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Chatterbox: Fire play


What’s happening around the world right now has happened before, but for almost all Americans alive today, it’s totally foreign. It’s a bit “Twilight Zone,” a bit “Groundhog Day.” Our under-seasoned leadership remains stymied while we just wait for it to be over, hoping to get through it.

The one thing most foreign and dismaying to everyone is the ubiquitous impediment of mass quarantine. It existed before at various times, for various reasons in many places, and affected large numbers of people. On this scale, though rare, it’s not completely unprecedented even in America.

During World War I and II in England, dozens of regulations were issued. Even failing to black out windows was an arrestable offense; no one could just refuse. During the 1918-1919 flu pandemic 50 million people died worldwide. In America, regulations were issued about gatherings, failure to socially distance (really), and even police wore masks in the streets. Various precautions were taken, including forced isolation and quarantine. These were rules created to protect all the people and the children, and enforced because violators didn’t endanger only themselves.

In two outbreaks of tuberculosis in America, patients could be forced to isolate at home or be quarantined in facilities, alone and far from home. It wasn’t voluntary and, again, failure to comply could result in arrest.

Leadership during those crises demonstrated that people were not expendable – not the sick, the elderly or the poor, not laborers, working class, or immigrants … no one. The people understood also, that the elite wouldn’t be protected by position, wealth, or even implacability and denial. The upper class didn’t feel particularly vulnerable and they had far more options, but they still understood that privilege couldn’t protect them from the plague. Influenza knew nothing of money and power.

While no one is advocating quasi-totalitarianism, no one should be defying regulations that affect everyone or storming public buildings with guns over them, either. Media today feature protesters on tirades about infringement on civil liberties, the inconveniences of all the precautions, and too much legislation. It’s an instigated, highly orchestrated display by people who rally against following regulations on gathering and distancing, and refuse to wear masks for safety but, ironically, most wear them to hide their identity.

The rebels whine about too much government and “living in fear,” but besides this not being unprecedented, we all follow innumerable rules and regulations, every day, which limit our freedom, whether we’re working or playing.

We wear helmets, seat belts and bathing suits in public. We apply for permits and licenses; we register our cars, which must pass inspection criteria; we pay tolls, and put on shoes to enter stores. We comply because we must, but it benefits everyone. We aren’t legislated to wear sunscreen, but we do. Is that living in fear, or just straight up smart? We’ve been obliged to cover our sneezes all our life, and would complain loudly if even a healthy waiter coughed on our eggs.

There are immense and ubiquitous regulatory minutiae everywhere and always, so we must recognize all of these protests as manufactured hype, purposefully orchestrated to intimidate and confuse others. The protesters advocate ending quarantine, while protesting preventative and precautionary behavior in public at the same time. Such is the frenetic mayhem of those carrying out orders formulated on pious impulse, by those who command without caring or forethought.

Soon, while world evidence as counted in lives lost proves we’re not ready, we’ll be given the green light to re-enter our infected social and business environs, where in many places, protective gear is ignored, and either cannot or will not be enforced. Why the careful ones will return to the streets is the real tragedy here. Our poorest households are suffering most and will jeopardize their safety to feed their family. They will be the canaries in the coal mine for those who believe they merit a better shot – always.

Even after huge financial donations to big businesses – from the people’s purse instead of our insane American budget – and while our leadership whines about its bills, we will return to a still infected society for business’s sake.

Our nation, especially, has the wherewithal to do everything it needs to for her people and then some, without even feeling it. Our reluctant leaders and the exclusive classes they serve must swallow that pill.

The economic wobble can be mitigated, the people’s financial hardship eased and the inconvenience endured, but death is permanent and so is the emotional pain and financial plummet it creates.