Last Straws: irrational response to international disasters in the early 21st Century.

Siddharth Mehrotra
3 min readMay 31, 2021

It may seem inexplicable, even incredible to many, that the multitude of American citizens, and an even larger majority in the U.S. Government, refused to observe even the most elementary health-and-safety measures against the coronavirus of 2020–2022, better known as Covid-19, and took instead every opportunity to disobey these measures, until (in 2021) the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was obliged to weaken them, under pressure.

This behavior, as already said, appears at first glance bizarre. The question arises, of Why, after twenty years of adjusting themselves to evermore tiresome security-measures, in the name of self-protection against an imagined danger, the American populace refused to adjust themselves to a far less tiresome measure, against a real danger? And more: why refuse to do what they, the same American people, had been doing themselves, and teaching their children to do for the past thirty years? Why refuse, i.e., to observe personal space, avoid crowds, go out little, refuse all overtures of friendship, confine themselves alone at home, and evade speaking to strangers? Why not wear masks to keep out infectious disease, after the ancient fashion of European medical practice? Why demand, as many of the well-to-do demanded, the indescribable “Experience”, so called, of life, after a lifetime of avoiding it at every opportunity?

The historical point of view supplies some answers. The American populace for the past twenty years had indeed been obliged to adjust themselves to ever more tiresome security-measures, and give up more and more of their civil liberties (especially of free speech, and of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures), in the name of self-protection against an imagined danger (the so-called ‘Terrorism’ of the day, meaning any violent crime). Although few, if any, could articulate their feelings on the subject, or had the courage to speak out if they would, the later behavior of the American bourgeoisie suggests they were at the end of their patience and would tolerate no more, even in the presence of a real danger. It was, in this view, a classic case of the Boy who cried Wolf, in the well-known fable of that name. In the present case, this boy was the government who made the laws, and the moneyed corporations who controlled the nation’s wealth; his imaginary wolf was the specter of Terrorism, or violent crime generally; the real wolves were Covid-19 and other natural disasters; and America at large, and other nations under the above conditions, were the senior shepherds: up in arms at the cry of Wolf when there was none, and turning their backs at the same cry when there were many. The result in any case was, that the sheep were killed; which, of course, represents the deaths of nearly 1.5 million people worldwide of Covid-19 per annum, and as many more every year until the cessation of industrial pollution.

Having said that, it is no longer such a discrepancy as it appears at first, that those of the American population most in favor of more and harsher security-measures against crime, were most opposed to any security-measures at all in the interests of public health. Having welcomed and endured every loss of their freedoms, they were at the end of their forbearance, and no intrinsic motivation, even public health, was strong enough to persuade them.

This state of affairs might be said to recommend of itself the future course of action. Whether or not the unwilling could be converted, or forced to abide by the interests of public health, was a contest of wills between the government and its people; but taken in context of the events immediately before it, this strange behavior serves as an example to future governments everywhere, and warns them not to press their people too hard in the absence of a present (rather than potential) enemy, lest they rather break than bend when that enemy arrives at last.