Stop Saying “We”

Stop Saying “We” March 27, 2020

I finally finished going through that First Things article this morning over at Stand Firm. Check it out!


It’s an interesting exercise to ponder this article several days away from its publication. I wrote about it on Tuesday. You can read it all over again but probably best not. It took me 1500 to react to the first paragraph. So let’s see if we can get through the rest in the same number. Mr. Reno posits that the whole world shutting down for the sake of a few is “sentimentalism” and that,

Truth is another casualty of this sentimentalism. The media bombard the public with warnings about the danger posed by coronavirus, when the truth is that only a small percent of the population of New York is at risk. By an unspoken agreement, leaders, public health officials, and media personalities conspire to heighten the atmosphere of crisis in order to get us to comply with their radical measures.

I don’t feel like this paragraph has worn well over the week. I mean, it is absolutely fine to acknowledge and even complain about the fact that the political process is wrapped up in all of this. We are in an election season. Along with trying to stop a disease, a lot of people are also trying to get themselves reelected. So that’s complicated. But this is the way our politics works and has done for far too long. If anything, this crisis is useful to see that in general, in every political cycle, a lot more is at stake than ambitious peoples’ political aspirations. Also, we don’t know how this is going to play out. It doesn’t really look like “only a small percent of the population of New York is at risk.”

Mr. Reno continues:

A number of my friends disagree with me. They support the current measures, insisting that Christians must defend life. But the pro-life cause concerns the battle against killing, not an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.

I wouldn’t characterize the world’s reaction to this current COVID-19 crisis as an “ill-conceived crusade.” It’s not a “crusade.” It’s a lot of world leaders not actually wanting a lot of their population to die. It’s actually more like every election season where the American public yet again has to choose between two terrible candidates for president. The American public every four years has to pick between death by corruption and death by the other corruption. And some people say, “Oh, don’t pick the least evil of the two options, just don’t pick at all!” but even that is making a choice (the one I took because honestly, I couldn’t make up my mind). In the lesser of two evils scenario, both of the choices are evil, so no one wins. That’s what’s going on here. Which is Less bad? Shutting down the economy so that fewer people die? Which it is important to acknowledge, is a terrible terrible decision to make or to have to make because people losing money and jobs is not a good thing and I don’t hear anybody saying that it is. Or, not shutting down the economy and having lots and lots and lots of people die? This is also a bad choice. Really bad. Devastating. Picking either one is terrible, but one has to be picked to one degree or another, or the two have to be held “in tension” which I do think some are trying to do, however badly. But to characterize this moment this way is, how do you call it? Insensitive. Not a reflection of what is really going on.

He goes on:

Others speak as if triage signals moral failure. This is false. We are always doing triage. Only the great wealth of our society allows us to pretend otherwise. We do not spend 100 GDP on healthcare. Even in normal times, we ration healthcare by price, waiting times, and physician discretion. We do not offer organ transplants willy-nilly. Our finitude always requires the hard moral labor of triage. That demand is now more visible, because the potent virus puts great pressure on our immune systems and healthcare systems. But it is always there. Simply put: Only an irresponsible sentimentalist imagines we can live in a world without triage. We must never do evil that good might come. On this point St. Paul is clear. But we often must decide which good we can and should do, a decision that nearly always requires not doing another good, not binding a different wound, not saving a different life.

I mean, I don’t know what news Mr. Reno is reading, but I haven’t heard anyone say that we shouldn’t do triage. I’m so curious about who, exactly, he thinks is committing the grave sin of sentimentalism. I guess I would counter that it’s not just a matter of triage, it is a matter of the fittingness of things. It is fairly unseemly, when the whole world is facing a scary illness, to come out screaming that wanting to protect weaker members of society is “sentimental.” Especially as it is not just one or two weaker members but potentially thousands and thousands of weaker members. Read the rest here!

"Deep, thoughtful, rich and challenging. Thank you, Anne."

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