Saturday, March 07, 2020

Fear, Loathing, and Pandemics

An epidemic turns out to be a rotten time to have a germophobe President. Trump's more obvious pathologies -- ignorance, narcissism, magical thinking, pathological lying -- have gotten the obvious attention, because those are all real dangers to public safety. But Trump's germophobia makes him fundamentally unsuited to a public health crisis. His focus on making sure that he, personally, does not get ill, is just the mindset that increases the number of people who will. Selfishness helps an epidemic thrive. The outbreak can only be defeated by cooperation. It attacks the whole society, and the society needs to fight back together.

How do I not get it? is the wrong question to ask in plague time, although of course everyone would like not to get it. How do I not spread it? is the more important question.

If your goal is to be one of the lucky ones, to be spared while others fall ill, that will be counterproductive, because other people getting it raises your risk. The fewer people get it, the less likely you are to be one of them. (This logic can be particularly difficult for elites or the super-rich to grasp, since they're used to being spared from widespread problems.) If your whole strategy is just to protect yourself, that will likely fail. Viruses gonna virus. If your strategy is to help your whole community control it, your individual odds will probably go up.

I've found myself, for the last week or two, treating myself as presumptively infected. There's no sign I have covid-19 or anything like it, but I live with someone I don't want to get sick. So I'm acting as if I have something and trying not to expose my wife to any germs I might have. Likewise, I'm trying not to do anything in the classroom that might expose my students. I wash my hands a lot these days.

I'm middle aged, but not elderly, and there are no known covid-19 cases in my area yet. My odds if I come down with covid-19 aren't as good as they would be if  were 10 years younger, but they're not bad. Should I come down with a case, I will probably ride it out fine. But I don't want to spread the damn thing.

Pretty soon, this very infectious little bug is going to get close to Trump. I don't expect him to respond well.

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