When people talk about saving lives above all else, I like to remind them that we can save tens of thousands of lives every year – guaranteed – if we just drop the national speed limit to 20 miles per hour. Yet, we would not consider that for a moment. Of course, we would pay a very high social and economic price to do that. So, those folks will just have to die so that we can maintain our economy-driven lifestyle.
We make this trade off every day in thousands of ways. Should we allow sports where people die – which includes virtually all sports? Should we ban “thrilling” activities like skydiving, bungee jumping, mountain climbing, skiing, etc? — all unnecessary activities that result in deaths.
If we grounded all airplanes, we would not see those terrible mass deaths in those all too frequent crashes. We accept a periodic loss of hundreds of lives for the sake of pleasure travel and commerce.
For years, we have accepted the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans from various flu outbreaks while going about the normal course of life. We could have shut down, self-distanced, wore masks and gloves and sat home in panic – and probably saved a lot of lives. But at a cost we were unwilling to pay.
Millions of Americans have died from drug and alcohol addictions, and the most we do about that is to issue warnings and liberalize our drug enforcement laws. We could outlaw smoking – as we tried with liquor. But in both cases, we decided that the social lifestyle cost was too high.
Overall, we have generally left it up to individuals to make the life-and-death choices. At the age of 75, I jumped out of an airplane for the first time knowing that I had the potential of dying. The death rate for skydiving (.0006) is just a little less than the death rate from the annual flu (.001). Is skydiving a necessity?
The unpleasant question is … how much death is acceptable so that the rest of us can maintain our lifestyle and livelihood? If you say “none,” you are a damn liar or hopelessly delusional.
There is a subtext, and I admit it is personal. Many may not share my view. I have long believed that dying for any reason after 65 or 70 from age and disease is NOT a tragedy. It is unfortunate, sad and leaves behind those who may mourn. A young person dying … that is a tragedy.
The older one gets, the less of a tragedy it becomes. When my parents died, I did not feel the shock or trauma of tragedy. I did not deeply grieve. I felt a melancholy sadness. I wept. I miss them, but I realized that they had fulfilled a reasonable lifetime – maybe not the longest, but a good run.
And so it is with me. At 77, I have just passed the life expectancy of an American male (76.2 years). I feel blessed – luckier than many — to be entering extra innings. I am among those high-risk people with underlying conditions that you hear about all day on the news. Yet, I do not want to see America literally and figuratively destroy the lives of hundreds of millions of my fellow citizens – especially the younger generations — so that I might live a few years longer – or even a few days. I prefer to take my chance.
In a previous commentary, I said that if I were bedridden, in pain, pooping in my diaper in a misnamed “extended” (as opposed to “final”) care facility, I would welcome the virus as a gift from God and anyone bringing it to me. Issues of life and death are not simple.
Make no mistake. I enjoy life very much — and have no desire to die. But I have no fear of death, either. I have family and friends who love me. I have fans of my writing. But no one NEEDS me. Everyone would go on quite well without me.
I do not find that a depressing thought, but rather a source of satisfaction. Through the good grace of God and good fortune, I was able to get those who genuinely needed me in the past – children, elderly parents, a couple of friends and even employees – to be the self-sustained and independent individuals they are today.
The point is very simple. If re-opening the economy was put to a plebiscite, I would vote a decided “yes.” I would have no problem with taking reasonable precautions – a bit of social distancing, washing hands, covering coughs — but none of the extreme measures we see today. I would not want to destroy the successful America we enjoyed just weeks ago – and replace it with so much lost opportunity and despair.
Like it or not, we all must determine the balance between deaths and the general health of our society and culture. If it were up to me, I would immediately commence the process of a vigorous re-establishment of the commercial and employment economy. I would begin in phases, but I would get American back to work. Individuals could decide if they wished to eat at a restaurant, attend a sports event, gather in the park or attend religious services – or not.
And based on my own experience and what I see on social media, those express such deep concern for vulnerable folks like me may be surprised to learn that there are a lot of seniors who share my thinking.
So, there ‘tis.