These are challenging times, but try to keep it all in perspective

Besides being one of the best liberal arts educations you can get, the study of history is also quite therapeutic. The ancient Stoics had a technique for helping individuals deal with the vicissitudes of life, called negative visualization. Basically it’s about preparing your mind for the worse by imagining, beforehand, that things could be, or could get, a lot worse. Well socially speaking the study of history pretty much provides the same therapy. We may think the current coronavirus epidemic and all that’s happening are really bad, but as any good student of history would tell you, “True, these are not the best of times, but believe me our societies have faced situations far far worse.”

It’s only in modern times, with the advances of modern medical science, like vaccinations, antibiotics, and antiviral drugs, that societies have been able to save millions of lives ultimately from deadly bacterias and viruses that regularly emerge within populations. I would say the discovery of the vaccine should be rated the greatest life saving discovery in medical science history. Before vaccines any new toxic bacteria or deadly virus disappeared only after it had burned through a population.

For example, when the bubonic plague (known as “the Black Death”) was ravaging Europe during the 14th century some regions, towns, and cities, had well over 50% of the population whipped out. It’s estimated that two-thirds of the approximately 660,000 deaths of soldiers during the American Civil War were caused by uncontrolled infectious diseases. Upwards of 2 million soldiers died of infectious diseases during WWI. During the 1918-1919 Spanish influenza epidemic, the world’s death toll was somewhere between 50 and 100 million dead. In the United States alone we had about 675,000 deaths caused by the Spanish flu.

History provides something needed by individuals and societies during difficult and challenging times, and that’s perspective.

The current coronavirus epidemic is a very challenging situation. No one should downplay the long term damage and disruption to our society. But while we’re lamenting how bad this situation is we should try to remember that many past generations in history experienced far worse and ultimately recovered, rebuilt, and thrived. We will too.

We should have been more prepared but we weren’t.

This current coronavirus pandemic was probably one of the most predicable things that could happen. In 2015, Bill Gates talked about this very concern and that we, as a society, weren’t prepared. Throughout history viruses have emerged and decimated societies with lethal regularity. It has only been with the emergence of modern medical science that we’ve been capable of tamping down or getting some control of these outbreaks. In today’s world we have more tools—science and technology—to fight the spread of a virus, but their are two things that remain the key variables in success. One, maintaining a robust pandemic response structure so it’s in place and ready, and two, this is critical, quickly and decisively acting to slow and contain the spread of the virus.

The United States is now the epicenter of a global pandemic that began in China in mid January. There are a lot of questions that need answering. We knew China had a serious outbreak in mid January…and yet our government wasn’t on war footing. This lack of proactiveness meant we lost a month or more of time preparing for this virus and putting in place measures to slow and contain its spread. This epic failure will extract a massive cost on our country, both economically and socially.

This morning I recommend you read an Atlantic piece entitled How the Coronavirus Became an American Catastrophe.

As the authors explain, there were a number of system failures to be sure. The principal failure was not having adequate testing in place which would have aided us in slowing the spread of the virus once it hit the U.S. But in the larger picture there was a failure of leadership. A leader’s principle task is to look ahead and see potential problems and quickly navigate to a better, more safer, course. That simply didn’t happen in this case. Before and during a crisis a competent leader quickly detects potential threats and problems, leans forward, studies the situation aggressively, and then actively engages his assets and capabilities to ensure everything possible is done to avoid a catastrophe.

In this case our national leadership was negligent in preparing this country for our greatest challenge since probably WWII. We will, eventually, beat this virus and life will slowly return to normalcy. But we cannot forget how important (how critical!) competent government leadership is for the survival of our way of life.

Remember this at the next election.

Hammer down now and get control fast, then slowly open back up

Here is a very interesting and informative piece on the implications of 3 approaches to how governments may choose to handle the coronavirus pandemic. As you can tell, most governments are trying to impose the Hammer.

“What if you were about to face your worst enemy, of which you knew very little, and you had two options: Either you run towards it, or you escape to buy yourself a bit of time to prepare. Which one would you choose?”

Ash Wednesday

“It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on…’Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.’ Death is a part of life. My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.”

— Rachel Held Evans

Right now we’re in a bad movie with a predictable ending

Without a doubt the winters in the Washington D.C. area have been getting milder. Of course we still get spells of arctic cold and your occasional snow storm, but if you’ve lived here for any length of time, as I have for almost 3 decades, there is no arguing the winters aren’t, on average, what they use to be. The trend is unmistakable. The climate is changing. Our warm weather seasons are getting more severe and longer and our cold weather seasons are getting milder and shorter. These well predicted warming shifts in climate are happening in various degrees all over the planet. And we have good reason to believe the climate crisis is far worse than scientist projected.

Global warming is happening and the reasons for it aren’t surprising…at least to most of us. The scientific community has been warning us for a long time—decades—that human activity is principally responsible for a drastic increase in the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere, which is causing global temperatures to rise. While we don’t know everything about something as vast and dynamic as the earth’s climate, we do know a lot, and we’re about 99% certain humans are the main cause for rising global temperatures.

So I wasn’t surprised to see, for example, that last month was the warmest January in recorded history. Or that Antartica, a continent usually buried in snow and ice miles deep and registering the coldest temperatures in the world, recently had its warmest day ever recorded—69.35 degrees! And we know that as the Arctic ice continues to melt at an alarming rate, the sea levels—with mathematical certainty—will rise all around the world. With the largest percentage of the world’s population living near the coastlines, we can imagine the havoc this will eventually bring. There are a whole range of potentially large, global problems—increased disease, water resource problems, extreme weather events, agricultural problems, droughts, etc, etc,—that the coming climate crisis will likely bring.

But right now we’re in a bad movie with a predicable ending. Right now the scientists…or imagine, say, a team of heart doctors (climate scientists), who’ve spent their lives educating themselves about hearts, experimenting, testing, and studying the data, are (have been) telling us we’re heading toward a massive global heart attack if we don’t change our diet and habits real soon….like, right now. Do you believe these doctors? Or do you just dismiss their expertise and decades of research as all part of some “hoax“?

We have these fast food minds—and their fatty food science denial agenda—telling us we’ll be just fine: “Eat on! Those heart doctors are wrong! Experts can’t be trusted! They’re elites! The truth has a liberal bias!” Not surprising, I guess, given we’re a nation with a big obesity (educational) problem. The “Eat on!” crowd has, for now, sadly, won the day. And so the long term costs and sacrifices that must and will eventually have to be made (mostly by the generation not responsible) in dealing with this climate crisis will only be greater and even more painful.

Real statesmanship (public leadership) is partly about getting people to face problems they’re avoiding….because it’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss…or, as we see on Capitol Hill, it cuts into their campaign donor’s profits. The tragic thing about our current national leadership—-the President and a large portion of Congress—is that there is so little statesmanship and so much pure selfish tribalism. The common good is not even remotely on the agenda. Because that would require political courage and compromise and bipartisanship. And we see so little of that anymore.

Though I continue to hold out hope, it’s getting harder and harder to be hopeful about the future. Whether it’s with the global climate crisis, massive inequality in this country, the cost of healthcare, or our tribal politics, I’m less and less optimistic we’re going to be able to avoid a major crisis. But I will continue to hope…and pray…and you’d had best do so also.