2020: Immortality Politics

This year has presented us with two very different events that had extensive impact on people’s lives: the COVID19 pandemic and the protests sparked by a police action. Both events have had a big impact on young adults. The government response to COVID19 has suspended many activities and opportunities normally available to young people. The protests have engaged mostly younger adults, often at the expense of doing other things.

Both topics are very complex and controversial but there is a commonality in the value of life. Everyone had to accept severe restrictions on our liberties with the goal of reducing (or at least postponing) the deaths resulting from COVID19. Similarly, the protests demand changes to stop deaths from occurring during a police apprehension.

Both appear to be a new sensibility for the population. We never before complained about deaths from diseases or even from seasonal contagions such as the flu. Similarly, we always had some misfortunes resulting from a police attempting to apprehend someone. Prior to this year, we accepted deaths as unavoidable.

In terms of the protests against police, the protests have expanded far more broadly than just the specific incident the started off the protests. There quickly emerged a broader complaint about policing practices in general as being too risky. The message eventually emerged that we should dismantle all police department. Some advocate for replacing policing with a different practice that has yet to be described. Many others see no need to replace policing with anything else.

My own thoughts is that policing is a necessary element of society. Policing involves apprehending individuals even when they resist arrest. Inevitably, policing requires to use of force and any time that happens there is going to be a risk of injury or death. A subsequent event illustrated this where a police pushed a man back and he ended up falling backwards and hitting his head on the concrete. I do not think the police intended to cause the person to fall, but the act of pushing had that as a potential risk.

Beyond the basic risk of any application of force, there is the fact that police are people coping with a situation that is frustrating or that aggravates previous frustrations. Each police is a person with unique experiences in life of in events during the same day. When we accepted that policing is a necessity, we accepted that humans will have to fill the role of policing. There is training and supervision, but in the end we always end up with a particular person wearing the uniform and performing duties. Those actions could injure or kill someone unintentionally.

In both the policing and the pandemic, there will be some unfortunate deaths. In the past we would acknowledge that the death occurred, often without accusing anyone being at fault. It feels like something fundamental changed this year. That change is the expectation that we can prevent all deaths.

We are now describing all deaths as tragic or untimely. Previously, we had accepted the option most deaths were natural. It appears that we have made a fundamental change in our attitude toward death. Now, our attitude appears to be that we expect governments to prevent any death, or that it is government’s duty to guarantee immortality to everyone.

Before the protests, it was a common claim that any disobedience to government recommendations would be equivalent to murder. Contact tracing attempts to identify the specific person responsible for spreading. Eventually, we will be punishing one person for spreading the disease to someone who later died with the disease. We accept that every death needs to have some human cause. Implicitly, we have an expectation of immortality, and an expectation that the government is responsible for our individual immortality.

I speculate that this expectation may have started earlier with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although ACA specifically reformed the health insurance market. ACA guaranteed that everyone would have access to affordable health insurance. Eliminating preexisting made the insurance widely accessible even though there is no guarantee that the person can the health care when he needs it.

This year’s politics will feature the pandemic and police reform topics very prominently but I doubt there will be any discussion on the implied expectation of endless life.

Any loss of life is a failure of the government.

This is not a healthy expectation from government because it is not a healthy expectation from nature. Death will occur eventually for everyone. Sometimes good medical practices and good government polices will allow a person to gain additional years of life when he otherwise might have died. Even in those cases, the individual will eventually die. It is not healthy to blame that death on government action or inaction even when there is a human but not-intentional cause.

I am speculating that the next president may end up with a mandate to assure universal immortality, or at least to prevent every preventable death. Such a mandate would require the government to stop doing its other duties because each of those duties have the potential of at least starting a sequence that will end up killing someone.

This also comes up in the vaccine debates. The argument for vaccines is that it will save lives of vulnerable. The argument against vaccines is that not taking vaccines could save lives of the invulnerable. Any vaccine administered to a healthy person has the risk of causing harm to that person, even if that person would be in no significant risk from the disease being vaccinated against.

At least implicitly, political parties have added a right to immortality to their platforms. Death is something that can and must be avoided.

This expectation appears to be characteristic of young people. They think they are immortal, or at least their own death would be premature and thus a fault of someone else.

Earlier, I speculated on whether there should be an upper age limit to voting. I argued that the taking away voting rights above a certain age may grant our government more flexibility to tackle current problems. The reasoning is that this matches the age demographics at the start of the country where young people outnumbered the older people, and this period saw rapid changes for the country.

The events of recent months suggest that a government by only young voters could itself prevent the country from moving forward. In this case, the young are accepting an argument for immortality and it appears likely that they will bring this into our government. I don’t see any good coming from this objective. We cannot achieve immortality. Even if we could, the objective likely will distract our attention from other government priorities.

In this case, there may be a benefit for including the votes from the older population. While by no means is this a consensus, but many older people accept death as a natural occurrence. Of course, most would prefer to have a readily available cure for each condition that could kill them. They just accept that death is inevitable. They would accept that the government should identify the human cause of a person’s death, but this does not imply that the death was avoidable.

To most people, the cause of a death was once a short mention in an obituary. The death could be from a flu, or from injuries sustained from an unfortunate circumstance in an police arrest. We did not chastise others from not doing more to prevent the spread of the flu, and we did not demand shutting down police departments when one person dies at the hands of the police. We would support investigations into the cause and we would support the carrying out of the eventual conviction. In short, there is little resentment toward others that the government did not do more to stop the death from occurring.

This election year we do not have an upper limit on voting age. I expect many of the older voters will vote similar to the younger voters, both opting toward a government that strives to make sure no one dies. Both age groups have a minority who expect to die without any fault due to the government. I think there will be bigger numbers in the older age group. Their life experiences have conditioned them to accept nature’s cycles of births and deaths. The older person’s access to a voting registration provides a little incentive to influence the political discussions.

We are seeing this now in the public discussions surrounding COVID19 and the political responses to it. I am happy to see many older people actively arguing about how bad the disease will be. Most of the ones arguing against the governments actions are older people, people my age or beyond. The ones defending the government are the younger people whose lives are most disrupted by the government’s policies. Even though the younger people are more impacted by the policies, they continue to support even further restrictions.

It is healthy to include in our political debates, the voices of the mortals.


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