By Larry Levine –
“The ideal subject for totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist.”*
— Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
What an eloquent statement for the times in which we are living. Times in which millions of people believe there is such a thing as “fake news” and that it’s The New York Times and The Washington Post because that’s what the propaganda they receive from Fox News and Donald Trump tells them. Fake news to those people is anything with which they disagree. To them a presidential aide can justifying her boss’s lunacy as “alternate facts” and millions nod their approval.
These are times in which tens of thousands of people flock to beaches in Orange County and Ventura County in Southern California and in Georgia and Florida because the weather turned warm and politicians yielded to pressure even as the number of deaths from the coronavirus continued to rise.
One of those beachgoers told the Los Angeles Times he isn’t worried about the virus as long as he keeps washing his hands. Chances of getting the virus, he says, are more remote than that of winning the lottery or getting hit by a car.
OK. He’s 31-years-old and entitled to his false sense of immortality. But he’s wrong. More people have gotten the virus and died from the virus than have won all the lotteries in the history of lotteries. As for the chances of getting hit by a car, that increases dramatically if you walk along the middle of the fast lane on the freeway, which would be akin of crowding onto a beach with enough people to make it a statistical probability that at least a few are infected and will cough, sneeze, or expectorate onto the sand.
The very advice intended to keep us safe, the advice to maintain at least six feet of separation from others and to stay at home, has been turned into the excuse for abandoning caution and charging headlong into territory doctors warn could bring a resurgence of the virus, which has not yet finished it’s initial surge.
Those deciding to open the beaches and other public and commercial places put their faith in that magic six feet of separation. But what does six feet of separation, or even twelve feet mean if the person in front of you sneezes and the wind is blowing in your direction. Now think of those tens of thousands of people on the beaches, where the wind is almost always blowing. Then imagine those tens of thousands of people heading home to far-flung neighborhoods at the end of the day.
I learned many years ago that one of the fertilizers for addiction is when the so-called want master overtakes the need master. They want to go to the beach. But do they need to go to the beach? Do they need to reopen tattoo parlors, gyms, nail salons, barber shops? Of course not. The tattoo can wait; exercising can be done at home. I’m a month past due for a hair cut and Jennifer’s nails are sorely in need of attention. We’re not going to drive to some nearby county and risk our lives to remedy either of those.
So, what’s driving the drive to re-open? Politicians across the country want to reopen either because they are getting pressure from local business interests and a loud minority of the citizenry, or because their ideology has robbed them of the ability to think critically. They ignore the medical advice and wrap their arms around alternative facts. Do what you want, just do it six feet away from anyone else seems to be the mantra.
Polls show up to 75 percent of the populace wants to maintain “social separation” rules and stay-at-home requirements and as few as 11 percent want to abandon those precautions. While the 75 percent stay quietly at home, making life work on a daily basis, as uncomfortable as it may be at times, the 11 percent are out marching on state capitols and city halls with signs that demand “open Cali.” And the chamber of commerce leadership is on the phone making their own demands.
Here’s a piece of history that may be instructive. It was 40 years ago. The world was waking up to the dangers of second-hand cigarette smoke. Non-smokers, who were the vast majority of the population, were complaining about smoke in restaurants, markets, department stores, airplanes and other places of congregation. The link between second-hand smoke and cancer had been established. Cities and states enacted requirements that restaurants provide separate space for smokers and non-smokers. We could see the smoke wafting from the smoking sections of airplanes and restaurants to the non-smoking sections. Merchants decided the smell of smoke on the clothing on the racks was a disincentive to potential buyers. And individuals, united in non-smokers’ rights groups, were convincing government officials and business owners to do something about the situation.
Eventually smoking was banned at parks and beaches, where cancer-causing second-hand smoke could ride the breezes to the nostrils and lungs of non-smokers, including young children. Smokers objected. They still do. But the threat was cancer, a frightening menace that had touched the families of virtually every person, including the elected officials who were making public policy. Now, whole nations, once famous for their cigarette-smoking population, have enacted restrictions on smoking. But in 12 of the United States there still are no statewide bans on smoking in workplaces, bars, restaurants or other public places.
On many of those same beaches where people gathered and coughed, sneezed and expectorated as the winds blew in from the ocean this weekend, smoking is not permitted because of the danger it presents to others.
So, what’s the difference between the coronavirus and tobacco smoke when you are on the beach? You can see and smell the smoke.
(* This quote was provided by my friend Larry Dietz.)