COVID and False Arguments

(In the following, we’re going to discuss death, disease, and dangerous rhetoric. This post is a heavy one. If you continue, know you are strong. Click on the links to be informed from official [ie legitimate] sources. Share as you will.)

Not OK. I started writing this when we were nearly to 150,000 deaths in the United States caused by the worse-than-lack-of response from federal and state leadership. Now, just 2 days before this post is meant to go live, 1 week later, we’re at approximately 155,000 deaths (~157,000 at time of posting), 4.7 million confirmed cases. You will understand any testiness that creeps into the following, as I have a bias for competence and human life. *deep breathe* We begin:

Overview: Situations Now and Before

The globe is in the middle of a pandemic, the likes of which have not been seen in a hundred years. At the time of writing (and I don’t expect this to change, except maybe with higher numbers), the United States is getting the worst of it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports approximately 150,000 deaths in the United States over 5 months from the COVID-19 virus when the first deaths were reported in March. The escalation of cases and deaths is exponential as the US continues to lack a unified effort between local, state, and federal governments to protect its citizens in the face of what is objectively a disaster.

That means approximately 30,000 people have died on average per month for 5 months. Again, these numbers are on the rise exponentially at the time of writing.

For reference, here are other especial deaths of citizens of the United States:

The Argument

The argument was posed in response to sharing this post on Facebook that compared COVID-19 deaths at the 4 month mark with plane crashes. The COVID-19 deaths at that time equated to approximately 50 plane crashes with all lives lost per week for 4 months. It concluded that those who govern would take action to resolve such a situation and no-one would take the deaths as a “hoax” or fail to take them seriously.

In rebuke of this, an argument was put forward that gained some minor support. In a nutshell:

  1. 135,720 Americans die every year from lung cancer, a preventable disease and the leading cause of cancer death. (From the original argument, it was rounded up to 150,000.)
  2. No mass hysteria or fear occurs in the country over these deaths.
  3. No prime time news coverage is given over these deaths.
  4. No knee-jerk federal control is implemented of of people’s use of the disease-causing products or behaviors.
  5. No preventative steps are taken restricting adults making adult decisions after statistics on lung cancer risks and death have been broadcast to the public.
  6. In comparison with COVID-19, the government administrations have fulfilled their duty to inform the American public.
  7. Any more action taken by those in power and leadership, including mandating masks and regulating public behavior, violates the foundational liberties of Americans (and is wrong for all this implies).
  8. The use of extreme imagery in regards to COVID-19 information is an appeal to emotion, a logical fallacy.

This argument can be expanded to other chronic cases of death. It merely changes the number of those that die.

The Argument’s Falsehoods

Let’s begin with the argument itself before we compare it to COVID-19.

Point #1 will be addressed later in the article. For reference right now, lung cancer kills 11,310 people every month, or 56,550 every 5 months.

#2 – The mention that there is no general fear of lung cancer deaths is more a call-out to human simplicity. “Out of sight, out of mind” is merely a reduction to acting like infants, where the things not present are forgotten. A human has only so much higher functional bandwidth and attention, such that anything not immediate is quickly forgotten or excused. If we or an immediate familiar doesn’t have lung cancer, we aren’t thinking about it.

#3 – For lung cancer news coverage, we have November as an awareness month. Other than that, children learn smoking is bad in school. That’s about it, so true, there is little coverage. But is this a good point to be making?

Lung cancer deaths account for almost 25% of cancer deaths, despite $27.2 billion of federal dollars distributed to state governments in 2020 to counteract the leading causes of lung cancer, smoking and tobacco products (80% of deaths attributed to smoking). Maybe that is because lung cancer research only receives about 10% of federal funding.

For #3, it would not seem appropriate that this point is in favor of the argument.

#4 – Mentioning a lack of government regulation is the first completely false and misleading point in the argument. Whether starting on the federal level in the 1960s with warning labels (~60 years ago), or currently with how the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces regulated sale and production, or by recent example the regulation the current GOP administration signed into law in 2019 on tobacco products, this point is plainly, unapologetically debunked.

#5 – If talking about letting adults make adult decisions, there are limits. Again, we call out the current GOP administration signing into law on December 20th 2019 a raise in the minimum age of tobacco purchase from 18 to 21. (As a reminder, 18-year-olds are “adult” enough to sign contracts, go to prison for life, vote in elections, and kill and die in war.) It would also be a disservice to fail to mention that the Bill of Rights’s freedom of speech – a foundational aspect to civil liberty – is restricted in cases of fighting words, obscenity, fraud, and more.

It can be concluded that the point on leaving adults to make adult decisions free from government regulation is false. (Any case made that this is at best an anarchistic ideal or at worst a criminal mentality is beyond the scope of this article.)

#6 – What is the duty of elected officials in leadership? If we merely go off of the preamble of the Constitution, the original text reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Establish Justice? Insure domestic Tranquility? Common defense? General Welfare? These appear to be the best intentions meant by the Constitution. (I’m appealing to Occam’s Razor for simplicity and brevity.)

The document goes on to charge and empower Congress to create laws towards the Constitution’s intentions. Further, the “executive Power”, the president, is charged and empowered to command all military forces, make treaties, appoint judges and ambassadors, and convene or adjourn Congress.

It is action towards common goals, which does not include abandonment of those responsibilities when having passed on information to the general public. That is the duty of the GOP administration – best labeled as this as it is a simple umbrella to refer to federal government, and the Republican party holds a majority of Congress, the Supreme Court, and has the executive office.

If we consider that the only duty of the GOP administration would be the truthful, timely, and complete informing of the American citizenry of the COVID-19 situation, how did the administration do?

(The following chronologically-ordered mentions are taken from NPR’s reporting of public comment by Donald Trump, current sitting president.)

  • Claim to have COVID-19 under control.
  • The GOP administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard citizens.
  • COVID-19 will “miraculously” go away in 2 months when it is warmer.
  • COVID-19 is a “new hoax” from the Democratic party targeting Donald Trump.
  • Comment that the Swine Flu that killed nearly 13,000 citizens was poorly handled.
  • “Just stay calm. It will go away.”
  • National state of emergency declared.
  • Recommend to socially distance for 15 days.
  • Establishment of act to compel industries to produce supplies to combat COVID-19. Days later, admits to using the act as “leverage”. No industries compelled to produce supplies for another 9 days.
  • Claims America will soon be “open for business”. Encourages churches to be full on Easter holiday.
  • Claims to have not known the severity of COVID-19 despite WHO recommendations, international experiences of the pandemic, and guidance from the CDC.
  • Announcement that wearing face masks is a voluntary precaution, that “you don’t have to do it”, despite CDC recommendations.
  • “The president of the United States calls the shots” when incorrectly arguing that the president has the power over states’ rights to establish or life local emergency conditions.
  • Halt of funding to the World Health Organization.
  • Calls for various states to end their COVID-19 precautions (wearing masks, closing non-essential businesses) to continue economic activity.

I apologize, dear reader. I cannot go on. The above only extends to the middle of April. In that time, the virus was supposed to be under the control of the US, it was not that bad, it was a hoax, it was to just go away, it was leverage, responsibility for protecting citizens was given to the states, the states were told the could not take responsibility for protecting citizens, and “you don’t have to do it” in regards to social distancing and wearing face masks, some of the best protection against contracting and spreading COVID-19.

This argument that the duty of the government is to inform citizens is false by the letter of the Constitution. Even if it was, the GOP administration would have done better to be silent and remain out of the way of more localized efforts instead of giving incorrect information to the public and undermining global and US efforts.

#7 – Government mandates are wrong and over-reaching, so this point goes, as it regards requiring social distancing and wearing face masks.

I’m tired. This point is wrong. Here’s why: Constitutional duties and powers of elected offices.

Of course, coming back to our comparison with lung cancer, restricting smoking indoors, banning adults from purchasing tobacco, and forcing tobacco product suppliers to print warnings make this argument’s point moot.

Do you need me to mention seat belts, smog checks, lead in your water, asbestos, age of consent, taxes, police, a standing military, firearm registration, education requirements, and food safety standards? No? Well, guess that may mean you’re a rational human being. We continue.

#8 – FINAL ONE. Huzzah! And it’s the logical fallacy of an appeal to emotion, to think of planes crashing in fire instead of people choking to death in hospital beds on their own fluids.

Did that last sentence get an emotional response from you? You may remember it better because emotion enhances recall. This is required as purely-factual information (point #6) had failed to prevent 137,000 deaths.

Since 137,000 deaths is a fact, and comparing a number of equally dead people by disease to that number by fire, there is no falsehood posed in the point (ie, no negative or misleading proposal). The benefit, however, is that there will be fewer deaths in the future if emotion can be used to get people to act appropriately rather than in ways that lead to more dead.

But most importantly, if we can’t agree that people killed indiscriminately by their hundreds of thousands is a bad thing, that we do not stand idly by while this happens, I don’t know how to teach you to care about other people 🤷‍♂️

The Conclusion

Lung cancer. It kills 11,310 on average every month.

COVID-19. 34,350 killed a month, averaged a month ago.

Lung cancer is terrible. It is preventable. We have failed as a society to save those who’ve died and will die because… what? Liberties? Economy? And every government for the last 100+ years shares the blame with the culture that condoned the mortality.

COVID-19 is terrible. It has killed at least 3 times the number who’ll die from lung cancer. It has been preventable. Could still be preventable. Yet more will die because… what? Liberties? Economy?

All that and more, it seems, a claim backed by the without precedent GOP administration’s abandonment of duty (if not outright maliciousness towards the general public), further while a cowboy culture in the United States will continue to claim more and more lives by individual belligerence regardless of guidance, fact, or seemingly moral discussion. The argument dismantled above gives proof that even when facts are provided, people will still choose to kill other people, belittling the act (or lack thereof to prevent the killing) all the way to justify themselves.

COVID-19 is not a joke. The death of another human beings, let alone hundreds of thousands, must be corrected actively, not passively. A life is not a statistic. To argue over whether a person should die or not, that exercising personal liberty for personal gain is more important than the health of  another, is… Well, villainous.

Any further discussion is a threat to public health. Thus, I will cease writing further on facts and leave the duty to competent, benign journalists and healthcare professionals. However, I reserve future calls to action on COVID-19, on lung cancer, on the ills of humanity that we as people must do something about.

You’ve been informed. From here, it’s simple. Waste no more time on “argument”. Give no room to those that would goad you to waste your life. Follow CDC and WHO COVID-19 guidelines. Act.

Do that, and you may save a life. You may save yours.

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