The Angst About The Game

It’s the week of The Game. That’s the football game between Ohio State and That Team Up North, of course. In the Midwest we like to say it’s the greatest rivalry in all of sports (although I suspect that Army and Navy and the Red Sox and the Yankees might disagree with that), and every year this week features its unique, The Game-specific mixture of angst, fear, and loathing. Both members of Buckeye Nation and fans of the Maize and Blue know what I mean because they feel that unsettling mixture of emotions deep in their bones.

The loathing part is obvious: we hate (but nevertheless respect) the opposing team. But the angst and fear part require some explanation.

This is a rivalry game where both fan bases are haunted by memories of past losses and disasters, to the point where we each have sports-related PTSD. No Buckeyes fan who lived through the catastrophic failures of the ’90s will ever be comfortable about any game against TTUN; traumatic experiences have taught us, again and again, that calamity lurks around every corner. Fans of our opponents have the same feelings, only about the more recent games. That’s where the heavy, oppressive sense of angst comes in.

The fear, on the other hand, is that our greatest rival will ruin a fine season, and give bragging rights to the opposing fan base. This year is a good example. As has often been the case with The Game, the Buckeyes and TTUN will be playing for all the marbles: the chance to go to the Big Ten Championship Game and, potentially, the College Football Playoffs. But that’s not all. Every fan of either team knows a number of ardent fans of the opposing team, and we know that if The Game ends with a loss we’ll be hearing about it, in the most pointed, terrible ways imaginable, from now until next year’s contest offers a chance at redemption. We dread that awful possibility.

Angst, fear, and loathing: it’s the holy trinity that dominates our characters during the week of The Game, and it will always be thus. Go Bucks! Beat the Blue!

Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself

I read an interesting article the other day about how to get the economy back up and running — and, not incidentally, about understanding why the economy ground to a halt in the first place.  The article contends that it really wasn’t governmental shutdown orders that did the significant damage — it was fear.

Once people started to accept that the coronavirus really was serious and dangerous, and not just some grossly exaggerated boogeyman like so many over-hyped diseases of past years, they stopped doing what they were doing — even before government orders took effect, and even as to conduct that government orders still permit.  And when the American consumer, the primary cog in the greatest economic engine in the history of the world,  decides to change course, as a group, the consequences are profound.  The dominoes started falling, businesses saw sharp drop-offs in orders, and the unemployment rate ratcheted upward to levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

img_9476And that’s where we are.  There’s still a lot of fear out there — among some people, at least — and that needs to be dealt with as part of the reopening process.  The author of the piece linked above contends that what we really need to deal with that general sense of fear is widespread availability of protective masks, and also widespread availability of reliable COVID-19 testing.  The masks may have a good effect toward preventing transmission of the disease when people are out in public, but they also may just make people feel safer, more secure, and more willing to go out to a store rather than ordering everything they might need through Amazon Prime.  Masks thus may have a tangible public health effect, but also a kind of calming placebo effect.  Some of the other steps that governmental guidance has outlined for reopening businesses — like having people coming to work take their temperatures — also seems like it will help to build confidence that going out in public doesn’t involve crushing risk.

The testing is equally important, because it might finally provide us with the data that will give us a real sense of just what the coronavirus is, how many people have it or have already had it, and what its mortality rate truly is.  And while it might be fun, politically, to castigate our political leaders for not having millions of tests readily available for a disease that was totally unknown until a few months ago, I don’t see the value in playing the blame game.  Once most testing is done — and particularly more random testing of the general population, rather than testing only those people who already are in extremis physically — we’ll have a better sense of the real risks of a return to normalcy.

For all of the scary headlines about mounting death tolls, there are tantalizing indications in some of the general testing of certain populations that has been done that the coronavirus is far more widespread that health authorities have believed, and that the vast majority of the cases don’t cause serious health issues.  According to the CDC website, accessed today, the people who are really at risk seem to be senior citizens — especially those in certain nursing homes — and people with significant, pre-existing medical conditions, like respiratory illness, compromised immunity systems, or morbid obesity.  If general testing is done and it confirms that the real risk of coronavirus is limited to certain vulnerable populations, then we can step to provide protections specifically designed for those populations — and people who don’t fall into those high-risk populations can start to go about their business.  That concept, not incidentally, will require the news media to accurately report boring test data, rather than focusing on death counts.  When scary headlines are producing lots of clicks and website traffic, that might be asking for a lot.

One of our greatest Presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, famously told the American people in the midst of the Great Depression that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  That admonition seems apt as we move into the post-shutdown phase of the Great Coronavirus Crisis of 2020.  If we’re going to get the economy going, help people who have been thrown out of work, and bring the unemployment rate down, a lot of frightened people are going to have to conquer their fears and accept the risks inherent with doing things like shopping and eating in public.  Having better data — and better reporting of data — will help.