces.' When a controversial speaker is invited to speak at a university, protesters wouldn't say 'we hate this guy' (which would be the truth, but 'hate' is a loaded word nowadays, better not to use it); instead, they declare that such an event would make them 'feel unsafe'.

Now back to our COVID debacle. Lack of rigorous testing became a convenient claim to block very promising and available treatments -- hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. I don't want to discuss here non-medical (political, financial, etc.) reasons for that -- they are definitely in play, but that's another story. The sad fact is that the public by and large bought this explanation at face value and is dutifully lining up to get the 'very safe' vaccine.

In technology, when some nice feature is developed, it seems very appealing to make it automatic. Likewise, for people who yearn to be (feel) safe no matter what, the next best thing is to have some authority telling them what is safe, very conveniently removing the responsibility of thinking and making decisions for themselves. Thus, in our neighborhood, maybe in yours too, there are plenty of signs proclaiming, among other things, that 'we believe in science'. Science is great, but it doesn't relieve you from the task of making your own decisions. For example, the weather forecast will tell you that the probability of rain is 30% -- this is science, and you believe in science. Now, should you go hiking, or paint your deck? Nobody will make these decisions for you, the science stops right there -- you are on your own. Today, science, grudgingly and not very publicly, finally gave us more or less accurate numbers about COVID-19 mortality rate -- which varies from tens to thousands of ONE percentage point, depending on the age group. So, what do our science worshipers do with these numbers? They mask up ever more tightly and unleash hell on those refusing to get a jab -- ironically, due to the same safety considerations! Don't ask for logic here, fanatical quest for safety makes people unable to reason.

We were told that we are at war. Very good, but doesn't fighting a war requires some bravery? Maybe it's time to abandon the survivor mentality and start living life? People who shy away from each other cannot advance civilization -- which is essentially what we, proud human beings, are on this planet for. You can celebrate that restaurants, stadiums, and concert halls are finally open, and you may call this new reality a 'new normal,' but there is nothing normal about performing classical music in masks, or about faceless zombies in a fine art museum staring at Renaissance masterpieces depicting the most beautiful thing in the world -- human face.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself". FDR said these famous uplifting words in 1933, at the peak of the Great Depression, when people had lots of very real reasons to be scared of. So, what should be our motto for today -- "Wash hands, mask up, socially distance"? Or maybe "Man up, America!" would be better?

Graphic credit: eucalyp CC BY 3.0 license

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