As a professional student of human behavior, I know it’s all the rage to bash journalists these days. In fact, it’s all the rage to be enraged, period. But I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’m going to single out some working-stiff reporters for praise, because they deserve it. The other day I was reading the Associated Press - the news wire that media types often peruse when they want to rip something off without attribution – and came across a package by Adam Geller, Carla K. Johnson, Heather Hollingsworth, and David Goldman. They noticed something that too many of us seem to have forgotten: that since the onset of COVID, a million of our fellow Americans have disappeared from the face of the earth.
But first, permit me an extended detour. We can quibble about whether we’ve reached a million yet. The Worldometer site, which tends to run a higher count, says that we’ve already reached 1,014,114 as of this writing. That, of course, will tick up again before I press “publish” on this discussion thread. The Johns Hopkins COVID tracker, which tends toward leaner counts – even though they always catch Worldometer’s totals eventually - has us at 987,560 (with 6,190,360 global deaths). Even if we go with the lower count, at the current seven-day average of 510 deaths per day (the lowest the death toll has been since August of 2021), we’d still hit a million dead in 24 more days. And how many is a million? Well think of it as such: the population of the U.S. in 2020, when the plague kicked off, was 329 million. Which means one out of every 329 Americans have died of COVID (or with COVID, as COVID deniers often like to phrase it). How many is that? Picture it this way. If you went to a Jets or Giants game at MetLife Stadium, the NFL’s largest-capacity stadium at 82,500 people, and one out of every 329 people dropped dead by the fourth quarter, that would mean by the time you headed for your car or to suicide prevention counseling (since neither team has had a winning season since 2016), there would be 250 dead fellow fans.
Louis C.K., the #MeToo’ed comedian, took a break from beating his bishop to record a stand-up special last year, and he had a funny bit on the stupid counting games we play, like the one I just played out before you:
We liked counting the dead. And when it got really high, we didn’t know how to count them anymore, people trying to find different ways to express the number or take it in. Remember January?....3,000 people every day were dying of COVID, so people started saying this… “This is 9/11 every day. This is literally 9-11 every day.” When did we start measuring deaths in 9/11s? When did that become the new, “how many football fields long is it,” for mass death? How many 9/11s was World War II? Can we look it up? I know the Holocaust was 2,000 9/11s. 9/11 wasn’t that bad, it was just one. Only one 9/11 of people died on 9/11. That’s like nobody died that day.
We higher-thinking primates seem to need nice fat round numbers to get our heads around things. But whether it’s a million, or a little shy, who cares? However you cut it, it’s still a lot of dead people. Which is the (very) long way around the barn of me saying why I liked the AP stories. Because their authors didn’t just emphasize the numerical abstractions that tend to distance us from what’s actually happened. They concentrated on the people themselves, the ones who died, and those they’ve left behind. (COVID has deprived an estimated 194,000 children in the U.S. of either one or both of their parents.)
There was the brother of the late Fernando Morales, who was fingering the bass guitar that his sibling always used to play with a blue bucket hat pulled low over his eyes. Any time he was going through difficulty, he’d call his brother for reassurance and unconditional love. Now he’s left listening to Fernando’s old phone messages just to hear his voice.
There’s the Yuma widow of a 59-year-old lettuce and cauliflower farmer, Luis Alfonso, who kept piloting his tractor even after he started feeling sick. He insisted he’d labor on. Two weeks later, he ended up intubated in the hospital, his body racked by the virus and a heart attack, before he succumbed. Some evenings, she still imagines him sitting on their living-room couch, asking the kids about their day at school. Some days, she drives past the fields he plowed, imaging him on his tractor. “It’s time to get rid of his clothes, but……” she said, unable to finish the thought. “There are times that I feel completely alone. And I still can’t believe it.”
There are many more stories like this. They are harrowing and beautiful and difficult to read. They’re the kind of stories we read non-stop in the days that followed 9/11. But the sort that seem to be thin-on-the-ground now, considering the sheer number of people who have suffered the same fate. After 9/11, our national mantra was “never forget.” But with COVID, it seems to be, “Don’t start remembering.” In fact, it’s hard to remember things you never acknowledged in the first place.
Which leads me to take this to group, so you can put in your two cents. As usual, no cursing, no high-sticking, etc. If you’re not already a subscriber, now’s the time to become one so you, too, can participate.
Some conversation starters: What happened to us? How did something that should’ve united us become the most polarizing event of the last several already-polarized decades? Were we so busy haggling over masks or vaccines or who most deserved a beatdown (Donald Trump or Dr. Fauci), that we forgot the actual human toll? Was all the barking at each other just catharsis, or a way of whistling past the graveyard to take our minds off the way life had been altered? Do fill me in, because I’m still a tad confused by it all.
Politics has become (or maybe it's just intensified) about self-expression for many (most?) people. It's not about numbers or facts or figures. It's about who you think you are and how you want the world to see you. People don't generally care about other people dying in all kinds of terrible circumstances all the time all over the world because it doesn't usually have anything do with them personally.
Stalin was somewhat right and somewhat wrong to say that the death of a person is a tragedy, but the death of a million people is a statistic. The true part is that we hear staggering amounts of numbers of horrible suffering all the time and go right back to whatever we're doing.
But the profoundly untrue part is if it happens to your wonderful, promising 24 year old niece who can't wait to be a nurse, it's just like the journalism that you're talking about. It humanizes it. Puts a face on it. It's now a million tiny tragedies.
People sure do tend to feel most emotionally connected to is themselves. And Americans definitely like to be individualistic, follow the beat of their own drummer, etc.
Some people didn't want to take CV seriously because they wanted to flaunt their disregard for the nanny state telling them to mask up and stay indoors and what's more, they could show anyone who wanted to know that they weren't some knock-kneed weakling who is scared of "the sniffles" as Trump and others called it.
The other part of it, which relates back to my first example, is that when the word got out that people with co-morbidities were the ones who were ran the most risk lots of people (no less a sage than Kid Rock recently said exactly this to Tucker Carlson) proudly assumed that it wasn't their problem, so who cares, why shouldn't I get on with the rest of my life?
It's a way of asserting agency and identity in a world that often feels out of control, confusing, and scary. So people double down on their defensiveness: I did my own research, I don't think it makes any sense anyway, it's a conspiracy, it won't happen to me, and it's fascism or the nanny state haranguing me or it's just a problem for losers and weaklings.
We are in the midst of going about our lives.
All of a sudden we are in a nightmare.
There is this plague on the loose.
It's got tentacles.
Spikes that go down into our lungs
and we suffocate!
They will put us on oxygen machines
Then into caskets.
See the trucks full of caskets!!!!
This is madness.
The horror! The horror!
But we can't wake up!
Please somebody do something
so we can wake up.
Please make this nightmare go away!
Nobody makes it go away.
We are all on our own.
So we each find a way
to make it go sway.
Some of us rage
Some of us rebel
Some of us close our eyes
Some of us close our hearts
Some of us go superior
Some of us go cynical
A million of us will never wake up
The rest of us are still trying.
Why don't we grieve?
We would rather believe
this IS all just a nightmare
If we realize it's real
If we realize those were one million
precious loving beautiful human beings
mothers fathers grandpas and grandmas
who wanted to live and breathe and love
just as much as we do
our hearts would break
But maybe now
we can let our tears begin to flow
we can say goodbye sweet people
we are sorry we did not care enough
we are sorry
we were too busy fighting
to hold you in our arms
Please let us bring mercy
wherever we can
No longer confused about this stuff at all. We're humans. Worse yet, we're American humans, drunk on freedom and individual liberty to the near exclusion of any sense of right and wrong, common sense or any sense of the common good. Sadly, it's just what we do these days, and like any good drunk we do it to excess.
And why should we be surprised by this? Happy Hour's been in full swing for near 7 decades now, the elbow bending on the F&L Boilermakers only occasionally pausing for a briefly unifying insult du jour such as September 11th. A fleeting nod to patriotism, and it's Bartender, another round!
The problem is, we're not a bunch of happy drunks. We damn well should be, but we're not. Might have been in the not-too-distant past, but now, for the most part, we've become a bunch of 6-foot-tall bullet proof brawlers lookin' for a fight with the house band because we don't like the tune it's playin', or maybe a couple of 'those people' out there in the parking lot. Such is often the effect of powerful intoxicants when consumed irresponsibly with disregard for their potency. And the closer it gets to last call, the harder we pound 'em down, hangovers be damned.
Sorry. Guess my slip of cynicism is showing just a bit below the hemline of my patriotic skirt. Give me a sec and I'll see if I can get that adjusted. Maybe another drink would help. Hey...Bartender!
It’s not whistling past the graveyard to take our mind off the way life has been altered. It’s just garden variety whistling past the graveyard period, writ massive and global. My uncle died at 79 a few years back after contracting a post-hernia surgery infection. The guy was born at what was arguably the optimal time and in the optimal place in all of human history. He grew up in a loving family, served his country as an Air Force pilot, married and raised a family, built a successful business, and retired quite comfortably. By any definition, this man had “won life”. He even outlived the national life expectancy of the time, by a bit. So, what was the prevailing sentiment at his funeral? “What a tragedy”. “He died far too soon.” I couldn’t believe it. Should we be sad? Sure. A bit lost? Absolutely. But, to look at that life and think “tragic” or “unfair” for even one second was outrageous and, quite frankly, insulting to the billions of people who have walked this earth since the dawn of man under far less ideal circumstances. That story, I’m afraid, is not an isolated one in our Irene Cara-esque, “I’m Gonna Live Forever” culture and explains a lot about how we’ve all differently, on some level, processed COVID. The life expectancy in this country is roughly 77. COVID, particularly in the early days, disproportionately killed people within range (slightly below or above)of that number. There are a number of us who look at each of those deaths and say “what a tragedy”. There are others, and God help me as I am among them, who look at those deaths and say, “this is life”. Should we take precautions to prevent unnecessary deaths? Of course. Should we trust the science on vaccines and inoculate accordingly? I, for one, believe so. But to truly look at the COVID mortality demographics and say “tragic”, is to whistle past the graveyard in an almost literal sense. Not one of us gets out of here alive and the folks bumping up against that LE number are, sad to say, directly in the crosshairs. If terrestrial immortality was an option, I’d be squarely in the “this is b.s.!” camp, as well. It’s not, though, so don’t let’s be silly about this element of the covid discussion.
Late stage capitalism and the rise of the authoritarian conspiratorial right; takes any available wedge and has no concern for collateral damage. They’ll let go of the hegemony, petulance, and gutter snark when you pry it out of their intubated hand. I tried to be concise.
One in 329…..over two years. A death rate of .15 pct annually . Those are the odds a 25 year old male faces (death from any cause) each and every year. Oh my! I mean, if in any year you filled Giants stadium with 25 year old males, the same number would be dead next year as in Matt’s example.
And as I noted , the age adjusted mortality in 2020 was lower than it was in 2003, and 2002, and 2001 and in every prior year in the US. Was 2003 a crisis year? In many other developed countries the age adjusted mortality in 2020 was equivalent to the average of 2000-2020. The US was a bit of an outlier because we had a large population of very frail elderly folks, higher incidence of obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, murder, drug abuse etc than most other wealthy countries. The media and politicians thrive on panic and most of them are completely illiterate when it comes to statistics. I am not a Covid denier - I had Covid almost before it was a thing (Feb 2020), I am triple vaxxed and one of my kids was hospitalized with double Covid pneumonia. I am also a professional forecaster and statistical analyst and was employed by a couple of foreign governments and one US state government to help forecast Covid deaths, hospitalizations, etc. The US environment was particularly bad because it was so politicized.
I have written here of my front line experiences at the VA. I am still confused.
Those are great questions Matt, and everybody here has provided fantastic answers. All I can say is that perhaps our collective emotional exhaustion has led to callousness, or simply a desire to move on (harsh as it may sound), as some sort of coping strategy.
But boy, I'm glad I took the time to read these comments. Thanks everyone.
Politicians, local to national, left or right, are not in their positions to serve us. It is all about their individual “self-actualization.” No unifying creed at every level of government. Jerry H
The number is too big. Our brains can't wrap around it. May be why so many decided it wasn't real.
This will be like 9/11…
Okay, so I admit upfront this is under the influence of a tequila beverage, but I firmly believe that the next step of human experience will put all of this in the rear view mirror. We will transition from our mortal limitations and find ourselves connected across all dimensions, obliterating all boundaries.
We will shed our corporeal concerns and our impossibly limited apertures and find orgasmic joy in letting go of our egoistic claims and picayune grievances and connecting with all the universe offers.
It will be brief and sublime before we become absorbed into the infinite. Which is where we absolutely will want to be.
Which reminds me of the Buddhist who asked the hot dog vendor to make him one with everything.
I'm looking forward to it.
Not an expert but I'll venture a guess regarding "forgot the actual human toll":
We are inundated these days with death; on t.v., on social media, on newsites, etc. I think in many ways we've been desensitized to death. Unless it is within one's immediate social circle or family it doesn't register. I base this on my own experience.
I've been in healthcare for almost 20 years. I've seen alot of death. At first, it devastated me when we lost a patient. But over the years I've become used to it. I still get sad, but the tears don't come like they used to.
If I project that out to the population at large it makes sense. The portrayals of death in the last 30 years have become ubiquitous online. School shootings, plane crashes, earthquakes, tornadoes, fires....the affects of those events are there for all to see and browse on the internet.
In sum, I don't think we've forgotten the real, human toll of this pandemic. I just feel we're used to death by now.
Matt, are you still confused? I’ve read all the comments, from the moderately intelligent to the outright brilliant and it’s an all-you-can-eat of good answers. I have nothing to add.
The science of virology, immunology and epidemiology are very complicated and esoteric disciplines. Where there is no understanding, rumors and denial and false premises take their place. People need to feel they have some sort of control, so they seek it at a level they can understand, even if that happens to be totally misinformed and even dangerous. The first mistake was that no one at the top - government, CDC or news media - really took the time to teach the American public some of the basics of viral infection, how the immune system works, how vaccines work and so on. Then came the mistrust of the actual medical experts generated by the president out of jealousy that one of these experts - Fauci - was becoming a more popular hero than himself. That's when it spiraled downward into political circus.
Why didn’t COVID unite us? Unfortunately, I don’t see a damn thing that can unite us. We’ve become the most tribalized (if that is even a word) as we have ever been in history. We have tribes within tribes within tribes. We hate each because of politics, athletic teams, the type of cars we drive, the cities we live in, the stores where we shop, religion, the color of our skin, and the gender we identify. We literally hate each other for stupid shit that I thought merely 10 years ago we had over come. We will cancel each other in the hopes of destroying lives and livelihoods at the drop of a dime. So why in the world would a nation that has increasingly found our neighbors to be our enemy care about the death of another person unknown to us? For many that person is probably dead from COVID because they are an vaccinated, unvaccinated, obese, old, stupid, Democrat, Republican, elitist, poor, selfish prick who deserved to die because they are a fool that only watches FOX or CNN. And the blame lies squarely on We the People.
We didn't see this epidemic. We are used to seeing what is happening. There are more photos of the war and more pulls on our heartstrings for the war in the Ukraine than for Covid deaths. We didn't see the overflowing Emergency Rooms, we saw lines for tests. We didn't see the bodies overflowing the morgue, we saw trucks parked in parking lots. We didn't see the funerals, they were all on Zoom. I think that made it easy to keep the pain and suffering at a distance, to ignore it.
I can't put it as well as my girlfriend who wrote a piece on how lots of the division is a coping mechanism for the horrors around us. I can't put it as well as she did, so I'll link her work instead: https://meghanboilard.substack.com/p/coronavirus-conspiracy-and-coping
I think that thinking of all of this through the angle of coping is an under-discussed lens through which a lot of the goings on make more sense.
Early on we knew the groups that were highly vulnerable to Covid 19: particularly elderly with underlying conditions; people with diabetes, obesity, heart and/or lung disease, and those undergoing chemo; anyone with compromised immune systems. But we did not put our emphasis on protecting these vulnerable people. We threw a wide net which diluted our efforts to protect the vulnerable. No laser focus. We wasted so much time, effort and money to protect everyone. Instead of the 1 in 329 stat you quote, we tried (in some cases forced) everyone to comply with fiats that may have hurt more people than they helped. Studies will probably be done for decades to decide how much damage we did, unnecessarily, to people who were not vulnerable, particularly children. Personally, I tried to follow the “numbers” throughout the pandemic, but it was very difficult to find accurate figures, because somedays media highlighted cases, other days hospitalizations and somedays the deaths. No breakdowns on ages or health status. This will all come, eventually and we should pay attention.
As a disclaimer, what I am about to write will sounds callous, but it should be interpreted as my compassion has been beaten out of me - and not just by Covid. Yesterday, I went to get my second Covid booster. I was offered my CHOICE of three highly effective vaccines. If you have read anything about the decreasing efficacy of the Chinese vaccines in the face of Covid mutations, you will realize how incredibly lucky we are! This otherworldly choice is yet another example of "American Exceptionalism". The big machines of Government and Industry mobilized to solve an incredibly difficult problem in a ridiculously short amount of time. And yet, our death rate from Covid is the highest among our "peer" countries. And no it is not because we are older- Japan and Italy are both older. It is because another aspect of American Exceptionalism is that we are not going to force people who are bad at logical thinking and probability to get the vaccine. Low vaccination rates lead to higher deaths, all else being equal. My point is that being a citizen of this great country allows us the OPTION of access to mind bending great things, WITHOUT compelling us to accept them. Individual liberty, to be real, MUST allow for people to make very bad choices. Since we are actually individuals, there will always be a number of our fellow apes who will make bad decisions. All I can do is model "good behavior" and hope my fellow citizens observe me and take the good bits of strategy and leave the rest.
For me the problem was the absolute fact that no one knew what to do at the onset of Covid. Not the medical institutions, the government, no one. Then, people in power started to do stuff, and report bits and pieces of things. I guess to stop mass hysteria and make themselves sound like they are on top of the problem. Many people in power also clearly were using the pandemic to get more power or hurt their enemies.
So many of these concepts, policies, etc. that were put in place later became clearly not true, overkill, or some sort of combination. Then of course we had the crazies come out in full force with a social media platform available to them and no shortage of ideas and opinions.
Now we have a big problem, the government doesn’t know what to do and feels it has to do something (again a lot is wrong and a lot is overkill). There is money being thrown around, lives are being lost and lives are financially being ruined. You basically can’t find the truth, but you can substantiate your opinions by just looking at your phone or computer which is feeding you based on your profile.
Talk about a messed up deal! I am surprised we made it this far! I really think when we look back on this in 20+ years we may truly be able to understand our mistakes!
I’ve lost just one elderly relative over in Europe but no one here. We’ve had lots of extended and immediate family division over vaccines and masking though.
I think part of the problem is that the deaths are so unequally distributed. According to a recent article in the Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2022/03/covid-us-death-rate/626972/), only 3% of Americans have lost a close family member to COVID. I am one of the 97% who hasn’t, so for me it is an abstract number, not a lived reality. Far more real are the lockdowns, the mask mandates, the vaccines, and the ongoing supply and labor disruptions. And, indeed, these are where you see most of the attention going.
Thought provoking questions you've posed. Interesting that almost none of the comments below address these questions and, instead, are arguing about who messed up and is to blame (the CDC, Fauci, China, the media, Trump, all of the above?) Which I think is edifying. We need an enemy to blame for the bad stuff that happens. And if there isn't a clear one, then we create one. Everything you and others have compared to (9/11, Vietnam, WW II, etc.) had a clear enemy we could be mad at and people could unite around. How can you be mad at a virus? We needed a surrogate to vent at. (okay Matt who liked English... I should have said "at which to vent." Sorry.) Sadly, we picked different surrogates based mostly on our political leanings. Is this a normal human coping behavior as in "whistling past the graveyard"? Maybe. Is it way more polarizing and obvious in today's connected, online world? Absolutely. So that's my expert psychological analysis. Please leave your 5 cents on the table as the doctor is now out.
Why should we expect public health policy to be immune (no pun intended) from the polarization that has afflicted all other aspects of public discourse? As with every other wedge that has been driven between segments of our society, there is plenty of political power/money to be made driving those wedges. What's several hundred thousand lives to those who are so far removed from the real-world consequences of what they espouse? Not that I'm cynical or anything...
The anti-vaxxers moved at warp speed from posing somewhat reasonable questions about the possibility of unknown long-term effects, to disregarding minimal, common sense precautions in a perverse red badge of courage sort of way. The denial of the smoke obviously emanating from the Wuhan lab only served as further justification for those wanting to see vaccinations as part of a larger conspiracy.
On the other end of the spectrum (the anti-anti-vaxxers?), voices with bullhorns demanded that the science be followed even when it turned out that the science could be a rapidly moving target, and some of the loudest voices didn't seem to think that setting a good personal example was all that important. Some of the more Draconian measures taken regarding mass quarantines seemed to go well beyond anything justified by science and data, and created their own long-term problems.
In an alternative universe of responsible government and an educated citizenry, we would have had bipartisan efforts to develop and deploy the vaccine (with plenty of accolades to go around), the avoidance of one person becoming the public face of the scientific/health community, a quarantine effort focused more on the elderly and other medically at risk groups, and an allowance for low risk groups to have something closer to a normal life.
For all the sadness, we were treated to a few moments of dark comedy: The Speaker of the House declaring that Chinatown was open for business-until it wasn't, the President seeming to suggest that bleach injections could be useful to slow the spread, and Bill Maher becoming the lead voice of opposition to the most progressive government in US history.
Haven’t been reading you as much lately though I really liked some of your articles back in the Iraq/Afghan/Syria/Racial-Social Justice era. The time you tried to wear the Google Glass was particularly funny and your review as well for “How to Live Like a Liberal” (approx title, I admit to forgetting about this book but I remember the review/longform thing). It seems to me you are analogizing the 9/11 plane attacks to the 2020-Forever COVID hubbub. I think that is not worth engaging even if the messiah himself asked me to. It would still be good if you received a more actionable response on that theme from someone else, and I hope that is forthcoming. Best.
I'll remember this quote until my dying day: Kurt Tucholsky in an essay "The war? "I cannot find it to be so bad! The death of one man: this is a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of deaths: that is a statistic!"
Generally misquoted as Stalin saying "The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic."
Why do you think it was an event that should have united us? Americans don't think in "lock-step." We knew very early on who was at risk from Covid but we had "one size fits all" policies. The Great Barrington Declaration authors had solutions that would have been much less harmful to our young people but they were denounced. It was as if the public health authorities could not never admit they were wrong. That continues to this day exemplified by the CDC extending the mask mandates for planes and trains. There's no scientific reason for doing so. Pandemics happen. People die. That's life on planet Earth. We never know when our number will be called.
It was politized from the "get go", Everyone listened to the "great Leader" blame China and then brag about he being the one who gave us the vaccines. All research, comments about the state of Covid in our nation should have been left to the medical community. If you went to your doctor for a checkup and he told you that you have a heart condition, would you want your senator or representative to advise you how to take care of your heart condition? I know you would not. I had a recent conversation with a friend who had all the "answers" about how to cure Covid. From Ivermectin to Hydrochrodox, it cured Trump, when I told her that he got the vaccination, she was shocked. In this environment, we can expect more "snake oil" salesmen to take center stage telling us they can cure, you name it. One of them is now running for the US senate in PA.
At some point the horrible becomes the normal. It is a human coping method that allows one to get on with their life. A psychologist could probably describe it at length but I draw upon my experiences in Vietnam. (please don't thank me or condemn me for my service)
Thanks largely to Donald Trump and social media, polarization would have occurred with or without COVID. Think CRT, illegal immigration, abortion, stolen elections and all of the other cultural warfare battles.
Where to start? Vaccinated early and boosted and mask wearing and social distancing - still. Also, 75 years old and covid free. The attitude that it is not a worry, it is an old farts death sentence after all must soon be followed by "Let it burn, its an old folks home. They are all on deaths door anyway and this building is on valuable prlperty". You can easily imagine any number more of these cases. When a population begins identifying itself as other than simply human with shared needs throughout life, it becomes callous to those needs if those needs are not immediately their own. Identifying as a political devotee puts the rules and views of that devotion above all else including personal experience (dead wife from covid), science, advice of experts, etc. Yes experts. These folks are expert because they can admit they were wrong, change course, rethink and get the information right. This may happen again and again as an unknown problem is sorted out. Unlike politicians who never change - all the way to prison or the grave yard. So, the pandemic since vaccines has been a pandemic among Republicans and most virulent in Republican strongholds. All the way to the grave yard.
There is no one size fits all, but the fracture started years ago. The polarization was probably simmering for some time but most people, including politicians, kept it from boiling over. That ended when Trump became President. Any other President, Republican or Democrat, would have united us in the face of a new deadly virus. But for Trump it was another opportunity to chum the waters. He politicized the virus into Blue states/Red states. He encouraged people to go after elected officials who had mandates in place. He demeaned and invalidated scientists. He fanned the flames for violence. We were told the virus was either a hoax or would be gone by Easter. Trump was so successful with the divisive propaganda that by the time he said get the vaccine, he was booed. The tail now wags the dog. And we are left with people who can't acknowledge 1,000,000 dead, don't believe it or don't care.
We can’t use American stats because the CDC ensures they are worthless, but the UK’s ONS keeps a good record of age-adjusted mortality. In the UK, the 2020 pre-vaccination Covid plague year was certainly an outlier in terms of age-adjusted mortality in comparison to the record low mortality in the years just prior. On the other hand, age-adjusted mortality in 2020 was LOWER than it was in 2006 and in each and every year prior to 2006. In other words, 2020 was a fairly normal year for age-adjusted mortality looking at the 21st century overall.
Good article Matt.
The metric that I like to use is Vietnam because people have such a strong reaction to that war. 50,000 US soldiers died in action in Vietnam roughly 1/20th of US Covid deaths to date. And that was over a period of 20 years with the peak annual deaths in 1968 at 17K compared to a peak Covid year of 2021 with 415K dead about 25x peak Vietnam deaths.
Now some writers here note that Covid deaths are disproportionally the elderly which is true, median death age is 78, but 1/3 of all deaths some 300,000 + deaths were under 65 years old, people with life expectancies of 20-30 years.
As a 72 year old I prefer to not think that I am expendable and need to hang around to see if we abandon Constitutional democracy or go back to watching baseball.
One other thing to note, although the "what me worry" Covid crew love to figure out conspiracies where doctors and hospitals are colluding to raise the number, in actuality if you use the attributable death method, which is to take the total number of deaths which did not change much between 2018 and 2019 and then the deaths in 2020, and attribute that to Covid ( annual deaths rarely change a lot year to year) deaths runs about 30% higher, so suspect Covid is running about 1.3M. Now that includes deaths due to say hospitals being overun that might not be Covid, but also the fact that I am well aware of being a doctor and having done a lot of death certificates, that we dont Covid test elderly people post mortem that die at home or en route to the ER and though there are reasons for both over and undercounts , the undercount is much more likely and is borne out by the attributable death method.
There is a lot of bashing in general. Somewhere over the past … decade? 20 years? 50 years? … (I’m not sure when it happened, and I’m not sure it matters, as here we are) being rude/nasty/obnoxious/oppositional to those we disagree with became acceptable. Not only did it become acceptable, but it also became nearly necessary, if you wanted to be heard above the ruckus.
Masks and vaccines are not, in and of themselves, political. But in the current environment, when, if you disagree with something, you simply state your “opinion” louder than everyone else, apparently they are. You don’t even have to listen all that closely to hear several someones tell you how gargling vinegar, barrel proof bourbon, or Drano (or maybe a mixture of all three - I wasn’t paying attention) cured their Covid symptoms.
Honestly, it’s exhausting. As is listening to people lament, “THIS ISN’T WHO WE ARE!” I’m sorry - the data states otherwise. This is, most definitely and for better or (mostly) worse, who we are.
"How did something that should’ve united us become the most polarizing event of the last several already-polarized decades?"
COVID risk was one of Shiri's scissors. As were the Kavanaugh hearings.
COVID risk hit a real sour spot in risk assessment. It was never "just the flu", but it was close enough to "just the flu" in prominent populations to divide rather than unite.
Returning to the Kavanaugh hearings, I saw enough of Ivy-bound youth culture to know that the behavior like what Blasey Ford described was common enough, and wouldn't necessarily be remembered by guys who might think of it as just a lark, and may have been blackout drunk in any case. I didn't consider my background knowledge anywhere near enough to justify punishing anyone so long after the fact, even with the comparatively mild punishment of denying a high office. But I remember taking flak for conservative peers simply for believing that something like what Blasey Ford had described could well have happened, even if it didn't justify long-after-the-fact punishment.
I got in a particularly heated argument with one guy. Since we're both fairly math-literate, I asked, wait, can we put numbers on the likelihood that Blasey Ford's testimony described an event that really happened? When we compared estimates, our estimates disagreed by 10%. I cannot stress how *small* a disagreement that is in this context. And yet we had seemed bitterly "on opposite sides" anyhow.
"Shiri's scissors" come from this tech-fiction story by Scott Alexander:
"Any predictive network doubles as a generative network. If you teach a neural net to recognize dogs, you can run it in reverse to get dog pictures. If you train a network to predict Reddit upvotes, you can run it in reverse to generate titles it predicts will be highly upvoted...
"Reddit has a feature where you can sort posts by controversial. You can see the algorithm here, but tl;dr it multiplies magnitude of total votes (upvotes + downvotes) by balance (upvote:downvote ratio or vice versa, whichever is smaller) to highlight posts that provoke disagreement. Controversy sells, so we trained our network to predict this too..."
The conceit of the story is that internet ad agencies are generating winning stories in the "controversial wars" to sell ad copy. That may be only a somewhat anthropomorphized, simplified version of what's really happening.
I find it so difficult to get perspective, mostly because I trust almost no one to tell me how to think about this.
Yes, there is a lot of journalist-bashing these days. Couldn't happen to more deserving people, most of the time. I'm supposed to trust their take?
Or Fauci, the CDC, the mask police? Have ANY of them acknowledged errors, or shown any humility?
One million dead. Compare that with those dead in the same period of time from heart disease, cancer, strokes, car accidents. Much better than the last global flu. It's a statistic.
But. Harvey died.
"The mayor" they called him, in the assisted living residence where my wife works. He won't be reading in the Stations of the Cross service tomorrow.
I miss Harvey.
At the risk of over-simplifying, it is mostly older people, who were going to die anyway (just like everyone else ever born, of course). If it were mostly children, it would be ranked the greatest tragedy ever to befall the U.S. There is a reason why the illness charities use “poster children”.
At the beginning of the pandemic I remember reading articles on COVID deaths with a focus on individuals. About six-to-nine months after the vaccines were available to all adults, the WashPost published an article on individuals who died of COVID but hadn't taken the vaccine. These people weren't reflexively anti-vax but were slow adopters (a common refrain was "I wanted to wait to be sure it was safe... I should have taken it."). It was awful. Young adults (30ish) dying from COVID, parents leaving their children as orphans. An opinion piece by an ER nurse in Alabama got blasted out everywhere too when she relayed the suffering of the unvaccinated in her hospital. I remember reading about patients begging for a vax shot before being put on a ventilator with the nurse telling patients its too late.
Since those stories came out, everything else I've read has been about people refusing to believe they've got COVID while dying of it or demanding their doctor shoot them up with horse de-wormer. It could be media bias ("look at these dumb rubes!"), reality (dumb rubes are going to be dumb), or a mix of both but sympathy for people dying of COVID has dried up in such a way as to be one of the few bi-partisian "achievements" of America: neither side cares anymore.
I knew 2 people who died. MAGA anti-vaxxers, proud of their free-dumb up to the point they got ventilated.
I lost 2 people: A cousin and a cousin in-law. One early in the pandemic before vaccines, and one unvaccinated during the Delta wave in 2021.
I wish I knew where we went so wrong that their deaths would matter so little to so many.
I think that people in general are so self-centered and selfish they only really care when something affects them directly. It was easy to drum up caring over something like 9/11, it was a discrete event with someone obvious to blame. Pandemics and sickness aren’t like that.
I will postulate that the country has de-Christianized so rapidly that our moral bearings are very much in flux, and this has thrown us into confusion and conflict. Everything seems up for grabs and there is a clerical power vacuum with a fierce conflict over who will assume the guardian of morality role. Social trust under these circumstances is exceedingly low…
This is past, regardless how awful,
I’m busy thinking about the future, how the Republican Party has totally gone off the rails yet all predict them to take back house and senate - and then maybe the presidency!!??
( Mitch McConnell just sitting there licking his lips, waiting. Argh!)
One in 329. That may be an explanatory factor in why we were able to politicize a health emergency. I read somewhere that the average American has personal contact with at most 150 people, even counting social media. That suggest that the majority of us have no immediate family or friend who died of COVID. We know OF someone who died but we didn't know them. And since a higher proportion of the victims where the poor and the elderly, it was even easier to use COVID in this ongoing cultural and political battle that we are fighting.
9/11 only consisted of ONE 9/11.
Solid perspective from the gherkin-jerkin’ sage.
What machine or force desensitized us to the point where the culture war of the moment is all that matters? Is it the saturation of news via cable TV or other platforms? Is it that plus the social media outlet of your preference. Things may be too fargone at this point that only a crisis of unspeakable proportion could unite us. And even then, I'm not so sure.
Man am I ever envious of folks who can take their minds off all of those people we’ve lost and those we will likely lose. I think about it every day. Hoping your very smart readers have a suggestion on how to more effectively put my lips together and blow.
My answer to "What happened to us?" Without the full-throated dis-information industry making a national health emergency into a political tribe issue, there would have been many fewer deaths and a faster full recovery.
Well Matt, as I see things from my tiny corner what we are seeing is human nature coming loose at the seams.
Many churches are no longer concerned about people’s salvation but about political, sexual and worldly opinions.
There is no love, mercy or grace. Just an attitude of I’m right and your wrong.
I want to keep this simple so will stop right here with my plea. God grands love, mercy and grace to those who acknowledge Him and obey. We in turn must extend this love, mercy and grace to others. We don’t have to like everyone but we Christ followers are commanded to love, even our enemies.