When I die, and if I’m remembered at all, it’ll probably be as that misanthropic bastard who authored that scurrilous piece of shite entitled “A Defense of Terrorism.” Sound as it is, I won’t be remembered for the argument. Rather it’ll be for my utter insensitivity. For I pointed out – albeit only as an aside – that on the weekend before 9/11, and on every weekend since, more people died on American highways than in those two towers, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania. In fact all the highway safety experts assure us that if America had spent on guardrails even a fraction of the trillions being squandered on so-called ‘homeland security’, it would’ve saved a hundred thousand lives. It would seem, then, that Americans care less about their loved one being killed than they do by whose hands.

Well yes, that’s true. But only an asshole would say it.

Similarly, then, only an asshole would say what I’m not about to say about the current coronavirus pandemic. What I’m not about to say is this:

As of today, March 18, there have been 200,000 confirmed infections, which means probably well over a million who’ve yet to be counted. So by all accounts we’re a long way short of the apex of the curve. We’ve lost some lives. We’re going to lose a lot more. And were it not for the draconian measures being implemented by governments all over the world, we’d lose a whole lot more than we’re going to lose.

Are we going to lose more lives to the coronavirus than we are to the carnage on our highways? Yes, but only because there’s going to be less carnage on our highways because of the coronavirus. That is, in the same way that, to the applause of some global warming worriers, the coronavirus is driving a decline in greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also driving a decline in travel. And the fewer the vehicles on the road, the fewer the deaths from vehicles hitting each other.

So once the two death tolls are added up, the unutterable question is whether the coronavirus will or will not have saved lives.

Note that to whatever degree highway accidents are avoidable – just don’t drive! – so too is the coronavirus – just don’t leave your house! One’s behavior in both cases is a function of her risk/benefit assessment. Note too that highway safety is as much of a collective action problem as is combatting the coronavirus. So the two cases are not just parallel. They’re perfectly parallel.

So, if insight this be, what are its implications? There aren’t any. You and I will both continue to ‘shelter in place’ except when we have to go out for groceries, at which time we’ll drive as we always do. That’s why none of what’s just not been said, though true, bears saying.

Categories: Critical Thinking, Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask

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7 replies

  1. A risk/benefit assessment implies rational assessment of the potential but unquantified risks and rational assessment of the imagined potential benefits, and then a rational weighing of the two. So, if I failed to hoard enough toilet paper and have to go to the local store to buy more I take a risk of both car accidents and coronavirus infection. But when I get to the store I discover that my imagined benefit won’t be achieved because there is no toilet paper left on the store shelves. And the same is true of the next three stores I visit. Thus I have taken two risks for no benefit. Unfortunately, life is like that. But only someone who wants a clean ass would even mention this.


  2. Dear misanthropic curmudgeon, every cloud has a silver lining. I have crawled out from under my rock to ask this question: what has toilet paper to do with Corvid 19? It’s an upper respiratory virus which occurs at the opposite end of the body. It’s not like our breathing parts are next to our evacuation parts like some tunicates I know.


    • The reason for the run on toilet paper is not the Corvid 19 but an entirely different kind of virus. There must’ve been some idiot with a large following on Twitter or Facebook who was afraid that stores would run out of toilet paper. After expressing that concern on social media the story went viral. The problem then was the Internet viral not the upper respiratory tract one.


      • Two comments.

        1) From my preliminary search on this topic:
        “China sees a sharp drop in car accident claims,”

        2) On the toilet paper issue. Another theory I think deserves some consideration. Women make most household purchases. At a certain stage in life we have messy monthly needs, and little ones with snotty noses and bums that need wiping. (COVID isn’t the only game in town, many viruses this season have stomach involvement.) I’m past this stage in life. But with little ones especially, you use foresight. If I envision myself, back in the day, stuck at home in a quarantine, I believe I would be very reluctant to give up such luxuries as bum wipe. If I think there’s a good possibility taking the family to the store is going to get difficult (and much about the virus is unknown) — I think adding some extra rolls to the shelf a not unreasonable move. (Addendum: we often consider our male partners and their hairy butts when thinking of the things we would prefer not to live without. Like TP.)

        Adding to my hypothesis. I spent my early years using an outhouse, as did many of the demographic most at risk from COVID. Some people have fond memories of wiping with catalogues and leaves. I am not among them.What’s more, this vulnerable generation is more likely than their Youngers to experience urinary dribbles and other sensitive health needs. In this latter situation, if I foresee shopping becoming a dangerous activity, extra toilet paper is a really nice thing to have. Toilet paper is cheap, and storable – – and it affords a little dignity and comfort. As someone who has provided professional care for the elderly and disabled, I’d be glad knowing my clients have this little token of security. What’s more, from a health perspective, if purchasing toilet paper helps lower people’s anxiety, then power to them! There are unhealthier ways to cope with stress.

        I concede that some of this TP phenomenon is imitation spurred by panic. But I suspect less than you think. Food for thought, anyway.

        Best Regards, Pam


      • As I was saying,

        “Luckily the for the Gleason family, they stocked up on everything they needed several weeks ago. ‘When you have four kids in the span of seven years, which I did, you know how to be organized.” she said. ‘So, I was stockpiled and ready to go two, three weeks ago.’ But while Gleason is prepared, she is worried about her elderly neighbours who may not have had the means to plan so far ahead.”


      • And, for the record, our attitudes about people buying toilet paper are also often imitative. (Which isn’t a value judgment, but rather an observation about human cognition.) Hence, it might be hard to tell whether there is more discussion about people buying toilet paper than there are rolls on people’s shelves. The way things roll on the Internet, the former might well exceed the latter. But, I digress.


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