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Of rats and bats: From the bubonic plague to the Coronavirus

Written By | Apr 15, 2020
bubonic plague, coronavirus

Video still from France24 report on coronavirus.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Col. — Ah, the tyranny of disease. Mark Levin purportedly transmits his popular radio show from deep in an underground bunker. Now, we are all supposed to be hunkered down in our own bunkers. In 2009 and 2010, there were those who thought the government was going to come for our guns and put us in FEMA camps. It didn’t happen. And today, we’re being hotly pursued by COVID-19, aka the novel coronavirus, just the way our medieval predecessors were relentlessly pursued by the Bubonic Plague. But is the current situation comparable?

As for today, we readily give up our jobs and virtually all of our First Amendment freedoms in order to be “safe” from a virus the government doesn’t really understand but tells us is deadly. But the government knows best. Or does it?

Liberty or death: Life or perpetual coronavirus fear

In 1776, Americans knew how to deal with tyranny in the form of an overbearing government:

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” – Patrick Henry

That was the original American way. But today, we are afraid of death to the extent that we are willing to become virtual prisoners in our own homes, courtesy of the coronavirus, today’s answer to the bubonic plague of old. What’s worse today is that people are self-isolating to an extent even greater than suggested or in some cases required by authorities.

Enter William Shakespeare

Shakespeare addressed this in Julius Caesar:

“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”

Caesar delivers these line in Act II as he decides to go out of his house to the Senate, despite premonitions and warnings from his wife and others. But there, at the Senate, he was assassinated on the Ides of March, as had been foretold. Much later, Ernest Hemingway tellingly echoed Caesar’s comment in A Farewell to Arms. Most of his readers would have known his reference.

But today, do our young people study Patrick Henry, William Shakespeare or Ernest Hemingway?

No. They’re old white men. They can’t know anything because they’re the wrong race, class and gender. We are told to pay attention to white lab coats instead. Our heritage of Western and particularly American wisdom has been left by the roadside.

Rats and bats: Pick one

With regard to the coronavirus, our own version of the bubonic plague, let’s try to put this “pandemic” into perspective. William Bennett does so in an article appearing in Real Clear Politics:

“Is it too much to ask for some perspective with numbers we do know about, numbers which have never shut down our country, much less a church or synagogue, much less entire industries; numbers which have never restricted travel or put this nation into one big frenzy?”

He goes on to state that in any given month in America, heart disease, cancer, asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, drug overdoses, influenza and pneumonia account together for over 157,000 deaths.

And yet there is no panic over this. Nor was there for SARS or H1N1 or even AIDS—for which there is still no cure. It’s the “flu.” That’s part of life’s routine.

What are the odds you’ll come down with the coronavirus?

So what are the chances of catching coronavirus? We’re not told. Through poring over some research, Bennett found the odds to be, based on the population tested—clearly not random and thus probably overstated—at most, eight-tenths of a percent (0.8%) in New York City to two-one-hundredths of a percent (0.02%) in Phoenix.

And if you get the coronavirus, there’s a 98% chance that you will recover. Compare this to the bubonic plague which claimed the lives of one-quarter of the population of Europe.

Also read: Free stuff! Free coronavirus deals coming soon to a TV near you

Is this, indeed, just a plot to justify even bigger government? To justify rule by “experts” as Woodrow Wilson wanted?

While the secret origins and motivation of this approach may never be known, what is of concern to us is the willingness of Americans to surrender their liberties for some perceived measure of safety.

The result: People staying at home, indoors, afraid even to go outside.

What’s a sensible person to make out of all this?

If you or someone in your household is vulnerable to this virus, by all means, do what you need to do to protect that individual. In any case, take some common sense precautions. That’s something we should all do all the time anyway. And most of these precautions were simply things your mother taught you without the help of the Nanny State.

But on the other hand, to succumb to the panic mode because overreacting medical bureaucrats and the 24/7 hype machine of the media tell us to? That’s frankly a response not worthy of a free people. It certainly wouldn’t have been the way Patrick Henry would have responded.

Rolling back the historical clock, Martin Luther actually lived through the bubonic plague, ministering to the sick. He took common-sense precautions regarding his own health. And, more tellingly, he wrote that if God wanted to take him, He certainly knew where to find him.

Take your direction from the sages of the past. Ignore the rats and the bats: the fear-mongers of today. Do what your conscience tells you is right but for heaven’s sake don’t surrender your liberty for an illusion of safety. After all, this is still the United States of America.

— Headline image: Video still from France24 report on coronavirus.


Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.