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the generational cycle, progress, and the perception of mass death
(mostly taken from another forum, modified into a theory topic)

Infectious disease is a commonplace means of death in underdeveloped societies, and in developed societies such death is usually associated with opportunistic diseases such as pneumonia that kill people who already have one foot in the grave. HIV/AIDS was a huge shock because it ravaged people who otherwise should have been healthy adults. After all, even syphilis and gonorrhea typically have reliable treatments. HIV/AIDS is still something to avoid at all costs short of denying all intimacy of certain kinds. Ebola was a scare for some time, but it seems to be limited to the poorest parts of Africa to which few Americans have any connection. (If you are talking about African-American descendants of former slaves, then they have their origins in a different part of Africa; African immigrants tend to be from elsewhere in Africa, too). Children and prime-to-"young-old" adults dying of infectious diseases? That is clearly "Third World" (even if such trivialization of pointless death is morally objectionable).  

COVID-19 breaks the mold. It is more virulent than any disease in anything like modern conditions since the Spanish Influenza of a century ago. As I write this, it has been killing people who do not ordinarily die of infectious diseases, including people at or near the social apex in such countries as China, Iran, Italy, Spain, and the USA. I see a parallel to HIV-AIDS in who is dying. To be sure, many AIDS victims were people of disadvantage before they contracted it -- but Arthur Ashe, Liberace, Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Robert Reid, and Anthony Perkins didn't seem like the sorts who would die of infectious diseases. People living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the slums of Calcutta and big African cities so die. Poor, disadvantaged people get such diseases as tuberculosis these days, and tuberculosis used to be a killer across the social spectrum. If the mayor of a large Chinese city, an Iranian general, and a retired Italian judge (hero of the anti-Mafia crusade in Sicily) can die of it, then this disease can kill someone whose name is a household name will be on a similar list is only a matter of time, and probably not much.

We need to put much on hold just to prevent mass death. So far our President has fallen short on this as he has fallen short on other matters. Most of us recognize that a month or two of a boring, lonely unemployment and resulting hardship is a worthy price to pay to avoid having a pandemic that can kill -- who knows how many? At least with AIDS one can avoid using IV drugs and participation in reckless sexuality.  

Good leadership does not sugar-coat sacrifice. Life for many Americans will be boring and lonely, and many seeming opportunities that people take for granted will no longer exist for the duration. Much of what we did with little thought will be impossible or at most be done in coldly analytic ways. I see death as largely similar... and we tend to see deaths rather equally unless it involves people who have no chance. 

The most obvious comparisons can include motor-vehicle deaths and war deaths.  The twelve worst wars for the US alone by deaths have ranged from the ongoing war in Afghanistan (2216 so far) to the American Civil War (estimated 750,000, both Union and Confederate).

War in Afghanistan
0.001% (2010)

Spanish–American War
0.004% (1890)

Philippine–American War
0.006% (1900)

Iraq War
0.002% (2010)

Mexican–American War
0.057% (1850)

War of 1812
0.207% (1810)

American Revolutionary War
1.00% (1780)

Korean War
0.036% (1950)

Vietnam War
0.032% (1970)

World War I
0.110% (1920)

World War II
0.307% (1940)

American Civil War
750,000 (est.)(U.S./Confederate)[86]
2.385% (1860)

I can't add a table, so basically we have (using the Vietnam War as an example). 

(Data from Wikipedia)

4  -- ranking of the war

Vietnam War -- name of the war

1961–75 -- time-frame of the war

58,209 -- number of casualties

11 -- deaths per day

179,323,175 -- population of the USA at the time of the last Census before or during the war
0.032% (1970) -- percentage of the population killed

I could compare American wars  for their severity, and the one measure of severity that distinguishes the wars of a Crisis era is the percentage of Americans killed in combat. By the last measure, the American Civil War was worst, followed by the American Revolution, and then the Second Word War as a distant third. All three were Crisis Wars, and Americans showed themselves willing to sacrifice much for a noble end such as recovering freedoms that George III had taken away, preserving the Union and abolishing slavery, and preventing an Axis victory complete with enslavement and genocide. I don't see anything quite like one of those causes on the horizon. Such could be good for a discussion of the war phase of the generational cycle, and I will start a thread on that.

The fourth worst from the last measure was the War of 1812. The War of 1812 had 15,000 combat deaths, which seems slight in contrast to the Vietnam War, but the casualties of the War of 1812 relate to a far-smaller population. 

But I go to the War in Vietnam as a possible comparison for pointlessness of the war, the divisions that the war ripped into American life, and the perception of bungling. At this stage I cannot say what level of death in America will be most comparable to the level of combat deaths that America endured. But death is death unless something inexcusable (negligence, incompetence, contempt, or design, the latter two making the homicide murder) augments its vileness.

....Deaths by contagious disease have no high principle. War might solve a problem. Combat losses by the USA in WWII are smaller than  the Jewish population in the USA in 1940, and Hitler left no doubt about what he would have done to American Jews had he won the war and established a satellite state in America. I don't know what Hitler would have done to American blacks, but between him and a successor to the fascistic 1915 KKK that modeled itself upon the SS... it would not have been pretty. 

Or -- we could discuss motor-vehicle deaths. We don't think of this often, but we lost 36,560 people to motor vehicles in 2018, the last year for which data is available. That is much death, but for the size of the American population that  is one of the lowest numbers per population, lower such numbers mostly coming from a century or more ago when people were much less likely to have automobiles, let alone drive them often. Per million miles traveled? In the last century (1921 on), 2018 was the fifth-lowest per miles driven, the ten lowest numbers for that measure were from the last ten years. Of course we think differently of combat deaths than of vehicle deaths. No mother gets a gold star for losing a son or daughter as the result of a vehicle collision.

But vehicle death rates are down from where they used to be. Vehicle deaths per mile driven were  24.09 per billion miles driven in contrast to 1.13 per billion miles driven in 2018.

[Image: 220px-1910Ford-T.jpg]    

Would you feel safe in a car like this today on modern highways with all but the youngest drivers well experienced in driving cars, let alone on the awful roads of the early 1920's when most drivers were terribly inexperienced?  Consider the lack of modern safety features. Need I go into detail? It is a good thing that people drove relatively few miles in the early 1920's even at the low speeds that these under-powered "horseless carriages" allowed and when Prohibition was still effective.

The worst years for deaths-per-mile driven were the years from 1921 (not counting those before 1921 for which statistics are unreliable) through 1930 except that '1929' is just out of the range and '1934' somehow slips in, and I am guessing hat because 1934 was the first full year in which Prohibition was not the law of the land the drunk-driving rate had to be astronomical.

So why have traffic deaths abated as a share of the population and the number of miles driven?

1. The cars are better. Collapsible steering columns no longer impale drivers. Seat belts keep people inside the car. in their seats, so that that are less likely to be thrown out of the car or into the windshield. Air bags protect people from hitting the dashboard. Current vehicles are armored in contrast to what they used to be, and vehicle design sacrifices structure in the event of a collision to spare drivers and passengers from the destructive energy of the crash.

2. Child safety seats. Enough said. I would get an equivalent if I had a dog. 

3. Better roads. Much better roads. At first the idea of a good road was a paved one, which simply increased speed. A century ago unbanked curves and 90-degree curves were the norm. Many intersections had no control of right-of-way. Shoulders were narrow-to-non-existent. This is before the limited-access divided highways that offer far safer conditions despite higher speeds.

4. Better drivers. In 2020 a 65-year-old driver typically has almost fifty years of experience driving a car. In 1920 a 65-year-old driver was often a novice. New drivers get formal driver's training in a classroom and see gory videos of people mangled in the consequences of bad driving. Police patrol the highways for speeders and other erratic drivers (one fourth of all speeders are drunk!) Crackdowns upon drunk, drugged, and drowsy driving have resulted in bad drivers losing licenses. 

5. More driving is commuting, especially on freeways, tollways, and similar roads that force conformist driving while removing the usual perils of people turning in from driveways.   

OK -- because vehicle deaths are associated with the means that we use for commuting to work, getting the stuff that we need or want, expanding our 'personal universes' geographically we trivialize motor-vehicle accidents as opposed to war deaths (nobody really likes war) and infectious diseases that used to be commonplace across the social spectrum but are now rare except in the most disadvantaged parts of the world.
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated Communist  but instead the people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists -- Hannah Arendt.


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