Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, October 4, 2020

Shift focus onto Covid transmitters

I’m sick of COVID-19 statistics. Every news report tells me how many million have died, how many thousands infected, how many hundreds in hospitals.

            So -- of course -- I’m going to throw you some more statistics.

            I pulled some figures from the BC Ministry of Health webpage. I correlated them with B.C. population figures from the last census..

            Surprise, surprise! The elderly are NOT the most at risk for infection.

            Certainly they’re most at risk for death. As of a month ago, three-quarters of all deaths were among those over 70.

            That shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re already on their last legs. I suspect the same would hold true if I took statistics for almost any disease, illness, or disability.

            But not for infection. The infection rate among those over 60 is significantly lower than for younger adults. Among those over 60, the infection rate is about 1.4 per 1000. Among the 20-29 age group, the infection rate is more than twice as high -- 3.5 per 1000.

            If you doubt my calculations, I’ll send you the spreadsheet.


Thoughtless spreaders

            Why should younger people have a much higher infection rate?

            Because they’re the ones who dance the night away in crowded night clubs. They’re the ones who gather in sports bars to cheer in unison for their team. They’re the ones -- not all, but many -- who ignore instructions about distancing, masks, and handwashing.

            Seniors  -- those not confined to institutions, that is -- already practice social isolation. They don’t go out as much. They don’t have many visitors. They don’t stay up late. They don’t march in crowded protests. They don’t join mass rallies.

            Seniors are more vulnerable. But they’re the least likely to catch the virus. Or to transmit it.

            Indeed, if I could remove from my statistical analysis those people who have been afflicted with COVID-19 because of crowded conditions in nursing homes, I suspect that the elderly would have the lowest rates of infection of any age group.

            It seems to me, looking back, that provincial medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had exactly the right prescription for reducing the deaths from COVID-19. But she assumed that people could and would act rationally during this crisis.

            That’s true of the elderly -- if they haven’t lapsed into dementia -- but it’s not true of younger generations.

            Simply because their brains haven’t fully developed yet.


Pop psychology 101

            Psychologist and evolutionist Michael Dowd describes the development of the human brain in evolutionary terms. (Warning: if you read the Bible as the final authority on all things scientific, quit reading this column right now.)

            Dowd calls the most primitive parts of our brains, perched on top of the spinal cord, the “lizard” brain. It controls instinctive functions: fight, flight, freeze, and fornicate.

            The next part to develop, wrapped around our lizard origins, he calls “the small furry mammal” brain. It concerns itself with nurturing and belonging. Think of a mother cat with kittens.

            The third part of the brain to develop, Dowd calls our “monkey mind.” It can now deal with ideas, but not with the relative importance of those ideas. Like a monkey in a tree, it swings erratically from one thought to another.

            And finally, we humans develop what psychologists call the prefrontal cortex, the major lobes of the brain right behind our foreheads. These deal with meaning and purpose -- so of course Dowd calls them our “higher porpoise” brain.

            This brain region controls complex thinking, personality expression, decision making, and social behaviour. It makes comparisons, connections, and corrections. It monitors and controls the instinctive reactions of the more primitive parts of our brains.


Late development

            But humans don’t fully develop their prefrontal cortex until around 25 years old. (Part of me suspects some people never do.)

            Which is why you cannot count on young people acting rationally.

            School kids will practice isolation all day inside their classes. Then they’ll clump together outside. Young drivers learn safety, until they get behind the wheel.

            I remember taking a Scout troop to clean up a streambed. They filled several garbage bags with litter. And then, on their way back to the parking lot, some of them tossed their candy wrappers into the bushes.

            They didn’t, or couldn’t, connect their own behaviour to what they’d been practicing.

            You can talk your teeth out about safe distancing, wearing masks, etc., etc. You can pass rules, impose fines and curfews. And it just doesn’t register.

            Our tactics need to change.  To defeat COVID-19 we now need to focus on transmitters, not victims.


Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                       To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Very few letters about last week’s column on the envelope containing ricin mailed to Donald Trump. Maybe the making of toxins didn’t interest you; maybe you wanted to steer clear of controversy – especially, perhaps, in the light of Trump’s current hospitalization. 


Bob Rollwagen, though, leaped in: “I would guess that many [people] dislike the current President more than Pascale Ferrier; they are just more aware of the shell that surrounds him and [realistic about] the futility of trying to save Americans from themselves. I am surprised that there was anything to learn from this latest event. They don’t seem to understand the meaning of the Debate process. How do you have an intelligent debate when only one side uses common sense and recorded facts, and the other focuses on rumours and random fiction, having contradictions within the same sentence?”


Isabel Gibson sent some comments about the divisiveness of the election campaign in the U.S., but then added: “I don't think this sort of rhetoric causes assassination attempts and death threats, but it sure doesn't help. And we need all the help we can get.

            “I read a lovely piece yesterday about Amy Barrett by a guy who was a Supreme Court law clerk with her many years ago. He doesn't like this appointment process/timing, he disagrees with her on most matters judicial, [but] he has a deep and abiding respect for the quality of her thinking and her character. He said she might well become one of the great justices. We need more of that kind of thinking.”


Tom Watson confessed, “I had no idea that ricin came from castor beans. But I surely do remember getting castor oil when I was a child. Memory suggests they gave you castor oil no matter what ailed you. It got to the point that just the mere thought of it was enough to cure...just show you the bottle and you said, ‘It's okay! I'm better now!’”


Florence Driedger sent thanks for the link to Eric Whitacre's “Virtual Choir 6.” She sent it on to many friends. 

            I continue to get a few letters about the column on singing. Obviously, that column struck in responsive chord (sorry for the pun, but I couldn’t resist). 






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                       You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

                       I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                       And for those of you who like poetry, you might check my webpage https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry. Recently I posted a handful of haiku, something I was experimenting with. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.



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