When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Prolonging Lives v. Wasted Futures? The 'Covidism' Dilemma

Are the lives of the youth impacted by coronavirus restrictions worth less than the extended lives of the elderly? This is the debate we must have when faced with the prospect of another lockdown.

'Why, and for whom, are we giving ourselves so much trouble?'
"Why, and for whom, are we giving ourselves so much trouble?"
Gaspard Koenig

The prospect of life in a cycle of lockdowns, curfews, quarantines, masks, antibacterial gel and social distancing is now indefinite. There will be vaccines, but there will also be new variants, new challenges and we will be under new means of surveillance, such as the dystopian "vaccine passport" that has been proposed. COVID-19 has tipped the world into a permanent state of emergency.

Why, and for whom, are we giving ourselves so much trouble? This is a question that inevitably arises for young working people. Among my age group (15-44 years old), the number of patients who have died without prior existing conditions since the beginning of the pandemic in France is 60, according to the latest epidemiological report by Public Health France (a figure that is surprisingly little quoted in government speeches). This compares to more than 10,000 cardiac arrests and more than 20,000 strokes in the same population category over the same period.

Even if it is always possible to be part of this statistical margin of error, COVID-19 is therefore by no means a risk that I should be overly concerned about, to be purely selfish about it.

"It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger," writes David Hume in his "A Treatise on Human Nature." Is it then contrary to reason to prefer an aperitif to the survival of our elders, and if so, why?

We never save lives, we only prolong them.

The way this question is being asked today produces an obvious answer. Slowing down the economy to save lives: who can be against it? Doctors, who, in the absence of parliamentary control, now make public health policy, are doing their job by demanding the strictest possible control measures. They are faithful to their Hippocratic oath, thus updated by the Order of Physicians: "My first concern is to restore, preserve or promote health."

Nevertheless, the same question can be asked in other words. First of all, we never save lives, we only prolong them: We are all condemned to death, as Camus' Caligula shouts with desperate jubilation. Which lives are prolonged and by how many years? According to Santé Publique France, the median age of COVID-19 victims is 85, slightly higher than the median age of death in France. In other words, most of those whose death is prevented by the restrictions already belong to the minority of survivors of their generation.

According to Santé Publique France, the median age of COVID-19 victims is 85 — Photo: Jon Tyson

Moreover, we are not just slowing down the economy: we are actively wasting other lives. These are lives lost for lack of conventional medical examinations and care or as a result of suicides, the "wave" of which could still be yet to come, according to a study by the Foundation Jean-Jaurès. Not to mention the broken lives of bar owners, artists or small shopkeepers unable to work for months at a time or the zombie lives of students stuck in front of their screens, kids hidden behind masks all day at school. These are lives that have long been darkened, the lives of all of us, because we can no longer dance without being considered to be delinquents, have a drink without a waiver or shake hands without suffering public scorn.

This leads to a very different equation, with two variables of the same nature: extended life time versus wasted life time; years gained from death versus years lost to life. These should be precisely quantified and the question of hospital overcrowding should be integrated into this equation, to open an informed debate. Only then will we be able to make a decision that will be political this time – no longer medical.

What we can conclude is that the collective choice in this dilemma reflects the moral health of a society. Between 1968 and 1970, a global pandemic, the Hong Kong flu, killed more than a million people, including several tens of thousands in France. It also affected mainly the elderly. The figures are more modest than for the coronavirus, but the orders of magnitude are comparable. Was it decided to cancel the festivals? Quite the opposite: There was Woodstock, with half a million hippies crammed shirtless in the American Catskills. What do we remember about the late 1960s? Free love and counterculture. Then, society decided to focus on its youth.

Today, the Woodstock generation is among the at-risk people we protect by sacrificing our daily lives. What does this say about our society?

*Gaspard Koenig is a philosopher and president of the think tankGenerationLibre.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest