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Disheartened and dismayed 

Acting in a way that makes other people safe seems like the right thing to do

Over the years, Americans determined that smoking in public spaces is unsafe for people who don't smoke. As a result, smoking in shared public space is generally not allowed because the public has achieved consensus about smoking as a danger to public health. However, should one wish to endanger one's own health by smoking in private, you are perfectly free to do so.

Years ago, driving drunk would get you a wrist slap. If you were driving drunk and killed someone, it would be considered an unfortunate accident like any other. Eventually, a bunch of mothers (MADD) got together and demanded that Washington open its blind eyes: Driving drunk is an incredible danger to public safety, and each driver has options and choices before him. He need not drive drunk. Therefore, in this country, driving drunk will get you a huge ticket and you will lose your license. Should you cause the death of another person while driving drunk, you'll go to jail for manslaughter.

In this country, we've determined that wearing seatbelts saves lives. Once this knowledge entered into law, people still sometimes refused to wear a seatbelt because they said the belt made them sweat or wrinkled their clothes. Then the law began giving tickets to the noncompliant because why should the rest of us pay higher insurance rates for that person who went through the windshield when he refused to wear a seatbelt?

All of these latter-day rules impinge on our freedom to behave in a self-involved or unconscious way. And these safety rules also impinge on our entitlement to disrespect other people, or act in ways that cause a public danger. However, where we have been made aware of the actual science behind what we choose to do, we've come to collectively agree that it is better not to die. It is better not to hurt others. It is best not to shove one's head through a windshield.

The difference between having a social conscience and believing in unregulated "freedom" is this: In the United States, when we are alone or with our familiars, we do what we want, freely and without fear of reprisal. However, in public spaces we acknowledge and obey the rules.

Yesterday was Memorial Day, and I watched a movie called Pearl Harbor. During the December 1941 assault on Pearl Harbor, 1,700 sailors were killed by Japanese war planes; 1,100 civilians died with them—3,000 people: "A day that will live in infamy."

Currently, Americans are living inside a pandemic where we—4 percent of the world's population—are responsible for one-third of all covid-19 cases worldwide. The cost of our folly is not only in human lives or a dented economy, there is a tremendous cost involved with taking care of all these sick people: morally, psychologically, financially, and also in the lives and liberty of our brave health care workers. Shall we not show them any respect at all?

Acting in a way that makes other people safe seems like the right thing to do.

The pandemic is real. No one can deny it. The fact that we have lost 100,000 people (an undercount due to denial and a lack of appropriate testing) in less than four months should horrify everybody. We lost 3,000 people in one day on Dec. 7, 1941, and the entire country mourned and took up arms. We lost 3,000 people again, in one day, during 9/11, and the entire country mourned and went to war against terrorism.

Today, we are losing approximately 1,000 people every day to a disease—a relentless, mysterious illness that as yet cannot be conquered or cured, but which can be contained. By us. Yet Americans today appear more concerned with whether they can get their hair cut, or may be asked to wear a simple cloth face covering in Costco than they are about their neighbor's life or death.

Color me: deeply disheartened. Δ

DC O'Brien writes to New Times from Paso Robles. Send your comments through the editor [email protected] or write a letter for publication and send it to [email protected].

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