Tradeoffs are unavoidable. You be the statesman.  

Episode 5: Dr J’s Daily Chats 

This is the text of the video I just made on the Ruth Institute Facebook page and posted on May 1, 2020.

The Wuhan virus is presenting us with questions that may never have exact answers. I hope I convinced you earlier that we cannot just “leave it to the experts.” One set of experts contradicts another.

And that is under the best-case scenario where we trust everyone to be telling us the complete unvarnished truth. We are a long way from the best-case scenario. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that.

We need statesmen. We need people who can put their own self-interest aside and work for the common good. Everyone watching this video can think of dozens of leaders and talking heads who are nowhere near being statesmen. That is the heart of our problem. That is another way of saying we don’t trust anybody.

Just for the sake of argument, let us imagine what a statesman would look like, if we actually had one. He or she would try to consider all parts of the problem. He or she would give credit where it is due, to whomever came up with a good idea, regardless of their political affiliation.

Most of all, a true statesman accepts the fact that we face unavoidable tradeoffs. We cannot have 100% safety in preventing the spread of the virus. The statesman or stateswoman will acknowledge publicly that someone will have to take risks and bear some costs. He or she will try to distribute those burdens, so they do not fall disproportionately on one set of people.

Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Everyone watching this video has their own opinion about who is or mostly who is not, acting in a statesmanlike fashion. Many of our journalists and politicians are letting us down. We ordinary folk cannot really do much about that.

I propose something we can do, something each of us has control over.  Don’t act or talk as if there are no tradeoffs. Everyone has their own opinion about where the various lines should be drawn between the risks of disease or of economic hardship.

Someone else may draw that line in a different place than you would. Don’t blast them with something like, “so you don’t care if people die!?!?” or “You don’t care if people lose their jobs and starve!??!”  That kind of talk doesn’t do anyone any good. It ratchets up the ratio of noise to common sense, the ratio of scoring points to charitable conversation.

Instead, try saying something like this: “I see that you draw the lines in a different place than I would. I respect that. But I’m not willing to attack your character over that difference of opinion. I hope you will refrain from attacking mine. I hope we can have a reasonable conversation about the unavoidable tradeoffs we face here.”

You be the statesman. You be the stateswoman.

You think we have demagogues now?  You think we have tyrants now? Believe me, we could end up with much worse. And if we keep going after each other, we are sitting ducks for any kind of demagogue.

We have a such a strong tendency to slip into that “no tradeoffs, ever!” absolute kind of thinking. I have an idea about why that is. I’ll tell you about it next time.

BTW, Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself. See you next time.


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