The Hidden Cost of COVID Regulations
According to new research from Boston University School of Public Health, depression in American adults jumped from a pre-pandemic 8.5% to a pandemic 32.8% that held strong throughout 2021. In an era of mandated masks, social distancing, and long periods of isolation in an effort to keep citizens at the highest level of health, policymakers have forgotten to address one very important question: how will we smile at each other and become friends?
Politically, the loss of friendship comes at a high price. So high that Aristotle, the tutor of Alexander the Great, taught his students that “friendship holds the polis together and lawmakers are more serious about it than justice.” To understand why friendship holds the polis together in a way that justice alone cannot do, we must first understand the purpose of the polis.
We participate in the polis so that we may live well. As creatures with a body and an immaterial mind, it therefore must satisfy both parts of us. On this note, Aristotle wrote, “Two going together are better able to think and act.” A society’s common language allows for dialogue, and dialogue develops the mind. Furthermore, living close to one another provides ample opportunity for division of labor and subsequent trade, which aids general comfort of the body. Any primitive polis easily satisfies these two requirements.
However, one more factor remains for man to live well, and this factor distinguishes the polis as a good one. Men need a way to reconcile the tension between body and mind, so that they live naturally, according to both the body and mind at the same time. Aristotle collectively names this crucial and completing component “moral virtue.”
According to Aristotle, to have moral virtue, generally, is to have the disposition to act correctly by way of the mean between deficiency and excess with respect to each situation we face. For example, temperance is a disposition that balances anger and calm in the right proportion. This proportion changes such that temperance when one drops his cup is different than temperance when moneychangers set up tables in the temple.
Law may induce our temperate act through fear of punishment. However, laws fall short of mandating moral virtue insofar as mere law has us acting like trained dogs. But we are not dogs. We have the unique capacity to desire to act temperately. This harmony of knowing what the moral act is, doing the moral act, and desiring to do so marks humanity’s peak. It is for this that the good policymaker aims.
What does this harmony have to do with friendship? Everything. Aristotle taught that these definitively human opportunities arise most often with regard to our friends. Presumably, Aristotle means this because we have the most contact with them. For if we did not have regular contact with our friends, most friendships would weaken and eventually dissolve.
Moreover, Aristotle also taught that to act morally with regard to our friends proves more praiseworthy than if we did the same thing for a stranger. While he does not explain this in detail, I believe it stems from the ease with which we help our friends. This ease has its origin in the deep goodwill that exists between friends, a force so strong as to, as it were, create a third person.
Dante described the Beatific Vision as “three circles… three different colors, but all of them were the same dimension; one circle seemed reflected by the second, as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles.” Dante’s analogy describes perfect friendship: two of the same kind with a mutual goodwill between them strong and pure. While we may never live in perfect friendship in this life, we can do our best with what we have and continually strive to improve our good friendships.
However, reactionary pandemic policies have in countless ways prevented us from maintaining our friendships as required for true human flourishing. They cancelled our work outings and gatherings with family on holidays; and they made it exceedingly difficult to forge new friendships. Mask mandates mean that we hardly look at each other, let alone smile and say hello. In this light, it is a no-brainer that depression has almost quadrupled since the onset of these policies.
Without the ability to form and maintain friendships, or even practice common courtesy toward our neighbors, policymakers rob us of the ability to carry out a good deed with the goodwill that can only exist in friendships. To live well means to exercise that ability. Without it, we merely live. Little or no harmony exists between body and mind, and the polis fosters citizens who act as if they are only body or only mind. Lack of friendship places the entire polis on a life support system, where justice, which is limited merely to what is enforceable, is the sole source of social cohesion. But this is not nearly enough to hold the polis together.
Aristotle wrote that friendship “is most necessary with a view to life: without friends, no one would choose to live, even if he possessed all other goods…” The flourishing of humanity, and even the will to live, most of all depends upon friendship. With this in mind, it becomes clear that policymakers must consider all goods in such a way as to promote the flourishing of friendship. If policymakers consider policy that discourages friendship even slightly, they must deliberate with strict caution; and with the knowledge that if such policy is implemented indefinitely, it will undoubtedly become the device of the polis’ self-defeat.
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1155a.23 (University of Chicago Press edition; translated by Robert Bartlett and Susan Collins).
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1155a.15.
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1155a.9.
 Dante Alighieri, Paradiso XXXIII, 115-120 (Penguin Classics edition; translated by Mark Musa).
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1155a.1.
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