Those who have lost track of time during the disorienting sameness of quarantine life are on notice: Oklahoma City Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner wants everyone out of their sweats and into their suits by the end of the month, COVID-19 be damned.
During the April 14 Oklahoma City Council meeting, Greiner told the council that Mayor David Holt’s shelter-in-place order should end on April 30. While Greiner acknowledged the toll of the virus, he also signaled that some things are worse than death, like not being able to work.
“The virus is killing tens of thousands of people in this country while we are taking these extreme measures trying to prevent it,” Greiner said. “So, the worst-case scenario that I’ve seen if we do very little and not the extreme measures is 200,000. Now, that’s obviously a guess.”
If coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that there are many people among us who hold interesting opinions on acceptable fatality rates.
Greiner bemoaned the current unemployment rate during the COVID-19 outbreak, saying the U.S. could be facing 16 percent unemployment by mid-summer, speaking as though that were the greater threat than the virus itself.
“To be clear, I don’t think we should have done nothing,” Greiner said. “But I think the media and all of the government policies have caused more damage than the virus would have if we would have just taken more reasonable personal precautions.”
It was clear: Greiner was saying that if the government had stayed out of it and let individuals concern themselves with protecting themselves, the economy would not be faltering to this degree and just short of a quarter-million people might die — tops.
OpinionFrom George Lang, our lead opinion columnist
And as he said these things, I found myself asking a question: Who is John Galt?
The answer is clearly James Greiner.
Galt is a character in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a novel treasured by current and former teenage intellectuals who do not like being told what to do. It is also part of the canon of Libertarianism, a loose political philosophy and even looser political party that, in the post-Reagan era, acts as a strong current flowing through conservative thought when it comes to “big government.”
Government intervention to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is a John Galt nightmare, a collectivist approach in which everyone is asked to shelter in place and work together to “flatten the curve.”
What Greiner is espousing is full-bore objectivism, particularly when he offers the phrase “reasonable personal precautions.” This is 100 percent objectivism, the Randian philosophy that espouses individual free will, rational self-interest/egoism and a hands-off approach to business and personal interests.
This philosophy is problematic for many reasons, but for now, let us focus on why you cannot be John Galt in a pandemic.
If you exercise your Randian free will in an epidemic, you run the risk of becoming the Mary Mallon of COVID-19. In the early 20th century, Mallon was a cook who worked for wealthy New York families. Everywhere she worked over the course of seven years, the majority of people who ate her food or otherwise came into contact with Mallon came down with high fevers and life-threatening diarrhea.
We are, of course, talking about the woman who became known as “Typhoid Mary,” patient zero in an outbreak that infected 51 people and killed three. By continuing to pursue work as a cook while huge numbers of people succumbed to typhoid, Mallon was exercising rational self-interest. In order to stop her from continuing to choose a deadly form of free will, New York health authorities had to forcibly quarantine Mallon for three years.
When she was freed from quarantine, Mallon changed her name to Mary Brown and went to work for a women’s hospital, where 25 more people contracted the disease and two died. If she had her gallbladder removed, Mallon could have stopped spreading typhoid, but she refused, and the overweening government of Libertarian fever dreams quarantined Mallon for the last 23 years of her life on North Brother Island in the East River, asymptomatic but deadly to the end.
Now, Greiner said that our goal should be for society to develop herd immunity to COVID-19, and he is absolutely correct.
Unfortunately, too many people who make that argument do not understand herd immunity at all. They think that we all just go outside, lick one another’s faces and get COVID-19. Then, an acceptable amount of death takes place, but most of the survivors develop immunity and those who do not are protected by the “herd” around them. And it will all happen as soon as everyone stops this nonsense and gets back to work.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made this argument in March, and within days, the collectivist National Institutes of Health was treating him for coronavirus in an intensive care unit.
As Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for the American Heart Association wrote last month, herd immunity only happens after “many, many months, or even years.”
The desire for immediate gratification will not result overnight in the kind of herd immunity our society now enjoys against diseases such as measles.
Greiner can have his opinion on this — he has the free will to do so. What is not acceptable is for a person who works in government and is responsible for taking care of his ward’s needs to actively espouse government inaction that would endanger people living in his ward.
Libertarians are out in force right now, protesting quarantines by encircling state capitol buildings while wearing Guy Fawkes masks and MAGA hats.
I am tempted to encourage them to exercise their free will, but this is a time to think about the greater good, the welfare of not just ourselves, but those around us who might be losing the thread.
Greiner should do so as well.
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