By Chris Jennewein
In Jack London’s classic novel “The Sea Wolf,” ruthless Capt. Wolf Larsen views humanity as engaged in a Darwinian struggle, proclaiming “life is the cheapest thing in the world.” He has a lot in common with America’s right-wing intellectuals during the current coronavirus pandemic.
As social distancing appears to be having an impact, flattening the curve and reducing the pressure on hospitals, conservatives are clamoring to open up the economy. They argue that a recession will result in another kind of epidemic as businesses fail and people are laid off.
Like Capt. Larson, who describes the “London dockers fighting like wild beasts for a chance to work,” the conservative view is that it’s all about the economy.
Tech evangelist George Gilder, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, acknowledges that the elderly should be “sequestered and protected” from the virus, “but the rest of us should proceed with our work, taking prudent precautions, even if some of us die anyway.”
Several weeks ago, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested that elderly Americans should be willing to accept the consequences in order to keep the economy open for their children and grandchildren.
“Those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country,” Patrick told Fox News’ Tucker Carson.
William Bennett, who was Education Secretary under President Reagan, argued last week that social distancing “has its merits in saving some lives, but it will likely take more, and will kill the heart and soul of our country, which is dependent on the economic engine of the rest of us.”
There’s a deep sense of fatalism in these views. The authors are saying there’s nothing we can do in the short term, so chin up and get back to work. We’ll lose some people, but this is war and the losses are acceptable.
It’s a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” view that Capt. Larsen would no doubt agree with wholeheartedly.
But most Americans probably don’t share these views. In the largest, wealthiest economy in the world, why can’t we save both lives and the economy?
We don’t want grandma to “take it for the team,” nor do we want coworkers to die so that we can have Friday afternoon beer socials again.
Perhaps the best example of the American mood is what happened last week aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Capt. Brett Crozier pleaded with the Navy for help with a growing outbreak aboard his San Diego-based aircraft carrier and was summarily fired — by a conservative appointee of President Trump.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors,” Crozier wrote to Navy leaders.
But as the facts came out, and over 500 sailors tested positive for coronarius, Crozier has emerged as an American folk hero.
Social distancing, rapid testing, drug development and an eventual vaccine will ultimately defeat coronavirus, as has happened with so many other diseases. But we aren’t at war, and Americans don’t need to die.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.
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