Of course COVID-19 can’t convince everyone to confront their own mortality and act responsibly in the interest of public health. Have you met people?
“The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” — Goethe
Outraged people on Twitter, politicians and political pundits; journalists, social laureates and irate op-ed writers: All seemed genuinely shocked this week that college kids, finding school unexpectedly cancelled for the rest of the semester, couldn’t be dissuaded from partying on spring break by stern public warnings of possible infection.
At least now we know why so many of these same authorities genuinely believed Obamacare would work. Or rather, we know why they believed Obamacare would work as it was intended to work; to make health care affordable for everyone.
It was naivety about human nature. In particular, it was naivety about that persistent human delusion- most prominent in the young- that nothing bad will ever happen to us.
“That could never happen to me” syndrome is why spring breakers were partying. It’s why baby boomers have to be begged by their worried children to stay home during COVID-19. It’s the reason people don’t save for retirement. It’s the reason Obamacare did not deliver on its promises.
Obamacare, like any universal healthcare system, only works if the young and healthy- who aren’t in need of medical care- pay substantial premiums to help offset the high cost of treating elderly and ill people who need a great deal of medical care.
Premiums and out-of-pocket expenses from Obamacare remain prohibitive for many people who desperately need health insurance because the young and healthy didn’t elect to pay for health care coverage they “didn’t need”.
People text and drive for the same reason people still drink and drive- all the time. It isn’t that they think a text message or that last drink is worth more than someone else’s life; the drunk or inattentive driver who hurts someone else or themselves just didn’t think a wreck could happen to them. Not to them.
Human beings are remarkable in their willingness to confront real dangers, believing those dangers to be abstract and merely theoretical.
We all drive cars knowing how many drunk and inattentive drivers there are likely to be on the road. We know the risks of being involved in a car accident; we still drive.
People go skydiving, with a clear risk of a terrible, terrifying death.
Even with these considerable downsides to dissuade people, the authorities who manage Everest are always raising the price; too many people still climbing Everest, you see.
That is just what people will do for fun.
To survive- to put food on the table and clothes on their children’s backs- people defy death with even more determination. Thoughout history people have done the dangerous and deadly; down mines, atop skyscrapers, using dynamite in tunnels, flying experimental aircraft, splitting the atom.
Around the world today, enterprising people sift through vast oceans of discarded and dangerous tech equipment. Criminals risk jail or worse every time they commit a crime; they still do it.
Humankind has been threatened by any number of sexually transmitted diseases; some incurable, some causing disfigurement, some incredibly painful, some causing infertility, madness and even death; 4 million babies are still born every year in the U.S. alone.
We have grown accustomed to running another sort of deadly risk in our modern age of concentrated populations and high magazine capacities. Our risk of being killed or injured in a mass shooting is statistically very low. But who among us did not feel a certain twinge of fear the first time they went to a movie theatre after a gunman opened fire on an unsuspecting group of innocent moviegoers in Colorado?
Who among us hasn’t been somewhat relieved to see a metal detector or security checkpoint at the entrance of a large event?
Living with the threat of mass violence, we are willing to tolerate metal detectors and security checkpoints- even when we know mass shootings and terrorist attacks will continue in light of such measures.
New Years Eve revelers in New York may have been willing to forego their use of umbrellas in the drizzling, freezing rain; the security drones had to be able to monitor the crowd from the air.
But they aren’t willing to stay home. Not forever.
Outbreaks of disease are a risk we all run when we chose to live in such large groups, in such close proximity to one-another. Yet we still choose to do it.
These things have always involved a certain amount of risk.
In the aftermath of COVID-19, people may be willing to be cleaner; we may emerge from this with a new awareness about how easily disease, illness and infection can be spread. Businesses, hospitals, restaurants and grocery stores are cleaning as never before.
Which is a good thing. Let us all hope the newfound corporate passion for cleanliness extends to airplane tray tables, which are apparently sometimes used by passengers as diaper changing stations.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)