So what I’m going to write is based on a couple of assumptions. If the assumptions are wrong, then what follows is wrong.
- This pandemic is caused by a highly contagious and deadly virus.
- About 40 million people are unemployed in the U.S.
If #1 above is true, relaxing the semi-quarantines that are in place will result in at least a hundred thousand deaths in the immediate short term. No one with any scientific credentials or expertise in epidemiology seriously disputes this. To the contrary, leaders at all levels admit that there will be significant deaths.
Why would anyone do this?
Before answering why, it’s important to understand how most people think regarding the projected deaths. Here is the process: “If we relax the quarantines, a lot of people might die. I hope they don’t. If they do, I hope the hospitals don’t get overwhelmed. Anyway, I gotta get back to work.”
That. Is. It.
The entire framework of thought is guided by “hope.” Of course this isn’t hope at all. Hope is what you use when you are bereft of actual steps that you can take to mitigate an outcome, like when your airplane is falling out of the sky and you hope you don’t die. Or you hope it doesn’t hurt. Or you hope they find the wreckage.
Pilots don’t hope that the plane stays aloft before they fly. They do a pre-flight check. If something bad seems likely to happen, they take concrete steps to avoid it. They intimately inform themselves about the scenario before it occurs. Then, if the problem does arise, they enact the plans they have made, which only occur after they’ve taken all the steps they can to avoid the emergency in the first place.
Why would so many people simply shrug at a preventable, mostly certain, horrific outcome? Anyone who “hopes” that coronavirus deaths don’t spike without doing everything possible to corral the spread of the disease isn’t really hoping. They are saying “I don’t care anymore.”
First, the shock and awe of the disease have worn off for everyone who hasn’t died from it … which is mostly everyone. “I’m fine. Moving on. Gotta get back to work …”
Second, the people who made the decision to quarantine are powerful and/or rich. Diabetes, for example, or lung cancer do not generally strike at random. They are closely related to lifestyles of poor people. No nationwide mandatory campaign to eradicate smoking and unhealthy eating has ever been launched and never will be because, poor people. Elon Musk don’t smoke.
With the coronavirus, though, it seemed like we finally had a disease that could kill rich people, by infecting them or by clogging up the hospitals such that they couldn’t get the care they needed when they needed it. Guess what? Rich people took notice and immediately put a quarantine in place. Even initial resistance to the coronavirus (“It’s just kind of like, you know, a strong flu”) melted, so fearful were people that this would be a disease that might even kill white people, and less thinkable still, white people with money.
During the quarantine however we learned that the coronavirus actually kills poor, colored, sick, old people a lot more readily than rich, white ones. Poor people have to congregate whereas white people don’t. Poor people are in prison and ICE detention camps and shabby nursing homes, rich people aren’t. Poor people have to stand in food lines. Rich people don’t.
In other words, at the decision making level, 100,000+ people may die, but none of them will be in Congress, in the White House, in the judiciary, or in the governor’s mansion because those are places that can, do, and will implement fierce quarantines in the form of “social distancing.” Masks, plexiglass walls, hygiene, no physical proximity, strictly regulated physical contact, all the things that the poor can neither afford nor afford to do will be effected because they work. Micro-quarantines for the rich, cattle folds for everyone else.
Third, the coronavirus isn’t that bad. It only kills and sickens, with a few exceptions, those whose lives society deems worthless. It is a culling mechanism that, as long as it keeps its paws off of the powerful and the white, is actually doing us a favor by wiping out the people we have, over time, been taught to believe deserve nothing.
It would be nice to blame it on the president, but the categorization of people into “worthy lives” and “worthless lives” has been going on for a long, long time. Remember the stories of attempting to kill native Americans by giving them items infected with smallpox? Or the jogger gunned down in Georgia by an ex-cop and his son for running while black? The decision to dispense with quarantines and let the coronavirus “run its course” is driven at the top by people who feel like they’re safe, and at the bottom by people whose economic lives have been upended by the quarantines.
There is simply no doubt that the steps being taken in California and elsewhere are going to kill thousands of people, just as there’s no doubt that the victims will be relatively poor, relatively old, relatively sick, relatively marginalized already, and relatively colored. Does your stomach clench in horror at this thought? No? Then you’re probably good to go. Let’s partaaaay.
The big unspoken piece in this decision to abandon the quarantine in California and elsewhere is that healthcare in the U.S. is strictly rationed. We have fewer hospitals, fewer doctors, fewer ICUs, fewer critical care nurses, and less healthcare coverage than anywhere on earth given the nation’s relative wealth. And it’s a well known fact that the little healthcare we have is earth’s most expensive, by far, and what do we know about expensive things? You can’t have them if you’re not rich.
Consequently, when you have comprehensive health insurance and live in a major urban area, healthcare can be quite good. But that depends on the system not being overwhelmed. Rich white people are not healthier than poor people because they are somehow genetically blessed. They are healthier because they have better healthcare, which is related to skin color, which is related to money, which is related to education, which is related to making healthier choices such as gym > smoking.
You could even argue that access to healthcare was the only reason for the quarantine. Without it, white people with “good” insurance had no guarantee that they’d be cared for if they needed a doctor RIGHT FUCKING NOW. And damned if my doctor/hospital bed is going to be taken up with some homeless person, or worse, if I can’t even set foot in the hospital without risking infection.
But back to the tolja so …
The quarantine, such as it is, will be abandoned. Infections will spike. Thousands will get sick and die. Hospitals will be overwhelmed. Decision makers will institute another quarantine. We will be back at square one, having profited exactly not at all by the mistakes, missteps, bad choices, and greedy decisions made from February until now. Every single death will have been pointless, needless, and in vain. If we learn anything, it will be how to protect and isolate those with money and the right skin color from getting the coronavirus.
Which brings me to the second part of this whole projection, the 40 million unemployed people. This is only a number. Its full impact hasn’t been driven home, not yet, to those who are still employed, and it really hasn’t hit home for a whole bunch of the 40 million themselves. There’s a 60-day moratorium on evictions in California set to expire shortly, and a similar moratorium until August in New York. So the mass evictions haven’t begun yet.
Do you know what mass evictions look like? Do you know what the eviction legal process looks like or how it works? Do you know what the manpower requirements are going to be for the law enforcement agencies tasked with executing lockouts? Do you know what the global “visuals” are going to be as we become the Land of the Free, Home of the Homeless? Do you have any idea where these people and their families are going to go?
I know where they’re going to go. They’re going out on the streets. Families with kids, people who’ve played by the rules of the fake American Dream are going to find themselves living under a bridge or along the bike paths in Long Beach and Santa Ana. How do I know that? Because thousands of them already do. And a lot of those people are going to be very, very, very, very angry.
No one has even tried to discuss what this is going to look like because it’s inconceivable, yet most residential landlords in California are developing a strategy for evicting non-paying tenants. No one has suggested that even in the rosiest scenario that most of the 40 million will become re-employed in the short term. To the contrary, the economic shock has been so great that even the world’s biggest companies are now promising, guaranteeing, swearing blood oaths that come August/September they’ll be firing tens of thousands of their employees.
Could we see 50 million unemployed? 60 million? Or is everyone simply going back to work once the nail salons open? Does anybody think that the greatest economic contraction in Europe since 1760 is going to leave the U.S. unscathed?
Is any of this real? Yes? Then what does that mean for the dishwashers, bartenders, and Disneyland hosts? If the white guy who captains a jumbo jet is unemployed, what are the prospects for the gal who pushes a broom and empties a trash can?
Still, these are only numbers and they’re hard to visualize. So let’s reduce them. Remember the “We are the 99%” protests held by Occupy Wall Street way back in 2011? Their initial protest at Zucotti park had about 200-300 people. That was enough to provoke a police backlash, arrests, dispersement, and fierce repression. What kind of protests do you think are going to happen with 40 million unemployed people? Will they behave like the handful of folks sleeping out in a park with slogans and posters, meekly staggering away under threat of batons and handcuffs?
Or will they tear society apart at the seams out of hunger and rage? Will 40 million hungry, homeless people behave with the same docility as 200? There is a well-known correlation between hot summers, civil unrest, and rioting, and this summer is gonna be a scorcher.
Maybe a good way to visualize the social upheaval we have in store is to go to that terrible place known as history. During the other Great Depression, whose unemployment rate was similar to the one we have now only reached much more gradually, there was something called the Bonus Army Demonstration. Herbert Hoover, the ideological predecessor to the current president, drove away the protesters with gunfire, infantry, cavalry, and tanks. The protesters? WWI veterans and their families who had been decimated by the depression.
Today the havoc in the lives of the forty million has only begun to bubble, but the trillion-dollar corporate welfare checks have shown that equal welfare will not be given to individuals. When already inadequate unemployment checks run out, credit cards stop working, and lockouts begin in earnest we are going to see shit start burning down.
We will look back on these days as a kind of peaceful moment, the days before all hell broke loose. We will not be able to imagine that we entered a pandemic with 40,000,000 unemployed and dealt with it by abandoning quarantines, bailing out corporate America, and pissing on the backs of the people who are somehow supposed to, jobless and homeless, reinflate the balance sheets of Wall Street.
Get ready to hear it.
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