Our National Tragedy: The Mad Hatter & The Brave New World


Before I address our national tragedy, I want to acknowledge the work of the medical community, first responders, and all those who have kept our society viable during these horrendous times. They did not decide to create the conditions they’ve been working in, and even given that, their efforts have been nothing less than heroic.

Now that we appear to be on the downslope of our battle with the COVID – 19 virus, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we got here, and what, if anything, we have learned. It strikes me that our country has been, and still is, immersed in a national tragedy. But not only the obvious tragedy of lives lost to the virus, but the more subtle tragedy of poorly thought through actions that have devasted us as a culture.

The Greek playwright, Sophocles, introduced western culture to a whole new definition of tragedy. For him, tragedy involved a series of decisions and actions; impulsive, ill-conceived and thoughtless; that once taken, dictated a damaging, often fatal outcome. What he portrayed in his most notable works, was individuals struggling to reverse unwanted outcomes, while engaging in irrational, senseless, and self-destructive behaviors. Sound familiar?

When I thought of a less distant analogy, the first thing that came to mind was the Mad Hatter, derived from a character in “Alice In Wonderland.” As you may remember, he would utter the most preposterous things and make idiotic suggestions, with absolute confidence and self-righteousness. With perhaps less flourish, our “leaders,” at all levels, have enacted legislation and rules that strain credulity, at best, and model insanity, at worst. Some examples:

Funding jobs, especially for small businesses, who have no customers
Banning “elective surgeries” for people with crippling, life-limiting conditions
Including liquor stores in the list of essential businesses, but excluding alternative medicine practices (When the governor of New Jersey was asked why he considered liquor stores essential, he said that he had been advised, by “mental health professionals” and addiction counselors, that it would be in the best interests of alcoholics to have liquor available. In our combined 70 years of clinical practice, we have never come across a treatment plan for substance abusers that involved access to the abused substances.)

The other aspect of our tragedy that is even more troubling, has been the wholesale controlling and restriction of individual rights, justified by the dictates of officials in our public health apparatus. This has all been done under the guise of doing regrettable things, but for our own good. As soon as I started hearing that phrase – “for our own good” – Huxley’s “Brave New World” came to mind. His novel institutionalized the concept of “Big Brother” and raised the idea that we are never that far away from having all our freedoms wiped out, and replaced by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-providing super being. All for simply the price of our liberty. I don’t know if most of us have thoroughly thought through what has just happened to us. By fiat, millions of Americans have been prevented from working, from leaving their homes, and from affiliating with their colleagues and friends. I would like the people who dictated this, to look business owners who have lost everything, square in the eyes, and tell them that you regret ruining their lives, destroying their families, relegating their employees to joblessness; but it was all for their own good. I will never forget that chilling quote, from the Vietnam War – “We had to burn down the villages to save them.”

I am not raising these issues to place blame, or to try to undo reality. I am raising them as a cautionary tale. Beware of quick solutions to complex problems. As I’ve said in previous pieces, the solution to any problem creates the next problem to solve. Guaranteed! Don’t implement any solution, to any problem, without a full and total exploration of who the proposed solution will impact, and exactly how it will impact them. Our massive overreaction to the COVID – 19 virus took none of this into consideration, and we have paid dearly for it.

Finally, we need to be very wary of anyone and everyone who proposes to help us, by doing things to us, that are for our own good. I will never forget the saying I learned early in my life – “The road to hell is always paved with good intentions.”
It is one thing to have lives ruined by natural disasters. It is quite another thing to have lives ruined by fellow citizens. Remember what we have heard after every period of man’s inhumanity to man – “Never have so many blindly believed in so few.”

Morrie Shechtman

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