Getting to the heart of what's wrong with a certain strain of conservative pandemic commentary
"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.
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.
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.