I guess this is a case of in for a penny, in for a pound. How so? Because once one’s asked – as I have in an earlier post – how many lives have actually been saved once we include the autonomous effects of the Covid 19 pandemic, why stop there? Why not send a thank-you note to whatever or whomever it was that unleashed the thing? That none of us is inclined to do so is interesting, is it not? What it shows is that we’re not so much interested in outcomes as we are in intentions. The virus didn’t intend to save lives, so we’re not required to be grateful to it. But hang on. Neither did it intend to take any lives, so what gives us the right to be mad at it?
And yet clearly we are. Otherwise why is Donald Trump now calling himself a war-time president? Why is every news channel referring to Covid 19 as “the invisible enemy”? Clearly it’s the common enemy, against which “we need to be united” because “we’re all in this together.” People congregating on a beach are being referred to – and in some cases treated as – traitors.
In our more reflective moments we know that the virus is just looking out for itself. But then surely so was Genghis Khan. Or the white settlers who displaced the indigenous peoples of this land. Or the Nazis. Or the Hutu. Or the thief. Or the rapist.
Notice the escalating height of our moral dudgeon in this list. We’re more inclined to judge Genghis Khan as amoral than immoral, but the rapist invites our unstinting moral censure. Now why do you suppose that is?
This is what I call a ‘bad question’. It’s not the only bad question, but it is one of the worst. The mark of a ‘bad question’ is this: If we don’t ask, we don’t need to tell. If we had to tell we could descend into moral nihilism. Moral nihilism is bad, so the question that courts it is bad. And only bad people ask bad questions.