THAILAND THINKS ABOUT IT AGAIN
The Thai Cabinet agreed on July 8 to send a "Civil Partnership" act to Parliament. It needs to be considered by the lower house of Representatives and then the upper house of Senators before being promulgated as law. This need not take long. For the most part, civil rights and LGBT+ advocates agree that it is expedient to do this before Parliament is dismissed to call new elections. In other words get done what you can while you can. It’s taken a lot of work to get to this point and a change of government would mean starting over from the beginning.
Meanwhile, advocates are working toward a more complete "Marriage Equality" act that could be achieved through amendment of article 1448 to simply replace words like "between a male and female" with "between two people.” Amendment of the constitution is tedious and would take at least two years.
The difference between the two measures is complicated, but the simple version is that a “Civil Partnership” act would allow same-sex couples to register their relationship. Reuters news reported that the proposed bill would allow a couple to adopt, inherit property, and manage property jointly. Previous versions of the Civil Partnership proposal limited each of those rights in some ways.
Informants working on this, including Dr. Pongthorn “Tor” Chanlearn of the M+ Foundation, point out that Civil Partnerships are unequal to marriage in several respects. Civil partners would not be entitled to government benefits or welfare (such as retirement pensions) as a married spouse would. The only laws that would apply to civil partnerships would be those that mention them specifically, which would exclude those called marriages. For example, there is no provision for legal engagements (namely, verbal contracts between participants in making plans for a marriage), partners would be unable to change their surnames, to file joint tax returns (and therefore benefit from reduced taxes) as married couples can.
If the Marriage Equality proposal could be enacted it would provide true equality under the law. Where the law governing families now says a marriage is between a “man” and a “woman” (meaning the sex mentioned on the individual’s national identity card), the proposal would substitute the phrase “between two people.” Therefore, the provisions for all marriages would be the same and any law mentioning marriage or married people would apply. Same-sex couples could then also have engagement arrangements between their families. The couple would be entitled to benefits and welfare as are all married couples. For example, they would have the legal right to manage resources, inheritance, hospital insurance, social welfare, all kinds of adoptions, tax reduction, provisions available to government employees, legal right to arrange funerals of spouses, right to change nationality as married couples can do, and the legal right to make medical decisions for one’s spouse. That’s a lot of differences not provided to civil partners.
If the civil partnership bill is passed, as now seems more possible than it ever has been, it would be very important for couples (particularly couples in which one individual is not Thai) to read the fine print. It may be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive for a couple in a civil partnership to register their marriage when and if the marriage bill passes.
Changing article 1448 to provide marriage equality will be a stressful effort, as changing constitutional provisions are meant to be. But rights and LGBT+ activists went to Family Court yesterday to argue that the wording of the regulations on families, stipulating that a marriage is between a man and woman, is inconsistent with provisions on human rights in the constitution. Family court accepted the arguments and will make a ruling. If they rule in favor of the need to change the definition of marriage, they will send it to the national Constitutional Court for a final ruling. If that passes the court will order changes, and there will not be need for a long drawn-out amendment process. Courts in the Kingdom being what they are, nothing is predictable.
Where we are, once again, is on the threshold of movement on legal same-sex recognition. If anything happens to bring change about it will be the first by any nation in South East Asia, and the second in all of Asia after Taiwan.
It’s been a tough month for a displaced, white, old boy like me, but I’ve gotten to the bottom of a few things in my own mind.
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books and proprietor of the Harry Potter empire, has chosen sides in the gender battles of the worldwide culture war. Her voice has power. She has chosen to use it to advocate “harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person,” said a joint statement by major fan websites as they distanced themselves from her. Throughout the past month she has repeatedly shown she disagrees with the simple declaration that “trans women are women.” She has chosen to reject developing gender understanding by standing firm on the simplistic binary principle. “Choose to do whatever you want,” she implies, “but males born male stay male.” In order to defend her own sexual experiences she has chosen to dismiss contrary testimony. In her view there are two positions: hers and the wrong one. Yes, J.K. Rowling, as you had Dumbledore so wisely say, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Donald Trump stoked the culture war backfire he is fueling with the Mount Rushmore monuments as his backdrop on July 3. Without a trace of embarrassment he stood on ground stolen from the Lakota Sioux to whom it had been promised in perpetuity and brazenly praised the “settlement of the West” as one of America’s shining accomplishments while his supporters derided a group of Sioux protesters, yelling at them to “go home!” With no solid gains in any key indicator of presidential success he is counting on cultural division to re-energize his political fortune. His rallying cry this month is for people to choose which side they’re on. The choice is between “far-left fascism” and “me” (who was being portrayed as a “far right fascist” until his disastrous leadership of the response to the COVID-19 epidemic eclipsed all his other faults). He is looking increasingly desperate as he fails to get the economy moving by “opening the country for business” against all medical advice as the USA adds some 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 132 thousand deaths (with 401 thousand for the rest of the world put together). This disregard for human life is duplicated in Trump’s plans to keep children in cages along the border, to wipe out affordable health care, to withdraw from climate research organizations, and his refusal to denounce white supremacist terrorism and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Trump has chosen to limit his vision to “what’s good for me.”
George Floyd died on May 25, in full public view, so horribly that a mass movement was begun that has now come into focus as a campaign to reduce the militarization of local law enforcement, to reform the relationship of police to the people being policed, and to equalize the prosecution of justice. The presenting issue is the obvious differences between the way Black men and boys are targeted and treated by the police as opposed to how White men and boys are handled by the police. It makes no sense that the USA leads the world in incarcerations, and that Black males are vastly disproportionately prosecuted with sentences many times heavier for Black convicts than for White persons convicted of the same crimes. Systemic racism is beyond reasonable doubt. It is time for America to choose a better system.
5 ways your cat is cleverer than you might realize:
1. She knows just how to wake you up at 3:30 a.m. so you will feed her rather than kill her.
2. He knows his various names at the back doors of at least 5 houses in the neighborhood.
3. She knows which of the food pellets she has sniffed before and which are the new ones you
have tried to mix in with the old ones.
4. He knows every car that arrives in your driveway is a banquet of provocative smells.
5. She knows which birds landing on the window sill are taunting her and which are simply
Thursday, June 25, 2020 is the second anniversary of the beginning of one of this past decade’s most absorbing sagas: THE DISAPPEARANCE AND RESCUE OF THE BOYS IN THE CAVE IN NORTH THAILAND.
The event simply could not have been scripted more dramatically. A school’s football team was lost in a haunted cave. No fictional narrative was ever more perfect. Beginning with mystery, “Where are the boys?” Quickly turning into suspense, “Why aren’t they rescued?” Then, “Are they alive or dead?” Then, “They can’t have survived this long!” But after NINE days, “They are all alive … but trapped!”
That is when the saga transformed. Nothing, no effort, expense, or expertise would be spared to try to retrieve the boys. Volunteers appeared from foreign countries. Thai Navy divers were dispatched along with entire governmental units. The rescue seemed impossible as the flooding increased and the dangerous, narrow, twisting, egress was explored. The world held its breath as front page reports told the ongoing story on every continent, and then came DISASTER! The world gasped as one of the Thai Navy seals – the country’s most accomplished underwater swimmers – died in the cave.
Now knowing what they were up against, the rescue was judged to have two impossibilities, getting them all out alive, and giving up the attempt.
Nature turned still more threatening. Torrential rain began again, and the oxygen in the cave was running low, far lower than we were told at the time.
A cold-blooded plan was formulated. They would lose as few of the boys as possible, and save those they could, one at a time. They would sedate the boys, wrap them in a cocoon, and slide them through the tiny, flooded, twisting, vertical canal to a first aid zone half-way out, where they would be revived for the rest of the trip to the surface. It would take three days. One by one they were brought out, carried to helicopters, and flown to a hospital.
Every … last … one … of … them.
Now, on this anniversary, we can repeat with confidence that the event really did expose Thai character. As someone commented about the Thai response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thai people will cooperate wholeheartedly for a good outcome when they want to. What we saw in 2018 was a score of agencies laying aside their protective regulations and boundary issues to get pumps, people, and policies working together. Tents came, food was delivered, priests chanted, drinking water, porta-potties, public address systems, transportation – these things were brought. Then came official response, almost on time, but in abundance. According to Wikipedia, “The rescue effort involved over 10,000 people including more than 100 divers, scores of rescue workers, representatives from about 100 governmental agencies, 900 police officers, and 2,000 soldiers; and it required ten police helicopters, seven ambulances, more than 700 diving cylinders, and the pumping of more than a billion litres of water from the caves.”
As the days passed, other aspects of Thai character came forth. It is predictable that a scapegoat must be identified to bear any shame. A dozen boys lost in a cave would be unforgiveable. When a good outcome was still in doubt, the story began to grow that the football coach who took the team into the cave to toughen them up was to blame. That outrage hardly had a chance to spread when the boys’ families rose in the coach’s defense. Afterward it was learned that the coach was the one responsible for getting the boys through the 9 days they were on a sandy ledge, in absolute darkness, without food, with only drinking water collected from condensation on the cave walls. Thanks to him the boys practiced meditation to dampen their panic and deepen their patience as they starved.
A more subtle but no less important aspect of Thai behavior is praise – the way it flows upward and is rewarded. When successes became obvious, credit began to be collected. The Prime Minister flew in to make suggestions and issue commands. He posed for pictures and flew away again. Word came that royalty had been helpful and their expressed good wishes were taken as effective in getting things done. They also hosted a massive appreciation dinner at the end of the effort.
Then the boys were given a short rest before being sent on a tour around the world. Movie rights were sold, and a book came out in record time. The cave and a museum dedicated to the rescue became a must-do stop for tour groups. Commercial benefits are always looked for, too.
The picture above is of Pramote and me, along with nephew Travis, my Brother Dan and his wife Rita in front of the Tham Luang Cave before it was reopened a few months ago, just before all national parks were closed due to the epidemic. Three previous blog-essays discussed aspects of the rescue saga in more detail. Here are links:
On June 18, 2020, Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae, the Interim President of Payap University, posted news that plans are being made to have one of the university’s colleges become an independent institution. The college that is in the process of re-configuration is actually Payap University’s oldest component, the McGilvary College of Divinity (MCD). Through a series of steps, as now being planned, the MCD will be funded by the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) and the faculty and staff of the MCD will be transferred to the CCT. The MCD is completely used to provide education and nurture for future leaders of the church. It is a seminary, so it is appropriate that the church resume responsibility for the MCD and benefit from its graduates.
For more than 40 years, the seminary has been one of the faculties of Payap University. The seminary began as a training program for pastors and evangelists about 140 years ago. It was first located in the homes of Presbyterian missionaries in Chiang Mai, and then moved to its current location on Kaewnawarat Road which was just outside of Chiang Mai in those days. [Please click on the link here for a previous blog about the history of the seminary: www.kendobson.asia/blog/thailand-theological-seminary ] After the Second World War the seminary was restored with the Rev. Prasert Intapan as manager and the Rev. Herbert Grether as principal. The Rev. Dr. E. John Hamlin became principal when missionaries were expelled from the Nanking Theological Seminary in China where he and his wife had been working. Dr. Hamlin’s focus was on helping the seminary achieve international academic standing, which was accomplished when the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA) accredited the seminary’s degree programs. National Thai accreditation came when the Thailand Theological Seminary joined Payap College as the McGilvary Faculty of Divinity. The old seminary building was replaced with a large new one with adjacent dormitory. This construction undertaking was largely coordinated by the Rev. William J. Yoder, a Presbyterian missionary who served for several terms as needed as dean of the MCD.
When the transformation of the MCD is complete in a year or two, the seminary will be an independent college with its own board of trustees. Its degrees will be solely accredited, once again, by ATESEA.
J.K Rowling: Is She a TERF?
For several days during the first two weeks of June, as world-wide protests against police brutality captured headlines overtaking COVID-19 as the top news story, the top story on the back pages of social media was about how the great J.K. Rowling has fallen. It seems she has either been victimized or she brought controversy on herself by comments that resulted in her being labeled transphobic and a TERF.
TERF is a current pejorative term meaning “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” Some TERFs are feminists who refuse to agree transsexuals (i.e. male to female trans) are women. They are feminists who won’t stand for blurring the physical criteria for who is female since to do so erodes the important work of feminists trying to achieve equality and power.
Other feminists are open to accepting trans women as allies. And there are feminists who embrace trans women as sisters.
Trans activists insist that male to female transsexuals are women. They have rights to their own identity, and they are among the most vulnerable to abuse, vilification and murder, not to mention being excluded from legal protection. Providing moral and social support for trans women is a matter of justice and human rights.
Rowling attracted attention, as often happens these days, by a couple of short comments she posted on social media that indicated (or seemed to indicate) her support for the feminists’ interpretation of who is most at risk. Then she seemed to make matters worse by appearing to double down on her statements to the effect that biology is the science that matters.
Social media began to swarm. It became a feeding frenzy.
Before long the Harry Potter world emerged as one actor after another made statements on-line that voiced support for transsexuals and transgender women, and also mentioned how J.K. Rowling is a really great person and humanitarian who happens to be wrong about this particular issue.
Then on June 6, 2020 Jo Rowling published a letter on her website which carried the title, “J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues.” Her letter outlined why she is worried about “the new trans activism.” It was trans activists who coined the term TERF and then attached it to Rowling, she said. She denied she was defending herself (or that she actually cared very much what people said about her) but the issue behind it is important. She gave five reasons for being worried about what trans activists are trying to do.
1. Trans activism is pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender. This will impact projects to support female survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, and medical research for MS, a disease that behaves very differently in men and women. Changing the legal definition of who is female is going to be dangerous to women.
2. She is very concerned about the effects the trans rights movement is having on both education and safeguarding children.
3. She is interested in freedom of speech.
4. She is concerned about “the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be de-transitioning because they regret taking steps they have….” The UK has experienced a 4400% increase in girls being referred for transitioning treatment.
This gets at the heart of the issue for Rowling.
Trans activists will attack those who dare to “challenge one of the central tenets of trans activism, which is that a person’s gender identity is innate, like sexual orientation. Nobody could ever be persuaded into being trans.” This is where the rubber hits the road for Rowling. Trans identity is not always innate. She says she knows of research that shows a pattern of multiple friends and entire friend groups becoming transgender-identified at the same time. “Social contagion and peer influence” could be factors, she concludes. If such trends are going on, it would be best to recognize them and to warn children about them.
Rowling also doubts that if you don’t let “gender dysphoric” teenagers transition they will kill themselves. She thinks there is insufficient data to prove this is true in the majority of cases. Rowling believes studies that insist 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of it. She knows that many (i.e. many of the 10-40%) are happy to have transitioned from female to male. But she knows the generation best who went through a rigorous process “of evaluation, psychotherapy, and staged transformation.” These measures are being removed by trans activists to make way for persons to just say they are any gender they choose. This is Rowling’s greatest concern – lives are being ruined by teens who took irreversible steps they now regret. Those tragedies could be avoided by keeping safeguards in place against making rash decisions.
Then, for the first time, Rowling relates how personal this is for her. She went through a time when she also might have preferred transitioning into a male to escape the abuse and anxiety she was experiencing. That would have been a great mistake.
On the other hand this is a misogynistic time. Women are denigrated and dehumanized as never before. This must be opposed. The opposition that is necessary, Rowling implies, is not by becoming males and entering the male zone, but by banding together to fight.
5. That brings Rowling to her fifth concern. Trans activism is leading to consequences that will prevent women from mounting the opposition needed to oppose the violence and powerlessness women face.
A. Trans activists will not accept as allies any who do not accept the idea that trans (male to female) persons are not identical to all other women. [Radical feminists will not accept trans women as allies, either. The inclusionist / exclusionist divide has a long history.] The most radical activists do not want feminists as allies who see a difference between women born females and trans-women born as males. This impasse weakens political power.
B. Trans activists terrify huge numbers of women with the threat of being targeted (as Rowling was).
C. Trans activism erodes “woman” as a political and biological class. The reality and validity of millions of women (their lived experience and self-understanding) is being attacked.
D. Trans action is giving cover to predators as never before. Rowling quotes a law being enacted in Scotland that allows men access to female bathrooms and locker rooms simply by calling themselves women. This also intimidates women and girls who have been victims of males.
In the final analysis the question is not really whether J.K. Rowling is transphobic because she fears what trans activism might be doing. It matters even less whether or not she is a radical feminist for her views. It might matter to the Harry Potter legacy, and to the plans for continuing the stories she is writing, if her fame and reputation is damaged, but whether she is a victim of a moral storm of the kind the BBC called a “Purity Spiral” is less important than who is right about the outcome of the transgender movement.
Rowling is, as of the moment, the leading spokesperson for feminism. She has a passion for protecting women from abuse by men in a male-dominated society and time, and she has a vision for females achieving equality through unity.
However, it seems to me that her argument is flawed at the point where she insists her identity as a woman and her sexual experiences as a woman are invalidated by including males transformed into females as also women. It is one thing to say this impasse depletes both movements’ political power, and quite a different thing to say that “your experience negates my experience.” Analogously, it is impossible for me to get my mind around the idea that my same-sex marriage to Pramote weakened or invalidated my parents’ marriage or anybody else’s marriage.
I’d like to say, “Golly, get a grip! You aren’t making sense and you aren’t helping when you keep saying, ‘If sex isn't real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.’”
WHITE PRIVILEGE has quickly become the most divisive topic on the Internet. Pastors have been attacked for attacking or even confessing their white privilege. Friends have been attacked on the Internet for taking sides.
I take it as my life’s work to build bridges of understanding. They get washed away, as a rule, by floods of torrential opinion, but I’m at it again.
Here’s my take on my white privilege.
The dictionary says “privilege” is “a special right, advantage, immunity.”
My white privilege for most of my life in the USA has meant:
1. I haven’t been picked out or picked on because of being white. Whenever I was picked on, treated with suspicion, or pushed around it was not because I was white.
2. My being white has never been an issue in my job applications.
3. My being white has hardly ever been a disadvantage in circumstances where merely being of some other color would have had to have something positive to balance it.
My white privilege in the USA has NOT meant that I got where I am without actual merit, accomplishment, and effort. It is a false dichotomy to say white privilege equals a “free ride” and then proudly deny we’ve ever been special or immune from hardship. I’ve never gotten a “free ride” at a carnival or anywhere. But I have been exempted from the unnecessary burden of explaining that my being white should not work against me. [It is this new need to explain being white that rankles those who are objecting to the reality of white privilege, I think. We didn’t used to have to do that.]
On the other hand, I have learned about white privilege from experiences of it being over-ridden. Here are 4 examples:
1. When I traveled alone on public transportation in Black neighborhoods in Chicago at night as a seminary student I was keenly aware that being the only white guy on the L was why I was being noticed.
2. When I traveled in the USA with my spouse Pramote (whose appearance is distinctly not white) we were noticed, remarked upon, and subjected to the only unprovoked verbal abuse I have ever had in mid-America.
3. When I signaled solidarity with non-racist or anti-white-supremacist groups or movements my own race starkly became an issue. I was a civil rights marcher and had buttons and stickers to show for it.
4. When I moved to Asia being white could no longer be ignored. I am reminded of it every single day, most often by comments on my use of Thai language or ability to enjoy just about all types of Thai food. “Oh you can!” Always a note of surprise.
It has been striking how different my surrounding environment becomes whenever I forgo my racial immunity that I took for granted as I was growing up and living in an overwhelmingly white world. There is a freedom that comes from blending in. There’s one less thing to worry about.
George Floyd was killed while pleading “I can’t breathe” as a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck. The whole tragedy was recorded and went viral on the Internet. Protests began when Minneapolis police and legal officials delayed bringing charges against the policeman and three colleagues. The protests against police brutality expanded and spread.
Protest marches, gatherings, and demonstrations took place in just about every major US city and hundreds of towns. Within a couple of days protest rallies spread to cities all over the world. Slogans expressing protestors’ focus tended to be about systemic injustice, racial intimidation, rising authoritarianism, militarization of civil police, and white supremacy.
In the USA the main effort was to display solidarity with the grief, outrage, and despair of Black Americans. In a few cities police joined the protestors and even expressed remorse. It was remarkable to see “Black Lives Matter” and “take the knee” be transformed from divisive into unifying symbols. People who would never have joined in kneeling to recognize American flawed justice were down on one knee.
Then, in no time at all, opportunists began to invade, mostly after dark, to loot, burn, and rampage. Some appear to have political agendas involving creation of chaos, venting rage, or raising the specter of civil war. Others stole things. Many rioted with mindless mobs and neither we nor they will ever be clear why.
That could not be tolerated. Police were mobilized. Military vehicles and National Guard (Army) troops clashed with the mobs. Curfews were imposed and fear gripped home owners and shop keepers.
Two sides emerged. One side struggled to keep the story centered on what happened to George Floyd, about injustice and racism. The other side tried to transform all this into an example about how to be more powerful than those trying to undermine authority.
Meanwhile, here in Thailand, 12 time zones away from all that, the top headlines are still about just 1 new case of COVID-19, but I’ve been asked what’s become of America. Who’s left to admire and inspire hope?
14 years ago when Pramote and I bought the land where we live, it was a fruit orchard. Before the land was disturbed by erecting a house it was expedient to supplicate the resident spirit (jao tii). Promises were made to use the land in concert with the spirit, who/which after all had somehow been here for countless millennia and would supposedly be here long after we had departed one way or another back into primal elements. The resident spirit can cause trouble as well as dispense blessings. It is best to give this “lord of the place” honor.
So a lovely wooden shrine was erected, after consultation with people who are familiar with the lore regarding resident spirits. This year the structure is beyond repair so it was decided to replace it. Thursday, May 28 was selected because astrologers discerned that to be one of the most auspicious days of the year.
First thing in the morning the change was made. The old shrine was removed, after doing our best to inform the resident spirit what was about to happen. Then the shiny new shrine was put in its place. The shrine was provided with ceramic miniatures which recall a regional legend about how the Lord Buddha visited a family of giants and pacified them. The family was allowed to remain lords of the land (the literal land, soil, water, air and living creatures). Collectively and metaphorically this family signifies the supernatural nature of human precursors to any real estate. To inaugurate the new shrine, a roasted chicken along with a tray of fruit were symbolically offered and candles, incense, and flowers were presented to signify this was an act of worship, that being the highest form of honor. Then Pramote’s brother-in-law intoned a short prayer, the gist being that the promises made years ago are being renewed. It is necessary for the one who officiates at a service like this to have been a former monk, which implies a connection between formal religion and supernaturalism.
A few years ago I completed a study of the theological background for spirit shrines, along with a protest against the simplistic, demeaning assertions made about them. That discussion is available at www.kendobson.asia/blog/shrines.
Christians have almost universally insisted that Jesus Christ has rendered supernaturalism obsolete, and retaining any shred of interest in such things as resident spirits is heresy or at least weak faith. More than a couple of Christian friends and family members have wondered how I would allow a shrine to be erected on our property. My most indulgent response is that I do not own this property and I am a temporary resident here.
According to statistics from Worldometer.info, on May 22 there were 1,645,094 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the USA. Furthermore, there have now been 500,848 cases with final outcomes in which the patient got well or died. Of those cases with final outcomes 403,201 got well (81%), and 97,650 died (19%). Are these numbers shocking?
Some say, “Yes, the numbers are horrible!” Others say, “No, the numbers are false.”
Now, it happens that the statistics are, quite predictably, being manipulated to suit those quoting them. But medical evidence is appearing to confirm that deaths and serious cases are very much higher among those who have other conditions which are exacerbated by the virus. The Sunday, 24 May 2020 edition of Medscape begin its lead article by saying, “The hospitalization rate for COVID-19 is 4.6 per 100,000 population, and almost 90% of hospitalized patients have some type of underlying condition according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Some believe that this means no matter what combination of conditions the person had, COVID-19 was listed as the cause of hospitalization. This leads to unreliable statistics. “This virus is not so bad.” The virus is merely a catalyst. Those being killed would die soon anyway.
The argument continues by concluding that attributing deaths to COVID-19 is fomenting panic. Panic is blocking economic recovery. So, since the numbers are unreliable, just open things back up, separate the vulnerable into safe keeping, and let the young and healthy go back to work and to school. Massive shut-downs are causing political discontent and economic disaster.
On top of that, closing factories, churches, businesses, borders and travel is causing economic disaster without impacting the eventual outcome of the epidemic. Epidemics evolve and the shortest way to get past them is to let them take their course so that populations develop herd immunity. Herd immunity depends on people being immune to the virus once they have gotten over being infected. It is achieved when enough people have acquired immunity so that the virus no longer reaches vulnerable victims. Herd immunity advocates insist this is the way epidemics always work with diseases to which people develop immunities through prior exposure. It is best, according to this theory, to let people be exposed and get over it, which 98% will do, so that in the end there are too few without immunity for the virus to spread. [As of this date there is no indisputable proof that COVID-19 patients develop immunity to further infection. The plan in Sweden was to count on herd immunity. The plan in Germany was not to do so, but to impose social distancing to break the chains of infection until medication is discovered.] If this were Ebola, where death rates are 50% (30% to 90%) rather than 1% of those infected, relying on herd immunity would be unthinkable.
What is being ignored by this reasoning is that even if the virus is no more than a catalyst, it can and has caused great spikes in illness, particularly illness related to lungs. These spikes can overwhelm hospital facilities, and that has happened, but it can be avoided by slowing down the spread by spreading out the population so that everybody has a chance to be treated. Even if keeping people at home is only slowing down the epidemic it is keeping people alive.
Is this "flattening the spike" worth the cost in terms of hardship, social disruption, actual starvation, and loss of emotional health as the epidemic conditions continue? Who is being protected by these measures and who is being subjected to collateral tragedy. This brings the matter into the moral-ethical realm. That sort of discussion always revolves around debatable values. On the one hand are those who believe, "If you save a life you save the world." It is immoral to resign any proportion of the population to suffering and death if it can be avoided. On the other hand, are those who insist, "It is unreasonable to operate as if we expect everyone to live forever. We will all die ... so if the choice must be made, it is better to do it when it serves the greater good." It’s about numbers.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.