Thursday, October 8, 2020

October 7, 2020  

Herd immunity to clear thinking

President Trump made a mangled reference to herd immunity as a strategy for defeating the pandemic.  Others, including Senator Rand Paul, also have proposed that theory.  It may be for some, such as Senator Paul, a libertarian position but, with or without that philosophical gloss, its popularity has less to do with its viability as a method of control than with its usefulness as an excuse for avoiding sensible measures, such as masks, distancing and shutdowns.  A Republican State Senator was semi-candid about what that theory contemplates, more people infected: “I’m not as concerned as much as the number of cases, in fact quite honestly, I want to see more people because we start reaching an immunity as more people have it and get through it.”1  Will they all “get through it?”  Let’s not think about that. 

An aspect of the herd mentality is an inability to grasp simple concepts.  An example is a tweet by DeAnna Lorraine, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress: “Does anyone else find it odd that no prominent Democrats have had the virus but the list of Republicans goes on and on?”  Could it be that Democrats are following medical advice?  That, of course, is not an acceptable answer, as it would violate the tribal doctrine that masks and other precautions are just more damned liberal bullying.  There must be a plot.

There are those who refuse to wear masks because they are symbols of political correctness or, as an anti-mask lawsuit put it, a “virtue signal.”  Some, possibly sincerely but inanely, oppose wearing masks because it restricts their freedom, thereby defining that concept as the ability to do anything one wants regardless of consequences.  That is a definition of freedom which would make civilized society impossible which, I sometimes think, is the true agenda of some on the right. 

Some make no effort to think, demonstrating what might be described as herd stupidity.  Perhaps inspired by Trump’s what-me-worry rallies, many have gathered and partied in a manner incredibly dangerous to self and others.      

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) adopted a blithely dismissive position toward the pandemic: it’s no big deal and we can’t do anything about it anyway.  There is “a level of unjustifiable hysteria” about the virus, he said; after all, it has only, as of October 7, infected a little over 7,567,800 Americans, (42,553 the day before), and killed 211,453 (721 the day before).2  In any case, it’s hopeless: “Why do we think we actually can stop the progression of a contagious disease?”3

Trump continues to demonstrate his aversion to science, in this case medical.  After being infected and hospitalized, he returned to the White House prematurely, still probably carrying contagion, removed his mask and mingled with those of his staff not already infected and quarantined.  The White House, rather than being the source of leadership, has become a microcosm of the national disaster. 

All this anti-intellectualism reminds me of an exchange in Inherit the Wind. Matthew Harrison Brady, when faced with inconsistencies in a literal interpretation of the Bible, said: "I do not think about things I do not think about." Henry Drummond responded: "Do you ever think about things that you do think about?"

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Friday, October 2, 2020

September 30, 2020


Bob Woodward’s latest book about Donald Trump as President gives some examples of his angry  outbursts, one occasion described as “ranting and raving” by one on the scene.  The book’s title, Rage, perfectly describes Trump’s out-of-control behavior at the first debate.  If there had been any doubt that the prospect of losing the election terrifies him, it evaporated during that performance.

Commentary on the debate has been uniformly negative about Trump, but oddly varied regarding Biden.  My first impression was that he should have been less combative, interrupted less often and displayed more dignity but, on reflection, realized that was to some degree unrealistic.  Trump had asserted that Biden was, in effect, senile (an exercise in projection?), calling him “Sleepy Joe.”  Biden needed to crush that claim, and did.  Some of the commentators missed that point; at the other extreme, one somehow found that Biden had been too passive.

There had been suggestions, by Biden among others, that the debate be fact-checked in real time.  Given Trump’s continued lying, that would be a good idea.  Setting the record straight the day after, or even the hour after, has less impact.  For most voters, immediate impressions are all, and allowing Trump to get away with lies lends him undeserved aid.  Biden and the moderator could do only so much in that line, given the restraints of time and format and Trump’s continuous interruptions.

There is a tendency to treat the debates as contests, declaring winners and losers rather than analyzing arguments or testing knowledge.  This reflects and reenforces the public reaction which relies on general impressions.  Applying that superficial test, commentators — and, allegedly, voters — gave Biden only a slight edge; however, that, apparently was considered enough of a win for him, as he leads in the polls.  It doesn’t seem likely that Trump persuaded any undecided voters to move his way, which may be the point that the horse-race analysis intends to make.

The most troublesome aspect of Trump’s bluster, on and off the debate stage, is the threat, implied by his panic, but also expressed, that there will be interference in the election and refusal to accept an adverse result. Telling the Proud Boys to “stand by” was an unsubtle hint.  

We have reached one of the low points in this nation’s history, and it’s by no means clear that the path  leads upward from here.

Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day