Guest Commentary: Virus and Virtue

The new social distancing behaviors are not just about self-care but also about an intergenerational social contract.

by Alan Hirsch

My daughter is a High School Senior. This is her ultimate year in Davis. 

But with the virus shutdowns, her school trips to Disneyland and Canada have been canceled.

And now we are asking her and her friends to not just to give up on travel, but on her once in a lifetime events just as they are peaking as seniors: prom, varsity sports, theater, and likely cancellation of their graduation ceremony.  And giving up granular activities like keeping their distance from their closest friends of many years.  Not to go to that concert now, when they finally have a car, a date and the independence to enjoy as they are coming into their own.

We are asking them also to exercise self-discipline by quarantining:  To stay home or in their dorm, when they feel “just slightly off.”

And take on the hassle of washing hands multiple times each day.

THESE SACRIFICES are framed under the now abstract idea there is an invisible danger we need to protect our own selves against.

My socially aware daughter feels the stress of knowing about this death threat of the plague and holds it like this: “It’s going to be OK.  I’ll probably get it, but young people like me will survive.”

She seems to be right: The experience from China seems to be that most healthy youth and school kids will be OK, as will UCD students and most middle-aged adults. Even be asymptomatic.

But it might not be OK for older people and people immuno-compromised.  The Chinese experience shows that 5% of people my age will die of it. And 18% of people over 80. We the elders are the potential “losers” if hospitals are overcrowded and we can’t get care.

In reality, we are asking the young to sacrifice, to be hassled, to protect the old.

It takes a bit of moral imagination and empathy for children and younger people to understand that their behavior, their sacrifice to an almost invisible danger, is important when they figure out it is not really self-care, but more about protecting others from virus spread.

It is really about protecting the community.

So, I suggest we begin talking, framing acts like washing hands and bumping elbows not as a personal choice of self-care, but one of choosing to act ethically.

As altruistic acts of charity.

And we Americans especially need to talk about it this way to subdue the libertarian streak so dominant in our culture, that is tearing us apart. Subdue the idea that some of us are “losers” when so much of our station in life is determined by the DNA lottery or the social status and wealth of our parents, or just the fact we were over 70 when COVID-19 occurred and not a more resilient 18.

We need to ennoble the simple act of hand washing as an act of patriotism, based on love of your neighbor, your fellow Americans, whatever race or creed they are. Stop thinking of this as a foreign virus connected to a certain race, as some have portrayed it. Rather it is a public health crisis we will struggle with as humans with our shared vulnerabilities.

Thinking of these actions as altruistic would also reframe these not as acts done out of fear but as loving acts of care for others.

We can then think of this time not as one of self-isolation, self-care and self-sacrifice, but one when we think of things greater than just ourselves.  An opportunity to strengthen community connection by giving to others in the beloved community of Davis.

Postscript:  I think we, the elders, need to also remember the reciprocity of the social contact with this “intergenerational ask” of the young. We need to consider the ethics of our own choices about the carbon footprint we leave in the atmosphere with our vacations, our autos, our airline flights, our lifestyles. In other words: “Hey Boomer”  is a call out from youth to the “free riders” among us who aren’t prioritizing the future health of the earth they will inhabit.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Alan Miller

    we Americans especially need to talk about it this way to subdue the libertarian streak so dominant in our culture, that is tearing us apart.

    This ain’t about politics; who is tearing who apart with your statement above?

    1. Tia Will


      I do not see this as so much about politics, as we usually think of them as a division into tribes, but rather an overall attitude towards ourselves and our responsibility not only for ourselves but also for our responsibility to the society as a whole. Some people draw their line of responsibility at the individual, others at the nuclear family, others at the extended family, others at their state or country, while others take a world view.

      The very disparity of views should inform us that no one view is the “right” way to see the world. From my perspective, if the coronavirus outbreak has a message for us, it is one of how very interconnected we are, and how much our cooperation may shape our future.

      1. aaahirsch8

        I though the message was how together was how together we are. This concept of the social contract that we have unwritten agreement we will treat each other in America/Davis to a certain standard, regardless of age, race, etc.  I.e. your term Tribe.

        So, I don’t understand how what I wrote contradicts what you wrote?

        1. Alan Miller

          Put in those terms, I don’t disagree.  If you mean libertarian more in the sense of ‘fending for oneself’ and how that isn’t helping when we need to unite at this time, then agree.  I was taking it more politically, and if I misread, apologies.

      2. Alan Miller

        I agree, Tia.

        Some are suggesting the Earth (Mother Nature?) is taking itself back to balance, pushed too far by the destructiveness and sheer size of the human population.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Ironically, they may have slipped under the cover of ‘groceries’, and got considered an “essential services”… but given how vendors as well as costumers come from all over the region, I agree… they should be strongly considered for shut down for the duration…

        2. Alan Miller

          More risky than grocery stores or restaurants?  Hardly.  No touch screens, for one.  Another, fewer hands touching the food along the way.  Also, open air – you don’t have to be near others in an enclosed space.  Go Farmer’s Markets!

          The sanitation and procedures at food establishments I’ve gone to have been all over the map, they each seem to be making it up as amateurs, with no government guidance.  I’m wondering why a high priority for testing isn’t for those distributing and preparing our food.

        3. Bill Marshall

          Alan… touch screens can be ‘wiped’ after each use… paper currency and coinage (aka ‘cash’), not so much… which is used more in Farmers Markets?  I don’t know, but have seldom seen folks @ Davis Farmers Market using debit or credit cards… I know not the ‘split’…

          There is also the range of folk (geographically) that you run into at say, Nugget, as opposed to Davis Farmer Market… I’m not an epidemiologist… but I know enough about biology (and read a lot), that there is a valid ‘question’ about farmers markets.  At least at this juncture…

        4. Alan Miller

          You are worried about cash?  Cash is used at either one, and more and more at markets and faires the merchants use Square.  I’m not saying there’s no risk, but to say there is less risk at a grocery store?  That makes no sense.  Think of all the people that the food goes through; think of the fact you are inside; there is the line, multiple people touching surfaces; screens *can* be wiped – I’ve read numerous complaints that this simple step is not being taken.  Unlike grocery stores with their thousands of people in an enclosed space, the farmers are outside in wide spaces, then come into town to an outdoor space – without all the distribution people touching the food.  Go Farmer’s Markets!  Go CSA boxes!  All meaning less trips to the filthy, germ-ridden grocery store.

  2. Alan Miller

    “Hey Boomer”  is a call out from youth to the “free riders” among us who aren’t prioritizing the future health of the earth they will inhabit.

    Again, looking at this from ‘us vs. them’ instead of dual realities.  Perhaps you haven’t heard of the hashtag Boomer Remover as a nickname for the virus?  Online you can find that the Young are the selfish ones – that the Old are the selfish ones.  What Bullsh*t.  The selfish are the selfish ones.  Why do you choose to take sides on age and politics, then declare the other side to be ‘tearing us apart’ ?

  3. aaahirsch8

    I don’t get how linked article is about compassion…or why this is relevant as I did not even use the word compassion in my piece.  .




  4. aaahirsch8

    I think Keith point is Trump is compassionate….he released a possible experimental treatment drug for Corona Virus (that FDA is worried about releasing but bold Trump cut the red tape and did.

    On who’s advice, we all might ask if it’s gong to be injected into bodies of our loved ones?

    Some are saying Trump picked up this idea not from FDA experts, but from Fox’s Laura Ingram last night.

    But, again, why is this relevant comment to attach to my article?

    I’m new to the Vanguard comment section and personalities.

    It’s feels like a place where people don’t listen to each other..

    1. Keith Olsen

      Mr. Hirsch, you’re putting way too much thought into my comment.

      I posted it over here because I had exceeded my 7 comment limit on a different thread that I actually wanted to post it on.

    2. Alan Miller

      Trump picked up this idea not from FDA experts, but from Fox’s Laura Ingram

      Seems the political stew is brewing as I read down this low down in the comments . . .

      I’m new to the Vanguard comment section and personalities.

      I swear you have posted here in the past, and are familiar with the warm, wonderful and supportive community that is Davis Vanguard Comments.

  5. Sharla Cheney

    I know it seems like a big deal now to miss all those senior activities, but it won’t matter later on.  My father chose to take a sabbatical during my senior year. I missed the senior prom, all the parties and senior trips, and my graduation. DHS even forgot about me and failed to list me as a graduate, even though I satisfied all the requirements.  But then I left home and it didn’t seem to matter after that.

  6. Bill Marshall

    BTW, sorta’ sidebar… deals with virus/reactions, not so much with ‘values’…

    Our daughter works @ a Childrens’ Hospital in CO… neo-natal unit… she was going to visit us for 3 days, next week… she was told if she travelled to CA, she’d need to self-quarantine for 14 days… she’s staying in CO…

    In late May, we were planning to visit her and her brother in CO… it may well be, if we do, she may have to do same time of self-isolation before returning to work… we’re waiting until mid-May to decide whether we are going back…

    Just facts, no comment… (they have no more masks)


    1. John Hobbs

      @Bill Marshall- I am supposed to be getting ready for a recording session in Chicago next month. Now rescheduled to June. At our ages some members of the quintet will be lucky to make it to June even without the  Covid 19 virus stalking us. I was gonna travel by train and bus links so my guitars don’t get the United baggage handler treatment, but now will probably drive out by myself. Self isolation isn’t so rough, but I do miss seeing my daughter and son-in-law, they are just across town, but don’t want to risk exposing us. I am learning the art of texting. Someday we will be safe visiting our families and loved ones again, but it may be a long time off.

      1. Bill Marshall

        @ John H…

        Understood, agree, that’s why I was completely fact-oriented… no judgement, no whining… it is what it is… and we just turned 65.  From CA, over 65, yeah get why my daughter’s employers are being uber-conservative… Particularly given her frequent clients who are very much “at-risk”, for their conditions of birth (‘premees’, low birthweight, organs not inside their bodies when they are born, druggie parents, etc.) plus the risk of contagion… and the Childrens Hospital of Aurora has run out of masks… the hoarders, who seldom need them, got to them first… (now THAT is a judgement, and meant as a SLAM!  Shaming, whatever… particularly when I see college students in Davis, appearing very healthy, wearing them, which means no sense of situational awareness as to priorities… )

        Them first, and it ain’t the “boomers”… these are late teens, early 20’s…

        Gives us a very small taste of what immigrants, documented or not, face (except the organs outside their bodies!), by restrictions on travel/association.

        Might whine later about our Vancouver-Calgary Stampede trip in July being a possible no-go, but will wait ’til mid June to whine about that… at his point, don’t know (proceeding on a measure of hope/faith), but with reservations, it is “sunk money” unless we can recover via the trip insurance we bought, hopefully including, if US and/or Canada do not permit the travel… we’re talking low 5-figures we committed to in early February… before we had a clue where this was heading…

        1. Bill Marshall

          BTW… one ethnic group of students have snatched up most of the masks (locally, at least) that might better be used in the health care profession…

        2. Bill Marshall

          David… observation of who are out in public, wearing masks… there are not so many who do, and yes, ethnicity is obvious… do you observe differently?

          However, it was inappropriate for me to say they got them locally, as I have no evidence of that… for that I apologize to all… perhaps over-reacted to the ZERO masks available to many health care workers, including my daughter… yes, nerve has been touched.

          Often in Asia, particularly China, masks are commonly worn, to fend off disease, and air pollution… that is factual, and demonstrable… you can see it in Davis, too…

          1. David Greenwald

            My observation is that while I have not attempted to do a count, there are not a lot of people walking around with masks, but to the extent they are, they fall into a variety of categories and ethnicities. Health care officials btw are not convinced that wearing a mask will help prevent your from getting the illness, though it may help prevent you from spreading it as easily.

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