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"I’d like to dig a little deeper into the discourse of “safetyism.” This is the description that some conservative pundits have given to the risk-averse approach of the public health agencies throughout the pandemic, and also to those individuals who took a “better safe than sorry” approach to COVID, even when there were no vaccines and no terribly effective therapeutics."

I don't think we should take these arguments at face value. It is certainly true that there is no way to live without risk, but we need to test their resolve on this principle by comparing these arguments to their evaluations of crime, carrying weapons, living in gated "communities," and encasing themselves within armored vehicles. Let them speak, but I am guessing that it is all BS until they prove otherwise.

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Yeah. One of the major pundits who has been on about safetyism and the pandemic is also a huge tough-on-crime person. Back in 2020, when someone said "Stay safe," the liberals meant "don't get COVID" and the conservatives meant "be careful of urban crime"! Everyone is a safetyist for thing they're most afraid of.

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I'd be more sympathetic if I thought "tough on crime" sprang from genuine, misguided fear. Usually it's just a weapon to achieve political power, power most useful for transferring income "up" the distribution scale by reducing taxes on high-income people and reducing transfers to low income people.

I am not sympathetic to either kind of "safetyism."

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Yeah this is one of those things where I agree with the abstract idea of being tough on crime, but when such a large share of the people who embrace that idea twist it into something bad, it makes me wonder if the idea is salvageable. (Which is how conservatives see urbanism when they see all the lefties who embrace it, heh).

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Feb 21, 2022Liked by Addison Del Mastro

Definitely concur, I feel like the framing of many "arguments" has been far more worrisome than the specific conclusions. I see one major issue where it seems like many, particularly on the right, are intentionally collapsing several very different concepts into "safetyism":

* People have different personal risk tolerances

* People have different tolerances for how much risk they're willing to impose *on others*

* People have different tolerances for how much actual, concrete damages they're willing to impose on others.

By reducing these all to a single point, you get bizarre cases like people extolling actions that are intentionally causing harm to vulnerable as signs of personal courage: "Because I've got basically nothing to worry about, I'll "virtue" signal my courage by not caring about the massive death spike in the elderly around me." It's bonkers, and it doesn't make any sense except in this artificial rhetorical construct that's been put together to justify a particular means of signalling.

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Yes, this puts it very well

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founding

Also comes up in say Driving Discourse so uhhh I don't expect things are going to get any more reasonable on that front any time soon :(

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Ha, the only other time I've written this harsh a takedown was probably my review of this book about driving! https://kirkcenter.org/reviews/free-ride/

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There is also just massive misperception of how great the uncertain relative harm IS for say nuclear power vs the alternative ways of generating power.

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Feb 21, 2022Liked by Addison Del Mastro

Bravo

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Mar 21Liked by Addison Del Mastro

What a thoughtful and unexpected commentary. Come for the urbanist insights, stay for the perspective! There were many mistakes made during pandemic…”novel” meant that we had no idea what we were up against, and our national leadership failed us disastrously. The Trump administration’s combination of malicious intent, greed and political cunning led to hundreds of thousands more deaths than in other countries, and politicized what should have been simple, sensible common practices. Could churches have figured out how to offer services more safely? Yes, probably. Church services could also be (and were) super-spreader events. We just didn’t know. We were just feeling our way forward and doing the best we could with what we knew. Hindsight can be 20/20, or history can be rewritten. I remember the overflowing morgues and exhausted health care workers, the fear and panic. We stayed home because we were trying to buy time to save lives—not just our own lives, but those of strangers. We stayed home and later wore masks because of kindness, generosity, and empathy, and a belief in flourishing communities. We simply accepted that we are our brother’s keepers, and behaved accordingly. Did we over-react in some cases? Yes. Could we have done better? Maybe…but we have we learned? No. Should we love our neighbors as ourselves? Should we do unto others as we would have others do unto us? As Christians, of course, but cruelty, selfishness and contempt for “weakness” are deeply human flaws. Attempts to mask cruelty and selfishness as virtues such as courage or faith are, as you point out, Orwellian. They are also realio-trulio sins.

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Thank you! This one might seem a little out of left field haha but it's one I wanted to write for a long time. (I'll also be publishing another look-back piece touching the whole "vibecession" thing soon.)

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Feb 21, 2022Liked by Addison Del Mastro

I think the question of how to deal with the houses of worship in early 2020 was one of the most interesting practical applied philosophy problems in human history.

The state of our understanding at that time was effectively that any human interaction was high-risk but that there were some things that were just too important to cancel (staffing hospitals and kitchens, etc.), so we would have to accept those risks with some - but very limited - strategies for mitigating them, while avoiding the risks when it came to unimportant activities.

That gave rise to people complaining, "Hey, if McDonald's is important enough to keep open, why not my church?"

And there is an obvious answer to that question which nobody wanted to have to say out loud. But it is basically this. Dealing with a pandemic forces you to confront reality. The virus is real and the need to eat are real. But religion has always been fake, as fake as a Disney movie. Thus, from the perspective of public health, the calculus of how many people can safely gather in a church is no different from the calculus of how many people can safely gather in a movie theater. Yet we were forced to pretend they were different, that there was some importance to worship. There was something fundamentally theatrical about this. If there is any importance to worship at all, the importance only comes from the possibility that religion might actually be true. So, at a time when we were forced to confront reality at its most ruthless, we were also forced to indulge falsehoods at their most fanciful and craft public policy under the assumption that Zeus and Vishnu were as real as virology. A society with more adult supervision might have said something like, Your faith traditions have accomplished many wonderful things in the past, but at this time we can't stake human lives on the assumption that there is actual truth to them.

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See though, I am a Christian and I still thought it was okay to close churches at that point. Hell, the Catholic Church itself closed down most in-person services. It isn't for me that religion isn't real. But it is that food and shelter are real in a more immediate and inarguable sense. We live in a pluralist country and our public health agencies should in fact look towards the preservation of physical health. The problem is for these uber-Catholics, pluralism and classical liberalism are themselves a sort of secularist religion. I do not take that view, obviously, despite being Catholic.

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Feb 22, 2022Liked by Addison Del Mastro

Also restaurants with seating were in fact closed at that time. The thirty-second interaction at a drive-in window is not comparable to a Mass that lasts for an hour.

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As someone who is not religious (and generally left-ish), I still believe that religious freedom is one of the most important rights we have in this country. Obviously going to church isn't the same as going to a movie for those who sincerely believe. The question of when it's OK to ban or temporarily limit certain religious activity in the name of public safety is rarely going to have an obvious answer, unless you think that either religious freedom or public safety are unimportant.

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The way to deal with that is actual behavior. Tell people the risks to themselves and other of gathering in McDonalds or at Mass and let THEM make the call.

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Well, the issue there is "risks to others." I don't think you can treat this like seatbelts because those other people have no say. An infectious disease just *is* an irreducibly collective problem. I think the American political mind largely doesn't accept that such a problem can exist and that's part of the problem.

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Maybe, but CDC did not really try. BTW, I am far from saying that local decision makers should not take contagion into account in designing theri policies. There they are central. But CDC never said who masks were protecting and how effective they were. THAT I think is what turned mask wearing into a cultural signaling issue/

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I like where you come out, but feel that your targets are a little too easy and that who did refuse to go outside and/or mask outside or insist on closing venues instead of making them less risky are equally deserving of criticism.

Paradoxically I passed the peak of the pandemic in a small town in Colombia subject to more severe lockdown than the US -- without being in any important way inconvenienced. :)

My own take [https://thomaslhutcheson.substack.com/p/covid-policy-errors] is that the errors both on the too much and too little side was the fault of the PH authorities

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I agree - the thing is because of the circles I run in I saw a lot of this commentary and it strikes me as being more wrong - I think being overly cautious is more forgivable than shrugging. But yeah, the whole masking outside stuff was too far. And as always seems to happen in our politics, the two extremes egged each other on and this all ended up getting dragged into culture war politics.

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