If you are a person of “a certain age,” such as your faithful correspondent, then you may recall, as I do, those reckless days of yore when Americans didn’t use seatbelts, rode in the bed of pickup trucks, and smoked in restaurants and bars. Boys and young men got into fistfights, and kids didn’t wear helmets when they rode their bikes. Few wore a helmet when riding a motorcycle, either. The country was less populous then, there was less automobile traffic, and far fewer people lived to be 90. There was no Internet, thank God, and maybe you lived through one of those flu epidemics that killed maybe 100,000 people or more, and infected millions right here in these United States. Odds are, you barely noticed it.
“Helicopter moms” weren’t a “thing,” at least in my working class neighborhood, and kids roamed freely, riding their bikes miles from home. Young boys owned guns and went hunting without having to take a safety course (their fathers handled that). Cars weren’t as reliable or safe, accidents happened, and people died of “old age” and common diseases.
In our past, the pioneers had lived with danger on a daily basis, and still they pushed on. In our own time, the race to the moon didn’t grind to a halt after Gus Grissom, Roger Chafee, and Ed White died during a pre-flight test for the Apollo 1 mission. We won that race, and the American flag flew on the lunar service.
We were freer than now, and freedom has its hazards, as does any life that is worth living.
I seriously doubt the country we have today could achieve any of that. A society that values comfort, safety, and security over achievement and the sacrifices necessary to achieve, or even to live like free people, one that is risk averse, pleasure seeking and downright neurotic at times, isn’t going to be achieve much of anything worth having or keeping.
The threat of the COVID-19 virus has brought that reality into sharp focus. Too many of us seem to be quite ready to march off to the digital Gulag the new totalitarians are preparing for us, one where the ever watchful state, for your own good, mind you, will track your cell phone location to make sure you are not violating “social distancing” rules. The soft totalitarians might even arrest you, again, for your own good, if show up for church, or even go windsurfing.
The face of the new totalitarianism isn’t a scowling Big Brother, his boot stamping on your face forever, but a smiley faced busybody, who can, if necessary, keep smiling when the jackboot needs to be applied. It’s all for your own good. And there is no guarantee that the authoritarian measures instituted for our own good won’t remain in place after the virus threat has passed. After all, who knows when some other threat to the safety, wellbeing, and security of the people might arise?
That doesn’t, of course, mean that the COVID-19 virus isn’t a real threat, and yes, there is still a lot we don’t know about it. It isn’t a hoax, but it’s not the Apocalypse, either. It seems rather clear that some segments of society, particularly the aged and infirm, are threatened far more than others. If that’s the case, then there is probably a way to combat the virus without becoming zeks in a digital Gulag, and without risking a global depression, which, as we know, could have results every bit as deadly as a pandemic, or maybe worse. We must all take some extra precautions. The most vulnerable should be protected. In the past, local quarantines were the norm—the sick, elderly, and vulnerable were protected, and others protected from them. Otherwise, everyone went about their business.
Yes, there’s a risk involved in taking that route, but a calculated one, a reasonable one, as far as your observer can tell. If the alternative is to become a dependent of the nanny state, or a homebound prisoner subject to the whims of the surveillance state, we should take our chances, as would any free people worthy of the name.