Frogs Do It, Bees Do It–Even Educated “We’s” Do It…

 

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Honeybee image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

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

Social distancing—
Ants isolate selves when ill
Healthy queen makes room.

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Ant image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

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.

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Mandrill monkey image courtesy of pxfuel.com

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.

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American Bullfrog tadpole image courtesy of flickr.com

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.”

Wurzel writes:

“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?

Annie

89 thoughts on “Frogs Do It, Bees Do It–Even Educated “We’s” Do It…

  1. Hi Annie: Interesting thoughtful piece as always. I have two comments.

    1. Following is the complete quote from the Texas governor:

    There are more important things than living, and that’s saving this country for my children and grandchildren and saving this country for all of us,” he said late on Monday. “I don’t want to die. Nobody wants to die, but man we gotta take some risks and get back in the game and get this country back up and running.”

    My take from this is that we have choices to make. Is the quality of life more important than life itself or is life itself sufficient enough? The more dramatic example is would you spend your life in a coma hooked to a machine or would you rather the doctors pull the plug. In this instance do you want the economy to crash amidst trillions of debt, runaway inflation and peak unemployment which would lead to civil/political unrest and excessive crime rates or get back to work in a controlled manner?

    2. I don’t agree with human to animal comparisons. We all live according to our species and comparing is apples to oranges. In the vegan/non-meat eating ideological environment we have today I see our species called human animals as opposed to non-human animals. I hold to the old fashioned belief that we are thinking, sentient beings that are slowly but surely finding their way in this universe. Making mistakes, but learning and moving forward. The universe has been in existence for 13,8 billion years and we are made from that original stardust of the universe coming into being. So there is a plan for us. We have evolved significantly in the last few thousand years and we have 5 billion to go before the sun runs out of fuel. Caring for the sick and dying is the compassionate part of human nature, ask Florence Nighingale or Mother Theresa. People understand the need for social distancing but are treated like kindergarten children from respective authorities. Time to go back in the world.

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    1. It is a remarkable degree of successful indoctrination to convince so many people that being denied a haircut is an issue of ‘liberty’, but being forced to choose either abject poverty or risking contagion to work in close proximity as ‘freedom’. The genius of the indoctrination is to also convince those most at risk that everything in between is a great enemy called ‘socialism’. It’s really quite brilliant, if incredibly pernicious.

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    2. Hi, Len. It’s good to have you back and challenging me again. Thank you for providing the Texas Lt Gov’s remarks, but to me they exemplify the false choice between curbing the disease and destroying the economy, and I think your coma example is way off base.
      No one is saying we can’t carefully reopen parts of the economy—assuming we have adequate testing and tracing. This must be a national effort but instead governors have had to enter the marketplace for life-saving equipment and supplies amid bidding wars that even include FEMA, the disaster relief agency that is intended to coordinate, not exacerbate, these crisis efforts. Nothing like this has been seen in this country before. And the economy won’t improve until consumers have the confidence to go out and participate in it. So far, there’s been no rush to do so in areas where certain facilities have reopened. It will take time—and the moves must be monitored to avoid disease spikes that will overwhelm the health care system.
      I stand by my belief in evolution. And I would love you to be right that we have 5 billion years to go. The positive reactions to sheltering in place on air quality and animal life have shown us the way to reverse our damaging trends and perhaps postpone the disasters that nearly all scientists agree we’ll face in the coming decades. I realize you don’t agree that humans play a huge role in climate change, but we’re seeing the validity of that position right now.

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  2. Interesting blog, as usual. I see that you are able to maintain the belief that human beings, as a whole, are capable of intelligent behavior. In the face of all evidence to the contrary. Kudos to you for your unreasonable optimism!

    The main problem with human behavior, I fear, is that those who govern the rest of us do not achieve that position by virtue of…well…virtue. Other than Lucius Quintcius Cincinnatus the overwhelming history of leadership of tribes, city-states, empires and nations has been pretty disappointing if serving the needs of the people is considered important.

    Human beings are social animals, like chimpanzees. In fact, most primatologists now consider humans to be a type of chimp. The genetics don’t lie. Like chimps primarily we learn from our parents. No child is born a humanitarian or a racist. That is not to deny individual personality traits, but rather to explain the reason why , as a group, humans do not act in their own best interests. Like chimps, the leaders use force and do what is beneficial in the short term. Most human leaders are no different. Short term gain over long term planning.

    Of course you get exceptions, but they don’t last long. Jimmy Carter warned us about the energy crisis and called on Americans to work together and sacrifice for the future. How did that work out?

    “Survival of the fittest” to my way of thinking does not mean that the “best” humans succeed. It means that those that are able to “fit” in with the society in which they find themselves end up at the top. These are often people who have been born with immense economic advantages and are blind to those advantages. And people who can manipulate others effectively. Take advantage of emotions. Since human beings are primarily guided by emotions, a politician who can harness that emotional power will succeed. “Yes, We Can” and “Make America Great Again”. Both those empty slogans energized millions of people.

    Like all animals, and even insects, human beings will protect their young. But not someone else’s young. So, if opening the economy may help my grandchildren tomorrow, but kill your grandchildren today, so be it. While humans may live in large groups identified as nations, the reality is that at its core the human animal takes care of the immediate family. While the notion that “it takes a village to raise a child” may seem like a legitimate organizing principle, humans don’t think that way. At least not most of them. After all, if we really saw each other as part of a family of Americans would we….allow lead in the water in Flint…allow dumping of toxic ash into the water in North Carolina…allow the murder of black men throughout the nation, especially in the south…. cut education spending, health care spending, food stamps… refuse to wear masks that may save the life of others…the list goes on.

    That said, there are many Americans who do think we should treat each other as members of one big family. But don’t try to win an election based on that ideal. At least not in the USA. The human chimp, I fear, is not capable of meeting the challenges that imperil the species.

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    1. I remember the promise of The Great Society, and I believe that one of the most regrettable aspects of our history was Lyndon Johnson’s conviction that even though he knew the Vietnam War would be a disaster, he held on. He was such a masterful politician that without that war, I think he could have made the War on Poverty an enduring success that could have ended America’s underclass.
      And now, after 40 years of a concerted effort to shrink the govt so that it couldn’t fulfill its functions, this pandemic has shown how badly we need a robust safety net and real, experienced leadership—just when we have the opposite. So I’m hopeful that the public is ready for such a move and we will elect leaders in all three branches of government and at all levels to turn this disaster into a fresh start. People are complicated, and there have been any number of people who have demonstrated by their actions that they do believe it takes a village. But we need a compassionate example in the bully pulpit.

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      1. I agree. Especially with the evidence that there has been a 40 year attack on government. I recall Mr Reagan’s words at his first inauguration. “Government is the problem”. He attacked not the idea of “bad” government or “inefficient” government, but the idea of government itself. And he acted accordingly.

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  3. Anne, you might be too harsh on the human race. Most people seem to have been as smart as ants, mandrill monkeys, chimps, bees, or bullfrog tadpoles. Those people understood the danger of exponential growth of infections, hospitalizations and death from a new and largely unknown pathogen. In large numbers, they began social distancing, in various forms, before any government orders. Many will likely continue do so as government orders end.

    It is false to view this as a choice between “get the country started again” versus “keep the country closed.” The real choice is what is the right mix of government rules, epidemiological guidance, business behavior, personal behavior that will increase the proportion of people engaged in the economy while keeping the number of infections under control, i.e., declining or at least not growing exponentially.

    We are in the midst of a great social experiment, in the USA and around the world. Good luck to us.

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    1. I agree, Allan; I was using a little exaggeration for effect. I’m aware of the polls showing the vast numbers of Americans believing that social distancing is important and basically adhering to it. My quarrel is with the non-leadership on the federal level that is pushing the false choice and encouraging the small band of malcontents. They, in turn, have the ears of too many elected officials. I fear how much more disease and suffering will be endured before we get the right mix of rules, guidance, and behavior you describe. I’d feel better about the “great social experiment” here if I had a helluva lot more confidence (as in any) in the current decision makers.

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  4. Just clarify, survival of the fittest in evolutionary terms means successful reproduction to the second generation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with strong or weak. Sometimes the weakest of critters are the most fit because they successfully reproduce to a degree greater than the strongest of their competitors.

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    1. Yes. The theory of evolution does not presuppose any value judgments, it simply seeks to explain. Herbert Spencer , I believe, actually published his work before Darwin published his. Spencer (later credited with the idea of “Social Darwinism”) believed that the differences between human groups was not based on random mutation and adaptation, but was based on some movement toward higher purposes. Darwin did not attempt to explain the “why” but simply “how” the process works.

      As tildeb says, the concept of “survival of the fittest” is not about strength. It is about an organism which is best able to survive in a given environment. It seems obvious but before Darwin it was not articulated well, at least not in biology. Spencer and others before Darwin had long believed that ethnic or racial differences justified social stratification . That was one of the philosophical and religious justifications for American slavery, for example.

      What I have found most interesting in my life long fascination with Anthropology (BA in 1972) is how to apply Darwinian principles to societies. How has the human species come to so dominate the Earth and other species? How do leaders convince others to go to war and die for the “good” of the group, while they themselves remain safe from harm? How do the contradictory forces of democracy and capitalism play out in given societies? How are people who have the ability to reason convinced to solve problems with emotional responses?

      Of course scholars have attempted to answer all these questions. Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” is one fascinating example. I have my own theories but will not bore you with them here (Too late?).

      I conclude by agreeing with tildeb, Darwin explained how species survive. Spencer and others , before and after Darwin, tried to use those concepts and link them to the idea that some people or groups are “better” than others. Darwin would not have agreed.

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      1. I agree with Joseph Urban. I’ve been disappointed, however, that in these discussions about evolution and Social Darwinism, no one has reacted to the question I raised: is the federal government’s neglect of a pandemic that is affecting people of color to a much greater degree, percentage-wise, an example of Social Darwinism?

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      2. Here’s my thinking when it comes to stuff like Social Darwinism or any group identity label; it’s not good. Ever. Here’s why.

        Way back when I was but a wee thing, I spent time in Apartheid South Africa and had some experiences that drove home just how insidious an ideology is that bases human rights on the colour of one’s skin. I could see the harm to both populations divided by this selected line and that the line caused a hierarchy that then produced terrible consequences. Race superseded equality rights in law for every individual.

        I also visited some of the death camps In Germany and Poland and gazed upon the lie welded to form the header to the iron gate to Auschwitz (Work will make you free) and an understanding came to me that I was looking at exactly the same ideology in action, that only the specifics were different. Rather than skin colour, religious group identity was the selection, was the dividing line. Again, a selection to divide individuals into groups – this time Aryan and non-Aryan – superseded equality rights in law for every individual. Was there then, and is there now with today’s popularity of group identity and intersectionalism, any difference in the the danger ot equality rights for the individual in law?

        I understand the usefulness of population studies to indicate trends and distributions and so on, but I also understand the very great danger when people begin to allow identity to some selected trait affect in any way, shape, or form individual equality rights in law. And I see this happening more and more today and shudder at where it will go. When we begin to think of real individuals as members of some created group, and then use the law to award or subtract rights, privileges, and freedoms in law based on that group membership, we participate in empowering the same ideology that can result in the greatest horrors of human abuse. We see China using this same ideology to imprison millions of Uyghurs. We see ISIS treating hundreds of thousands of Yizidis this way. We usually don’t see the treatment of indigenous and people of colour in the West, first with great abuse and then with legal privileges, the same way as these totalitarian regimes… but I do. What I see is the same ideology in play, the same ideology to divide people into Us and Them… sometimes for advantage and sometimes for vilification. It’s not the action based on the ideology that matters as much as believing the ideology should superseded equality rights in law. That is the root cause, believing the ideology is warranted.

        I take to heart and champion ML King’s beautifully simple and perceptive challenge to us all: can we treat individual people not by the colour of their skin or whatever group identity label you care to select, but by the quality of their character? Can we stop empowering the ideology in action with our own attitudes and prefereences and willingness to simplify a complex world by creating hierarchies based on group membership and first reduce and then eliminate any and all power to these artificial constructs that always causes real harm to real people in real life?

        Social Darwinism relies on this ideology for its own definition. Not only do I not trust any of its ‘conclusions’ but recognize that framing the world this way will always, always, always produce fictional hierarchies based on non-inclusive criteria. And it will always, always, always find inequity by definition! I am greatly disheartened that so many well-intentioned people then mistake inequity of results as proof of inequality in some hierarchical power structure. And at every step of this ideology we participate in when we go along and frame the world this way, we end up achieving exactly the opposite result of the lofty goals we think we are trying to obtain; we empower racism and discrimination and bias against real people in real life in the name of tolerance and respect and equality.

        Who is paying the greatest price with this pandemic? We are all a minority of one, and some of us are at greater risk for all kinds of reasons. Belonging to a group is not one of them.

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      3. I’m confused. First, I am assuming Social Darwinism is dangerous and damaging, so that’s not part of my question. But are you saying there’s no relevance to the fact that such a disproportionate number and percentage of people of color have died in this pandemic? (I know all the comorbidities and environmental reasons, so you needn’t go into them.) Is your philosophy that there should be no redress for the harms that have been done—no particular efforts to, for example, heighten testing in particular areas, or not permit the forcing of meat packers who are primarily minority to go to work in unprotected plants? I share your view of MLK’s dream, but it took a lot of hard work and legislation to reach our current situation—and to me, when we look at voter suppression, gerrymandering, and gross policing and sentencing disparities—we have a long way to go. MLK was organizing African American sanitation workers when he was killed. In speaking of “the content of one’s character,” he was expressing a goal—not a modus operandi.

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      4. I think using the metric of skin colour is racist. I think we’re finding out that essential workers are usually the poorest paid, have the worst benefits, are majority female, are majority immigrant, are majority minorities (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?). My point is that using ‘colour’ as the selected metric is empowering the ideology of power, of hierarchy, of Us and Them, an ideology guaranteed to divide people. That’s not the path to solutions; that’s the path to empowering racism, sexism, discrimination, ethnic bias, and so on.

        Look, in Canada one of the very first policies implemented was a guaranteed monthly payment so that people COULD stay home. It wasn’t based on skin colour or gender identity or tribal bloodlines. There were then increases in hourly pay for essential workers PLUS danger pay. Almost overnight various measures were taken to try to protect these workers, from screens and protective gear at checkout counters with disinfectant and wipes used between every transaction, to distance markers on floors and sidewalks, to using only the back doors of buses, and so on. The idea of who was being put at risk was based on increased exposure and efforts to mitigate the risks based on medical advice. If someone tried to insert race as a consideration, it would have had the effect of transferring concern and resources to something other than best practices for EVERYONE. Race is not the health issue here; it’s risk. Changing the conversation serves only to divide people from what really matters. It is racism in action.

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      5. A couple of ideas. Regarding identifying people as parts of a group or having group identities. It seems to me that, since by nature humans are social animals, it is inevitable that they identify as belonging to some group or groups. “No man is an island”. Group identity cuts both ways. It gives us some form of pleasure or solace to be part of a group but can be used to stereotype others as well. At least a few tribal peoples , in their language, call themselves “people” but have no such word for other humans not in their group. China’s name for itself: The Middle Kingdom”. The center of things. When I taught about cultures, many years ago, a key concept in the curriculum was “ethnocentrism”.
        Ethnocentrism is the idea (seemingly universal) that my group’s way of looking at the world is the correct way. Being raised as an American, for example, makes one overly enamored of “individualism” as compared to say, a Hopi indian. So, the very idea that we should ignore the importance of groups and stress the individual is, in a way, the product of our our group’s values. Does that make sense?

        Back to annies point about social darwinism and the response to the pandemic. Is the response (or lack thereof) related to ethnicity and race, or to the class system? Is a higher percentage of minorities effected because the government cares not for minorities or is it because the government cares not for poor folks, and percentage wise minorities are more likely to be poor? I tend to lean toward class, rather than race as the key component.

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      6. Josephurban, to answer you questions requires an explanation, so I apologize for the length. Bear with me.

        The West is special. And it’s special because it has been profoundly shaped by a revolution that utilized values rather than power, values rather than blood, values rather than tribe. The US revolution used the values from Enlightenment thinkers instead of the usual reasons for shifts in power: force. That’s why it’s special. So what?

        What many Americans don’t really grasp is just how revolutionary was the value of bottom-up rather than top-down consent to create legitimate authority. This idea is way bigger than it seems. It has shaken the world (and continues to be a Shining City on the Hill beacon to suppressed people everywhere). And the primary unit for consent is the individual. That means – this is the vital part – that the individual has authority to either use or lend. Not group affiliation., Not bloodlines. Not tribes. Not inheritance. Individual autonomy. That is why the entire legal system of US jurisprudence was developed to protect this single value in law. Without individual autonomy recognized as the supreme concern in law, the entire foundation crumbles because the core value is undermined. Empowering group identity directly threatens, undermines, and then weakens this core value.

        This why framing the importance of the individual in law as the base unit is not to be, as you say, “overly enamored (enamoured in Canadian English!)” but understood as a core principle that cannot be undermined without massive harm to the entire system. It is a vital understanding.

        Again, many Americans don’t really understand the Declaration’s prime sentence, namely, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed”

        This core philosophical document lays out in its primary paragraph to justify a divorce from England, that individuals can sense their own importance in determining how to be governed, that primogeniture law of England based on blood – for the eldest to inherit – is hereby rejected, that individuals are born with consent about being governed and have the right to exercise it, that these individuals have the right to live, the right to be free to exercise their autonomy to choose actions, the right to find fulfillment (in enlightenment-speak this is what ‘happiness’ means) in exercising these choices, that to secure these rights, the role of government is to operate on behalf of the citizens it represents, the citizens who have temporarily loaned it their individual authority to act on their behalf, and derive its authority over all from the majority of individuals who constitute it, individuals all of whom have loaned their consent by voting (regardless if their chosen candidates win or lose).

        I say this to demonstrate the fundamental importance of the individual and to recognize that it was revolutionary compared to all other governments in world history. That’s why the Constitution lays out the duties and obligations of those bodies in power (the famous triumvirate of balanced powers) and to whom each is culpable, namely and ultimately, the individual citizen (note that at the time not all people were citizens). And that’s why the Amendments are so focused on particular individual freedoms and rights based on sympatico enlightenment values utterly divorced from tribal alliances, families and bloodlines, and gods. All of these are antithetical to the Great Experiment.

        So, yes, many cultures use different values for the authority found within. But notice that every Western country that has integrated the core value of consent by the governed has produced what we call Western liberal secular democracy. Many of these countries have found ways and means to incorporate social policies that benefit a great many without fundamentally altering this core value of individual consent in exchange for rights and freedoms recognized by law. It’s a slippery slope when individual interests conflict and these conflicts produce legislation that inhibits the rights and freedoms of the affected individuals that requires careful monitoring and correction by the consent of the governed not to give away the bedrock principle of their individual right to have the consent necessary to authorize a representative government! A democracy that votes to do so has in fact given away their authority to legitimize a take-away government. (Which is why so many revolutions utterly fail: it ain’t about democracy; it’s all about protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals to have autonomy in law, which is why the evolution of western secular liberal democracies has to been to absorb everyone into this model and not exclude on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, and so on.) It’s a process that still has a way to go faced with a changing world and not a state of being.

        The government today is on the one hand avoiding its responsibility to try to protect its citizens, while on the other hand trying to centralize all power into only one branch of the federal triumvirate. Thinking this problem is based on class I think is to misread what’s really going on, misread what the real threat to the health and safety of the nation is, and gives room for this raping of power by the consent of the elected to continue. To use the typical analogy, while the house is burning down, people are squabbling over the effrontery of the ethnic or racial makeup of the dust bunny in the corner and wasting time and effort trying to figure out who is really to blame for it.

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      7. This is my response to both Joseph and tildeb on the topic of race/class. I believe that if class were the major issue, fixing the ills of our society would be much simpler. But it isn’t “us v. them” to acknowledge the ravages of slavery and Jim Crow in the US; to do otherwise is, I believe, ahistorical. Class doesn’t get at the problem of districts gerrymandered so that minorities have reduced representation–or of voting regs that strike at the heart of African American cultural voting patterns, eg, Sundays to the polls. The Republican effort to reduce access to voting over the years has been focused on minorities and young people–class has nothing to do with it. Class doesn’t account for the much higher maternal death rate of African-American women–regardless of income and education levels. Class doesn’t account for the fact that in states that have legalized marijuana, more African Americans are still finding themselves in trouble with the law–or the fact that there are still African Americans in jail for drug-related crimes years ago–when white college kids were proportionately higher users. And class certainly doesn’t account for the deaths of innocent young black men that you, Joseph, so poignantly wrote about very recently. None of these problems are easily dealt with, and to simply call efforts to address them “racist” does not, I believe, advance discussion or the search for solutions at all.

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      8. Your anger is fully justified. In fact, sensing unfairness (and wanting to right these wrongs) is about as human as one can get; just look at kids concerned with fairness choosing slightly different sized slices of cake! Fairness matters.

        So my concern is how we stop seeing race as a defining characteristic, a way of justifying in the bigot’s mind unfair treatment. It’s really hard to stop focusing on differences when differences are used to define people… and it makes it even more difficult, I think, to pay attention to what we share in common, common cause, common concern.

        I think the same is true for all kinds of differences like sex and gender and ethnicity and religion and so on… learning not to see any of these as defining characteristics but seeing the real person first regardless, seeing the character they embody foremost. I think this advancement is made next to impossible when these differences are the primary focus.

        Sure, I understand that behaviour can and should be judged and responded to appropriately. But to switch to a different setting for a comparison (’cause that’s what educators do: compare and contrast!), but in terms of, say, parenting, I find this approach (what I call reactionary) not particularly effective at changing unfair behaviour; it happens afterwards, a reaction to a unwanted and often harmful behaviour. Kids leanr to hide responsibility or blame others. This is what I see from way too many adults.

        I think it’s far more productive, instead, to pro-act, to set up acceptable behaviours based on establishing helpful and beneficial motives and desires that mesh and/or align with the best version of someone’s character, as in ‘This action defines the best of who and what I am.’ Elevating real world concern for fairness and honesty and integrity and compassion and strength of purpose first inevitably results in behaviour that is exemplary. I have pointed the way how to turn many gang members into really fine citizens doing just this… not that I’m responsible but that they have the fortitude and character to become the best versions of themselves.

        But this approach requires teaching and learning and experiencing the benefits to compare and contrast honestly with more selfish and self-centered and bigoted behaviours that belittle and demean and are deeply unfair. We know this; we sense it in others. One does not feel nearly as good being a bully as one does a champion. And so utilizing this approach of bringing people together in common cause and in common concern is something I have used to great effect throughout my life, not just parenting and teaching but in different businesses and in performance music. Not allowing these characteristics of differences to define people is the way, I think, to dismantle systemic discrimination together. Hey, it’s only fair. And almost everyone knows what’s fair regardless of the rationalizations we use to excuse being unfair.

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      9. Tildeb. I will have to respectfully disagree with your analysis of the US experiment. While the language of “consent of the governed” was used, the reality of the United States was not even close to that. Colonists at the time had the same rights as any Englishman. The English Bill of Rights (1689) was the longstanding document that institutionalized the concept that even the king had to grant human rights to citizens (at least the noble citizens). It placed the power of the Parliament up against the concept of the divine right of kings. And the balance had shifted to the elected , not inherited , leadership. Many of the US Bill of Rights were taken directly from this document. So the concept that power comes from the people was hardly a new one in 1775. And the writings of Locke and Montesquieu were well known and served as the basis for the new government structure. These were not new ideas.

        The underlying reason for the US Revolution was the issue of money. Taxation. It was, essentially, a tax revolt. The third of the colonists who revolted rejected the idea that England should have the power to continue to tax them. The English Parliament (elected by the people) felt that the colonists should pull their weight and send taxes back to the mother country. The tea was dumped into the Boston Harbor not because anyone was deprived of liberty or free speech or the right to practice religion. It was a tax protest. And Americans have been protesting taxation ever since.

        Now, we have a longstanding myth that the US was built as a haven for liberty and rugged individualism. But that is the myth. The myth of American exceptionalism. Recall that the founders were the economic elites , many of whom maintained and lived off human slavery. And in the north lived off the white slave trade of the indentured servants. While these men might use the language of freedom, their actions speak otherwise.

        The myth that America was built so all men could be “free” is not supported by the evidence. It is a handy myth. It is one of those appeals to emotion that inspires people to fight and die to maintain the position of the elites. But is is a myth.

        That is not to say that the US has not made strides TOWARD freedom and democracy. As you point out, so have the more liberal democracies of Western Europe. And so have Asian and African societies as well. But their system are modeled, by and large, not on the US but on the parliaments of England and France. In fact, I would suggest that many western European nations enjoy more personal freedom that the typical American.

        Who is freer, the American who needs to work in a job (or two) he may not enjoy or the Irishman who has a guaranteed health care system so he can change jobs and not lose his benefits? The Dane who knows he will not have to spend his life savings in old age or the American who fears draining the family wealth in an assisted living situation? The German college student who has free tuition and pays about $300 in fees each semester or the American kid who will leave with a BA and $40-100,000 in debt?

        The Myth of American Exceptionalism does not stand the test of the evidence. But that is not a criticism of the American system. After all, every society is ethnocentric and thinks theirs is the “best way” of living. American are no different. Like all societies we value our myths.

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      10. Your take is not new to me. I am a Canadian but like many here, my family ties cross many state boundaries. I understand parliamentary democracy and the social class that accompanies it as well as the American system that revolutionized democracy. The difference is very stark… considering the context of the times in which these ideas were put into practice.

        What you are espousing is the common one taught for the past 50 or so years. Note how individual rights and freedoms have been recast in the Hollywood/Ann Rand mythical version of ‘rugged’. (Right there we’re seeing a specific kind of ideological framing taking place to describe the Founder’s notion of ‘freedom’ with a much later idolized version.) Nothing exemplifies this myth more than the cowboy (about 30%, BTW, who were black, but we don’t see this ‘rugged’ reality, nor how short the period was were the cowboys roamed the West, when we watch these old movies!) What you’re talking about is really the 90s push back against the Republican message of the 80s, which itself was a push back against the woke Democratic message of 60s. This is why I say few Americans really grasp their founding documents because what they’ve been taught is quite a bit out of context. And nothing is more out of context than the ‘all men are created equal’ part (how could this be espoused by some slave owners, no less!) to understand just how deep and widespread is the framing of this historical document in the age in which the documents are taught. For example, there is absolutely no controversy that France’s revolution was modeled on the American. Because of the influences of government institutions by way of colonialization and revolutions against those, we get quite a mishmash of governments all over the world. I would argue this aspect was far more influential a lasting effect than ‘cultural’ and ‘religious’ expressions guiding governments we find today.

        I had an art teacher who once said something I thought rather profound: you can only get out art what understanding you bring to it. Sure enough, I saw the social warriors use the work’s social warfare message as their metric, the future business moguls the profit margin their metric, the philosophers seeking deep wisdom in how colour and shape talked to them as their metric, the tradespeople the form of the craftsmanship needed as their metric, and so on. What I saw was the same thing brought to many subjects in the social sciences and liberal arts – especially in History! – so it’s no wonder to me that political treatises should be understood in the same way today. Personal freedom within economic constraints as a metric is just one more example.

        So I do try my very best to get my biases out of the way when it comes to comparing and contrasting… or at least try to recognize what modern metrics I am importing to some study when I find myself doing so. But then, I was taught to do that!

        So the historical fact is that the power in Constitutional Monarchies derives from God to the Crown to the Crown’s agents and eventually to the people. This is a true today as it always has been regardless of how one wishes to spin it. And this remains in stark contrast to the American enlightenment founding.

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  5. The stupidity and selfishness of our electorate is overwhelming. My dog has evolved over eons of time to be my best friend the human being has devolved into a destructive organism. Great writing Anne

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  6. Excellent post and insight Annie. The thing is, it simply didn’t have to be this way. He can claim how great a job he did with this, but the numbers tell a different story. If he would have acted even a couple of weeks earlier, thousands of lives would have been saved. PPE…testing…tracing. No strategy. No vision. Just get back to work and say a hail Mary? I guess that’s the plan.

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    1. Thanks, Jeff. It’s not only what he didn’t do then; it’s also what he—and the Senate Republicans—aren’t doing now. So I wonder about the concept of a plan. That was why I ended with the Social Darwinism.

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      1. I know. What they’re really not saying is that we’re going with the herd immunity theory. They don’t have to actually say it. Judge them by their actions, or as you’ve said, inaction.

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    1. It does get tougher and tougher to understand that unwavering support with each passing day. Even the corrupt Bill Barr didn’t think it was wise to keep fighting against Obamacare while we’re in the throes of an epidemic. The mind reels…

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      1. Well, it just so happens I watched a 10 minute segment on Fox this morning (10 minutes is my limit). Watch Fox for an hour. Understand that this is where 40% of the people get their “news”. You will pull out your hair as you listen to them pick and choose and simply lie about facts, but it explains why people believe what they do.This network is nothing but Trump TV 24/7.

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      2. I can’t bear to watch Fox, but I see and read enough to know the impact it’s disinformation is having on our lives. There are now lawsuits based on deaths people are attributing to its promoting dangerous approaches to the coronavirus.
        And trump no longer feels Fox is sufficiently adoring. Stay tuned for what may be worse.

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  7. I’ve noticed the same social distancing occur when people are plugged into their cell phone and talking as if everything’s normal while those exposed to this person who looks exactly like they’re talking to no one increase their physical distance… unaware, I suspect, that they are doing so because they know the person must be on the phone. Still, I’ve noticed this natural distancing behaviour at bus stops and grocery stores long before the pandemic came along.

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  8. Tildeb—
    I debated with myself whether I needed to go into more detail in describing social darwinism. Since you felt a clarification was needed, I’ll do a little update. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. Thx.

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  9. I’m not sure if others grasped why you included the ‘failed’ aspect to that term so when another commentator referenced the incorrect meaning again, I thought I’d clarify. And I do that because far too few people understand why evolution is such a tremendous insight into our natural world worthy not only of our highest confidence that is true (no other scientific theory even comes close to demonstrating its validity with multiple avenues of nothing but support) but really should be a fundamental understanding shared by everyone. I think there’s simply no excuse to not know this basic stuff… other than being without any formal education or fooled into thinking or believing otherwise. I think to not know this stuff is a travesty and so I clarify when I encounter misunderstandings. I feel it’s my civic duty!

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  10. Enjoyed reading the post as well as your insightful reader comments. I realize this isn’t the point of the piece, but the one word I stumbled upon was “confused.” Sure, let’s add that to the list of how we might describe the guy, but really, it’s too kind and inexcusable. As to rest — thank you. I always learn from you.

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  11. A powerful piece Annie/ I enjoyed the read and the comments. I’m hoping the silent majority has more common sense when things start to open up. The tragedy with the jogger – I just don’t understand it, it’s like something out of a John Grisham novel. I keep thinking about your post about gun control. If the gun hadn’t been readily available in the truck it wouldn’t have happened.

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    1. Thanks very much, Joni. Maybe the word “confused” came to mind because I find it very confusing to be an American now. Though of course, for people of color, this has been their reality since 1619. And before that, the Native Americans…
      I keep hoping our better angels will soon emerge.

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    1. That’s so great, mistermuse! I just depressed myself answering the previous comment—and there you are to brighten things up. For me right now, music is the best medicine! But I was wrong—it wasn’t the first line of the song at all. So you once again expanded my musical education as well. Thank you for that too.

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      1. My pleasure, Annie. Note that this recording was used in the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS — a GREAT film which I highly recommend, if you haven’t seen it (or even if you have). 😉

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      2. I adore Midnight in Paris—have seen it twice(though I am aware it is no longer PC to acknowledge admiring a work by Woody Allen in a public forum!).

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  12. There is near unanimity in the scientific community…..

    The problem is that about a third of the US population has a strong predisposition to reject and disdain science, and expertise generally. Like most forms of human stupidity, this is ultimately rooted in religion. Religion has been hostile to science for centuries (going back at least to Galileo), because it constantly makes discoveries which are at odds with religious dogma. The most obvious example is evolution. The most fervently-religious groups, in order to preserve their belief in their ancient myths and superstitions, have trained themselves to reject science and the general concept of establishing truth by evaluating evidence (that’s what science basically is). Once that mental pattern is established for the sake of rejecting evolution, it easily gets broadened to dismiss other inconvenient truths like global warming.

    So we now have tens of millions of people who are culturally primed to react with hostility against any manifestation of expertise or any assertion of fact based on evidence instead of on ideology or tradition.

    Most of the people you listed as promoting stupid responses to covid-19 are Republican politicians. The Republican party for decades has represented the interests of the ultra-wealthy against the rest of society, and has exploited religious fundamentalism to win elections; over time the fundamentalist element has become more and more dominant even in the upper levels of the party due to the rising influence of its grass-roots supporters. What started off as a strategy to manipulate the rubes into voting for the party has become its real soul. It’s as if The Man Behind The Curtain had himself gradually come to believe that his projection of Oz the great and terrifying was a real entity.

    To that toxic situation, since around mid-2016, another element has been added — the fear of crossing Trump and incurring the wrath of his hordes of fanatical, stupid, easily-enraged, and heavily-armed followers.

    So the public positions and statements of the politicians you quote are rooted in two factors — a specific form of stupidity, and a specific form of cowardice. These exist in different proportions in different individual cases, but the practical result is pretty much the same.

    Animals don’t do this kind of thing because, ironically, they aren’t intelligent enough to do things like developing dogmatic belief systems and then brainwashing themselves into a state of wilful stupidity to protect the dogmas.

    In our immediate situation, the point made by Allan Kaufman also needs to be emphasized at every turn. The great majority of Americans favor keeping the lockdowns until it is really safe. As so often happens, the media are over-hyping the actions of a noisy minority.

    And in fact, relaxing the restrictions too early, as most states are now doing, will delay economic recovery. It won’t help business much because most people won’t go out and resume normal activities while they know it’s still dangerous; also, with tens of millions of jobs lost or threatened, people will be very reluctant to spend money. The premature re-opening will just generate a surge of new infections which will increase until lockdowns have to be re-imposed (this has already happened elsewhere, most recently on Hokkaido), and throw away what progress we’ve made in getting the virus somewhat under control.

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    1. I agree with you but would make a minor point. It is not religion that is the opponent of science, but the authoritarian mindset, represented by fundamentalism. All religions have liberal and conservative schools of thought. For example, I went to a liberal Catholic high school in the 1960s and we learned about evolutionary theory. It simply was what the evidence dictated. Now, more than 50 years later we still have religious and even some public schools that refuse to teach this basic concept, or demand the inclusion of the fantasy called “creationism”. The problem is fundamentalism, which, by its very nature can brook no dissent.

      In addition, some non-religious groups, for economic reasons, have long been science deniers as well. I refer to the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industry and chemical industries which continue to deny the negative effects of the products from which they profit. Capitalism, in raw form, can also be used to deny science.

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      1. What did they know and when did they know it will become what might easily become the last great criminal trial by the international community. Without question, the climate scientists on their payroll produced remarkably accurate forecasts, starting the 50s! Yes, oil and gas producers have known for many decades that their product was and is toxic to the planet. Yes, they knew every ton of thier toxic product burned and released into the air added another drop to the finite bucket of the earth’s atmosphere. Yes, they have known for many decades that we cannot continue increasing carbon-based greenhouse gas emissions without significantly altering the global climate to the great detriment of humanity. The crime is obfuscating these facts by an intentional campaign of disinformation and deceit to continue profiting by selling a toxic product to the public.

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      2. Well, I’m afraid I have to stick to my guns there. Religion as an institution is hostile to science, and it’s inherent in its nature that it be so, since all religions make dogmatic assertions about the nature of reality, which science tends to prove to be wrong. Religion has fought against the progress of science in every field for 400 years, from Galileo and Copernicus down to the modern creationists. It was a resurgence of strict Islam that strangled the golden age of medieval Middle Eastern science in the 11th century (often mis-called “Islamic science” when it was actually a Hellenistic revival under moderate Islamic rule from about 800 to 1100).

        In the last few generations some groups have created various distorted forms of religion modified to be more compatible with modernity in various ways — more accepting of gays, science, women’s equality, etc. But this can only be done by ignoring the plain meaning of the sacred texts and traditions. I regard it as a watering down and weakening of religion, part of the overall process of liberation whose more robust form is the rising number of people who reject religion totally.

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      3. I have no intention of trying to persuade you otherwise—and your conclusion re: “watering down and weakening…” may well be proven correct. But perhaps you can agree with Joseph’s distinction about fundamentalism and more moderate expressions of religion in terms of their relative impact on the body politic?
        I would also welcome your views on the question I just reiterated about whether we are right now in the throes of Social Darwinism—and if so, is there anything we can do about it now?

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      4. This tactic of blaming some form of ‘fundamentalism’ but not ‘mainstream’ or ‘liberal’ religions is a problem because it diverts us from honest inquiry, honest justified beliefs, and starts the ball rolling to grant privilege here but not there.

        For example, the Catholic Church is a perfect example: it is not neutral when it comes to evolution; it still makes the real world claim that at some historical point in time in a real world geographical location, a creator intentionally intervened and POOFed into existence some aspect of the human being. That is a claim about the real world. There is exactly zero evidence in any strand of scientific biological inquiry that supports any such claim, PLUS there is an absence of evidence where it should be found if true, PLUS there is nothing but evidence for UNguided natural processes and mechanisms. That’s why this ‘fundamental’ belief in a creator is not some extreme view but a very common one in every ‘mainstream’ and ‘liberal’ religion. (Granted, some religions have no belief in a creator agency but these are neither mainstream nor liberal.)

        So we can go with the fundamentalist viewpoint being responsible… as long as people understand that under this heading comes every form of every religion that claims anything other than an unguided natural processes for humanity and nothing but natural and unguided mechanisms that cause real world effect.

        But, of course, people won’t do this because they think there should be enough wiggle room in the ‘non-fundamental’ religions to allow non-scientific claims about the real world – claims that are incompatible with explanations supported by overwhelming evidence – to be treated as reasonable and respectable claims OR those who don’t go along with this charade are themselves unreasonable and disrespectful people.

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      5. But perhaps you can agree with Joseph’s distinction about fundamentalism and more moderate expressions of religion in terms of their relative impact on the body politic

        Yes, I can. But this is really the same concept as what I said about watered-down, inauthentic religion; it’s just expressed in different words.

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      6. But, of course, people won’t do this because they think there should be enough wiggle room in the ‘non-fundamental’ religions to allow non-scientific claims about the real world – claims that are incompatible with explanations supported by overwhelming evidence – to be treated as reasonable and respectable claims OR those who don’t go along with this charade are themselves unreasonable and disrespectful people.

        Exactly. Religion arrogantly demands respect where none is due. Its claims about reality are not only unsupported by evidence, but are a pitifully-stupid mish-mash of ancient superstition and wishful thinking. It’s just garbage. There’s nothing there. I have no respect at all for such moronic drivel, and any expectation that I should do so is an outrage against intellectual integrity.

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    2. So much about this comment I like; here’s a chart showing the kind of link you’re talking about. And this same crossover in so many areas where science and ideology compete is robust. And you’re absolutely bang on to link it back to the privileging and compartmentalizing we do for religious belief. Once we do that, once we put our respect for what’s true somewhere down the priority list to allow incompatible belief room to grow unhindered by what is the case, we end up accepting that anti-scientific, anti-reality belief is magically justified.

      All too often we then are challenged by religious apologists (who have the most skin in the game) with, “What’s thee harm?” Well, the harm is creating the conditions necessary for all kinds of reality-denying claims to demand tolerance and respect BECAUSE it is compartmentalized from being arbitrated by reality. The harm is incredible, from denying human caused climate change in spite of near scientific consensus to rejecting vaccinations, from going along with stated Russian intentions to divide countries into enemies and friends of blue and red to denying necessary medical attention to children and substituting useless prayer. The crossover shows up in all kinds of Venn diagrams of public policies that grant special privilege and benefit to few that indisputably causes harm to many. And it all goes back to that first division that intentionally allows room for belief that is incompatible with reality and the knowledge we have extracted from it.

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      1. I think covid-19 is bringing that harm to the surface in ways that have not happened before. The harm done by rejection of evolution or of climate science is long-term and generalized to the whole society; an individual holding such anti-scientific views generally suffers no immediate, visible harm from doing so. The harm done by rejecting the scientific consensus on covid-19 can be both personal and immediate, both to the dogmatic individual and to innocent people in his immediate vicinity. Our society is getting an object lesson in the dangers of irrational thinking.

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      2. Well friend, I hope you’re not always so filled with hatred as you seem to be here, because you’re coming across as a very poor ambassador for the atheist utopia you’re advocating for. Who will you turn your hatred upon once the religious have been eliminated? We need only look to the history of the past century.

        Try reading Peterson’s 12 rules for life, he is not a believer but his book is thought provoking and nuanced, unlike yourself.

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      3. Thanks for reading. I know my style can seem abrasive and tone harsh. C’est la vie.

        I have been a fan of Peterson since his principled stand against Bill C-16 and find we have much in agreement. His position on religion, however, I find far less disciplined and he relies on assumptions, assertions, and attributions like any good apologist. I fully understand and endorse his take on the mythological roots of religious belief and his psychological understanding of the role they play. But he does not admit the problems we face when million if not billions of people turn the mythological into actual historical and factual claims about reality. He never really grasps this difference and so we disagree. That’s fine, too; he’s allowed to be as wrong and misguided in some areas of understanding as I am!

        You are just as wrong to think I have some kind of hatred for religion; I understand it relies entirely on a failed methodology called faith, a methodology that has in fact produced no new knowledge whatsoever, no insight into reality ever, and there is a term for believing things will be different tomorrow by doing the same thing today. Petterson knows this term.

        I also understand that religious belief leads far, far too many people into all kinds of pernicious behaviour for what they presume are good reasons. This perniciousness is demonstrated in reality from local to national levels where religiosity is negatively correlated with all kinds of antisocial behaviours. If religious belief ‘corrected’ for this (as many people claim), the opposite rates should be found. It isn’t. And isn’t that a mystery worth pursuing?

        But none of this has anything to do with me and what I think and everything to do with reality arbitrating the effect of elevating religious belief as if it were a virtue when it seems that’s simply not the case… regardless of what any of us believe.

        I have been struck at the similarity in structure and the use of faith-based belief and the dogma it promotes between religious organizations and totalitarian states. The similarities are… disturbingly similar. Interesting, eh?

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      4. I have always wanted my blog to be a place for civil discourse in which people could disagree without being disagreeable. I regret that this discussion has moved beyond this framework, which I highly value.

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      5. DougD: I hope you were able to see, among the many lengthy and sometimes heated remarks, my expression of regret that this discussion went beyond my credo for my blog: that it be a place where people with differing views can disagree without being disagreeable. I greatly value civility in discourse, and I know I failed to adhere to my own standard here. (For some reasons, the comments also appeared out of sequence, which added confusion to the mix as well.)

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  13. I’m not sure why it wasn’t clear that in both my post (paragraphs two and three and then further in) and my responses to comments, i was stressing that most Americans support the necessary measures to keep us safe and that the Republicans were firing up what I called “a small group of malcontents.” I also made the case to the first commenter, Len, that it was a false choice between reopening parts of the economy too soon and gaining better control of the disease—and that people won’t return to reopened establishments until they feel safer. I have expressed my concern about what seems to me the coming tragedy of inevitable rising disease and death tolls due to premature action to return to that elusive “normal” status that at this point remains far off.
    And then we must worry about the anti-vaxxers: assuming there is a safe vaccine in a year or two, which isn’t a sure thing, one poll reported that 35% of Americans will refuse to take it.
    I do think we will see some interesting turns of events now that the White House West Wing appears to be a growing “hot spot.”
    I have also written repeatedly that as terrible as trump is, he is the result of the Republicans’ cynical 40-year campaign to use the “culture” wars to seize and maintain control. I often recommend Jane Mayer’s terrific book, “Dark Money,” which reveals the magicians behind this curtain that has rent such damaging tears in our social fabric.
    As to religion, you’ll get no argument from me that some of the worst atrocities have been done in the name of religion—and that it has been—and continues to be—a terribly divisive force in which demonstrations of the worst hypocrisy are evident. However, as an agnostic on a good day, I recognize that it is also a source of great solace to individuals in times of personal need, and I often hear prominent scientists giving their opinions preface their words with some variation of “God forbid”…). Many physicians and other scientists somehow balance these two seemingly incompatible belief systems in their lives, so I am not prepared to dismiss religion as prima facie evidence of stupidity. One of the bloggers whom I respect and like despite our polar opposite political views is a person of strong faith who laments the diminishing numbers of Americans who profess any faith and sees that phenomenon as an explanation for many of our societal problems. That’s an area where we disagree, but I don’t doubt his integrity, intelligence, and good heart.
    Though I hear ya loud and clear and agree with much of what you say (and nearly all the political opinions I’ve read to date), ultimately, I try to focus on the good and the positive—for both my own mental health and my hopes for seeing a better trajectory for humans of all colors, ethnicities, and belief systems, all living things, and the earth whose needs we must address—pronto.
    I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts here and hope you’ll continue to do so.

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    1. Just one point about this — I didn’t say that religion is “prima facie evidence of stupidity”. I said religion is at the root of a specific form of stupidity, which is not the same thing. It does not mean all religious people are guilty of that form of stupidity, although in practice there’s a strong correlation.

      A much smaller percentage of scientists are religious than the percentage of the general population, and the percentage gets less and less as one surveys scientists of greater eminence. Expressions like “God forbid” or “thank God” are just common idioms of the language and aren’t evidence of what a person believes; I use them myself sometimes, and you’ll never meet anybody more hostile to religion than I am. Yes, some scientists are religious, but this is mostly just psychological inertia (unwillingness to confront and cast off inherited irrational beliefs), and they’re usually believers in the kind of watered-down, almost meaningless religion I alluded to in my reply to Joseph Urban.

      As to religious belief being a solace to people, I would probably find it very comforting if I believed I had a million dollars in the bank, but sch a belief might also lead me to make unwise decisions, since I don’t in fact have a million dollars in the bank. And I find the idea of taking solace from false beliefs to be an affront to human dignity. We need to accept reality as it actually is.

      Most anti-vaxxers have religious motives; there is already a campaign among traditionalist Catholics to reject the eventual covid-19 vaccine if it is developed using fetal cells derived from abortions, as many vaccines are.

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      1. Ok; I see your distinction, though I’m amending this after the fact because the word stupidity bothers me.
        I don’t agree about the personal solace aspect, though. Since you’ve thought about and researched this topic far more extensively than I, you may have instances in mind when you say a belief in a deity may lead to unwise decisions. I see a person who’s dying and is comforted by the notion of an afterlife.

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      2. Hate to be a stick in the mud here, but this notion of religion as a comfort to the dying seems to be nothing more than a sales job.

        Why do I say that?

        Because my spouse is the community coordinator for the local hospice that serves about 650,000 people. It’s not a small sample size.

        There is no doubt: there’s a direct negative correlation between strength of belief in a religion and complex grief. In other words, the more religious a person is, the greater the likelihood that a death will bring forth the kind of grief that interferes with affirming life in a positive and healthy way. Services provided for support for complex grief (for both the person dying as well as those caregivers and family members who are not) are almost entirely geared towards those least able to cope (there are all kinds of metrics used for determining how well or poorly people are handling all the various stresses associated with death and dying) and without question that population tends to be highly religious to the extent that the curves match. They should go in opposite directions if religious belief provided comfort.

        So I don’t know where this notion comes from that religion is a comfort when it comes to death and dying. The evidence seems to indicate exactly the opposite.

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      3. I can simply say that has not been the experiences that have been related to me by people I know who are believers (who are admittedly a small sample–even among the people I know) in describing their loved one’s deaths. And I am confident that the families of believers find comfort in the notion that they will see their beloved again in a “better place.” Sales job or no, the comfort is there. No response necessary here.

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      4. I find myself, a lifelong atheist, in the odd position of defending the concept of religion. Or should I say belief systems. The way I look at religion is simply from the point of view of an anthropologist. Someone who tries to explain the existence of institutions and how they function in society. In any society, religious beliefs reflect the culture. Religious beliefs are one tool which we use to explain that which we do not understand. Science serves a similar function.

        Regarding ideas like evolution and the Big Bang, those are well established in modern societies. And so, modern churches, like the Catholic church, recognizes the scientific validity of those theories. But,as I said in a previous post, Darwin (in fact all scientists) do not seek to understand the greater “why” of life, but only to examine the “how” and “what” of life. Religion, whether fundamentalist Christianity or French liberal Catholicism or Shi’a Islam or Hinduism, etc. seek to explain WHY we are here. What some call “the Search For Meaning”. Science and religion ask and answer fundamentally different questions. Science asks HOW the Big Bang occurred. Religion asks WHY it happened at all. Science is based on accepting what can be understood. Religion is based on believing what cannot be proven.

        Belief systems in a culture, like technology or social systems, can be perverted and used by the power structure to remain in place. To my way of thinking and understanding culture, religion is just a part of the ideology generally accepted by a society. So, the patriarchal , fundamentalist Christianity appeals to the conservatives while the socially oriented, good works Christianity appeals to the liberals. Both function to help each group explain the WHY of our existence.

        Every society practices a religion which incorporates the value system of that society, while religion serves to reinforce that value system. A personal example. In Chichicastengo, Guatemala is a church , St Thomas. It is supposed to be a Catholic Church. But on the steps of that church the Mayan people practice their own brand of Catholicism. And when you go into the church you will see offerings made by the “Catholics” of the region. Candles. And many small shot glasses filled with liquor! This is certainly not the Christianity of the USA or France. But the offerings do reflect the culture in which that religion thrives. (Also, it is still forbidden to take pictures in some areas as these folks think you may be stealing their souls).

        Let me conclude. As an atheist I wish the USA WAS a “Christian country”, the way I understand Christianity. There would be no need for food stamps, wars and poverty would disappear. But, so much of American Christianity is a nasty, patriarchal ideology which opposes helping others! As an outsider I see that religion does play an important role. I mean, if a given population needs a Bible to tell them: Don’t kill each other, Don’t steal, Respect each other… then I am all for it. Evidently religion is a necessary component of almost every society and culture.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. JU, you say, “Science and religion ask and answer fundamentally different questions.”

        I disagree. I don’t think think religion answers anything with anything other assumption, assertion, and attribution ground on nothing but wishful thinking. Yes, it’s true science cannot answer many of the ‘why’ questions, but to be abundantly clear, neither can religion. That’s the part often misrepresented, as if making stuff up is an equivalent kind of answer to one that has to first demonstrate a preponderance of evidence in support. Or said another way, making stuff up and presenting it as if an answer to anything is considered a vice in science; in religion, you guessed it, it’s a virtue called ‘faith’. People ask questions all the time so one is really faced with a choice of either trying to answer them with the current state of honest knowledge including, “I don’t know,” or making stuff up and pretending it’s any more than a faux-answer.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Joseph Urban: But there is no need for such suppositions and hypothesizing. We have an abundance of actual data, which totally refutes the idea that religion is necessary or has any positive effect on a society.

        The societies where religion has been most thoroughly eradicated are the most peaceful and humane ones — places like Britain, Scandinavia, and Japan have the lowest levels of crime and violence. The regions where religion is strongest, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, have the highest levels of crime and violence. The Middle East does have relatively low levels of conventional crime, but an enormous problem of religious violence, which occasionally slops over into other societies (as with 9/11).

        You can see the same pattern within the US. The strongly-religious states of the deep South have the highest levels of crime, ignorance, and general cruelty, while the least-religious states, such as those in New England, are the most peaceful and humane societies.

        We don’t need to speculate about what a “Christian nation” USA would be like (although back when the USA was much more Christian than today, we had slavery and the genocide of the Indians). We have a historical example of a society dominated by Christianity — medieval Europe, a society of real Christianity based on the actual Bible, where people took it absolutely seriously, not like the fake liberal Christianity of the modern left which ignores the plain words of the Bible. In that society, heretics were burned alive, women accused of witchcraft were burned alive, homosexuals were executed by being sawed in half, books were burned, the life of the mind was suppressed, hygienic standards sank to barbaric levels, and the masses lived in ignorance and filth. And it was an incredibly warlike society, both internally and in aggression against other societies — such as the hideously sadistic Crusades, in which devout Christian knights boasted of having slaughtered so many people that the rivers of blood came up to their horses’ bridles.

        I can’t stress this strongly enough. We have data. We have evidence. The more religious a society is, the more cruel and violent and ignorant it is. This holds true across an amazingly wide range of cultures, regions, religions, and historical periods. It is absolutely conclusive. There is no room for any doubt or dispute about this.

        The case is proven. Religion is worthless. Religion is garbage. Religion is a stupid and ridiculous relic of primitive times. Religion is a lie. It needs to be eradicated from the minds of humans. Thanks to modernization and education, it is being eradicated. Its passing should no more be mourned than the passing of smallpox or slavery.

        Liked by 2 people

      7. you may have instances in mind when you say a belief in a deity may lead to unwise decisions.

        There were two periods of my life when I was seriously suicidal. If I had believed that death was not the end but rather a gateway to a better existence, I might very well have done it.

        My mother died five months ago. We were very close and I still feel the loss deeply. If I had believed that my own death would enable me to see her again, it’s very likely I would have done it. I actually had dreams about it.

        I discussed other aspects of this issue here.

        With that, I’ll withdraw from the discussion, since you said above that you feel the discussion has moved beyond the framework of civil discourse, and I don’t wish to contribute to doing so.

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      8. I am so very sorry to hear about your mother’s death and your previous despair. I felt the discussion had become unwieldy and was at its end, but I blame myself for being insensitive to other readers’ beliefs. I do value your political views and insights, so I hope you’ll feel comfortable returning on other occasions and perhaps we need not go over territory that we’ve covered today. But obviously I don’t want to censor you either. I know you have a statement on your blog expressing a sentiment about comments similar to what I’ve said (and what appears on my blog) so I’m hopeful we can exchange ideas in the future in a manner that will mesh with our shared sentiments about civility.

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      9. Once again I find myself trying to defend the role of religion in society. I amuse myself since I have been an atheist for more than 50 years. But, let me respond to a couple points.

        infidel. You (correctly in my mind) suggest we need to look at evidence and data. As an anthropologist looking at evidence and data one things becomes clear to me. Religion serves a real function in society. The best evidence of that is the widespread existence of this institution in all societies, including tribal societies. To go back to my college days let me use a model that I find useful.

        All cultures are composed of three types of systems. Technology, Ideology and Society. These systems operate on each other in feedback systems. To the extent that they interest seamlessly you have a smooth functioning society.

        The advances of science over the years, made possible by advances in technology, has created a new understanding of how the world functions. Before the scientific revolution, for the most part, ideological systems explained how and why the world functions. Based on the best information available. Now that we can explain how the world functions in more detail the role of religion has changed. It has been diminished to some degree.

        But human beings are not only rational animals, we are also emotional animals. And we are curious animals who need to now not only HOW the world functions, but WHY it functions the way it does. While science has increasingly explained, i detail, how the world functions, it has never attempted to explain WHY. So the Pope, for example, can state that the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe is not inconsistent with God creating that Big Bang. He can do so with a straight face because religion (at least in the West) for the most part no longer pretends to explain the HOW. It has given up that role to scientists.

        But human beings still want to know WHY. Why did the Big Bang happen? Who started this business of life on Earth? Is there a design behind the evolutionary process ? Could all this be simply a matter of chance and randomness? Those are questions religions try to answer. They are a matter of faith because they seem to be beyond the scope of science to answer .

        To go even further. Why should I not steal or murder if there is not higher morality? Why should I just do what I want as long as I can avoid the consequences? Those are also questions that religion tries to answer.

        The power of religion in society is shown with a few examples. Poland was a “communist” country for many years. The church was persecuted. Yet, it remained a force and is an even bigger force today. The evidence is that in every culture some type of religion (and it varies from culture to culture) fills an important role. If not, faced with the scientific revolution, religion would have died out years ago.

        So, when I look at societies as an atheist I have concluded that religion fulfills a real function for those societies even though I recognize all the negative aspects of the fundamentalist/totalitarian mindset it sometimes enforces. Like any component of a culture (technology, ideology, social systems) it has positive and negative effects.

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  14. I’d like to address my query to you all. We’ve had some discussion of evolution and Social Darwinism, and that’s fine. But I raised the question about Social Darwinism because this administration is taking a hands-off approach to a pandemic that is disproportionately killing people of color by strikingly large amounts. In view of other policies and pronouncements, I am asking: Do you feel we are witnessing our national government practicing Social Darwinism? Of course what would follow a yes answer would be to change the administration, which is an imperative. But viewed through this lens, is there anything else we could/should be doing right now?

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    1. I believe that is definitely the case. Parasitic ruling classes tend to regard the working masses as expendable, a mere means to the end of economic production — this has been true for thousands of years. Part of the value of democracy is that it makes the state accountable to the masses, and thus less likely to act on the basis of such attitudes.

      The Republican party in general has reflected this aristocratic/parasitic viewpoint more and more strongly over the last few decades, and its increasingly blatant willingness to appeal to racism has exacerbated that.

      As to the Trump regime specifically, I endorse the conclusions of this essay, and responded to some aspects of it here. It seems obvious that the regime is willing to sacrifice large numbers of working-class people for what they perceive as a better chance to revive the economy, and rank-and-file Trumpanzees mostly share that attitude insofar as they believe that most of the casualties will be non-white or Latino.

      I myself would not use the term “social Darwinism”, though. Even before covid-19, the regime was tearing apart Latino families and putting them in what amount to concentration camps. It has always energized its base by whipping up hostility to minorities. Now Republican leaders are pushing the idea that the “unfit”, the elderly and infirm and ethnic minorities, are expendable and should be sacrificed for the sake of national economic revival. We already have a word for this kind of thing. It’s “Nazi”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not sure why this comment suddenly needed moderation, but it did. And that’s interesting because this is the comment that truly addresses my concerns. I have, of course, expressed them pre-pandemic as well. There’s no media focus on the immigrants in cages —babies, even! now—but we know nothing good is happening. Under the diabolical Stephen Miller, the trump administration is using the pandemic to further attack immigrants and immigration. And the Republicans are blocking any further assistance to hard-pressed families. But I digress—as I always do at this point. Thanks for spending time exploring these issues with me. Next on my agenda is writing post cards to Florida Democrats telling them how to get vote-by-mail ballots.

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  15. Can I be simultaneously appreciative and horrified that some of your states are opening up faster than other countries, so we can see what will happen before our own governments go down that path? Here the big idea was to flatten the curve, which we have successfully done. People respected authority and toed the line, so far there has been a lot of financial help for those affected. So far, anyway. Now we are slightly at a loss as to what to do next; how quickly can we reopen and still keep the curve flat and the vulnerable as safe as practically possible?

    Interesting that those who worship individual rights are the first to say there’s worse things than dying, but I suspect they aren’t referring to themselves when they make these statements.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Living in the US, Doug, I feel more sense of horror than appreciation. When so many scientists agree that we need more testing and tracing, it seems quite convincing to me that many of these openings (probably not all) are being done prematurely. The President, who seems to believe in a V-shaped miraculous return to the pre-pandemic economy and a magical end to the virus’s ravaging, is making a big re-election bet with people’s lives. I expect him to try to focus solely on the stock market, which is largely outside of the economy, for the coming months. But though future-oriented, even the stock market won’t be able to sustain itself for long if unemployment continues to climb, consumers aren’t confident to go outside and into stores and bowling alleys, and health care systems go over the brink they’ve been so closed to for a while.

      Yes, the individual rightists are happy to make “thee” the experimenters. But as the onset of positive cases in the White House demonstrates, the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Excellent article Annie and I enjoyed the robust discussion beneath as well. Despite every piece of spin and bluster and different approaches to data collection, it is difficult to get away from the amount of deaths per country and the accompanying approaches. If nothing else, I am convincing myself that 20 years hence there will be some very clear conclusions as to which leaders handled this crisis appropriately.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Alanis Morissette covered that song, too. Sadly yes, too many humans seem less intelligent around the current situation than mandrill monkeys, and probably ants, turtles, even fish given the way some people are talking and behaving. I also don’t understand why so many are bemoaning the restrictions (here in the UK) and saying how they just want to get back to normal life because they’re bored now, urging the government to stop being so dictatorial (I’m not sure they really appreciate what a truly dictatorial state is at a time like this). The thing is, the restrictions aren’t the problem. The virus is the problem. If the restrictions get lifted now it doesn’t mean the virus has gone. It just means human life is dropping even further behind the government’s financial priority.

    Ugh, I shouldn’t talk about this topic. I’ve been so, so angry and heartbroken with it all. I’m not an angry person but I can’t seem to quell the anger anymore. The government firstly, the ignorant people putting others at risk secondly (such as those pushing past me when I’m in a supermarket, totally ignoring the guidelines let alone common sense). It’s money first, people second. And we all know how that goes with who gets what, which is far from just. Social darwinism, you might be on to something there sadly.

    Anyway, I digress. Spot on post, Annie. Stay safe  ♥
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you, dear Caz. You summed it up perfectly: the restrictions aren’t the problem—the virus is the problem.

    It’s so good to hear from you, but I’m sorry my post reinforced your anger. And I wish you didn’t have to be in the supermarket at all! No deliveries?

    Take good care of yourself—and we must remember our deep breathing!

    Annie xx 💕🙏

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I usually send a welcome when someone signs on. If I missed doing so, please consider this my formal welcome. Thank you for joining me on what I call my technojourney!

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  19. This has been an exhausting discussion – I think I need a nap.

    My take? There will not be a successful vaccine any time soon (if at all) and the only way through this thing will be the same way we have made it through every other epidemic in history.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It exhausted me too.

      You may be right about the vaccine; I’ve heard medical folks say this virus could parallel HIV/AIDS, in which a vaccine hasn’t been found, but a series of meds have been marshaled to treat it and mitigate its lethality.

      Liked by 1 person

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