Playing the Coronavirus Odds
You’ve probably heard of the “If I get corona, I get corona” spring break partier, but in case you haven’t, here he is:
I don’t bring it up to criticize him. Others have done that and should do that. He’s apologized. You can read his apology in the second half of that YouTube video.
I bring it up, instead, to make a confession. Early in this pandemic, my attitude was very much like his. When the virus was still “only” in Italy and China (i.e., when only a handful of cases had been documented in the U.S.), I chose to be dismissive. I heard that “only” a very low percentage of people actually died, and they were people unlike me. They were 60 years old or older (I’m 46), and they had existing cardiovascular, lung, or other conditions (to my knowledge, I have none of those). It’s not that I bore the more vulnerable any ill-will. But the fact (if it is a fact) that I’m less vulnerable gave me a certain courage, if “courage” can be used to describe my reckless insouciance.
I didn’t go partying on a beach with scores of my closest friends. Even before Sangamon’s governor issued a shelter in place order, I (and my spouse) started being more cautious about going in public. One reason was I wanted to avoid being a vector for a disease that would kill someone else. Another reason, however, was convenience. Even in “normal” times, I’m not one for going out in public. A spring break beach party isn’t something I’m temperamentally inclined to do. Even in my early twenties, that type of thing didn’t appeal to me. That’s not because I’m a better person. It’s because I’m not wired that way.
Even now that I know better, I still hold what is probably an inordinate faith in the numbers game. Every day, Sangamon’s department of public health releases the number of deaths and breaks them down by age and sex. I look them over and scan quickly, noting to myself that for the most part, the ages are 50 and over.
As I’ve tried to argue before, pretensions to courage and morality mix uncomfortably with felt security. I’m not much different from that spring break partier. The main difference is that he stated what I was thinking, and he was shamed publicly.
Photo credit: Gambling, by Joe Grassby. Creative commons license: Attribution NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).
There are a bunch of things going on here:
1. 20-something year old men are generally not known for their foresight and courtesy. They are known for feeling immortal though.
2. Americans are generally known for having a “You are not the boss of me” attitude.
3. Almost no one in America has living memories of a pandemic. The AIDS crisis was mainly focused on gay men and it is not a potentially airborne disease like COVID-19. It is still a lot easier to become infected with COVID-19 than HIV, a lot more easy. We think of pandemics as being stuff from movies or other countries. The closest thing might be the polio outbreaks in the 1940s and 50s.
4. There could be a lot of negative partisanship fueling the reluctance to close down in some states. I don’t think Oklahoma’s governor is a committed civil libertarian. I do think he is committed to partisan own the libs and doing the opposite of California and New York because those states are filled with libs and “Demycraps.”
So this is an interesting social experiment to say the least.Report
#1. I agree that’s what “they’re known for,” though that comment leaves out the people who are doing the knowing. In my (albeit anecdotal) experience, a very large number of that cohort are very courteous and exercise a lot more prudence than what they’re “known” for.
As for feelings of immortality, maybe they’re “known” for that, but it’s quite possible that someone that age knows much more of mortality than, for example, I do at 46. A friend of mine’s mother died when we were in high school. He probably knew a lot about mortality than I did.
#2. There may be “national” attitudes and maybe that’s by and large the “American” attitude. But….I think it’s also an attitude of privilege. As an (again, anecdotal) observation: of those I’ve known in person and online, the more privileged, the more “you’re not the boss of me” attitudes they convey. They have what they have and the world owes them even more. Again, that’s just anecdote.
#4. Maybe that’s right? I haven’t been following the actions of the Oklahoma governor. Negative partisanship might be the explanation. It probably is, to some extent, maybe even for the most part. However, I’ll direct your attention to comments made at OT about how people might go with shelter in place for a few weeks, but will eventually say “screw it…we’re going to start taking risks again.” Maybe part of that governor’s decision is cut from the same cloth (albeit prospectively)–in addition to owning the libs. Both can be true. But again, I haven’t been following the situation in Oklahoma. If owning the libs is really what the governor there is thinking, then shame on him.Report
I’m part of the generation with the biggest reputation for selfishness in history. The virus isn’t a death sentence for us — despite our age and crappy health habits, the large majority will (most likely) eventually get infected, not need to be hospitalized, not die. We’re leaving some very large problems behind. (I claim we get blamed for too much stuff, but that’s a debate for a different day.) A lot of the pain from the current response to the coronavirus is going to fall heavily on people younger than me. There’s only so much sacrifice those young people should be asked to make for me — and perhaps we’re already asking too much.
With tongue only partly in cheek, if we’re going to put today’s college students through a Greater Depression, asking them to give up Spring Break seems petty on our part.Report
People my age to twenty or eighteen are going to feel the brunt of the economic hardship from this. That doesn’t change the fact that people like the spring breaker are still potentially getting infected and spreading the virus. The virus doesn’t care about fairness. Plus, college students who can go on spring break are less likely to feel the pain that twenty somethings already at work for a living. The former still have parents they can rely on for the most part.Report
yeah, spring break in Florida was always a thing for the privileged. I was more privileged than many in that I was actually a college student and not a working 20-something, but my past spring breaks were either visiting family (free bed and board!) or staying in town and working.
I remember being bemused as a grad student in Illinois at the undergrads (mostly rich kids from the wealthy Chicago ‘burbs) who would drive down to New Orleans the Friday before Mardi Gras, party all weekend (and skip Monday and Tuesday classes), and, presumably, either drive back hungover or have a designated driver and drag into class on the Thursday after Fat Tuesday. It seemed….to me to be a lot of effort for a party.
but then I was never a party person.
And there wasn’t a pandemic on, the only thing I worried about for my students was getting robbed while drunk or getting into a car wreck. I didn’t worry about myself because I was safely in my lab working all that week….I would have felt very differently had it been a pandemic time.Report
I had similar experiences in my MA program, which was at a flagship university, but in a different state. In my PHD program, it was different, because I was at an urban university and while a large number of undergrads were very “of privilege,” a bigger proportion were from more marginal circumstances.
Even so, I don’t think it’s my place to judge. (I’ll judge anyway, but it’s not my place.) I’ve done foolish things, even if they were much less conspicuous. For example, I used to eat a steady diet of junk food. That’s not partying for Mardi Gras, but over time, it can be just as damaging.Report
I agree that boomers get blamed for a lot of things they shouldn’t be blamed for….and that “blame” is the wrong way to look at it. People respond to incentives and to their environment. Some people make better choices than others, and presumably some are better people than others. But to make a sweeping generalization about all members of a generation is wrong. (Not that I haven’t done it myself, mind.)Report
Great piece, I really enjoyed it!Report