“The Afterlife tastes like chocolate chip cookies.” What does this mean? I don’t know. I woke up with it in my head after a dream a couple of weeks ago.
“He’s going to kill more people than Stalin.” What does this mean? He who? I don’t know. I got that from a dream too.
I can say, as an historian, that there remains no consensus on the final tally nearly 90 years later. If someone had asked me as a trivia question, I would have said “about six million.” It turns out that I may have remembered only one of several categories that need to be disambiguated. How many people died under Stalin? Well, that depends; do you mean specifically in the Gulag, do you count executions, or are you including famine?
How many people are going to die of COVID-19, all told?
That depends largely on the compliance of the vast majority of humans, excepting those currently in Antarctica or on the ISS. They can probably rebel away as long as they keep the doors closed. Actually, come to think of it, pretending that you are in either of those locations might be a great idea right about now. Maybe print out a picture of a rocket porthole and tape it on the wall. Or a blizzard. For that I guess you could just use a plain unruled sheet of paper...
Where I live, people are complying very poorly, which is to say, enough of them are aiming in the direction of extreme personal autonomy that it will continue to amplify our mortality statistics for weeks. Since we were given orders to Stay at Home, I have seen:
A young woman bicycling around playing music off her bike rack
People flying kites
A shirtless young man vigorously using the pull-up bar on the neighborhood walking trail
A group of young people playing croquet
A father bringing his preschooler to a play area festooned with hundreds of yards of caution tape, examining each piece of equipment, and then playing on the only piece that didn’t have tape
All within arm’s reach of other people, outdoors, in public
An argument sprang up on our local Nextdoor. Someone had posted a photo of a young man who broke the law by climbing over a barricade to work out at a park that had been formally closed due to quarantine. (Shirtless. Same guy I saw a few days earlier?) Almost immediately, someone commented that this was public shaming and we had no right to judge because we didn’t know why this guy was doing this.
Uh, the “honey, this isn’t what it looks like” argument doesn’t really fly when someone is dressed in workout clothes and doing pull-ups. Like, what the heck else could he be doing, looking for his contact lens? Donating blood?
What we have is a failure to understand the premise of the categorical imperative.
What if everyone did this? (Whatever it is)
Anything you do, has to be okay for everyone to do.
You endorse it as something that could be a rule for everyone in the world, all the time.
It’s the right thing because it is right in itself, not because it gives you a warm feeling, improves your reputation, you can write it off on your taxes, etc.
‘Categorical’ means always, as opposed to a “hypothetical” imperative. Like, hypothetically, if I donated blood I might meet cute nurses in the bloodmobile, and that might motivate me, but that motivation might not work on others.
‘Imperative’ means that it’s something we must do. It matters. For instance, it’s imperative to stop human trafficking.
Obviously it’s an imperative to stop a pandemic, even if hypothetically it might kill someone who once got away with murder.
The selfish people who are refusing to comply with basic social distancing and hygiene are doing more than being selfish, which is well within the range of ordinary human behavior. They are putting others at risk. They are doing it because they refuse to pay attention, to read, or to think harder. This is why I’m spending so much time on this abstruse philosophical concept, to help people explain morality to those questioners and rebels who aren’t getting it.
This is how I have been explaining the categorical imperative to children for years:
“If you brush your teeth, you’re saying that everyone should brush their teeth.” *nod*
“If you’re nice to animals, you’re saying that everyone should be nice to animals.” *nod*
“If you yell at people, you’re saying that other people should yell at you.” *blink*
What selfish people are saying with their actions when they break quarantine is basically, I am willing to take a risk that endangers almost every living human being. Breaking the rules isn’t just breaking rules now. It’s potentially infecting people who won’t even know it for as long as two weeks.
So that guy uses the pull-up bar, thinking it doesn’t matter because he is the only one to be that clever. What he doesn’t know is that there are 25 other guys using it as well, each one thinking the same thing. Coronavirus may be able to survive on metal surfaces for several days. Same with the playground equipment. Not only is a single user potentially contaminating the area and directly spreading a fatal and highly contagious disease, but his very presence is undermining the entire idea of social distancing.
The most dangerous diseases that we spread to one another are pseudoscience, toxic skepticism, and callous disregard for others.
People don’t always take something seriously until it happens to them, or to someone close enough to them in their social group. Texting and driving is a perfect example. Everyone does it even though they obviously know it’s both wrong and a bad idea. I think the most extreme toxic skeptics won’t take COVID-19 seriously until one of their close friends or family members dies from it. Or when they themselves are getting a ventilator hose down their throat.
You know me, and that means you are three degrees of separation away from three people who have tested positive. One of them died. Most people probably won’t be motivated by an anecdote like this. It’s just statistics until it happens to you.
Okay, now for the part that I am asking you to show to others. This is a list of links that I have been checking regularly. (I won’t lie; I check them several times a day). Ask them to scroll down to the trend lines and PAY ATTENTION.
COVID-19 coronavirus cases and deaths, US
COVID-19 coronavirus cases and deaths, global
Coronavirus cases, US map
Coronavirus cases, world map
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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