Had King James’s Privy Council contained a proto-Anthony Fauci in 1620, there might not have been a Thanksgiving holiday for the current-day Fauci and his peers to cancel four centuries later. The transatlantic voyage that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock would have been unthinkable under the ‘stay safe’ philosophy that now governs American life.
Nearly half the 102 occupants of the Mayflower died in their first year of settlement at Plymouth, sometimes at a rate of three a day. Such a mortality rate was predictable. The earlier outpost at Jamestown, founded in 1607, lost 66 of its original 104 settlers in its first nine months. By 1609, following the also predictable loss at sea of a ship coming to resupply the colony, starvation at Jamestown had grown so dire that residents dug corpses from their graves to eat any remaining flesh, later reported the colony’s first president in 1625.
Other early settlement casualties included the outpost of Roanoke, which simply disappeared. Overall, for every six would-be colonists who ventured across the Atlantic, only one survived, according to one estimate. Trying to establish a new life in the New World was most definitely not ‘safe’.
And yet the voyagers kept coming, driven by something beyond safetyism — religious zeal, ambition, passion for discovery, the desire for greater freedom. Those Americans who later spread across the continent, whether as solo explorers or in wagon trains, likewise eschewed a ‘stay safe’ philosophy.
Today, we are strangling American society in order to avoid a risk of death so infinitesimal — roughly 0.001 percent — for the majority of Americans that it would not have registered in any possible cost-benefit analysis governing both notable American endeavors and quotidian activities over the last four centuries. Our current Thanksgiving Day mantras — ‘Stay within your pod. Stay within your bubble. Stay within your household’ (in the words of a University of California, San Francisco, epidemiologist); don’t travel, don’t share food, don’t touch your family members or friends, speak only in hushed tones — make a mockery of the spirit that creates a country and sustains human life.
This present moment is less like that first Thanksgiving celebration and more like the Salem witch frenzy of 1692. To be sure, the coronavirus is real; witches were not. The virus has cost thousands of lives; witches did not. But the fear that has gripped much of the population over the last year, whipped up by sundry experts and authorities, is as disconnected from reason as that emblematic burst of hysteria in colonial Massachusetts and other such panics throughout medieval and early modern Europe. The shared features of all such contagious fear events include the following:
The belief in ubiquitous threat
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has advised Los Angelenos to ‘assume that everyone you encounter is infected’. Under even the most liberal assumptions of undetected community spread, however, only a small fraction of Los Angeles’s population would be infected and currently contagious.
As for the threat of death, most of the population faces none from the virus. The average age of coronavirus decedents is 80, which is four years higher than the average life expectancy for US males in 2018 and just a year under the average life expectancy of females. Most decedents have underlying co-morbities. Up to two-thirds of coronavirus casualties may have died of other causes by the end of 2020. Forty percent of US coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Sadly, death is already the fate of virtually all residents of such facilities, however much we may understandably try to defer it.
Scapegoats and stigma
Public officials have piled onto those intransigents who do not wear masks in the great outdoors, blaming them for the spread. Outdoor mask refuseniks have been screamed at and shamed by citizen enforcers of the outdoor mask dogma. The media imply false causal connections: ‘Wisconsin health officials reported more jaw-dropping COVID-19 infection numbers Thursday,’ recently reported the Chicago Tribune, ‘as people continued to flaunt recommendations to wear masks’ (emphasis added). But there is no evidence for open-air transmission, absent highly unusual packed settings and prolonged contact. Transmission, per the CDC’s own contact tracing guidelines, requires a cumulative 15 minutes of close contact with an infected person, overwhelmingly in poorly ventilated, cramped indoor settings. In the outdoors, circulating air disperses any possible viral dose to the point of non-existence, even if most outdoor encounters were not too fleeting to be of concern.
People who have recovered from the virus are shunned as pariahs, despite their lack of infectious status.
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