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Reblogged:A Month of Sundays vs. Your Life

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Most commentary I hear regarding individual behavior that could but the brakes on the corona epidemic reminds me of the phrase a month of Sundays, for a variety of reasons. Alicia Sparks of Wise Geek explores the phrase in some detail, of which I find her opening paragraph the most relevant:

Image by Kenny Luo, via Unsplash, license.
The simplest definition of the idiom "a month of Sundays" is "a very long time," though like many sayings, it's possible to dissect this expression and find more literal meanings and cultural origins. For instance, a person might reference the literal idea of a month filled with Sundays, which would reference the time it takes for 30 or 31 Sundays to pass. He might use the saying to refer, directly or indirectly, to the religious and cultural connotations of having a month filled with Sundays or a time period of limited or unexciting activity. Some people use the saying when referring to an event that is impossible or unlikely to happen, just as a month will never be filled with only Sundays. Still, although it might not be universal, this idiomatic expression is widely accepted among many English-speaking cultures as one that means a particular event or time period is extremely long. [bold added]
My complaint stems not from how we must all restructure our calculations of personal risk or from the need to change aspects of our routines that are due directly or indirectly from the virus. If a black bear were in my yard when I wanted to go out, I'd change those things for that circumstance, too, and without thinking of that phrase.

I think of that phrase because the advice is almost always distorted by collectivistic thinking and couched in altruistic terms. I am to think, not so much of my own welfare, but of some number of hospital beds. And I am not to consider how something might affect my life or its quality so much as whether some random person continues his physical existence. Or -- worse -- whether somebody, somewhere, catches the virus at all.

Here's a typical example:
The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States will continue to "get worse before it gets better," but the situation might improve as clinicians gain a better understanding of how to treat the virus in the absence of a vaccine or a cure, experts said Tuesday.

Seeing an improvement assumes the public renews its commitment to "basic" approaches to containing the spread of the virus, including social distancing and wearing face coverings in public, according to Dr. Mark McClellan, a physician and economist who directs the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University.

If the spread of the virus can be slowed, and the stress on the healthcare system caused by increasing numbers of seriously ill patients limited, the United States might be able to contain the outbreak within eight months, McClellan said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. [bold added, links omitted]
From the beginning, the whole issue of facemasks has been muddled by collectivistic thinking necessitated by government controls of the free market, such as "anti-gouging" laws that caused shortages of face masks. So ... we were first told not to wear masks for selfless reasons, before we were told to wear them, again for selfless, unmotivating reasons.

Each time, expert opinion has been cited, although as far as I can tell, it has been and remains divided on the question of how well they confer protection to the wearer. And this was all against the backdrop of the burdensome, damaging, and blatantly improper government decrees that enforced universal and indefinite detention within our homes.

The latter have been partially lifted, giving us a restless public dying for freedom, but conditioned to act on guidance from above on the matter of the sickness and completely unpracticed at navigating life with this new risk in the background. And our only "guidance" is to do things to keep other people from getting sick?

No wonder some people -- understandably! -- view mask-wearing with scorn, and even those who don't need to be reminded to wear them!

If only selfishness, the long-range and thoughtful consideration of what is best for oneself -- weren't so stigmatized as to be beaten out of so many people from childhood on!

For that very reason, most probably fail to see the contradiction -- or the connection -- between the assertions about the epidemic in the first and second paragraphs quoted above, for example. On the one hand, better treatments are already here and the prospects of a vaccine coming are pretty good. In that sense, it doesn't matter what people do to slow down the spread of the virus: The situation is improving.

On the other hand, the first paragraph provides a great selfish argument to do exactly those things we are being commanded to as if they have nothing to do with our own lives: The longer we go without catching this crud, the more likely we are to get better treatment, or even avoid it altogether.

A selfish person would keep an ear out for evidence about how the disease spreads and how severe it is likely to affect him and anyone he cares about. He'd now likely know to avoid crowds, prolonged close contact, and confined spaces. He'd know that the virus is transmitted mainly by droplets coming from the mouths and noses of other people. If he runs a business, he'd be concerned about harm to his reputation caused by people catching the disease on his premises -- and so take measures like requiring temperature checks or face coverings by his customers and employees.

Likewise, the decision to wear a face mask or face shield would involve (a) a small measure of direct personal protection from larger droplets, (b) the ability to enter public establishments, (c) good will towards the at-risk, and (d) the knowledge that by cutting off transmission paths, including from himself, he keeps hospitals freer to treat anyone he cares about. I find that last much more inspiring than some floating abstraction about the number of ICU beds.

And people would feel personally motivated in a way that those who use masks for superficial virtue-signaling can't and don't. Here's how I think about this and wish others would: The slower this disease spreads, the less likely it is to get me sick and, possibly, into a hospital. I want others to wear masks and will ask them to do so at appropriate times for real, personal reasons. Assuming a self-righteous tone or being rude -- like a virtue-signaler -- would understandably have the opposite effect than I desire: to provoke a careful, self-interested examination of how one confronts this epidemic.

"Flatten the curve" successfully manipulated large numbers of people to drastically change their behavior in unnatural ways for a time. It might have bought the medical sector time to adjust for the epidemic, but it came at the cost of making the personal consequences of this epidemic less real. Rather than sacrificing our quality of life on the altar of the false gods of ICU beds and fashion, let us preserve our freedom and our lives by taking responsibility for keeping ourselves and those we love as safe from this illness as warranted by our own circumstances.

Just as many religious people demonstrate by their actions that they do not take what they hear on Sunday seriously, so are many people reacting to the end of what they laughably call "quarantine." The epidemic is not over, but after our months of Sundays, lots of people are acting like it.

-- CAV

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