Dangerous Optimism

I’m hearing some talks of ‘reaching the peak’ and that sort of thing. While ‘reaching the peak’ is probably good news I thought I might, er, bring some grim news. I don’t mean to be so bleak but I distrust optimism because optimism creates dangerous situations. Like, when I worked in a parking garage, collecting carts, I saw a lot of trucks smash into the 15ft clearance ceiling. You know why? Optimism. Those drivers were all optimists. They believed in shortcuts. Optimism is dangerous. Optimism smashed their loads and got their trucks stuck.

So, don’t be an optimist.

Now, the opposite of optimism isn’t really pessimism. These are similar conditions. Both are cases of imagination adding to your troubles. An optimist might be holding out hope for a vaccine. A pessimist might worry that this virus will mutate into a more deadly form. Both of these situations are possible but both are, as of today, imaginary. Both are totally out of your control. Getting excited about either situation touches neither. But your feelings on these possibilities and your reactions to your feelings can create problems. Pessimism can result in surrender. Optimism can be reckless. Both act the same. Neither is good.

You have to balance these things and do what is in your control. If you’re an optimist about a vaccine, you should also be a pessimist about how it will be distributed. You need to organize and marshal whatever political power you have to make sure that it is distributed fairly and according to medical best practices as opposed to free market and racist logic. If you’re a pessimist about mutation, you have to balance this with optimism about how this can be slowed, and concentrate your efforts on breaking up the areas that may act as petri-dishes. You have to see what is possible and concentrate your efforts there.

You have to be grimly practical. I recommend a sort of stoicism.

Be steady, attend to your social and moral duty. Do what you can. Know your reach. Try to stay within your reach. You will fail. But do your best. And try again.

on break – watching the disastrous antics of optimists

So, onto the grim realities of this ‘reaching a peak’ talk.

South Korea has been level for a while. We’ve now had three sub-fifty new case days in a row. To put that in perspective, there’s over fifty million people in this country. So SK is a lot bigger than Canada and a lot bigger than Cali. Seoul is more populous and much denser than NYC. Our cases are low. But, even with cases so low, we’re still strengthening social distancing for the next two weeks. (Probably longer but we get this in two week chunks.) The reason is, even 50 new cases spread over the country is hella dangerous.

We’ve seen before how fast 50 can explode. Way back in February we thought we had this under control and that ‘the worst was behind us.’ Then Patient 31 happened. That outbreak came out of ONE church. Hopefully, we’re more equipped now than we were then to deal with something like that. I think we are. I’m not wild on testing that theory.

The peak is leveling (if it’s leveling) because of the social distancing. It’s not a static peak. If these measures are relaxed in response to good news, it gets worse and fast. You can think you’re at your peak and then it turns out that you were really in The Good Old Days. Like, we may think we’re on top of this in Korea. We might believe that Daegu was the bad part. It could blow up in Seoul tomorrow and that could turn Daegu into some minor blip and this country into a disaster zone. Daegu might become an almost fond memory.

Even if you do as much as you can and you do it right, this thing is going to go on for a while yet. So do what you need to do to do this for a long while. Navigate your needs with the goal of maintaining social distance over a long period. You can slow this thing while your country builds health and medical capacity. As of it yet, there’s no such thing as beating this thing. And unless you look after the most vulnerable, economically as well as medically and certainly where those two things intersect, you can’t even really slow it. You have to do it together. And you will have to hold the optimists and the liars to account.

So slow it and keep slowing it. Slowing it saves lives.

There is a very long way to go.

I wish there was a shortcut. There isn’t.

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