How One Advice Columnist Handled Our Covid Pandemic, Over Four Years

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, this is one of those posts where, unlike the famous New Yorker parable, I went to the swamp, and found all too many birds, the swamp in this case being Washington, home of the Post, which has a stable of advice columnists: Carolyn Hax, along with Amy of “Ask Amy,” and Miss Manners. I’ve always admired Hax, who is humane, intelligent, and very knowledgeable about, well, the sort of people who write to advice columnists for advice, and whose work I periodically binge-read (“life’s rich pageant”).

My simple plan was to aggregate snippets of advice from over the course of the pandemic, as a proxy for the evolution of social norming. Unfortunately, Hax is an absolute content-producing machine, often with more than one column a week plus an online forum. The volume of material was so great that this post would have been book-length, and so out of the forty columns I found I’ve selected the most piquant — those I could not bear to cut — and left all the Amy[1] and Miss Manners[2] material on the cutting room floor. For the remaining eighteen, I will excerpt the reader’s question as it pertains to Covid, since most everything else can be inferred, human nature being what it is. I will then excerpt Hax’s advice, and briefly comment upon it, intersecting reader question and advice with my own recollections from the torrent of Covid content that is my Twitter feed.

Hax’s readers — at least those who write in — are mostly women, mostly from WaPo’s catchment, and mostly PMC (weddings, funerals, travel, dining, and children bulk large and not, say, the difficulties of plant closings, issues with unpleasant customers who refuse to mask, or hospitals and nursing homes that protect neither workers nor patients). That said, it’s clear that the Covid pandemic had and is having enormous and often baleful effects on families, friendships, and relationships generally, and so what follows will be of considerable human interest, no matter the class perspectives and interests at play. Note that the headlines provide a rich pageant all their own, and don’t necessarily refer to Covid.


2020/08/22 Covid-19 will one day subside, but lying is relationship cancer

Q: My husband and I disagree about COVID precautions and have reached the point where we’re constantly fighting about it. I am more conservative and trying to have contact with only a few families I know are taking similar precautions. He’s exposing himself and his 8-year- old son, my stepson, to a lot more people, including one family that I believe does not take COVID seriously. One child in this family had cold symptoms and they refused to have him tested and continued to expose him to other kids.

I don’t know how I can trust him. I am very concerned with what I’m learning about him, since he’s ignoring my concerns and not willing to take such steps to help me feel safe even if he doesn’t think it’s necessary himself. How do I move forward?

A: You have some obvious information to work from — that you can’t trust your husband — and some less obvious.

Left to wing it, groups of Americans everywhere are wrestling with this exact same conflict and not coming to tidy solutions. Couples, roommates, co-workers, extended families, fellow shoppers. Forget that everyone’s risk tolerance is different — that’s complicated enough to reconcile — but in this case we’re all living the consequences of everyone else’s risk tolerances in a way most of us haven’t seen before (with the possible exception of Boston driving).

So while I won’t pretend his choices are at the responsible end of the scale, I will eagerly pretend COVID will eventually stop running our lives and therefore disagreements on handling it don’t need to be partnership-enders.

Here’s the problem with your husband that would outlast this shining moment we’re in: His coping tactic for a significant disagreement is to tell you enough of whatever you want to hear so you’ll get off his back and he can resume doing whatever he feels like doing.

That lays bare such profound emotional immaturity that it’s a valid question whether you and he can have a marriage of equals again, now that you know what he’s about.

Comment: “I will eagerly pretend”: A good deal of irony there, I would say. And one might very well wonder how many “marriages of equals” ended in the pandemic. I would guess many, though some hard data would be nice.

2020/09/20 Bob’s ignoring his family. Should we ignore him?

Q: Just as covid-19 arrived, a couple my wife and I are close friends with, “Mary and Bob,” had their first child. They decided Mary will not return to work and Bob will continue in his job.

These adjustments can be hard, and with covid-19, the feelings of isolation make it even harder. My wife recently learned that Mary is feeling like Bob is spending too much time on activities that don’t involve his family. While the activities are safe and permitted under local guidelines, the time Bob spends away from his family is putting a significant strain on his relationship with Mary. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be communicating very well.

A: [L]et Bob figure out whether to accept and how to navigate his marriage, baby and friendships.

I don’t recommend even well-meaning attempts at social engineering based on second- and third-hand information.

What friends are well-positioned to do, almost uniquely so, is ease the new-parent workload and isolation. Pandemic protocols will limit you, but not completely.

Comment: I would be interested to know what “local guidelines” “permitted” in 2020, and what the guidelines are now.


2021/02/13 Roll up your sleeves and overcome your vaccine resentments

Q: I don’t know how to deal with my feelings about how the covid-19 vaccinations are rolling out. I have a very close group of friends, none of whom are high-risk. A couple have managed to get vaccinated through what I think is some level of abuse of privilege.

A: Let go of any sense of responsibility for individual outcomes like this. Tell your friends, “Good for you,” and be glad for each micro-step toward collective immunity that isn’t slam-dunk-grotesquely entitled:

The rules are the rules and neither you nor your friends made them. When the rules serve up a legitimate opportunity, it makes sense to take it.

And a media critique:

When something dominates the national news, it’s common to feel highly engaged but also mostly, if not entirely, helpless. We feel it, but we can’t fix it. So our very normal, healthy impulses to do something start to wander around, looking for a place to go.

And like any entity with a lot of energy and nothing to do, these impulses start to cause trouble around the neighborhood. Namely, we can feel very tempted to judge, correct, fixate on, fume at and try to micromanage what we see, or rename it Karen. Our friends, relatives, neighbors, colleagues, that guy behind us in the checkout line.

[M]ost of the time, and especially when the impact of the person we’re correcting is drop-in-the-bucket negligible — or when the stakes are highly abstract — we risk doing more harm by butting in than by a strategic choice to look the other way. Our affectionate ties to others, after all, are the most potent, underrated weapon we have against just about every threat we face as people.

Comment: “Our affectionate ties to others” reminds me of Lincoln’s First Inaugural: “Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched….” But how’d that work out? Then and now?

2021/04/30 Is there enough pandemic left to excuse friends who opt out of a wedding?

Q: My child and their spouse were to have been married last year at a venue several hours from our home state. When everything was canceled because of covid-19, they decided to be married at the local courthouse. They still wanted to have the wedding ceremony as planned, so it is happening soon.

A number of people have decided against attending because they won’t yet be fully vaccinated.

Of course I understand and respect people’s concerns but this really hurts. Their reasoning is that they are too terrified to fly, stay in a hotel and don’t want to drive, although they have driven several hours for other reasons.

A: I urge you to reframe all this not as a wedding-attendance-as-proof-of-friendship matter, but instead as one of emerging and recovering from a traumatic period.

Both of you (read: so, so many of us) are trying to glue selves and routines back together after seeing so much taken away. Both of you are going to need some time before you start to feel something like your old confidence and insouciance again.

Comment: This is only 2021; the traumatic period has hardly been emerged from. Imagine how many selves and routines must be glued back together today!

2021/05/16 The pandemic may be slowing down, but the judging persists unabated

Q: Friends who “believe in science” got vaccinated and are still terrified of being “safe.” Won’t work with a masked person inside if they are not vaccinated, won’t eat inside socially distanced from others she doesn’t know are vaccinated and just in general is hard to deal with.

I get it, covid is a scary disease, but really try to get past it. I am feeling much safer as we go along. More and more it seems people are NOT carriers if vaccinated; there are very few breakthrough cases.

A: When your friends are ready, they will emerge. The extent might not be to your liking, and the timing might not be to your liking, but they’re not here to behave to your liking.

Our behavior does affect others’ well-being, though; there’s no getting around that.

So if someone is overcorrecting in a way that’s mindful of public health vs. carelessly or stubbornly endangering it, then a little leeway is apt, plus a lot of patience.

Whenever you find yourself getting frustrated with people or the pandemic or the way people deal with the pandemic, try sorting it all out by the following guidelines:

Precautions are about the virus.

Feelings are about feelings.

Precautions are public.

Feelings are private.

Let’s not conflate, confuse or commingle these in any way that makes this nightmare any longer for everyone else — for example, refusing to wear masks (public-precaution-related) because we’re upset about having to wear masks (private-feelings-related).

Comment: Sadly, the reader was dead wrong (“More and more it seems people are NOT carriers if vaccinated”). And sadly, contra Hax, private feelings dominated our societal response (not without encouragement, I might add; see the next snippet).

2021/06/18 They stayed away to protect his health, but covid-denier dad sees it differently

Q: Our father has Type 1 diabetes. My brother and I did not see him for over a year because of covid, which we took seriously.

We are all vaccinated now, but our father will not see us because he does not believe in covid and thinks we abandoned him. He listens to right-wing programs nonstop.

A: Your father didn’t just decide covid was fake. He was persuaded through relentless messaging. You and your brother might likewise persuade your father you care about him by gently, respectfully, persistently telling him you do. Call on a regular schedule. Mail him letters and cards. Send photos. Remember and commemorate his milestone events. Recommend shows, books or new music you think he’ll like. Extend invitations (and accept “no” without fuss).

Again, remain respectful — he has every right not to reciprocate or even accept your efforts. But also prepare yourself for a long commitment to proving your commitment to him, to help you both feel better. That’s why letters and photos are so good, they’re arm’s length.

As our mercurial political conditions change — on him and everyone else — prop open doors back to the truth.

Comment: “Relentless messaging” from whom, exactly? I would also be interested to know if any readers applied Hax’s strategy with success, though (obviously) I vehemently agree with propping open doors to the truth

2021/07/24 While grieving, ‘What are friends for?’ is not a rhetorical question

Q: Two weeks ago my husband’s 33-year-old best friend died of covid-19. We’ve been coping best we can, and yesterday attended a small funeral. In advance of attending, I had spoken to my three best friends about my sadness over this extremely unexpected loss, and overall the hard time I’ve been having. I was really surprised yesterday when not one of these three reached out to say they were thinking of me.

A: Yes, they did let you down, tremendously. I’m not suggesting otherwise — I’m noting instead that your feelings might be out of proportion to the offense because of how overwhelming grief can be.

As for the way they let you down: Is it possible they didn’t know yesterday was the day, or could have lost track of it in the two weeks since your friend’s death?

Once you’ve sorted this out, yes, do let your friends know you’re upset.

Comment: From the Long Covid/Disabled community, these “let downs” (betrayals) are common (though my Twitter feed is super-self-selected, and I think the algo doesn’t exactly feed me happy stories).

2021/09/10 Friends fear another covid lockdown — yet barely locked down for the first

Q: I get it, we’re past the point in this pandemic where it’s useful or sensible to judge each other’s behavior. But still, what do I do about the friends who say things like, “I’m worried we’re going to go back into lockdown,” when those exact same friends never went into lockdown in the first place? I basically didn’t leave my apartment for 16 months while people I’m close to were only restricted by the closures of favorite restaurants, yet they behave now like it’s terrible news that we might have to go “back” to staying home.

A: People who want civilization to continue and are even superficially embracing public health measures to prevent the spread of covid-19 need to be kind to each other, to the point of indulgence. That is a solution, because it’s a crucial element of being “in this together” — choosing not to finger-point others into seeking refuge in the closest cultural-purity bunker just because it feels better than being shamed.

Having to shut things down again to prevent lethal infections is the blunt instrument — killing businesses because it’s our only means left to stop killing people — that we, collectively, make necessary only when we politicize the much more refined and effective ones. Please let’s just focus on that.

Comment: And why did “we” “politicize” the “much more refined and effective” non-pharmaceutical interventions?

2021/09/15 She refuses to mask or get vaccinated. Can their friendship survive?

Q: My close friend of many years and I live about an hour away from each other, but we might as well be on distant planets when it comes to covid.

Lockdown was extremely stressful for both of us. Since lockdown ended, I have been living carefully: masking up indoors and getting vaccinated ASAP. She has been living confidently, maskless, and refuses to get vaccinated. I think covid safety is a big deal, she thinks it’s not necessary. Her friend got covid-19 while battling breast cancer and died. My friend is convinced her death wasn’t related to covid (how would anyone know?).

I don’t respect her decisions, her logic or her behavior. She doesn’t respect mine — she thinks I’m overreacting and overly cautious. When we talk about it, we both dig our heels in. So now we aren’t talking. It’s been over a month now.

Now that the delta variant is here, I’m even more worried, angry and frustrated with her. I’m practically obsessed with her lack of safety. How can a friendship overcome these differences?

A: If you’re wrong about covid (you’re not), then here’s what happens: You feel minor discomfort in your mask and no one else is harmed.

If she’s wrong about covid (she is), then here’s what happens: She puts herself at risk of sickness and death; she puts other people at risk of sickness and death; she does her small part to help extend the life and reach of a virus that has brought sickness and death to millions, along with massive emotional, experiential, educational and economic losses to the entire world; and in doing all of these she gives the virus one more living opportunity to mutate into even more dangerous forms.

So if you were still speaking, then I would urge you not to discuss this issue with your friend as if your two positions are equal. Again — the costs of being wrong with each position are zero vs. absolutely freaking everything, respectively. It is your responsibility as her friend and fellow human never to deviate from that point, and not to engage with her on this topic beyond that. Mind your discipline, not hers.

Comment: Hax did not invoke Taleb’s “risk of ruin, though she might well have. Sadly, “we” as a society ended up agreeing with the readers’s friend, wrong factually, and morally, through she was.

2021/11/03 He lost his job and his mojo, and his partner’s patience is next

Q: My boyfriend is a musician and never made a ton of money, and I carried the bulk of the financial weight because of it. It was hard, but I was willing to do it because I love him and he’s a very kind man. We never argue and get along very well.

Now with covid, most of his work has been canceled and he’s unwilling to find something else. He’s also very depressed because of it.

A: That’s because the root problem is your boyfriend’s apparent emotional paralysis in the face of covid cancellations….. So although your frustration with the financial pressure is valid, that pressure is a symptom. The underlying ailment is his shutting down under duress…. He, meanwhile, might need to reckon with your looking no deeper into his struggle than its outermost layer of cash.

Comment: The “root problem” was that the boyfriend has to sell his labor power to survive, but that’s not something I would expect an advice columnist to say. Paid time-off for the duration would have been useful too, again unmentioned.


2022/01/25 Sister nags her way into baby shower in person, then tests positive for covid

Q: Instead of a traditional baby shower, loved ones threw me a five-person gathering in my backyard, and others were invited to drive by. One friend who has been quarantining offered to stay afterward to help me with gifts.

My sister begged me for weeks to join in the intimate gift-opening “after-party.” I didn’t want her to. I love her, but she has not really been careful about covid. I just didn’t feel comfortable, but gave in.

And now, six days later, she has just announced she tested positive. I am furious. She knows I have a major guilt complex and probably knew she would be able to wear me down. And now she has put me and my family at risk. (I’m getting tested today and my anxiety is through the roof.)

A from reader: “[G]et ready now for your sister pushing to see your baby and start practicing your scripts. ‘No, we have decided it’s not safe. And it’s not up for discussion.” Your child needs you to stand up to pushy people on their behalf.’

A from a kinder reader: “Trauma like this pandemic can affect people’s ability to think rationally, especially when it comes to being with people they love. Years ago, I wanted my dying father to be at my bridal shower despite his treatment. My friend very kindly explained why it was not a good idea (duh!) but my mind was not processing correctly.”

Comment: I see this dynamic all the time on the Twitter; the sister social-norming her way into the event, in a display of muscle. “Smile Nazis” are the same sort.

2022/02/08 Couple agreed to be ‘productive’ during pandemic but only one followed through

Q: Once our respective firms sent us to work at home, we calculated we would gain 30-plus hours a week, even while still working full-time, due to not commuting, traveling or socializing in person. We promised each other we would use that time to be productive in ways our prior schedules did not permit.

I kept up my end of the bargain: In six months I read 25 biographies, developed decent conversational skills in two foreign languages, upped my running program to the point that I am marathon-ready, and started volunteering for voter registration advocacy, all while continuing to work full-time. My wife has done … not so much. She has been reading fantasy novels, occasionally watching a History Channel documentary, and has generally used the time to “unwind.”

I have confronted her several times, and she tells me she is “rejecting productivity culture” and doesn’t feel like improving herself right now. We share housework, cooking, and other practical matters, and she does exercise, but I’m getting increasingly frustrated — disgusted, even — that she would waste this gift of free time just to watch TV and read books better suited for children.

A: Is anyone so awesome a catch that it would be worth not being loved or respected — worth arousing “disgust” — just to stay married?

Plus, if your definition of “improving” oneself didn’t include rest and juicy novels, then our differences would be irreconcilable.

Comment: Maybe this marriage was headed for the rocks anyhow — the two did ultimately divorce — but it would be interesting how many other “irreconcilable” differences were revealed throughout the population by the pandemic. Again, I would guess a lot, though it would be nice to have hard data.

2022/02/23 Husband got an email that he was exposed to covid, didn’t tell his wife

Q: My husband went to a party at his men’s club this week. Wives were invited but I decided not to go for other reasons, and I also said I don’t think it was a good idea for everybody to be in a closed space like that, given covid.

Three days later, I see an email from the head of the men’s club informing all the members that several people tested positive after the party. Two days after that, I see he deleted the email and has not said a word to me. (It’s a business account and I’m the admin, so I see all emails.)

A: In case I wasn’t clear enough at the top, I’ll elaborate: Recklessness with covid exposure is the shape it may have assumed here, but the real problem — which is ongoing and clearly exists independently of this incident — is your husband’s poor character.

Comment: Of all the human behaviors revealed by Covid, I would say lying, whether by commission or, as here, omission, is #1 (betrayal being #2).


2023/09/15 My brother has been engaged to 3 women in 2 years

Q: My wife and I have been married over 20 years. The last 5 have been full of anger and hostility, and I don’t know what to do.

She is a highly introverted person. Her happy place is deep in a book, or on a long solo hike, or spending an evening with her sisters. She has few friends, but is close to her many siblings and the friends she does have. In short, she is very content.

I am not. I am lonely and feel overlooked. It has made me very angry and resentful, and I have exploded at her in anger in ways she apparently found terrfying and traumatic. I would never hurt her or our two kids (older teens), but I have broken things, punched walls, and screamed at her (in front of the kids and in public once, I am embarrassed to say).

A: What she’s not doing is your bidding/whatever you want her to. Which brings us back to the baseline law of autonomy. You get to decide what you want, and you decide what you do, but your desires and actions Do Not control how other people behave. You do not have that right. Not even through marriage. Marriage is an agreement to be yourselves together. You married her, not your vision of her or expectations of her.

Comment: I included this one because extroverts and introverts have reacted very differently both to the pandemic, and to the various measures taken to combat it.

And another snippet from the same article:

Q: “I am the letter writer from Sunday who is struggling to reach Christmas accommodation with his fiancée.”

A from a reader: “Christmas is a good day to fly IF it’s not snowing where you are and/or where you’re going. I sympathize with all couples trying to deal with the Family Christmas ordeal. So many were relieved during Thanksgiving and Christmas 2020 when it was not Covid-safe to travel so they got to say home and didn’t have to split the holiday or travel, for once.”

Comment: The “relief” is little remarked upon but surely genuine for many, especially introverts. (Interestingly, on the Twitter, those who take Covid precautions seriously tend to be “on the spectrum,” a population that does not seem to appear in Hax’s readership.)


2024/02/12 Boyfriend keeps questioning partner about recent weight gain

Q: A while back, I got covid and ended up losing my sense of smell and even more weight. My boyfriend was very supportive, always telling me I was beautiful even when I felt like death.

This year, my sense of smell came back, and it’s been wonderful: Food tastes good again, and I’ve been treating myself. My doctor was pleased with my health and told me that I’d edged into the normal weight range for my height.

When I got home, my boyfriend was happy to hear I’m doing well. Then he asked about my weight and seemed surprised when I told him. He said, “Wow, I’d never guess you weigh that much.” A few hours later, he brought it up again, asking whether I planned to get any heavier.

A: I don’t see what there is to interpret. He tells you (daily!) exactly who he is and what he values. “Better to be underweight!” He’s as subtle as a wet T-shirt. But the effect of his bias on you was masked by your never having gained until now.

“Speaking of the future: Do you plan to keep being a total [glass bowl]?”

Comment: Another “bias” revealed, another relationship on the rocks. However, the boyfriend (and, for that matter, Hax), might have pointed out that the girlfriend’s anosmia should have been taken just as seriously as the weight gain, being a sign of possible neurological damage.

2024/03/05 When stepsiblings fight, parent feels guilty for blending family

Q: I have two friends who have to one-up me at every turn, and I don’t know how to respond. For instance, when I was sick with covid, I emailed one friend about how miserable a disease it is. I was really suffering. She wrote back that she didn’t have a hard time with it at all, it was just a few days to catch up with her favorite TV shows. No mention of hoping I’d feel better soon or could she help in any way. What’s the best way to respond to a one-upper?

A: The obvious response is to befriend better people. The entertaining response is to offer congratulations for any and all ways they outperform you. “Congratulations on living your best covid! I have much to learn from you.”

You probably don’t want extremes, and that answer hits both of them, but really, the middle-of-the-road answer is the same: Decide whether there’s a friendship here worth having and, if there is, decide how to behave within it to maintain your integrity and keep them from snuffing out your last flicker of joy.

A from a reader: “Unless you were a close friend, who wouldn’t email me to begin with, I wouldn’t care how your COVID was going. Literally billions have had it and literally billions are sick of talking about it. Maybe these “two friends” are fair weather friends, maybe LW is just very demanding and they were being polite responding at all.

Comment: The reader response seems far more prevalent than Hax’s more humane one. The betrayal of throwing the sick under the bus seems second only to lying in the current Zeitgeist.

2024/03/21 Is it wrong to ‘confront’ a brother who resists staying in touch?

Q: My brother is married, has a 17-month-old boy and helps his wife run a fairly successful restaurant in a resort town in Maryland. However, he barely acknowledges my mother, who is not overbearing and is very kind. It almost feels like he purposely wants nothing to do with any of us without ever telling us why.

A: Having worked in the restaurant business with a father who managed, it’s all-consuming. Never mind owning a restaurant. In a resort town during the summer? Along with a toddler? Yikes. And, given that vacationers have been ‘catching up’ post-covid, I would question that brother has time to sleep! And, with a toddler, might very well not.

Comment: Interesting that people feel entitled to “catch up.” Back to 2019! And this reader would like to know about ventilation in that restaurant, and whether the staff wore masks. Perhaps in 2020-2021 Hax herself would have asked that question, but having plowed through so much of this stuff, I see how it would get wearing.


Some readers may reproach Hax for not having done all she could, but I would contrast her to Emily Post, whose utterly dominant Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home was published in 1922, a mere two years after the Spanish flu ended. Post erases the Spanish Flu completely; nothing on ventilation, nothing on masks (lots of “damask,” though). Nothing on coughing in public, whether into one’s elbow or not. Hax, though in a similar line of work, has done much, much better.

It’s unfortunate that shameless lying seems to be the main all-to-human behavior exhibited under the stresses of our policy of mass infection without mitigation. From an earlier post, I want to revive the notion of “belief scarring“:

While COVID-19 lockdown measures disrupt production worldwide, they also shock workers’ perceptions and beliefs about the economy and may hence have long-lasting effects after the pandemic. We study a belief-scarring mechanism in the context of labor markets and embed this mechanism into a multi-country, multi-sector Ricardian trade model with input–output linkages. Our quantitative analysis indicates that pandemic shocks leave persistent and substantial belief-driven negative impacts on the post-COVID economy.

I cannot but think that belief-scarring has taken place not only in the labor market, but also in the marrriage market, and the (presumably) non-market-oriented field of friendships and relationships generally. Pervasive lying and betrayal by “others” to whom one may feel “affectionate ties” cannot but have a permanent effect, making a low-trust society even more low-trust; the same goes for the abandonment and the erasure of Lebensunwertes Leben. On the bright side — I do not speak ironically, here — trust by those who persist together in resisting “Rule #2 (Go Die)” under the current regime of mass infection without mitigation cannot but be strengthening, both for the individuals, society, and whatever events are to come.


[1] 2023/07/03, 2023/08/17, 2023/08/18, 2023/09/15, 2023/09/22, 2023/09/23, 2023/11/04, and 2023/11/14.

[2] 2023/09/29, 2023/06/22, 2023/08/01, 2024/01/12.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. The Rev Kev

      Agreed. It is a fascinating compilation. There is a time in card playing where you have to lay all your cards down and let people see what you got. Covid here seems to be doing the same thing. It is forcing people to reveal who they actually are and what they value. Do you feel “sick” but there is a baby shower that you must absolutely attend? Do you call in sick or do you keep mum and just go and hope not to infect everyone? It’s one or the other and Covid is forcing people to make such choices.

      1. Jen

        Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but it would never have occurred to me to go to a baby shower (or a wedding, or a funeral) if I was feeling sick even before COVID.

  1. Burritonomics

    That must have taken quite a bit of time to sift through. Super interesting; thanks for this. Kudos, Lambert.

    1. hemeantwell

      Great idea, lambert. Do other social issues regularly come up in her columns, ‘my brother says genocide was inevitable, it’s human nature,’ etc?

  2. JBird4049

    It looks to me that many people chose to deal with Covid by ignoring it, which includes sick friends and family, and still are. Since the disease is likely to forcibly out itself again will anyone look at their habit of dealing by ignoring? I mean many corporations and countries would be far better off if they had not taken the very short term of inadequate ways of dealing with the pandemic and now pretending that it does not exist.

    I know that the habit of ignoring unpleasant realities has always been around, but was it this bad in the past, or has it become more common? And are the atomization and financialization of society
    the reasons for it?

    Really, it seems that both modern American society and the whole of Western Civilization discourages being a responsible adult. Probably because it would interfere with the whole “greed is good” belief. Dealing with the reality of Covid means making less immediate profit, it might even force taxes to rise and funds shifted to both medical care and income support, but that is communism, better to throw society under the bus than have that.

    1. gk

      > but was it this bad in the past,

      Yes. Venice 1576. They had a lockdown because of the plague, but this was bad for business. So some of them went to Italy’s Great Barrington, aka the university of Padua. Some (possibly carefully selected) experts said it was just the flu. Actually, they didn’t have our sense of humour, but just said it wasn’t the plague. After the first week of July, with 170 dying per day, it became clear that it really was the plague and they locked down the city. About a quarter of the population died.

  3. DavidZ

    “Relentless messaging”

    It works with some people, not with others.

    I know a friend, whom I was extremely upset with and cut off (personal reasons), he persisted and kept trying to keep in touch over 3 years, now we are chatting again.

    I think, people should make the effort and keep doors open to others. Feelings change over time, people change over time; it can be helpful to allow a little space for communication to get through.

    In that respect, the slow, older mail a card, letter etc are way better because a person can be way more thoughtful while communicating and it also gives another person room to read, reflect and take their own time to get back to you, when they want.

  4. ambrit

    [This is supposed to be a reply to JBird 4049 above.]
    “… but that is communism, better to throw society under the bus than have that.”
    This brings to mind the old Magrat Thatcher chestnut; “There is no such thing as society.”
    I noticed that the writer of the piece attributes Thatcher’s use of the idea to her perusing the thoughts of Freidrich Hayek. Suddenly, a light begins to dawn.
    Perhaps we should take a long-term view of the Syndemic. We are living through an accelerated period of species and social evolution. Those social and blood lines that deny and belittle the virus and its effects are doomed to extinction. Those of us who embrace extra vigilance will tend to be the ancestors of the future Terran human population.
    We are living through a Terran human population bottleneck period.

  5. ChrisPacific

    I had a quick look at Captain Awkward (one of my preferred columnists) over recent years to see how she tackled Covid when it came up. There weren’t all that many examples, but she’s good for a turn of phrase as always:

    I am as scared of dying and of losing people as anyone. But what’s more terrifying to me than any illness is watching people with money and power make selfish, cruel decisions and try to displace their fears onto those they see as disposable.

    1. Sputnik Sweetheart

      I haven’t read Captain Awkward’s colums lately but I have followed her husband’s newsletter. She has dodged his two infections and remains a Novid as of May 7th.

  6. Brian Beijer

    Living in Sweden, I can relate to all the lying that people do, both to themselves and to others. For the past two years, no one in this country gets Covid. I mean no one. They get the colds, allergies, stomach virus, hay fever, anything BUT Covid. It’s as though Covid never existed. When an office mate comes back to work after being sick, I often ask if they tested for Covid. Most of the time, they haven’t, but the few who did always say that that the test was negative. I suspect that the Covid tests haven’t been worth a damn for years due to the extent of virus mutation and corporate unwillingness to invest in R&D.
    The one thing that Covid taught me about human behavior is that people can do Olympic level cognitive gymnastics in order to justify what they want to do.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > The one thing that Covid taught me about human behavior is that people can do Olympic level cognitive gymnastics in order to justify what they want to do.

      I would like to know whether this is biology, culture, political economy, class struggle (supposing these last two to be the same)…. A mixture of all, I would imagine.

      The ability of our ruling and governing classes to get hundreds of millions of people to harm their own children is stunning. I don’t know how to account for it (though one thing I do know, and that’s that the vulgar Marxist formulations of superstructure/base and “economic determinism” don’t make it. Materialism does, of course, by definition (at least for me). But there’s rather a lot to unpack.

      I keep saying this in different ways, but what I want to know is how these bad ideas (like “natural immunity”) “gain traction” (horrid metaphor), or get “transmitted” (less horrid), through networks (less still), in as much detail as how SARS-CoV-2 spreads in a bus, as shown by a seating diagram. Handwaving about “myths” and memes, Doesn’t make it.

      Suppose indeed 95% if humans look to others to guide/lead them (Keynesian beauty contest). That leaves open the question of how the 5% — the index cases, one might say — get that guiding/leading done.

      NOTE * Not herds. Primates form troops. Troops which one, naturally, support.

  7. JohnA

    Thanks as ever, Lambert, for expanding my vocabulary. Makes your posts even more rewarding.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > expanding my vocabulary

      I don’t write as I do entirely to show off. Words have power, and that power can be mastered with a little study. Object lessons!

      1. JohnA

        I do not for one second think you are showing off. It was genuine praise for using words that prove an exact fit for what you want to say. Long may you continue in this vein.

  8. dogwood

    It’s too bad she never got in to mentioning swiss cheese-style precautions as an option in order to ease antagonisms and anxieties. It does empower those of us who know Covid is real and want to stay safe. Interesting compilation of stories that are probably still happening today except that the narrative that everything’s back to normal reigns supreme.

  9. Rick

    Fun stuff, enjoyed her work for a long time. Even PMC folk have human problems.

    Would be great if Hax were to read and respond.

    As to words, not sure what Lambert means by “power”, but for me they also expand my understanding of the world we live in. Anosognosia is a vital concept in explaining where we are. How to get to a better place is a bit more opaque.

  10. JaaaaaCeeeee

    I also followed Carolyn Hax’s columns that included COVID with interest, love that you compiled really good illustrative ones, and admire your zeroing in on how lying (whether by omission or commission) and betrayal undergirds our kakistocracy.

    I appreciate Lambert’s running commentary on covid for putting into words so much that I could not do so well. I give him a lot of the credit, for example, for me occasionally telling people that since I’m one of the novids even after nursing my significant other through, I am reluctant to give up the layers of protection that have served me so well, even though I do have to take risks with family including kids.

    Another benefit of Lambert making sure I am up to date is that I have hopes, that there will be more effective (albeit less profitable) PPE, that my friends will fight for ventilation for their kids (I have sent out many Corsi Rosenthal box instructions), and that the increasing distrust will eventually ease the path to those good adversarial relationships we so need in labor, health care, public health, economics and foreign policy, the adversarial relationships that so outrage those in power, who we have seen so willing to do ANYTHING to extend an unsustainable status quo.

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