Nerves are frayed, tensions are high and the country seems to be at an inflection point in this microscopic war. As the COVID-19 death toll mounts, so too does the number of Americans unemployed. On Friday, we’ll find out just how grotesque the jobs picture is, but at this point there’s no question it will be reminiscent of the works of Hieronymus Bosch.
On an individual level, I know we’re all struggling to make sense of how best to conduct our lives during this pandemic. And if you’re a thoughtful person (and I know The Deep Woods readers are), then you’ve probably wrestled with the macro and micro issues and complexities surrounding these unprecedented circumstances.
Macro issues such as when and how the economy should reopen are crucial questions, and both praise and criticism can be levied at those in political power at various levels for their handling of the matter. On a micro level, we all face questions such as when and how we should return to interacting with the world, what kind of safety precautions we should take and what course of action is in our own self-interest.
There are no easy answers to these questions, at least not from my perspective. But, fortunately, there is a way to help figure out the best way to conduct ourselves, and that is to talk to people whose opinions we trust, love and respect.
For me, a person who fits that description is my longtime friend, writer/filmmaker/intellectual activist Stewart Margolis. After reading some of Stewart’s thoughts on these issues, both macro and micro, I reached out to him via phone to discuss things. I found the conversation so fruitful that, with his permission, I decided to share some of the highlights of our discussion here.
Jim Woods (JW): Stewart, I know that many people are struggling with the best way to deal with this whole COVID-19 mess. How are you dealing with it, and what are your thoughts on the best approach?
Stewart Margolis (SM): I’m trying to gather as much objective evidence as I can on what is actually going on, but that’s not as easy as you might think. Because even with the best intentions, the reporting of the data out there is incomplete. And, it’s still very early on in terms of us dealing with this virus, and there are still so many unknowns it’s hard to know what the truth is out there.
JW: I’ve found the nature of this virus troubling in that there are so many unknowns regarding how it can cause death and/or severe damage in one person and how it can cause very little damage in another. Then there are those who are asymptomatic carriers of the disease and who most likely don’t even know they have it unless they’ve been tested. So, in the face of this uncertainty, knowing what to do isn’t easy.
SM: It is a bad situation, and especially because we all have to make decisions based on limited information. For me, the issue of how to act in the face of this pandemic comes down to the best assessment of what is in my rational self-interest. I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home and still do my job, so for me the best course of action might be different than if I had a profession or business that required me to be out there interacting with people.
JW: I’m in that same fortunate situation, as I’ve worked from home for most of the past two decades. And while I miss going out to restaurants, the pub, the gym, concerts, etc., I don’t miss it enough to put my health at risk.
SM: In my hierarchy of values, my health is very important. So, for me, regardless of what the government is telling me, I am going to take sensible precautions. That means I am going to avoid big gatherings and not go to concerts or movies. Now, that said, I think people should be allowed to take on their own level of risk as it pertains to their hierarchy of values.
JW: I consider life to be the standard of value. That means that acting in a manner that jeopardizes my life is antithetical to my top value. So, I therefore won’t eat poison when I could eat healthy food. It also means I wouldn’t choose to visit a COVID-19 hospital ward without protective gear. Yet somewhere in between is where the struggle comes in, and knowing how to navigate that struggle is a hard problem. It also is a hard problem when you extrapolate that out to the question of what society should do.
SM: I have mixed feelings on that, as I know you do as well, because as an advocate of liberty and free markets, I am very sympathetic to people out protesting who want to reopen their businesses and the economy. They should be allowed to reopen their businesses. However, if you are out there protesting without a mask and screaming in a police officer’s face, then you don’t seem to be someone who is cognizant of the reality of this disease.
JW: As you know, I am an advocate of limited government, and specifically a government whose basic role should be limited to the protection of individual rights. And while I understand the need for civil disobedience here, I think an in-your-face, aggressive approach is counterproductive. It gives the side arguing for more government control reasons to exercise that control and reasons to portray the protesters as anti-science extremists.
SM: I have a wide variety of friends in the liberty movement, and really all over the philosophic map, and there’s a subsection of people who are referring to COVID-19 as a “faux-pandemic,” or who think this is some kind of hoax. What I have pointed out to them is that this time of flippant dismissal of the crisis when tens of thousands of people are dying is not helping the cause of opening up the economy. It is making people who argue for opening the economy seem like callous, anti-science dolts. I think that if we want the economy to reopen, and we do, then we have to be reasonable about the reality of the situation.
JW: You and I aren’t afraid of the “extremist” moniker when it comes to ideas, but our ideas are not extremist in the sense of advocating for people to take reckless chances with their lives and also putting other people’s lives at risk in the process. I also think a rationally self-interested approach such as the one we advocate is not extreme, but rather should be the standard. And I agree with you on the counterproductive nature of ignoring the science and ignoring the reality of this virus. The only true victory that can be won here is through a rational exercise of our best judgement given the objective reality of the facts as best we can ascertain and evaluate them.
SM: Letting ideology crowd out reality is never a good thing. Reality always has to come first, and then you can figure out how it fits into your ideology. You simply cannot be editing reality because it doesn’t fit your narrative.
JW: You see, it’s a quotable gem like this that I wanted to make sure I share with The Deep Woods readers, and I think that’s a great place to leave it. Thank you, Stewart.
SM: Thanks, Jim. I always enjoy our discussions.
If you’d like to listen to a conversation I had with Stewart Margolis prior to the coronavirus, then I invite you to check out the podcast we did together from last year’s FreedomFest conference.
P.S. The Las Vegas MoneyShow, which was scheduled for mid-May, will unfortunately not be held as a live event. Yet just because we have to hold off a little longer for conferences doesn’t mean we can’t get together online in each other’s homes.
I will be doing just that on Wednesday, May 13, from 2:50 p.m. to 3:20 p.m. EDT, where I will be joining the FREE MoneyShow Virtual Event to give the presentation, “How To Always Know When to Sell Your Stocks.”
Hey, even though we can’t be in Vegas to “press the flesh,” we can still get together virtually and learn how best to deal with this COVID-19 market. So, just click the above link and sign up for your FREE MoneyShow Virtual Event.