America, Welcome to Your Kobayashi Maru Test!
"A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face. Has that never occurred to you?"
Captain Kirk in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
America, God bless her, shut down the economy to slow the spread of COVID-19. Did it work? At this point, it appears the doomiest predictions and worst-case models will not come to pass. We seemed to have "flattened the curve," but that is not the same thing as beating or stopping the virus.
We seemed to have entered a new phase in this fight. We now have to "reopen" America, but this part seems even more challenging than the shut-down. It is a lose-lose scenario. Reopen and regardless of how we do it, odds are that those virus counts that we have been watching for the last several weeks are going to start going up again. Stay closed and we are prolonging a different but no less serious harm for millions of Americans in the form of job losses and economic mayhem. This is our Kobayashi Maru.
Odds are that some of you have never seen (or wanted to see) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and perhaps you have never heard of the Kobayashi Maru test. Please allow me to fill in this particular pothole of your cultural IQ. The Kobayashi Maru test was administered to Starfleet cadets as a test of their character. It was designed to present them with a situation for which there was no best or good solution--it was a lose-lose test. The point was to see how they would react to that lose-lose situation.
In the coming days, our federal, state, and local political leaders are going to be sorting through how best to "reopen" their jurisdictions. They are not likely to agree on the particulars and we will probably have justifiable criticisms for their decisions. But, at the end of the day, they can't really "reopen" things. Individual Americans will have to make that decision. We will be making decisions about whether we feel safe enough to go out to dinner, go to movie, or a baseball game. We will decide whether we want our kids to participate in Summer camps, school, or daycare. We are all going to have different risk tolerances.
Some of us will have no trouble at all resuming normal activity. But, that will not be everybody, not even close. How many of us have a family member or close friend with the sort of health conditions that make them prone to particular harm from COVID-19? We are going to have to take care with how we reestablish our communities. Grace is going to be important. The shutdown was a snap of the fingers compared to what the reopening is going to look like. And none of us are going to be able to reprogram the computer so we can turn the lose-lose into a sure win. The good news is that we don't have to deal with any darn Klingons.