As coronavirus closes schools and swamps hospitals, “pro-life” Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) offers this fatalistic excuse for refusing to implement any coronavirus mitigation measures at the South Dakota Legislature:
“Every death is a tragedy,” Schoenbeck said. “There’s no disease that anybody thinks is a special disease that we’re happy to have. Unfortunately, this one looks like it’s going to be around a long time. I can’t quite imagine what good could come from crawling in a hole. My own thing is, I got all the shots. They come with more of them, I’m getting those, too. People have to decide how they’re going to keep themselves safe. That’s just the world we’re going to be living in for a while” [Lee Strubinger, “Lawmakers Reject Covid Mitigation Measures,” SDPB Radio, 2022.01.13].
On the good side, Lee has gotten his shots. On the bad side, Lee is speaking as stupidly as the rest of his party on epidemiology. Fighting a pandemic is not merely a matter of individuals deciding how (or whether) to keep themselves safe. Lee and I may decide that, since we both are fully vaccinated, we can keep ourselves safe by going out to see a ball game and have a few drinks. We don’t need masks or distance; with our Fauci shots, if we get omicron, we won’t get that sick anyway.
But multiply our personal safety protocols by a thousand or a hundred thousand, and we have a serious impact on the safety of others. We give the virus more paths to follow to reach more vulnerable people. We multiply the opportunity for the virus to put people in the hospital, to drain our medical resources, and, in the biggest picture, mutate again and again and subject the entire community and the entire human race to more infection and social and economic disruption.
This may be hard for a good capitalist like Lee Schoenbeck to believe, but in some cases, and especially in pandemics, the sum of individual choices focused entirely on individual costs and benefits, does not lead to optimal distribution of wealth and liberty. It leads to the mess we are in now, another long winter of suffering and death, much of which would have been avoided if not just Lee and I and 60% of the population but everyone else had gotten their shots last spring and slammed the door on covid’s mutations.
Fighting a pandemic requires community spirit. It requires deciding not just how to keep yourself safe, but how to keep your entire community safe. It requires valuing life, not just your life, but the life of everyone in the community—and by community, we now must mean the global community.
Alas, applying that truly pro-life thinking is beyond South Dakota’s selfish leaders.