If Only

We shouldn’t presume that a group of experts somehow knows what’s best.

–Rand Paul, proud U.S. senator

ignorance 0720
On the plus side, at least he’s wearing a mask.

Many years ago, the woman who taught me history in high school, who then moved on to teach it at the college level, gave a talk at Western’s Headwaters conference in which she decried anti-intellectualism. One of the flash points that sparked her umbrage was a bumper sticker: “My border collie is smarter than your honor student.”

I had a smart border collie once upon a time, and since Lynn, I and two veterinarians have recently been outsmarted by a voracious cat, maybe I’m in no position to say anything, but I really don’t understand hearty celebrations of ignorance.

When Rand Paul makes a point of trying to belittle and badger Dr. Anthony Fauci on a national stage, I don’t understand where that gets us as a people, except sicker and stupider. Why is it, exactly, that we welcome either of those conditions?

“Ignorance is bliss,” goes the saying, but I’ve always been under the impression that is said rather sardonically and not really intended as a guide for life.

But Vann said yesterday his wife, whose entire family skews toward “virus as hoax,” was rather taken aback to learn that covid is overrunning hospitals in Texas. She had no idea the number of cases was on such a rapid rise across so many states, but I have no idea how she could not know this. I can’t get on the internet without a story about it popping up on a browser.

As I think back, though, I took a class in news reporting in college. Our teacher, a copy editor for the Denver Post, required that we subscribe to a newspaper. Which seems obvious, if you want to be a news reporter, and easy — at the beginning of every semester several newspapers set up stands throughout the student center, offering really cheap subscriptions. I didn’t have any trouble complying with this requirement because I was already signed up.

Mr. Ridgway occasionally would issue pop quizzes about current events, and these quizzes were easy to ace if you had done nothing more than skim headlines in your paper. And yet, a large percentage of my fellow would-be reporters flunked these quizzes. Over and over. You’d think, after the first one, that you’d figure out you could score better pretty much by simply glancing at a newspaper.

Apparently it’s easier than I think to ride the “willfully ignorant” bus, but going that next Rand Paul step and taking pride in it is something I just don’t get at all. Who goes out of their way to raise their hand and say, “Pick me! I’m stupid and proud of it”?

It turns out, enough Americans to make us the laughingstock of the world. Us and Brazil.

And I guess it would be funny, if people weren’t dying. But they are, and the numbers keep rolling upward, and we seem to be issuing a collective shrug: as long as it isn’t me, what does it matter?

I don’t know what Rand Paul, who allegedly has a medical degree, suggesting he has a certain personal affinity for education, gains by broadly inferring that we have no need to include experts in a discussion of coronavirus because we’re managing so stupidly on our own. Political cred, perhaps, among people who think civil liberty for white people is all that’s necessary for a viable political platform.

In their ignorance, they don’t seem to realize that this is a platform shrinking by the day. If you care to believe polls, but there again we’re talking experts who can’t match what some of us feel in our magical guts.

But let’s just say we all ignore the experts. If — and I now realize, based on my own history, what a big “if” that is — we lifted our eyes and looked around the world, we would see that it’s a tiny percentage of places where the virus is screaming upward in uncontrolled fashion. Oh, wait: that’s just us.

Europe, with 100 million more people than the United States, has the virus fairly controlled. Okay, most of the world has it better managed than us and Brazil’s tinpot dictator. Here are the differences, and they’re just not that hard to figure out, even if we want to dismiss experts: two countries are engaged in wishful thinking while most of the others are taking an approach that worked 100 years ago: wearing masks, keeping distance and tracking down people who have come in contact with those who are infected. And then there’s science: testing, which wasn’t available 100 years ago and currently embraced by many countries. Just not the U.S.

The numbers — I was going to say “tick,” but they are roaring — upward, and we shrug our shoulders and say, “What are we gonna do?”

Back when this was starting, a friend told me that the world was overreacting to this non-event, which was infecting a statistically insignificant number of people. The one person he knew who had contracted it had been miraculously cured by hydroxycholoroquin, so clearly there was nothing to worry about.

He did suggest, I think directing his comment toward me, that people who watched extreme news, like CNN or MSNBC, weren’t getting a true picture, the way we got it from Walter Cronkite when we were kids. “I watch CBS,” I said at the time, noting that several of their contributors are Republicans — and got no response. CBS, I would like to note, was Mr. Cronkite’s network.

Mr. Cronkite’s legacy this morning tells me, and anyone else caring to listen, that the U.S. reported 50,000 new cases yesterday alone. How many cases, do you suppose, it takes to become statistically significant?

I have another friend who made our public health officer cry when he attacked her for making masks mandatory. (His daughter then wrote a letter to the editor denouncing the tyranny of the public health office.)

And the other day friends from out of town stopped by, and it was too much trouble for him to wear a mask in my shop. I spent most of the visit trying to figure out how to get them out the door, which really detracted from the enthusiasm of seeing them again.

All three of these are childhood friends, and it saddens me that they are letting what I can only call politics — because it’s not backed by science or even, if science is too much for you, worldwide experience — take over their sensibilities. I imagine, if you were to read the blogs at least two of them don’t write, that they are disappointed in my cautious consideration of this “hoax.”

But I’m pretty sure I’m going to “win” out on this one, that it’s going to go down in the history books as an actual pandemic, with real deaths and long-term health impacts.

Because history doesn’t often track in nuance like we might want, it’s going to tell us that most countries in the world brought it under control before the horrific death counts of previous pandemics were reached. Except for the United States, where we will be blamed as a monolithic unit, every last American, for aiding and abetting the spread of a virus that didn’t magically go away, really existed, and could have been slowed significantly by a simple piece of cloth.

If only we had not taken such pride in our ignorance.

Warning: science involved. Watch at your own risk of perhaps getting educated.


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