It doesn’t take a crystal ball or a master’s in counseling psychology—not that I happen to have either—to know where the conversation is going: “Do you know anyone who has Covid?“
Did I say conversation? Because of course I meant, diatribe. And I was hardly compulsory as a participant. I could just as well have been a telephone pole as a fellow dog walker who apparently has an inscription on his forehead, “please pontificate endlessly about your farcical conspiracy theories.” Yet there I was, nodding mindlessly, as references to “hoax,” “cover up,” and “deep state” lowered my IQ.
I saw no reason to engage believing that a person cannot be rationally talked out of an irrational opinion. Those who don’t believe in gravity, evolution, science, mathematics, reasoning, inference, or that Apollo 11 journeyed to the moon and back will hardly be convinced that the Corona virus is not a fabrication by my pointing out that, “yes, two of my best friends had Covid. So did my son, and 29 of the 43 people admitted Wednesday to the intensive care unit where my son works. They were all infected to say nothing of 25 million Americans.”
When someone says, “do you know anyone who has Covid? I don’t know anyone who has Covid“ the speaker is launching into a political discourse–one of many in which I have no interest whatsoever. “Did you know that the inventor of a car that runs on water rather than gasoline was kidnapped and silenced by the oil companies?” is another conversation from which I politely walk away.
Is it actually possible that blathering on about, “I don’t know anyone who has Covid.“ comes from a place of statistical truth? It is indeed feasible that the speaker indeed does not know anyone of the 400,000 dead?
I, for example, have never had dinner with a roller derby star. Which is not to say that I doubt the existence or even the incidence or prevalence of roller derby stars. Only that I have never shared a meal with one.
The problem is that there are just too many assemblages. In addition to roller derby stars, what about left-handed, red haired shepherds? What about graduates of Yale Law School who dated people from UCLA? (Upper Corner, Lower Alabama.) Do you know anyone from Kazakhstan? As a result of your not spending much time in Asia, do you doubt that there are people living in Kazakhstan?
There seems to be a predilection for summarizing. There’s just too much information, an overwhelming amount of data. That’s why we use measures of central tendency to describe colleges: Average SAT scores, number of participants in the Greek system, number of students who live on campus, number of students who join ROTC, number of students who participate in intercollegiate sports, number of international students, number of students majoring in, “Evolution of the Corduroy Suit.”
Which brings us, unfortunately I would argue, to making inquiries about colleges that have implications similar to, “do you know anyone who has Covid?“
Have you counseled any graduates of North Cornstalk State who were admitted to medical school? Do you know any Swarthmore students who went on to become roller derby stars? These questions are less loony than, “do you know anyone who has Covid?” but these queries do presume that just because you haven’t met any North Cornstalk grads who went on to become astronauts that such a path is not possible.
All the undergrads at that school are jocks. All the students at that other school are drunks. All the kids at that college are snowflakes–whatever those are. Nah. The reality is that every college has a few of these and a few more of those.
As always, it’s the kid in the school not the school in the kid. And causal connections don’t necessarily follow from correlations. Bright, motivated students invariably end up rising to the top. Good kids from no-name schools frequently do well and unenthusiastic kids with substance abuse issues from big-name schools can end up in dark places. Whether or not you have had dinner with someone from a highly selective school who ended up drinking wine in the gutter doesn’t mean that such people don’t exist.
Because all sorts of other people do exist–whether or not you’ve had dinner with them, whatever you think you know about North Cornstalk State. Insisting that your experience extrapolates to the entire population can lead you to believing that because no one you know has died of Covid that the pandemic doesn’t exist–a dangerous and possibly deadly idea.