[Editor's Note: Below is a copy of my "Friday Filosophy" newsletter. Normally it goes exclusively to my subscribers, but since the information this week could be helpful to so many others, I’m reposting it here on my blog.]
Friday Filosophy - Special Corona Virus Edition
As you know, these Friday missives are always brief. Not today. This week, the thing I’m thinking about is the same thing you’re thinking about. Namely, the corona virus.
Most of you are probably wondering how did this situation escalate so rapidly, why does it seem so different from previous threats, and are people crazy for being so panicked or are they being foolish for not taking it more seriously?
Let’s begin with the prevalent question of whether this is different than SARS, swine flu, bird flu, mad cow disease, zika virus, and the many other public scares in recent memory. The short answer is…yes.
Why is this? Let me count the ways.
1) In countries like the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, France, and many others, the population is more politically polarized than they have been in at least a century.
2) Everyone – from the most brilliant minds of our generation to the most dim-witted conspiracy theorists – is now a broadcast network, thanks to social media and the amplification of the Internet.
3) Three governments, China, Iran, and the United States, have lied and withheld information, making the potential infection and death rates higher.
4) The corona virus itself is potentially more infectious and deadly than many of the past threats we discussed.
All this leads us to the most essential question of the moment…
Is the current situation overblown hysteria created by media manipulation, or does the threat justify the higher degree of alarm?
We must begin that discussion with two foundational premises:
Let’s unpack those two things. First, while journalism is a noble profession and there are many people in the profession who choose it for altruistic ideals, it is still a business. And all businesses require a business model. Unfortunately, in today’s world which overwhelms us with information – breathless sensationalism, manipulative clickbait strategies, and the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy are the most effective business model to survive against stiff competition. You can hate what this says about us as a society and decry the morality of the practice (and probably should), but that doesn’t change the reality.
Here’s another brutal truth: Sometimes governments need to hide information from their citizens, or even lie to them, for their own protection. (To prevent things like bank runs and mass hysteria that would ultimately hurt more people. Not unlike why parents sometimes need to lie to their kids.) This truth poses a threat to you, because a government’s motivations for lying are only as pure and sensible as the people making those decisions. When the leader is an autocrat trying to maintain control of the citizenry (as in China and Iran) or mentally impaired (as in the U.S.), the lies and misinformation can become dangerous, even deadly. When we’re dealing with something like the corona virus, deadly is the operative word.
It’s way too early to know how deadly this is ultimately going to be. But I believe we’ve seen enough to confirm this is a “Black Swan” event – an extremely rare incident that with long-term, severe, even cataclysmic global impact, which will seem obvious in hindsight. The economic damage of this will be a number with so many zeros it would strain your reading ability to comprehend it. We’re talking about costs in the dozens of trillions of dollars or euros, and perhaps hundreds of trillions.
Millions of people are going to have reduced hours, temporary layoffs, or lose their jobs entirely. Many entrepreneurs won’t have the cash flow to stay in business. Airlines, hotels, seminar providers and professional speakers, professional sports, restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, and theaters are already facing a horrific income drop. A lot of things are going to change permanently. I doubt you’ll be hearing a lot of complaints about overtourism anytime soon. Eighty percent of the A380 airplanes operating today will be grounded and never fly again. The cruise industry will never recover to previous levels. Or at least not before the next century.
But the greatest price we pay will be the deaths from the Covid-19 disease. I am not a doctor or researcher, so I won’t add to the anxiety and misinformation by predicting potential death counts. But suffice it to say, they will be emotionally devastating. And whatever those numbers are, no matter how mild or how harsh, they will be worse than needed to be because of government.
China is culprit number one. For political and economic expediency, they made the decision to publicly downplay and coverup the initial outbreak. Journalists and medical professionals who sounded the alarm simply went missing, as is frequently the case in Communist countries. Not only did this result in the needless death of thousands, it allowed the virus to leapfrog around the rest of the globe quicker and without the necessary warnings.
The Iranian government was just as complicit. They also tried to downplay the threat and prevent their people from knowing the truth. The results have been disastrous. Credible people with first-hand knowledge fear the numbers they are publicly announcing are really anywhere from ten to a hundred times worse. It’s possible there are already a million people infected with the virus there. (When a country’s spiritual leader, the vice president and two ministers are infected with the corona virus, and the main health minister died from it – that kinda’ leads me to conclude the worst-case scenarios may be more accurate.) The entire Middle East, and by extension the rest of the world, is at greater risk because of their perfidy.
Which brings us to the United States…
The president we elected poses three grave threats to the nation. (And by extension, the world.)
First and foremost, the Trump Administration is incompetent. The primary cause of this is pretty simple, yet profound. The job of President of the United States of America is simply beyond the abilities of Donald J. Trump. He’s a smack-talking reality TV host who is great at hijacking news cycles, but he lacks the intellectual capacity, leadership skills, and moral character required for such a sacred responsibility. This situation becomes worse because he does not attract and hire competent people with greater skills or knowledge than he possesses. His campaign loved to spin the meme that he “only hires the best people,” but in fact, he does just the opposite. His underlying insecurities cause him to surround himself with only family members and sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear.
This has been apparent for three years to any rational person paying the slightest degree of attention to the government. The rampant turnovers, tsunami of leakers, and personal accounts from those who have escaped the madness prove there isn’t a rational person in charge there, but mostly well-meaning people trying to protect the president from himself. (And since we’re speaking truthfully, some evil people who are manipulating him to their desired agendas.)
The debacle of his address from the Oval Office was another demonstration that incompetent people are running the administration. How could a live nationwide speech done by teleprompter contain the egregious errors it did? Even the most basic functions of the administration scream incompetence. We’ve seen a litany of policy statements, press releases, or event announcements with typos, wrong information, misidentified countries, misspelled names of world leaders, and conflicting accounts between departments.
Can we really pretend to be shocked when the White House and the president tell us there will be two million or four million Covid-19 tests available on a given day and the actual number is less than 5,000?
Here is the situation in the U.S. right now…
People with symptoms can’t get tested unless they come in contact with someone with confirmed case of Covid-19 because there aren’t enough tests. Because there aren’t enough tests, we have no idea how many undiagnosed people are out there. Which means people with Covid-19 can’t prove they deserve a test because the people they got it from weren’t able to get a test. Americans wanted an outsider to come into Washington D.C. and burn it all down. Now we’re paying the price.
The second danger to America from President Trump comes because he is morally and criminally corrupt. (For those of you that wish to validate the president, I’m sorry, but I won’t layout the evidence of this in this email, and I won’t be responding to those questions on Twitter. It would take hundreds of pages, and if you haven’t realized the extent of his criminality yet, a post from me isn’t going to change your mind. I want to keep the focus here on how it impacts the current corona virus crisis.)
In the case of someone with the character of President Trump, all decisions are made almost exclusively for selfish, self-seeking reasons. Instead of thinking about the restaurant waitress who is losing three shifts a week because sales are down, Trump calculates how the stock market losses are hurting his portfolio. When he signs off on government relief packages, his primary concern is going to be how much he can scoop out for his golf resorts and billionaire donors. Trump doesn’t make public policy decisions on the potential for disease mitigation, but how they might affect Ivanka’s trademark applications or his chances for opening another Trump Tower. And in the case of a pandemic like this, the consequences can kill people.
But truth be told, America has had corrupt presidents before, and we’ll have corrupt presidents again. The greatest threat to the country is the third one...
President Trump has serious mental issues, including narcissistic personality disorder, pathological lying, and cognitive decline. People in his impaired psychological state often suffer from a delusional thought process where because they wish something is true, they actually believe it’s so. The president has demonstrated an alarming propensity for this. Often he literally just makes stuff up off the cuff, the media reports it, and then policy decisions are taken on the premise that these delusions are true.
President Trump has made many dangerous statements like asserting the original number of 15 virus infected victims would go down, that the testing is running perfectly, the virus will just miraculously disappear, and that we have “tremendous testing” set up for incoming passengers. Although those things are not true, he may have convinced himself they are. Whether the President is delusional, or he is purposing gaslighting, lying, and spreading disinformation is cause for debate. But the results of his actions are not debatable. They’re incredibly likely to kill people who don’t have to die.
President Trump’s original travel restriction on flights from Asia were unpopular, but prudent. The new restrictions announced this week are simply gaslighting to cover up the disastrous state of testing and preparedness. Since that first decision, the administration’s response to the threat has been incoherent, amateur, and incompetent. And his attempts to mute medical professionals and their recommendations because it diminishes his poll numbers is unconscionable. (Not that I expect it, but GOP leaders and cabinet officials should be having serious and sustained conversations about the twenty-fifth amendment.)
Garry Kasparov (who knows a little something about this) put out the Tweet of the day today. It read: “Long lines & empty shelves in stores and a leader nobody believes on TV saying everything is fine. Back in the USSR!”
In the case of China, Iran, and the U.S., the biggest danger to their populations is not the corona virus, but the government leaders in charge of protecting us from the virus. Their decisions have made the situation deadlier. And to be prudent, we should use some critical thinking about a few other countries.
I’m not in the U.K. and can’t know the full extent of the situation there. But looking from this side of the pond, Prime Minister Johnson seems to be repeating many mistakes of the earlier countries infected. And in my view, the two wild cards are Russian and China. The former is governed by a gangster and the latter is run by a sociopath. Are you really confident that if epidemic conditions are present there or become so, these leaders will make the proper decisions and communicate truthfully?
In four weeks, we’re going to desperately wish we had worked harder on protecting health care workers, respirators, hospital prep, and testing stations, instead of gaslighting with Kabuki theater travel bans after the whole continent is infected.
So what do we do now?
The best thing you can do is to stay healthy. Do all the sensible preventative measures you’re already hearing. Even if you are young and feel great, you could be putting someone’s grandmother or immunocompromised child in serious danger. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, use sanitizers, cough or sneeze into your elbow, and maintain social distancing. If you’ve been exposed to someone with the virus or you feel any symptoms, self-quarantine yourself.
The reason you see #flattenthecurve trending everywhere is because that gives us the best chance to save more people. Because while the virus can be deadly, it is when the number of cases in an area overwhelms the health care system that it becomes mega deadly. That’s when you have doctors making triage decisions like which one of four possible patients should get a respirator and which three must be left to die. When we all take sensible measures to stay healthy, the infection curve flattens out. With the lower spike in the curve, we have enough doctors, nurses, hospital beds, and respirators. A lot more people get healthier faster and a lot less people die.
Please. Do not fuck around with this. If you haven’t done these things already, do them today:
There simply is no downside to being prepared. If your area doesn’t get hit hard or you don’t have to be isolated, so what? You’ll have plenty of ramen noodles and enough NyQuil to get high. You should have preparations like this if you live in an earthquake or hurricane zone area anyway.
Since we’re aware that media needs clickbait to remain financially viable, and that we can’t count on government to tell us the truth, your ability to think for yourself is more vital than ever. Use your discernment when evaluating information from both sources. Your superpower to defeat the virus and protect yourself and your loved ones is critical thinking. Your greatest resource in situations like these is a free press.
Anyone who tells you the free press is an enemy of the people, is themselves an enemy of the people.
Please. Stay informed, stay healthy, and stay calm. We have faced many greater challenges than this and prevailed, and we will prevail against this one. Use discernment and look after your neighbor.
I’m a little optimistic and largely hopeful that the U.S. and other countries beginning to get infected now will contain the pandemic and flatten the curve. Although the federal government has been inept and incompetent, the private sector has acted with much more common sense and prudence. And many state and local governments have been extremely proactive. Virtually every major sport has suspended play, large music and drama venues are shuttered, and lots of people are working from home, practicing social distancing and self-isolating. No doubt March and Arpil are going to be difficult. But we have a strong shot to keep the curve below health care system overload and many lives will be saved.
When you’re inconvenienced or your favorite events are cancelled, keep the bigger picture in mind. This is a time to be kind and calm. If you need to self-quarantine don’t approach it with hysteria or spend the days scrolling through breaking news alerts on your goddam cellphone. Look on the situation as you would an opportunity to visit a Shaolin temple, attend a meditation retreat, or spend time at Walden Pond like Thoreau did.
If you have kids, use this situation to introduce them to the joy of reading. How about having the family sit around the table together for a meal with no devices, and you know, actually talk with one another? How long have you been threatening to start that exercise program, write that book, learn that new language, clean the garage, build a model train track in the basement, take up meditation, or practice yoga? Now’s your chance!
Personally, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to study extra French and Spanish lessons, catch up on the 27 books I’m behind reading, starting to write my 15th one, and conquering that level seven Sudoku puzzle that’s been tormenting me.
ICYMI, this week:
On the blog:
And on the podcast:
Act smart, stay safe, and know we will get through all this. Every challenge presents another opportunity and another chance to grow into the highest possible version of yourself. Let’s celebrate that.
P.S. Please be prosperous and tap dance on the “share” buttons above to spread this information to help others.