Human life is much about prudence, the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance, and to choose the right means of achieving it. (CCC, #1806). Prudence should take into account ideals, even strive for perfection, even if we such may never fully be attained in this life, through which often have to muddle our way as best we might.
Everyone of right mind wants to preserve and protect life, but with the realization that illness and death, along with the risk of either, are inevitable, and must be tolerated, ‘baked in’, if you will, to keep society functioning. Taking risks – as in Reinhold Messner’s numerous mountain ascents – or minimizing risks – staying at home to avoid illness – are both decisions made with prudence, and can only be assessed as morally good or bad in the concrete conditions in which they are made.
One sign of a ‘right decision’ is that it is made in due proportion between the good sought, and the means to attain it. Disproportion between these is a sign of imprudence: Paying too much for a used car. Climbing a mountain when ill-prepared to do so. Marrying someone out from physical attraction, when you are clearly incompatible. And, to the point of this reflection, interminably locking down an entire population to prevent the spread of an airborne illness.
Even if we presume such draconian measures are effective – and that at least debatable – are they proportionate and prudent? It seems, alas, not.
First, should we not pause, and consider whether these measures are not proving worse than the disease they are trying to prevent? The disastrous medical, social, familial, demographic, psychological, economic fallout from rolling ‘lockdowns’ becomes more evident with each passing day, and only time will tell how bad this might be, but it’s looking rather grim. Even those not given to a conspiratorial mindset are beginning to wonder.
Second, does anyone else find it disconcerting that many of those most zealous to ‘keep us safe’ from Covid also tolerate – if not actively support – the far greater evils of abortion and euthanasia? Andrew Cuomo, who said that all the suffering he has imposed is worth it if it ‘saves one life’, is the same one who secretly shuffled those infected with Covid into nursing homes, and lit up New York to celebrate the legalization of pre-born children right up to the moment of birth.
Third, while on our benighted leaders, the burden of these restrictions do not fall proportionately upon the populace. What ‘lockdown’ means to people those higher on the social echelon – the rich and influential – is quite different from those on the lower end. Bezos, Zuckerberg, Dorsey, whatever replicant is currently running Google, the apparatchiks at the U.N., the W.H.O. and other alphabet agencies; world leaders, Joe Biden, Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau – all of them zealous for oppressive restrictions to ‘stop the spread’, ready to cancel or convict any not of their view – are all multi-billion-or-at-least-millionaires with acreages in which they are their families, and friends, might roam in blissful seclusion and privacy, free from nosy neighbours ready to dial 911 at any Covidian infraction, real or imagined.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the hoi polloi, jostling in suburbs, low-rent condos, and apartments, increasingly suspicious of each other. Imagine a single mother with three children, stuck in inner-city Toronto, in an un-air-conditioned apartment on the 17th floor, breathing oxygen and carbon dioxide recycled through who-knows-how-many other units, with no balcony; who must wait for an elevator – only three permitted! – just to get a bit of exercise, some sunshine, vitamin D, and a gulp of real fresh air. If the children are mask-less, she may be slapped with a crippling fine and reported to Children Services by the constabulary. And they wonder why immune systems are depressed, and the people susceptible and, shall we say, restless. I cannot help but think of delicate un-lifted fingers, and laying heavy burdens upon men’s backs.
Fourth, these burdens fall disproportionately on businesses arbitrarily deemed ‘non-essential’ by secret and opaque Star Chamber-esque governmental committees (who are all, of course, deemed ‘essential’). Owners and employees are forced to sit impotently and idly by watching their savings deplete, and their life’s work crumble before their eyes. No chance of that for those on the public purse, who will continue to cash in their hefty paycheques, while awaiting their generous pensions or retirement plans or benefits, all provided for by the aforementioned private businesses. As they saying goes, they don’t exactly feel your pain. At least, until TSC hits the fan – total societal collapse, which we may no longer put beyond the pale.
There often seems little rhyme, reason or proportionality to these decrees. Ten people are permitted in a church, whether it seats 500 or 50. Even within the same store, dog’s toys are for sale, while children’s are roped off with foreboding yellow tape. Come to think of it, I have one neighbour who runs a dog-grooming business, at first deemed non-essential, now she is essential (and I have no qualms about her keeping her work going). But my other neighbour, who does human haircuts, has been shuttered for weeks now, as hairdressers and barbers are forced onto the dole or the black market.
How can this not breed deep and lasting resentment?
And last but in no way least, these restrictive measures are disproportionate to our deeper, transcendent spiritual and religious nature. Reducing the risk from Covid-19 may be a good, but it is not the only good, nor the highest one. As Pope John Paul put it, our earthly life is but a penultimate good, for we are not made for this world, but the next, and it is only in heaven, as Pope Leo XIII says, that we will truly begin to live.
We are not made just to ‘stay alive’ one more day, sheltering in place in our homes into some indefinite future, whether comfy or not, but are created for community, for meals and conversation, work and travel, for adventure and risk, and for supporting one another in the travails of life. Even if we must take greater care, life must eventually go on. Is there a game plan for that?
For believers, beyond these natural goods, this also means worshiping in community, which for us Catholics means the Holy Mass. Deprived of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, we will languish – we are already languishing! – with incalculable spiritual harm.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
The draconian measures in place across much of the world, and the fear that is both their cause and effect, are leading many souls to discouragement, even despair, disproportionate to the dubious benefits of lockdowns and ‘staying safe’. To spend all one’s life avoiding even the faint risk of death, becomes itself a living death.
Yes, the effects of Covid are very serious for some, but are there not more efficient and effective, prudent and proportionate, ways to protect and care for the vulnerable than what we’re currently doing? Only so may we find the right means to flourish in this life, and be led to our eternal good in the life to come.