is the avoidance of covid19 the greatest good for our nation?

After one month into the North Carolina covid19 lockdown, my mother (who is 78 years old, has multiple comorbidities, and lives alone) said something to me on the phone. She said, in essence, “I would rather die from covid19 than be isolated from my friends and family.”

She was on to something important, but it’s taken me a few months to put together my thoughts. C. S. Lewis wrote a famous essay called “First and Second Things” where he argued that whenever a person or society places lesser goods ahead of greater goods, they will lose both as a result. He uses a couple of simple examples:

“The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.”

He makes the further point that many British during the decade leading up to WWII wanted peace at all costs with Hitler and Germany. But their desire for peace at all costs brought them war instead.

How can we apply Lewis’ maxim to covid19 and the lockdowns? What human good has been prioritized before all others? It seems to me that the proponents of lockdowns believe the following: “We must stop the spread of covid19 at all costs to keep people from getting sick and dying.” Most other human goods must be subordinated to this good.

Is this a worthy goal? Yes. Is this an authentic good for the people of our nation? For sure.

Most people just stop there, but Lewis asks us to take a step further. Should this good (or goal) of stopping the spread of covid19 at all costs be prioritized above all other human goods? Should it be our First Goal?

To answer that question, we need to rank human goods. Many philosophers have ranked human goods, but I am going to follow the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the greatest Christian philosopher who ever lived. Aquinas considered eight popular candidates for what constitutes the greatest good for a human being and ranked them in order of most foolish to most wise.

The eight goods are:

  1. Wealth
  2. Honor
  3. Fame
  4. Power
  5. Bodily Health
  6. Pleasure
  7. Goods of the Soul (wisdom and virtue)
  8. God

Notice that the goal of “stop the spread of covid19” fits under the category of bodily health. Bodily health, according to Aquinas is not the most important good for human beings. In fact, he ranks pleasure, goods of the soul, and God as all being higher than bodily health.

What this means practically is that if a person prioritizes bodily health (not getting ill, being physically healthy) above all else, they will ultimately miss out on the goods of pleasure, wisdom, virtue, and God. How so?

Let’s take pleasure. There are many things that give us pleasure that we have lost because of lockdowns. Playing or watching organized sports. Going to movie theaters. Having dinner parties with groups of friends. Going to amusement parks. Traveling. Working (yes, some people get pleasure out of their occupation). I could go on, but you get the point. By prioritizing bodily health, we are now missing out on many of the very things that make life pleasurable! Missing out on so many of life’s pleasures brings depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which hurt our bodies.

Let’s take goods of the soul, wisdom and virtue. Here I want to focus on the virtue of love. The classical definition of love is “acting for the good of another person.” Because of our covid19 lockdowns, our ability to love other people has been severely limited. Why? Because the most powerful and poignant acts of love usually require face-to-face contact. We love others by touching them, embracing them, talking to them in person, giving them our full attention. We need human contact to feel loved.

“Remote love” is inferior to in-person love. We all intuitively know this. Receiving a text from a friend just doesn’t compare to talking to that same friend face to face. You can’t hug people remotely. You can’t embrace a loved one remotely.

Some of us work because of love. We work to generate income to provide food, shelter, and clothing for our family. This is an act of love that lockdowns have prevented for many people.

If we are unable to give or receive in-person love (the highest kind of love), we are undoubtedly harming ourselves physically and psychologically. People die from lack of love. People die from loneliness. People suffer greater stress when they don’t receive love. So by placing bodily health above love, we end up losing both. This is what my mother sensed so early in the lockdown.

What about the perfect good of God? For the Christian, there are many ways to know God in this life. Two primary ways we grow closer to God are corporate worship and service to the needy. Corporate worship consists of gathering together with other believers to sing, pray and talk about God. The lockdowns have prevented corporate worship from occurring.

What about service? Christians are called to serve those who are in need. This tends to be a hands-on activity! It is certainly most effective when done face-to-face. Can you imagine Mother Teresa serving the sick and poor in Calcutta by Zoom calls? The whole image is ridiculous.

For the person who is not worshipping corporately or serving the poor, they are not enjoying God as they should. Much like the loss of love, the loss of worship and service is devastating to the physical, mental, and spiritual health of a person.

Let me bring this home. I realize that there is a time element that mitigates the damage of the lockdowns and we can debate how long a lockdown is warranted given the suffering covid19 or any other infectious disease may cause. My point is broader. What I am saying is that my mother had it right. There comes a time when the avoidance of a disease ruins your life. By trying to save your life, you end up destroying it.

Lockdowns drain the world of pleasure, love, and service to God. If you become obsessed with the lesser good of bodily health, you will end losing the greater goods. Bodily health is a means to end. It is not the end itself. It is a means to enjoy your life, to love others, and to worship God. If you don’t understand that, then you have placed the second thing first and you will lose both.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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