Genghis Khan was the greatest administrator who ever lived. He always knew when to temper justice with brutality. Anonymous
How did we reach a social point where most of the world would accept suicide as a remedy for a serious, but not unmanageable, contagious disease? We’ve endured plagues, famines, natural disasters, wars, and a Pandora’s Box full of all sorts of terribles without mass madness. Background insanity yes, but not total craziness. How did we get to the point where the whole world accepted economic, and even political suicide, with barnyard meekness? Mini-madness has always been with us. The epidemic of suicides by young men that followed the publication in 1774 of Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther is an example.
We could start with the French Revolution which destroyed French society to a degree such that it still hasn’t recovered. But I’ll begin a little later with Lord Byron. He was a good looking scoundrel who produce doggerel by the kilometer when he was not ruining the lives of most who came in contact with him. That he was taken seriously by most of the intellectuals of his time, some of them serious thinkers, was a sign of rot to come. The ill effects of his brief tenure among the living was partially counterbalanced by the simultaneous appearance of Gioachino Rossini who was the embodiment of mental health in art. But the Byronic hero, a mordant self absorbed jerk who was held to be an interesting fellow by many people who should have known better, was the start of a decline which still persists. Even Verdi was taken in; he wrote two operas based on Byron’s writings – I due Foscari and Il corsaro and was admirer of the poet’s work even though he spoke no English.
The next cultural phenomenon that set the stage of the disasters of the 20th century and the current one was Richard Wagner. I’m not denying his musical genius, the problem was that the ideas and beliefs that went along with his operas were taken seriously by much of the West’s elite. The remaining contingent spent their time reacting against the German’s bizarre thoughts. Even now some people give his ideas currency. Karl Marx was a contemporary, Nuff said.
At the start of the last century society seemed quietly to be improving. Life was still hard for many people, nevertheless betterment in its quality appeared to be on a steady upward trajectory. Popular rule was still limited, working conditions though better than earlier were still in need of alteration, but everyone but fringe fanatics were certain that the 20th century would be a time of peace and prosperity.
World War I seems to have had no rationale save inbreeding. The UK allowed itself to be reluctantly dragged into the fray. For almost three years the war bled the soul out of Europe. No US president ever thought more of himself for less reason than Woodrow Wilson. Allowing America to be manipulated into entering the war assured that a one sided peace would be imposed on Germany ensuring that this country which was both intrinsically strong and dangerous would descend into thuggery and guarantee an even bigger version of the awful first war.
Russia had been taken by Marxist criminals, while the Nazis took over Germany less than 15 years after the armistice. The rest of Europe still in shock over WWI, allowed the world to descend to barbarism. The US stayed out of the new European war as long as it could. When World War II was over the US had the only intact economy in world, or at least the part of it that mattered.
For the next 15 years or so thing were pretty good in the US. Of course the intellectual elites found the 50s boring and the country had yet to deal with the vestiges of slavery which oppressed its black population. Society began to splinter in the 60s just when many grievances were satisfactorily addressed. The assassination of President Kennedy and substituent murders signaled the rapid descent of an orderly and free society towards its current state of malaise.
Humans are programmed to be sore winners. The better life gets the more many of them feel they live in unfair times. The perfect is the indefatigable enemy of the good. The US a country founded on negative liberty, ie the right to be left alone, began to invent positive rights. All these rights involved forcing unfavored groups to pay more money to the government which in turn, after taking its cut, distributed the leftovers to favored groups.
The concept of Social Justice took a while to grow, but flourish it did. First the academy was taken by Utopians. They started with the humanities and gradually took over the entire campus. The process took decades, but when you control what’s taught to the young, you will eventually get your way. The media were captured next. The result was the reordering of society by judicial fiat in a supposedly democratic country.
Frederich Hayek was not just the greatest political economist of the last century, he was also a sociologist who wrote extensively on the subject. He noted that society had rules that almost all its members were unaware of. These rules are like those of language. Most well educated speakers of a language observe these rules without being able to state them.
The goal of the Social Justice warrior was to rewrite the rules for both society and language. This reworking of rule book which has worked for millennia was done without the consent of the players. Sex, gender, pronouns, marriage, speech were all felt by the products of the awakened academy to be controllable by direct order. Those who opposed this new order were to feel the wrath of the enlightened directed at them by both the media and the government. Individual rights were ranked below the collective good of society as seen by those who thought they were ordained to set public policy. Dissent was not to be tolerated. If you think the boundaries of marriage are now set, you’re delusional. Polygamy Advocates Lay Groundwork for Civil Rights Revolution
Of course there were, and still are Americans, as well as citizens of other “free” countries, who took issue with the reorientation of civil and domestic life. But they were held to be of a lower order such that contempt was all they deserved.
I have barely sketched the assault on individual liberty that has been waged for at least three quarters of a century, but some understanding of how we got to be where now are is necessary to understand our response to an epidemic.
When a government orders its citizens to adopt a supine posture in response to a crisis and the public complies like a highly trained show dog a history, briefly described above, as why they did so is necessary. Churchill offered his fellow citizens “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” President Kennedy said “The United States shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” When a nasty version of the flu struck the country, President Trump told Americans to stay home – and they did. To such an extent that the survival of the country, and indeed much of the world is in doubt. He used the metaphor of war, but the only war we waged was against ourselves. The opposition party rather saying what we were doing was excessive, said we weren’t doing enough. They seemed to think a bullet to the brain was the only appropriate remedy.
Every hack journalist is urging us to flatten the curve without a clue as to what it means. You can’t be rid of a virus by staying home and ruining the economy. Epidemics end when everyone who is susceptible to the pathogen has been infected. Our leaders were trying to prevent our hospitals from being inundated with COVID-19 patients. They succeeded, to such a degree that our hospitals are half empty and in danger of fiscal collapse. Doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are being furloughed or fired at the same time they’re deemed heroes for saving us from the plague. Where are all the patients who were not being treated because of the priority given to those afflicted with COVID-19? Maybe the Christian Scientists are on to something.
The damage has been done, all that’s left to determine is whether it’s mortal. Assuming society survives in any condition remotely like that which existed before we attempted suicide, it still will be very different. A brittle public was easily scared and likely will remain a hostage to fear.
Many industries will either die or be greatly attenuated. Not only will people be reluctant to fly, business now holding meeting via teleconferencing will fail to see a reason to send their employees all over God’s half acre. Trying to run a restaurant with spacing allowing only half the prior number of customer’s to be served will force you to go out of business, assuming restaurants are still viable when this sad dance ends. The cruise lines will forever be seen as floating Petri dishes.
States are beginning to reopen even though the virus is still in the wild. Knowing, as we did from the start of this epidemic, who the vulnerable people are it’s easy to argue that we never should have shut down in the first place. We could have done what we are now starting do, shield the elderly and infirm while letting the rest go about their business. But such a response would have taken a spine much of the country has lost. We had to undergo a near (I hope) death experience before we summoned enough nerve to resume our lives. There is one good thing to come from this mess. A war is very unlikely; no country can afford one.