The War on Santa and other social ills
Our political leaders have cancelled Christmas.
Sadly, this restrictive policy is not effective in saving lives.
We will have to settle for only the spirit of the season this year.
“The three words that best describe you
Are as follows, and I quote
“Stink, stank, stunk!””
Albert Hague and Theodor S. Geisel, You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, 1966.
No shared Christmas puddin’, loud cross-table talk, or even witty jokes from your brother-in-law for you.
It’s official: the seasonal holidays have been cancelled.
What started as “two weeks to flatten the curve” back in March has morphed into a very Grinchy end to the year.
The count is now up to at least five Canadian provinces, where public health authorities have essentially outlawed any communal celebration of Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve.
It will be nothing to extend this lockdown variant past Orthodox Christmas in early January, and then we will be just a short skip-and-a-jump away from both Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day in February.
Cancelling those latter celebrations will set 2021 up for a repeat of this year, leaving us spiritually in an endless and loveless winter.
This urge to wage war on our traditions is part and parcel of the cultural face of official pandemic policy these days.
Even though our leaders use compassionate words to promote distancing, lockdowns, mask wearing, and the like, the reality is that participation is mandatory and is backed by social stigma, fines, and law enforcement muscle.
Some social activities (like health care or some types of protest) are deemed essential and the authorities attach a virtuous seal of approval to all participating.
Others are heavily restricted (like retailing, hospitality, or tourism), and woe to those who attempt to proceed outside of the prescribed bounds.
The final set of activities are outright shunned and denounced, and it is amazing how well they line up with what we used to call freedom and fun.
This includes live music, arts and entertainment, sports, social get-togethers, evenings out on the town, house parties of any size, and, of course, the seasonal holidays.
We are all supposedly in this together, and yet everyone is spending an awful lot of time quietly apart.
Now, being obedient Canadians and citizens of BC (where I live), we mostly go with the social flow.
There is broad support for the current degree of lockdowns and distancing, bolstered by a constant barrage of media stories highlighting the virtues of doing anything to save granny and the disgrace of being a “Covid denier”.
Even so, there are many Canadians who are thinking one thing for the holidays, but actually planning something else that is a bit more in their self-interest.
At least we know that we are united in something: virtuously pledging to do our darnedest to stay as far away from each other as possible, no matter the cost.
Pros and Cons
Like all things in life, though, there are always trade-offs to our decisions.
What are we specifically gaining and giving up by foregoing a turkey or tofu dinner with our loved ones later this month?
On the plus side, proponents of social restrictions are determined to stop viral transmission and save lives.
They are pretty hard core on this policy mix and see anyone disagreeing with them as deviantly anti-social, at best, or outright evil and dangerous at worst.
Funny enough, none of these folks were in action last year, or any year prior to that ever, when other viruses like influenza infected billions around the world and killed thousands across Canada. Theirs is apparently a populist cause, with intense devotion to today’s faddish pressing issue, but no real interest in committing to it for the long-term.
Do they have a point, though, that we need to “do something” extraordinary right now, like cancelling all non-essential contact outside our homes, in order to combat Covid?
Looking at BC, it is certainly true that we are in the midst of the strongest surge yet in positive tests, hospitalizations, and deaths related to the virus.
The following charts show Covid-related deaths per million in BC for those over age 70 (where the disease has its biggest impact) and also over age 80 (the average age of death in the province and therefore those most vulnerable to dying any year). The deaths are compared to typical weekly total mortality from all causes.
Even after all that we know from around the world over the past year, the charts show that we still cannot seem to protect our elderly from the cold hand of viral death. That proves the sheer power of nature over our puny human efforts.
Fortunately, however, there are already signs of a peak in positive tests in November that would naturally lead to a drop in hospitalizations and deaths into January and beyond.
More interestingly, and probably a great surprise to many Canadians, given the anti-American slander that is quite popular here, the local BC elderly mortality numbers are worse than the current equivalent death rates across the United States.
The next charts show that those devious and rambunctious Americans, so well known for their individuality and rule-breaking, have somehow bested the kinder, gentler race to the north!
This is the first element of doubt in the efficacy of our restrictive policies in Canada. If we are so convinced that masking and isolating are a sure fire way to control contagion, how is it that reality turns out to be so bad?
The second note of concern about our current approach comes from looking at the rest of us in BC, the other 4.5 million souls (of 5.1 million in total) who are under the age of 70.
We see a death rate here from Covid that is at a teeny tiny 1 in a million, little changed this entire year, and with no sign whatsoever of any recent uptick.
Only 63 people in BC under age 70 (and only 22 under age 60) have died with Covid in 2020, compared to over 11,000 total deaths each year for that demographic. That mere 0.6% contribution to total mortality reflects insignificant risk that is mainly worth ignoring.
Something for Nothing
So, the gains from cancelling the Holidays are, upon examination, ephemeral.
There is seemingly no impact from the latest restrictions (a mask mandate and a ban on home visits since early November) on elderly deaths, and little discernable mortality risk from the virus for those under age 70. The virus is basically going up and down, in the same unhindered way as it has in every other region on Earth.
The government narrative is that we need to forego all of our traditions and retreat to our homes to save ourselves from the virus.
The reality is that we are doing this for nothing.
There is no evidence here (or anywhere else for that matter) that the virus has been significantly impeded or mitigated by any public policies, aside from keeping it out of our societies in the first place (as in New Zealand and Taiwan).
Our collective War on Santa (and everything else that is fun in life) is not really based on evidence or science or even the course of the pandemic.
It is rather centred on a primal urge to control nature and the desperation that arises when we cannot get our way.
We are striking out at each other and the time-honored way to show that we mean business is to squelch any person or activity that fails to exude the requisite seriousness.
Hence, we shoot down Santa and raise the Grinch and cancel every last bit of joy in our society. We think that by doing this, we will finally throw ourselves fully at the virus and achieve a lasting victory.
My expectation is that we will shortly find that our viral nemesis has not disappeared and that 2021 will open without the sense of progress towards the end of this pandemic that many anticipate.
Without that confidence that we are winning against the virus, we are likelier than not to continue with our efforts to stay apart from each other, thus contributing to the steady erosion of our social cohesion.
Thankfully for now, the spirit of Christmas is just that, an attitude divorced from the physical world and requiring us only to commune with each other in our thoughts and in our prayers.
If we cannot get together in person, we can at least hold that essence in our hearts, helping to carry us through the long days that are still to come.
And on that note, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a fond hope for a rethink and better pandemic policies in the New Year!