The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp: Rembrandt, 1632

"Our own innocence seems most vulnerable."

Up against The Ides of May, and best guess estimates of the number of pandemic casualties in the You Ess of A exceeds the number lost in all the wars we've engaged in since 1950. That's four and a half months to exceed the number of war dead over the prior seventy years, and we've been continuously engaged in war over that time. Some still doubt whether this epidemic hasn't been overblown for political dominion, with armed self-proclaimed militia "safeguarding" the "rights" of certain shopkeepers to encourage conditions shown to stimulate the virus' spread. Most of the dead seem innocent enough, having contracted the bug from inadvertent contact. I saw last night on television an interview with a top virologist who was recovering from a bout he figures he'd caught while on a flight to New Orleans last month. He wore a mask and gloves and carried his handy hand sanitizer, and had decades of experience working with killer viruses, but he still caught the damned thing. This bug respects nobody's God-granted or constitutionally-guaranteed rights to life or liberty, let alone the pursuit of simple happiness.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned their governor's extension of his stay-at-home order, the justices insisting that he'd over-reached his legal powers in attempting to limit the possibility that some might otherwise needlessly die from viral infection.
The governor doubtlessly dispensed prudent advice, but the law IS the law, and being the law, the absolute literal letter of it defines just if not necessarily prudent. Some seem to weigh economic concerns as greater than more modest aspirations for simply living, temporarily free or not, and they argue that we must find a balance between protecting and exposing ourselves, an obviously phony equivalence. Other governors, in a seeming reversal of roles, have become screaming libertarians, refusing to shut down anything, ignoring advice by experts in the field as their citizens die in supposedly acceptable numbers, perhaps even "necessarily." "Let no law interrupt the free flow of the people," not even the decidedly undemocratic and unjust laws of epidemiology, clearly a tyrant's creed.

The result has been an uncountable number of otherwise "unnecessary deaths," a term that begs for some definition of what constitutes the "necessary" kind. I'll refer to these deaths as the result of Morpidity, a ramification of a curiously human—and often uniquely American—stupidity when assessing the greater of any two threats. Communism, the apparent causative factor of many of the last seventy years' "necessary" war deaths, and terrorism, a handy replacement cause once communism had inevitably over-run its course, turned out to be discretionary enemies. We might have stepped aside and denied them unnecessary opposition and thereby sped their demise, like we do with viruses, or worked to develop what we might think of as social vaccines to induce immunity by demonstrating an odd ounce of faith in the inherent superiority of our founding philosophies, but we chose to confront instead, producing our many apparently "necessary" dead. Confrontation seems the likely villain, not simply the opposing virus or -ism.

A spare ounce of respect might actually produce better results than even a ton of any other cure. We avoid stepping into obvious lion's dens, however that limitation might inhibit our mobility. Likewise, we might respect this virus by seeking first to deny it any clear path to dominion. We're not being chicken or anti-democratic when we value life over liberty when liberty sentences some of the most innocent among us to almost certain death. I might overblow my argument, for only a seemingly small percentage of those contracting this virus actually die from it, but we have developed little understanding of how to pre-determine the immediate destiny of anyone contracting this disease. Japan last week lost to this virus one of its champion Sumo wrestlers, by any measure one of the most physically powerful people. Not all innocent victims reside in assisted living facilities. Some just hopped a subway.

As inconveniencing and humiliating as the stay at home order seems, we seem wiser to abide. Yes, some of us are watching our livelihoods evaporate while enjoined to remain idle. We cannot ship an expeditionary force comprised of our best, brightest, and youngest to confront this particular enemy out of earshot in some steaming jungle somewhere. It's here, aching to enter your door, hitchhiking on a cuff or shoe in ways you or I could never anticipate. That quick trip to replenish the supply of potato chips could cause the death of another innocent, without anyone ever feeling like an armed combatant. Our own innocence seems most vulnerable. Our time-worn honor, our over-proud tradition of confrontation, seems to result in Morbidity more reliably than it produces any lasting peace or tranquility, except, of course, the abiding peace and infinite tranquility of the innocent's grave.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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