I altered the first line of an old song (“Let’s Fall in Love”) to shamelessly draw you in to a discussion of an important topic.
As an intro, here’s a little Haiku for These Times
Ants isolate selves when ill
Healthy queen makes room.
Why are ants so much smarter than a growing number of humans? I’m speaking now of the American variety (of humans, not ants), but surely there are others.
There is near unanimity in the scientific community that social distancing is essential if we are ever to gain control over the coronavirus.
Most people in the US are pretty cranky about the isolation and feel/recognize the terrible economic burden it imposes. We want out as soon as possible, but we understand that social distancing is for our safety and that of others.
And it doesn’t take a college degree to understand—just common sense, a willingness to listen to reason, and a bit of compassion.
Yet the President has swung both ways on the issue, now firmly enunciating what he regards as essential: reopening the economy—come what may.
And he’s encouraging defiance of the standards his administration developed–even as the coronavirus has sneaked its way past the Secret Service and into the White House.
He’s a very confused person who declared himself a success when deaths passed 64,000 and told us we can expect twice that many. As I write, they’re about to pass 78,000.
Is there a magic number that will maybe move him to consider the role he might play in reducing this catastrophe?
Meanwhile the Senate Republicans see no need to beef up the successful food stamp program when millions more need it—for fear that people will become accustomed to such “handouts.”
Bulletin just in from Politico: Republicans all in to focus on touting Trump’s success in handling pandemic.
But let’s get back to the animals. Unlike the heavily armed Michigan “protesters” whining that their liberties are being infringed upon, animals know when it’s not safe to go get a haircut.
I’ll state at the outset that I’m not endorsing all these animal behaviors—merely pointing out their existence and the reasons for them.
Take mandrill monkeys, for example. They spend a lot of time grooming each other, keeping one another’s fur clean and free of parasites.
But if one member of their group shows signs of a contagious disease, that poor soul is involuntarily isolated. They do, however, make exceptions for ailing family members.
Chimpanzees take matters even further, aggressively ousting an ailing member. Jane Goodall reported observing a chimp with polio in Tanzania in 1966. At one point, the chimp, partially paralyzed, reached out to greet his fellows, but they moved away from him.
Goodall did note that eventually, chimps would allow some of their stricken fellows to return.
Honeybees do more than move away. Older bees, capable of smelling serious bacterial diseases like American foulbrood, which destroys the larvae, will throw the bees out of the hive.
As this seemingly heartless act (forgive me; I tend to anthropomorphize) actually protects the colony as a whole, leading to healthier bees, beekeepers and researchers have been selectively breeding for this behavior for many years.
American Bullfrog tadpoles also react to chemical signals to prevent them from catching a lethal yeast infection, according to Joe Kiesecker, a research scientist.
In the late 1990s, models of the spread of disease were based on the prediction that animals got sick by random contact with infected beings.
“But it’s clear animals are smarter,” Kiesecker said. Healthy tadpoles he studied avoided those that were sick.
I think you get the picture. The concept of social distancing, practiced in varying ways, isn’t some wild-eyed idea from scientists that Trump would prefer not to listen to. It is an evolutionary survival mechanism.
According to Dana Hawley, professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech:
“Anytime we see a behavior that has evolved again and again in lots of different animals, that tells us that this has to be a very beneficial behavior.”
Hawley and Julia Buck, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, have said:
“The evidence from nature is clear: Social distancing is an effective tool for reducing disease spread. It is also a tool that can be implemented more rapidly and more universally than almost any other. Unlike vaccination and medication, behavioral changes don’t require development and testing.”
We humans presumably have the intelligence and compassion to use this concept effectively and wisely. But we dare not pretend it isn’t necessary for our survival.
Yet that seems to be what some “magical thinkers” are doing.
The Texas Lieutenant Governor has said “there are more important things than living.” (I wish he’d been asked to name one.) Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie concluded that “there are going to be deaths no matter what,” so we should forge ahead in opening the economy.
The President appears to have simply picked up his golf ball and gone home: telling us what a great job he’s doing while acknowledging the death tolls will be far higher than anticipated.
Without adequate testing—which both the President and Vice President get every day, by the way—as well as tracing, we’ll never know how many of us this pandemic has truly sickened and killed. And we won’t be able to contain it better than we’re doing.
A powerful New York Times editorial by Charlie Wurzel expressed concern that as the death toll rises, we will become inured to it—just as we have to the unfathomable toll from gun violence.
Wurzel quotes Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and professor at Brown University devoted to gun violence prevention, who sees similarities between individuals protesting gun control and those protesting pandemic lockdowns.
You will recall that the President encouraged the armed people who terrorized those in the Michigan State House.
According to Ranney:
“This group has moved the reopening debate from a conversation about health and science to a conversation about liberty…It’s no longer about weighing risks and benefits and instead it’s this politicized narrative…
“Most gun owners are smart and responsible and safety-conscious—just like most Americans want to do what’s right for public health. But the small minority dominates the conversation.”
“As in the gun control debate, public opinion, public health and the public good seem poised to lose out to a select set of personal freedoms…where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others become the chains of tyranny.”
The animals who practice social distancing are following their instincts. But we are seeing a deliberate rejection of social distancing now by the President, Senate Republicans, and a small but noisy group of malcontents.
They base their objections on a distorted view of economics and individual liberties that not only presents a false dichotomy between the economy and human life, but also cruelly casts our most vulnerable people as the sacrificial “warriors” in this dreadfully unnecessary war.
As we have seen, people of color are among the most heavily affected. In addition to the disproportionate deaths and poverty, they are even being subjected to heavier policing in the areas of social distancing and wearing masks.
(Is there reason to wonder why African American men may be reluctant to don masks when the most recent senseless killing of an unarmed, innocent young man out jogging is so painfully fresh?)
The term Social Darwinism comes to mind. Briefly, this long discredited theory reshaped Darwin’s theory of evolution to create a negative societal ideology. To Social Darwinists:
“Survival of the fittest”—the idea that certain people become powerful in society because they are innately better. Social Darwinism has been used to justify imperialism, racism, eugenics and social inequality at various times over the past century and a half.”
Is this where we are in America now?