No one in their right mind purposely acts in a way to increase their chances of contracting the coronavirus.
No one thinks that by dancing in a conga line at a mostly unmasked party COVID will pierce their immune systems.
No one attending a religious service believes God would be so indiscriminate as to allow the virus to defile their worship.
No one thinks that attending an indoor party or family gathering would negate months of social distancing by permitting tiny droplets of infection to enter their body.
So why do they do it? Why do seemingly sane people take actions that are not in their best interests? Why do they ignore warnings from healthcare professionals? Why do they disregard news reports? Why do they resist taking simple precautions like wearing a mask in public, social distancing at least six feet, and washing their hands?
Why? Why? Why?
It’s because we have a population that is selfish if not greedy. No longer a generation imbued with collective purpose as during World War II, we have a large cohort bent on fulfilling individual desires fused with an indifference to accountability and compassion for human suffering.
Now, clearly more than half the country possesses the virtuous gene of responsibility. They did, after all, choose Joe Biden over Donald Trump. But when 74 million can vote for a man who has based his whole life on selfishness and greed, who sets an example of grifting, bullying and denigration, who abdicates responsibility, who demands personal fealty over loyalty to the nation, we are a country infected by a condition much more deadly than a pathogen.
COVID-19 and any mutations will be conquered. We are not living through Stephen King’s “The Stand.” Science will triumph. But selfishness, greed and indifference are attacking our soul. There is no inoculation for that condition.
Capitalism requires some degree of selfishness and greed. The remedy is not the destruction of capitalism. The challenge we all face is melding capitalism with collective responsibility.
In the richest country the world has ever known there is no reason why millions of children go to bed hungry each night. No reason faucets gush contaminated water. No reason workers toil 40 hours a week yet still cannot bring home a living wage for their families. No reason we allow pockets of poverty to be Internet dead zones. No reason health care is a right too often unavailable to the poor. No reason the cost of treating catastrophic illness can bankrupt families. No reason higher education is beyond the financial reach of millions. No reason we have permitted the deterioration of mass transit systems along with infrastructure of roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, air traffic control and electricity grids while we feed an insatiable military industrial complex even as, inexplicably, many of our siloed missiles have degraded.
Mitch McConnell derides as socialism government aid to needy families. Yet he and fellow Republicans waste no time extending tax relief to the wealthy, or providing subsidies to farmers and energy companies. Callously, he expresses indifference to the real economic needs of millions unsure of where they will find funds to buy food and pay for shelter.
McConnell is safely ensconced in a new six year Senate term. His indifference to tragedy unfolding before his eyes is beyond callousness. It is cruelty. Evil cruelty. The flip side of the same coin of evil, selfish cruelty Trump displayed by submarining quick passage of the COVID relief bill his own lieutenants negotiated, thereby subjecting countless families to unnecessary, avoidable anxieties during the Christmas-New Years period that should have been reserved for good tidings free of worry.
The tasks facing Joe Biden as president in three weeks are no less comparable than the labors of Hercules. Perhaps the most difficult will be instilling in everyone a sense of collective obligation, of compassion and empathy.
Whether it is Biden’s “Build Back Better” or Trump’s “Make America Great Again” the sloganeering goal will remain elusive if each and every American does not rededicate themselves to the common good.
On this New Year’s Day, when so many make resolutions for self-improvement, let’s hope they choose to throw off the restraining triple yoke of selfishness, greed and indifference to human suffering. And, unlike most New Year’s resolutions, let’s hope they see this commitment through to completion.