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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ebola Nurse Shows Do-Gooders All About "Me"

What can the Ebola hysteria teach us about how public policy gets made and executed?

If the actions of Kaci Hickox are any guide, it is that certain segments of the population have a permanent "hall pass" to live their lives free from any responsibilities, while burdening those unfortunate to be around them with an infinite set of dangers, burdens and obligations.

Kaci Hickox is the nurse who went to West Africa and was involuntarily quarantined upon her return to Newark Airport. She has insisted she will defy requests to self-isolate herself for the recommended 21-day Ebola incubation waiting period.  According to this report, she already has left her house to go bike riding. Not surprisingly, the State of Maine is threatening her with arrest if she does not quarantine herself, and the ridiculous specter of negotiations to persuade her to voluntarily comply did not work either. Stay tuned. In the meantime, her antics -- because this is starting to really seem either very contrived or signs of narcissistic personality disorder -- make the new Halloween horror costume du jour that of a female nurse riding a bike. 

Hickox is a nurse who went to Africa to do good, or so we are led to believe and expected to believe without questioning. For purposes only of this column's specific deconstruction of her actions, let's take her at her word.

So she intends to do good, and what is her reward? She is suspected to have come into proximity with a pretty deadly virus for which the reported death rate is 50% or more, and then gets a one-day quarantine in New Jersey upon her return (it was lifted after one day after federal authorities pressured the New Jersey Governor to lift it). Most recently, she got self-isolation orders from authorities in the State of Maine where she resides, and her public declarations of resistance have led to her being threatened with arrest. (Mind you, those threats of arrest occurred before she was revealed to have gone out for a bike ride in the Maine countryside.)

Now, the virulence of Ebola is severe and the penalty for negligence (or outright malevolence) by the infected or of carriers is risk of death.  (One wonders whether the virus is far less deadly among patients who are not otherwise weakened by nutritional or other immune system deficiencies.)  But I concentrate here on the mentality of the nurse and her many colleagues who share the mentality, because psychology drives activity and it also drives public policy.

To be brief: The purportedly charitable do-gooder impulses are not what they seem. Not with the nurse -- sorry, Kaci -- and not with elected and appointed public officials.

What it is really is individual fulfillment, everyone else be damned.  You can almost hear the whine: I'm gonna do whatever I want, and no one has the right to tell me to stop. 

By extension, the mentality screams that the individual has the right to avoid all responsibility. You see, under the selective relative morality of the narcissist, what is right is "all about me." 

Consequently, we have this paradox: A nurse who could potentially put you at risk of death is immune from criticism, but anyone who reminds the brat about her putting other innocent people at that risk is subject to having imputed to them the vilest of motives. 

You see, there is a difference between a right and an entitlement. A right is something that one may enjoy without burdening another. An entitlement necessarily burdens another. Here, we have not a right of this Kaci Hickox to roam freely, coughing and emitting virulent bodily liquids where she so chooses, but a claim to entitlement.

There is a dangerous flip side to this claim to entitlement. It is the corresponding, equal obligation upon others. And in this case, it is an obligation upon others to suffer, to sustain the risk to themselves (and to their families, anyone with whom they may come into contact) of death, to suffer the ultimate responsibility of endangered life, so that someone else -- someone without responsibilities -- may live without responsibility.

Historically, going back to medieval times and well before, societies lacking all but the most rudimentary understanding of disease still employed quarantines of infected and diseased persons. As merciless as that may have been to the afflicted, the policy was not intended to be mean but rather was a desperate attempt to survive by people who did not and could not know better.

But now, we see potentially infected people expressing indignation at being denied their right to go about their normal lives, even if they cause others to die. 

In other contexts this is called depraved indifference to human life. 

There is doing good. There is appearing to do good. And then there is the almost atavistic mentality that justifies the present actions under the theory that doing good for some justifies -- no, it requires -- that others suffer. In fact, there might be no limit to the suffering that some are expected to shoulder. Under such a mentality, putting the lives of others at risk is not merely acceptable collateral damage; it might be...dare we say it?...desired.

This mindset is poisonous, toxic and utterly deadly. It will lead to an unexpected but foreseeable reduction in legitimate charity and an increase in bonafide suffering.  Consider that the next time you hear someone smugly assert that "we must help" someone. 

Such a mentality cannot be considered compassion.  Rather, it is a manifestation of someone who has refused to grow up, accept that freedom has both responsibilities and consequences, and resists all efforts at basic accountability. In light of that, Kaci Hickox's activities as a nurse may be better seen for what it likely is, that is, just naked self-indulgence without any regard for anyone else. 

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