The Pandemic of Virtue
May 5, 2020
The Chinese Communist Party has given the American—and Western—left a wonderful gift. Never before has it been so easy, so cheap, or so convenient to moralize.
Thanks to the Wuhan coronavirus, our most virtuous citizens are those who sit in a comfortable home, busily teleworking, drawing full salary, and announcing proudly that they’ll persist as long as it takes to ensure our safety. Bonus points to those who’ve taken the extra family time to notice that they do have children who might benefit from some form of bonding in the moments no longer wasted commuting.
As we find ourselves hurtling toward the seventh? (Eighth? Tenth? Who knows? It’s all one big blur) week of our new cultural morality, the time has come to take stock and review some rules.
Staying at home is virtuous. Venturing out creates a rebuttable presumption of ill intent. Law enforcement officers—or even self-appointed neighborhood scolds—should stop and interrogate anyone seen outside engaging in some activity that is not obviously essential.
Caring about sickness and death related to the coronavirus is virtuous. Expressing sympathy for citizens denied transplants, surgeries, and treatments deemed “elective,” or pushed into unemployment, bankruptcy, penury, domestic abuse, anxiety, depression, or suicide is callous and selfish.
Embracing the worst-case predictions available at any moment is virtuous. Preferring the methodology of a far more modest predictive model demonstrates an intent to play games with people’s lives. Insisting upon clarity in data definitions, reasonableness in assumptions, or accepted statistical practices in model construction ignores science.
Reporting that existing medications appear to have been useful in helping at least some folks infected with the virus is a dangerous hoax. Speculating that some as yet untested vaccine will immunize the global population is wise and scientific.
Believing that in the presence of a public health crisis, those trained in epidemiology should possess dictatorial powers is virtuous. Suggesting that the opinions of public health officials are merely one of several concerns appropriate to consider before restructuring society is cruel and uncaring.
Of course, that’s not to say that the new allocation of virtue and vice lacks subtlety. It must be overlaid on other important social concerns.
New York proudly ejected a field hospital built, funded, and run on charity dollars (i.e., not at taxpayer expense) rather than accept Christian charity. Some principles are inviolable, even in the face of emergency.
Medical professionals with specializations unrelated to the virus nobly stood aside as hospitals and bureaucrats shut down their practices and denied care to their patients. Unless, of course, their specialization is abortion, in which case they railed against reduced access to their services. Priorities, after all, are priorities.
Hasidic Jews attending the funeral of a revered Rabbi offended New York City’s famously progressive mayor so gravely that he put the entire Jewish community on notice. Gay men flocking to sun themselves on a crowded Christopher Street Pier barely warranted a mention. Because traditionally oppressed groups (like LGBT) deserve sympathy unavailable to traditionally dominant groups (like Hasidim).
Non-essential personnel—from preachers to tattoo artists—received fines and arrests for plying their trade. Fortunately, marijuana dispensaries remain essential. Fathers playing catch with their kids and surfers on the open sea were sanctioned. Restaurants offering takeout and delivery are local businesses worthy of support—as long as they don’t cross the line into criminality by allowing patrons to sit. The virtuous among us call for increased enforcement.
Vile protestors flock to streets, plazas, and state capitols selfishly claiming rights and seeking to restart their lives. Virtuous citizens sitting at home lament their inability to maintain the high behavioral standards of those who sought justice in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charlotte, and elsewhere earlier this decade.
It’s a glorious new morality—to America. In China, whose regime provided progressives with the opportunity to adopt it—it’s old hat. It comes down to a single word: compliance.
The new morality, it turns out, is as old as human history. Our leaders have determined what is necessary to serve the public good. Our job is to comply. Failure to comply—or even willingness to question—marks you as an enemy of the public.
We are hurtling headfirst into very dangerous territory. The scariest thing about it is neither the virus nor the economic shutdown. The true source of terror is the ease with which a majority of Americans seem willing to embrace the reasoning that every one of history’s dictators has forwarded to justify the death of freedom.
Bruce Abramson, Ph.D. J.D., is the founder of the American Restoration Institute and the author of “American Restoration: Winning America’s Second Civil War.”