Fear or freedom? It is time to choose

Hidden behind the great curtain of COVID 19 media horrors, graphical displays, and death counts, beats the heart of one little man with a stethoscope and the best of intentions: Dr. Anthony Fauci.  Though hidden behind an awesome façade of technicalities and impressive jargon, Fauci is in reality much more like that other little man we grew up with in Technicolor, the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, humble and quite frightened himself.  

But unlike that wizard, this one does not ask the deeper questions of life:  how important are Wisdom, Heart, Courage, and most importantly, Faith? 

This one sees only the witch. 

Flying through his dreams at night. 

This one doesn’t see that we Tin Men, Scarecrows and Cowardly Lions don’t need his brand of sorcery and have had the power all along.  We as a species have for millennia fought nature tooth and claw, have braved war, famine, and pestilence and kept on marching. 

How is it then, that this one small microbe -- a second rate pathogen -- a crowned virus, has 330,000,000 of us hiding in our homes?  Much as I enjoyed explaining how well our bodies are designed to defeat and ultimately engage with viruses, the deeper questions here are not technical at all, but social and philosophical:  What kind of society do we want?  Which is more important: hugging or hygiene?   How important is holding hands?  Kissing?  Shaking hands with your friends? 

To me, empathic love is all that matters.  Society can’t function without it.  This is not just gooey sentimentalism:  I believe that empathic love is the most powerful force in human nature: without it, none of us would grow, succeed, or fight off viruses.  Our immune systems are fueled by it. The late Jungian psychologist Dr. Wayne Dyer was speaking a scientific as much as religious truth when he said that when one is “connected to the source, viruses go the other way.” 

Although I have faith that my family and I will be absolutely fine, I would rather die than live in a world of “social distancing.”  Haven’t we distanced enough already?   We have self-served ourselves into pandemic loneliness and isolation -- millions addicted, depressed, on anti-anxiety medications and tranquilizers.  We have all but lost our faith, and, if we put up with the current regime for one more minute, will lose our soul. 

In mid-February 2020, just before COVID out-broke on our consciousness, I was at a veterinary conference at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.  But my outstanding memory of the time was not the lectures, the Democratic onslaught or Trump coming to town: it was seeing 12 young men sitting around a dining table in complete silence with their heads bowed down, assumedly in prayer, but who were in fact all staring down at the blinking screens of their cell phones.  In Vegas!  Have you seen such scenes? 

Is it any wonder that our mesmerized young people are so easily hypnotized into obedience?  When I walk down the streets of Pittsburgh and see teenagers and young adults wearing a mask, jumping away from one another if they get too close, I feel desperately sorry for them and for our nation’s health.   Ritual practices like following doctor’s orders and donning medical masks may give us the illusion of protection from the “witches” of death and disease. 

But the truth is that, although viruses are the ideal Sulley Scarers for the 21st century, they are more nearly red herrings as causes of human disease --that often draw attention away from the real killers.   Though acting much more slowly and insidiously, cigarette smoking, chemical pollutants in air, water, and food sicken hundreds of thousands of people every year. 

The varied diseases that end up on death certificates every year belies their common origin:  exposure to pollutants weakens immunity and can cause almost any chronic disease.   A virus like COVID 19 may deliver the ultimate coup de grace, but most patients dying with COVID have had long bouts with immune problems, cancer, heart disease, or other chronic diseases.

We need to demand real public health, science-based decision making, and open debate.   Continuing down our current path of blind faithless obedience, re-enacting public health rituals from a century ago, is not an option for America.  It is time to choose. 

Brandon P. Reines’s academic appointments include adjunct assistant professor, Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Visiting Fellow, Department of Applied Mathematics, Australia National University