Covid & Culture

William Lind writes April 26:

In most cultures, including Hispanic culture, you owe nothing to anyone who is not a member of your family, clan, or tribe, in that order of importance. The public realm is simply a combined dump and sewer. Why not? The people who inhabit it, except your relatives, mean nothing to you. Civic virtue, in such cultures, is unknown.

What this means in our country as it confronts the coronavirus is that in black and Hispanic areas, people do not follow the rules to the same degree as do people in white and east Asian areas (east Asian culture is a culture of order, even though it does not have northern European culture’s concept of civic virtue). That is of course not the only explanation for the difference in infection rates: population density and people’s need to physically go to their workplace are also factors. Once the pandemic passes, it would be informative to compare infection rates in black and Hispanic neighborhoods with those in poor white neighborhoods. That probably won’t happen for fear the results would point to cultural differences, which would be politically incorrect.

A third example also points to civic virtue as an important variable: the high infection rates in some orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Ultra-orthodox Jews are rule-followers of the highest order–but only their own rules. Like black and Hispanic cultures, their culture dismisses anyone not from their group. The public realm beyond their shtetl means nothing to them, unless they are doing a “good deed” in that realm, which some sects do require. Otherwise, they hold the world of the goyim in contempt, as that world holds them in contempt, which is why the Holocaust was popular in much of central and eastern Europe.

That fact points to the danger to minority groups which, in societies with strong concepts of civic virtue, refuse to practice such virtue themselves. In normal times, the result is irritation and friction. In abnormal times, irritation and friction can boil over into a determination to either enforce civic virtue on those who will not practice it voluntarily or find a final solution to the problem. We are, I hope, a long way from the latter. But if we were dealing not with the flu but with a plague that had a much higher mortality rate–as at some point we will be–the fate of those who refuse to follow the larger society’s rules and practice civic virtue could be grim.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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