How Globalization and Technology Hurt the Fight Against Covid
Covid cases continue to rise. Deaths continue to mount. Hospitals continue to be overwhelmed. Is this a fourth wave? A fifth? And far too many people continue to deny the seriousness of this flywheel of historic tragedy.
Why? I would like to propose a theory.
Scope of the Pandemic Tragedy
But, first, let’s get real….
Almost 640,000 people in America have died from Covid in the eighteen months since March 2020, according to CNN. That’s more than 35,500 Americans killed each month. Outrage was sparked by 13 U.S service members killed by recent bombings in Afghanistan. Plenty still drive around with emblems of remembrance for the 2,996 killed on 9/11. But Covid’s innumerable deaths elicit from far too many a shoulder shrug of concern and a staunch refusal to act.
If you were to list in a book simply the first and last names of each person who has perished from Covid-19, it would be 1,280,000 words, which is longer than the entire 7-book series of Harry Potter (1,084,170 words, according to Word Counter).
It dwarfs the number of military personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines who died in the 44 months of World War II: approximately 407,000, according to The National World War II Museum. At 9,250 deaths per month, that’s about 25% of the Covid death rate.
A line of 640,000 people, one per yard, would extend 363 miles. If you started such a line at the World Trade Center and ran it south, it would extend past the Jersey Shore, beyond Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach and fly past Virginia Beach, ending in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, 30 miles south of Kitty Hawk.
This continuing crisis is 100% epic in proportions.
Justifications for Resistance
Yet, we hear vehement protests against the simple obligation to wear a mask or get a widely-proven-to-be-safe vaccination.
We are all familiar with the debate:
“You can’t make me wear a mask!” But folks are made to wear shoes and shirts and pants. “I can do what I want!” Except for the hundreds of thousands of governmental laws, societal norms, religious strictures and familial dictates which say otherwise. “This is a country of freedom!” Overlooking that collective freedom also requires collective responsibility. “My body. My choice.” Adopting, oddly enough, a principal battle cry of the pro-choice movement.
“I will trust in God.” But if all of existence comes from God than the vaccine is from God too. “I don’t trust Biden (or Democrats).” Disregarding the indisputable facts that the vaccine was developed during a Republican Presidency and that lions of the political right…Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott and former President Trump…have been vaccinated.
“There is not enough research.” So say folks who — along with most Americans — can’t even fathom the amount of work and studying and research and publishing it took for scientists and doctors to study Covid and develop the vaccine…much less read and understand what has actually been published.
“The pandemic is an exaggeration and a hoax!” Denying irrefutable data from all corners of the country and world…from hospitals being overwhelmed by cases…from countless industries which have lost or are risking loss of unfathomable amounts to abide by Covid precautions. The Tokyo Summer Olympics…the NBA…the NFL…MLB…the NHL…the NCAA…and countless European soccer leagues…did not give up on billions in revenue because of a hoax.
How do we explain this recalcitrant resistance? How do we explain what is truly…ultimately…potentially, truly suicidal resistance based on the flimsiest of rationales?
The flippant reaction to this line of thinking is to cast aspersions online or in exasperated conversations. But I don’t believe those are productive responses, or that they offer the correct explanations. There is a salient message mixed within the resistance.
Economic Roots of Pandemic Resistance
I believe the correct explanation is rooted in current economic trends.
Pillars of the American economic system have been failing many of the people who are resisting vaccinations. Globalization, with its subsets of open trade and fungible, transient labor. Technology, with its subsets of automation and nationalized commerce (i.e., small businesses fighting not just against other neighborhood business but against businesses with vastly different cost structures in other parts of the country).
Good for the rich. Good for those who have bankers to funnel money around private accounts and across borders. Good for those who, with the swipe of a pen, can move thousands of jobs halfway across the country or around the world. Good for those whose socio-economic status is fortified by rarefied social networks, inaccessible elite education and bureaucratically-protected jobs. Good for those who can change their residence like mortals change their wireless plans. Good for those entrenched in the global nodes of political or economic or technological power.
Bad for almost everyone else.
Globalization and technology have left a wake of human devastation that has long been overlooked.
The Devastation of Globalization and Technology
Factory towns zombified for multiple generations now. Quaint main streets now dilapidated and shrouded in plywood and graffiti. Blue collar suburbs forced to commit slow harikari by shopping at big box stores that (a) export all profits to their distant, already gluttonously-rich owners, (b) who buy almost all products from overseas suppliers and (c) are aggressively casting more and more neighbors into unemployment in favor of self-checkout and online sales…(d) using equipment most likely also manufactured overseas!
Small businesses across the country suffocated by online commerce that mercilessly cuts into the economic viability of any business not owned by the rich. Whole swaths of America deemed nothing but fly-over country and left to tread water in a system indifferent to its negative impact on them.
For a significant portion of voters, the presidential election of 2016 was never about supporting its specific victor. It was about the many people who are pissed off. Ready to support a politician who would rail at the “Establishment” how they wanted and with words they wanted…whether or not any campaign promises would ever be delivered upon.
Ready to thumb their noses at the socially-acceptable version of “America” because it’s been thumbing its nose at them for years and years. Ready to cherry-pick their principles of America because it’s been cherry-picking beneficiaries of the system. Ready…as we are seeing now…to resist vaccinations for the greater good (not to mention themselves) because, for decades, the greater good excluded concerns about factory jobs, blue collar work, small towns and things that mattered to them.
This does not explain the underpinning sentiments of everyone who refuses to be vaccinated. Not longstanding religious devotees. Not those who distrust the government for legitimate historical reasons. Not those who are using this issue for crass political gain. There are certainly others as well.
This also is not contending folks should be exculpated for refusing to adopt basic public health precautions. They ought to be culpable. They ought to accept the consequences of their exercise of freedom.
We Are All Intertwined
I would contend, this hypothesis, any way you flip it, holds up to explain the intransigence of a substantial number of Americans. I am certainly open to other explanations…except for those explanations which don’t recognize there is something legitimate sparking their illogic and anger. Their acts of refusal are communicating something deeply dissatisfied with our country.
If the pandemic prompts us to proclaim we are all interconnected, “so you must mask up and vaxx up,” then we must also embrace the inverse or corollary principle: we are all interconnected and the problems of those devastated by globalization and technology are our problems…and not just unfortunate byproducts of “progress” that can be left unattended and cast aside in history’s wake. Footnotes to the principle of “survival of the fittest.”
We are all intertwined; we must heed their underlying concerns. We must fix their problems. How? First, by acknowledging that they exist and they’re real and listening with an open mind and from their perspective. Because, in the end, just as their Covid is our Covid, their economic problems are our economic problems.
[image from www.warontherocks.com]