Abe Lincoln, Coronavirus and your morality

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1 week ago (Last updated: 1 day ago)

Note: Everything written here is our opinion (from here on expressed in singular). In fact, it may not even be my opinion. This article is meant to create interest, discussion, and promote thinking in different directions. YES, YOU SHOULD COMMENT. Like what was said? Add your voice in the comments. Don't like what was said? Might as well say why before clicking somewhere else. I want this to be a start for productive dialoge and I encourage your two cents (figuratively and literally). Also, it will be written from an American angle but applies to everyone.
With that out of the way...

"[...] with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union." -Abraham Lincoln

Some people have referred to COVID-19's affects on our world as life changing. Not life changing because of the actual lives lost. Not life changing because of the disruption to our daily life which ranges from "i've lost my job, my social life, my sanity" to "i can finally stop lying about why i'm not leaving my house."
No, it is life changing because the virus behind this infection has opened the ground from underneath us and swallowed us whole.

Seemingly out of nowhere, nature's complexity has brought us out of our own heads and back down to earth. We've been so detached from what is natural in the natural world; this is because we humans are special. Special, but not immune. Since it's first discovery in a small area of Wuhan, what started as a side note in the news grew to tepid concern, then larger scale confusion and finally global alarm, awareness and action.

Wait a minute. Are things really that bad? Maybe not currently, but COVID-19 is a force to be reckoned with. Latest statistics show that it spreads faster than the "seasonal flu" and is roughly 5-9x deadlier (0.1% vs 0.5-0.9%)[1]. Current statistics for death rate are much higher (around 2%), but that's due to inadequate preventative measures and improper detection and treatment[2]. Medical progress was slow in the beginning and relaxed governmental action in recently infected countries hasn't helped either. Thankfully, it isn't as lethal as other viruses like Ebola or SARS[3].

So the panic is over-exaggerated? Definitely not. This is because the rate of infection and death rate make it a perfect storm, where affects of the disease can quickly cripple most health institutions and facilities, overwhelming them beyond their capacity to provide care. That could be disastrous. A world where trusted protectors can no longer protect is asking for chaos.

I want to put the bigger picture into perspective:

This tiny encased bundle of genetic information simply does what it does. And humans simply do what they do. The difference is that humans internalize what they know in the present and project it forward. And that usually works well, but sometimes it doesn't. When we become too comfortable with what we understand now and too confident with future expectations, then sudden changes to the mental model can be difficult to handle. If enough moving parts change in such a short period of time, we quickly and instinctively build new models that err on the side of safety. These newer models bring out our primal need for security. A good way of seeing a flight to safety in action? Just look around and watch as people walk around with extra protection (even when advised not to) [4] as they rush to clear supermarket isles [5].

"The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me." -Abraham Lincoln

With this thought in mind it's important to remember that "unlikely" and "infrequent" are not the same thing. They might often go together, but that doesn't mean the terms are interchangable. Pandemics are very likely, but not very frequent, in part thanks to our design. Unfortunately, When they do happen, the snowball grows quickly. Make no mistake, this epidemic was not a black swan by nature's standards. People, from experts to philanthropists, have been well aware of the risk to our race [6][7]. It's more accurate to blame our comfort in luxury than skewed statistics or black swan events.

It's inevitable that the finger pointing of who should have done what and when will dominate public conversation at some point, but until then we have a few months where real action will need to take place. Actions from the highest levels of government all the way to the daily habits of the simple citizen. It won't be easy and not all decisions will be right. During this difficult time rationalism and optimism will be key here and opportunity will need to take a backseat to more fundamental virtues of justice and camaraderie. I say this because many have been working tirelessly around the clock directly and indirectly to stop the spread of infection and deaths while others are trying to take advantage of the situation. Opportunity can always be found, all the more so in times of distress. Striking the balance between governmental responsibility and individual responsibility is taking center stage.

The war is still going on outside and will continue for some time. Now is the time to consider what "doing what's right" really means. Even certain inaction may be positive action in the grand scheme of things.

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." -Abraham Lincoln

We need to reassess where we stand. It's easy to blame the government and much of the blame is warranted, but we're very much at a point where we need to look internally and direct a lot of the big questions at ourselves and those close to us.

Well why should we? To answer that, I ask:

What's the difference between your "fault" in a situation and your "responsibility" in a situation?

Without saying too much, many companies in the medical/scientific sector have pondered the situation they are in. The world's markets aren't doing well and yet some companies have a golden opportunity while others have calculated that certain actions would disadvantage them in the free market (at least definitely in the short term). Should they take on those risks? If they have opportunities, should they grab them with both hands and feel justified in their economic decisions? Most can't be blamed for the situation getting to this point, so would companies/organizations be at fault for not necessarily making it better? What kinds of economic, social, and moral responsibilities should be considered and to what degree?

But we need not think so large as there are enough questions at the individual level: If someone infects you and you're unaware, is it your fault for infecting someone else? Is it your responsibility? If something hasn't yet been enforced, is it still your responsibility to follow the guideline if you know it's the right thing to do? Why should you suffer at the expense of others? Is all suffering the same?

Really think about it for a minute or two.

"The legitimate object of government is 'to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves'." -Abraham Lincoln

I don't know if you really thought about it, so i'll include an exercise. Fill in the blank of each sentence, in order.

  • My values are ______________________________________

  • I expect my government to ______________________________

  • I expect myself to ____________________________________

  • My thoughts about the coronavirus are ________________________

  • Given the seriousness and scale of the epidemic, i'd want _____________

  • On my deathbed (many years from now!), I would want ______________

I should be clear that this exercise isn't meant to guilt or sway anyone in a specific direction. It IS meant to try and broaden horizons. Also, the article sets a dynamic between the government and the individual, but you can also ask the same questions about family, friends, work associates, religious groups, social communities, towns/cities etc.

There's no right or wrong answer and without a doubt the conversation is nuanced. However, aside from the Lincoln quotes, if there is one thing to ponder and take from this article it is this: TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS EXISTS. It is not something that is easy to show or explain in real life, but that doesn't mean it is irrelevant or nonexistent. And if you want look beyond absolving yourself of fault and actually take on greater responsibilities, you must look at yourself and past yourself, understanding the complexity of nature and your involvement in it. Really think about how things were in the past, how they are now and what you can try and do for the future.

A system, by definition, is created by the sum of its parts. Some matter less and some matter more, but things are always changing. Would you have expected a virus so small and insignificant to shake up the whole world in less than a few months?

Based on current simulated scenarios, things are going to get worse before they get better. This may not subside until the end of the summer. If we work together intelligently and effectively it may end sooner and be a blip on the radar, but other scenarios show more serious, long term consequences.

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." -Abraham Lincoln

I like to believe that real work has real outcomes. Sometimes you need to take a step back to take the leap forward. That might mean total involvement of the government. It might mean zero involvement of the government. It could mean being more flexible in times like this when the storm is strongest, or being better prepared when the waters are calm so situations such as this don't happen to begin with.

Another small consideration: Free markets can only arbitrage away inefficiency as best as free market players are actually efficient. There is more than enough evidence to support that people usually do not act rationally. Maybe it's worth having semi-bad outcomes a lot of the time (or "voluntarily giving up certain privileges) to avoid very-bad outcomes in the few times they show up?

And the big reveal: Sorry, I don't have any answers (I wish I did).
But I really hope you leave having more questions. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Act as if you're already infected [8].
What can you do/not do to help others?
What creative alternatives are there in these trying times?

Stay safe out there and lets do the best we can.


Disclaimer: We take no responsibility/liability for misrepresented information. The article cites sources when appropriate, but errors may be present.

1. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
2. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-deadly-is-the-coronavirus-compared-to-past-outbreaks#Seasonal-flu
3. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/03/809904660/why-the-death-rate-from-coronavirus-is-plunging-in-china
4. http://nautil.us/issue/83/intelligence/the-man-who-saw-the-pandemic-coming
5. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/15/trump-no-hoarding-coronavirus-grocery-stores-130771
6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Af6b_wyiwI
7. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/3/12/21172040/coronavirus-covid-19-virus-charts
8. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/health/coronavirus-statistics-undetected.html

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