Conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 pandemic are legion and sometimes go like this (I’ve heard such theories more than once): Governments everywhere, eager as governments by nature always to increase their power and control over their populations, have taken advantage of the Opportunity offered by the epidemic to drastically restrict freedom, destroying economies so that debt must rescue them. This, in turn, will inevitably lead to both higher taxes and greater government involvement and regulation of economic life. And of course, once governments take over, they are seldom and slowly or reluctantly abandoned.
The wilder conspiracy theorists believe that everything was planned from the start, even if the governments specifically created the offensive virus for their nefarious purposes; The more moderate conspiracy theorists believe that the governments were merely opportunistic. The end result, however, is the same: an unstoppable slide into totalitarianism, all in the name of public health.
According to conspiracy theorists, this explains the disproportionate response to the epidemic, which still killed significantly less (in relation to world population) than the Asian and Hong Kong rivers fifty and sixty years ago. It’s none other than the Black Death, which killed a third of the population of Europe, or even the plague epidemic in Marseille and Provence in 1720, which also killed a third of the population (since then there have only been sporadic in Europe Cases known). In addition, deaths from Covid were predominantly among the elderly: and age remains by far the most important risk factor for death from Covid infection.
I admit, once it became clear that it was the elderly (who I must now count myself among) who were by far the most at risk, my preferred response to the situation was to restrict the elderly – those over 65 years of age – in their homes and in other particularly vulnerable groups, and let the rest of the population go about their business normally. Of course, there were exceptions to the generalization that it was the old who were in danger: a small proportion of the young fell victim to the disease. But shutting down an entire society to avoid a few such deaths was like banning all road traffic because young people are sometimes killed in accidents.
There were respected epidemiologists who suggested such a scheme. And certainly, I thought, it was in the capacity of our vast social and welfare apparatus, not to mention supermarkets, to ensure that the elderly were provided with food and not otherwise neglected.
Whether the system or something similar would have worked now cannot be known, and whether it should have been implemented and not passed voluntarily. When I look around Paris the day before the 6am curfew comes into effect, I see that many people are openly violating precautionary measures, probably because they (understandably) feel at low personal risk. But under the precautions there are almost no elderly people. You seem to have taken epidemiology to heart.
One objection to the system when it was publicly proposed was that it was a type of apartheid, except that it was apartheid by age rather than race. This objection was the triumph of the slogan over thinking, because age groups should be treated differently because of important and relevant differences in their situation. One might as well say that pediatric or neonatal wards in hospitals impose a kind of apartheid because they separate people by age.
A more serious objection to the system was that, while the number of seriously affected younger people in need of hospitalization may be small relative to their total, it could still be a very large number in absolute terms, so large that it would medical resources available to treat them overwhelm. Many could die who would never have contracted the disease if the right precautions had been taken and imprisoned, whether voluntarily or forcibly.
Since the value of human life is incalculable – even if it is in terms of value to allow for thoughts about value it becomes brutal – we cannot stop examining the question: what, however, must be decided each day.
Understandably, not many governments were willing to take the risk of pursuing such a policy: if this actually resulted in or appeared to result in additional deaths, no government would dare face its constituents and say, “Well, we me think it was a price worth paying to keep a semblance of normal life. “
This in turn brings us to the value we place on human life. After all, we live in a time when we hope to wage war without losing a single soldier. In a sense, this must represent moral advancement at a time when generals could send thousands or even tens of thousands of young men to their deaths in order to achieve a military advance of no more than ten meters of muddy ground. And the fact that the life that is saved by strict hygiene measures that destroy everyday life is mostly over 80 years old must not be included in the public debate because it would devalue the lives of the elderly: Even if we in not really appreciate our hearts and in our daily lives.
So you have to see that governments are trying to save human lives, whether they actually succeed or not, regardless of the collateral damage being done, so to speak, to the economy and social life of the country. Because of the sentimentality of their constituents, it is politically impossible for governments to tell their constituents that public health is far from an absolute good and that human life must be preserved at all costs. The public doesn’t want to ponder what price we are willing or should pay to save a life, a hundred lives, a thousand lives, ten thousand lives. Since the value of human life is incalculable – even if it is in terms of value to allow for thoughts about value it becomes brutal – we cannot stop examining the question: what, however, must be decided each day.
For example, if one of the consequences of closing the economy to save human lives is the bankruptcy of small businesses and the continued concentration of wealth in the hands of the already possessing classes, this must either be borne or dealt with later, imposing a wealth tax on the richest 1 Percent of the population. The fact that the really rich always manage to avoid such taxation will only serve to further focus wealth.
“I agree!” exclaims the conspiracy theorist. But of course he forgets that everything that happens, also due to human will, is not what is sought.