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Swine Flu: A Socratic Exchange

Chase: Can you believe the school wants us to get these swine flu vaccines?

Brendan: Of course, I’d rather not have to drive back to New Jersey for a week if I get swine flu.

Chase: Well, obviously, but the biggest problem I have is the way the school’s handling the situation. Don’t you think they’re being rather Athenian in their attitude towards the entire idea?

Brendan: What do you mean rather Athenian? What are you even talking about?

Chase: They’re acting as if we only have two options: get the vaccine or get the swine flu. The Athenians acted as if the Melians could only surrender or be decimated, yet there were many more options to be had. Don’t you see the parallel?

Brendan: Well, I guess I see what you mean. Dr. Hagamen did sound a little bit like Creon in his speech at dinner. But, still, I think that he’s right, and we all would be better off if the community as a whole got the vaccine. What’s with all these Greek connections anyway?

Chase: A little like Creon? He might as well have worn Creon’s tunic! I think Sophocles wrote that his exact words were, “I’ll have no dealings with rule breakers, critics of DA’s administration: Whoever is chosen to run the health center should be obeyed, must be obeyed, in all things, great and small, Just and unjust!” Doesn’t that sound just a touch like Creon to you?

Brendan: It does, almost word for word. I don’t really pay attention at dinner though. I didn’t realize anyone did, particularly closely enough to quote the announcements. To be honest, in keeping with the Antigone parallels, are you sure you weren’t just looking for a way to defy the administration and challenge their authority?

Chase: No, I don’t mean to challenge their authority. I love Deerfield, and I wouldn’t want to endanger my fellow students, but I think that the way the school is presenting the situation is over the top and just wrong. For example, they’re acting as if it’s inevitable that we’re all going to be infected; the only person who’s had it so far didn’t infect anyone else, and said that it was milder than having the regular, seasonal flu. It seems to me that it’s a far cry from the life-and-death epidemic that the school has portrayed it to be.

Brendan: I think that the reason that he didn’t infect anyone else was that the school did such a fantastic job of reacting swiftly and proactively to the threat. Furthermore, I would say that the student who was infected was most likely the exception rather than the rule.

Chase: Well, thus far, he’s the only case on campus, so he’s the only case we can use to judge. The school is making such a big deal about the swine flu only because the media are doing so. Often, even after getting the vaccine, people still end up getting a strand of the flu anyway.

Furthermore, if you look at the statistics, out of 51,000 cases in the US, only 724 people have died. And, for all we know, many of those people could have been elderly or quite young or in generally poor health to begin with. It’s conceivable that some of them may even have gotten the vaccine. So, for the school to say we all need to get the vaccine or get the flu and risk death is ludicrous. I’m more concerned about the seasonal flu. 36,000 people die from the seasonal flu annually! To me, that is a bit more threatening, don’t you think?

Brendan: Look, all I know is one death at DA is one death too many, and I’m willing to prevent that by any means necessary.

Chase: But why? Why do you fear death so much? Haven’t you read “The Apology,” by Plato? As Socrates said, “For to fear death, Gentlemen, is nothing but to think one is wise when one is not; for it is to think one knows what one does not. No man knows death, nor whether it is not the greatest of all goods; and yet men fear it as though they well knew it to be the worst of all evils.”

Brendan: I do fear death, a truly miserable death, like one from swine flu. You and your proud idealism, you look at the world with too much of a detached view. Do you not think about how your friends and family would feel if you were to die next week? Have you given no thought to your future? To your goals? To what you mean to your family and to those around you?

Chase: I have in fact. I actually feel optimism at the prospect of death, for I believe death is much more than just the end of existence. What if, as Socrates said, “if on the contrary death is like taking a journey, passing from here to another place, and the stories told are true, and all who have died are there—what greater good might there be?”

Brendan: I suppose you’re right, but remember we’re only talking about a case of swine flu here. Is there really a need for all this high-minded, philosophical talk? At the end of the day, don’t you think it might be narrow-minded of you to think that there is no such thing as life after Deerfield? I think there are many pleasures to be had along the way, because to me, the journey is nearly as good as the destination. If you really want to get your Greek philosopher on, I think I’d have to take the side of Aristotle. While I understand his position on the point of happiness—that is, that it can only be achieved at the end of a long life of constant examination and education—I think you’re still young, and you haven’t even been truly educated yet. Wouldn’t you like to die a happy old man, rather than swine flu’s 725th “martyr?”

Chase: I am a man of principle and I will not sacrifice my ideals regardless of the triviality or importance of a given situation.

Fast forward to after the Swine Flu Immunization

Brendan: I can’t believe after all that, you ended up getting a shot anyway.

Chase: Yeah, I know. I just felt that ultimately I needed to be more practical; in the end, it wasn’t worth getting the flu when it could have been prevented. I guess in some ways it was more that I just wanted to fight the school’s authority, and I didn’t really have a serious issue with getting the vaccine.

Brendan: At any rate, for some reason I feel like this talk has been about more than just swine flu.

Chase: Yeah, I agree. Forget Aristotle’s “On Happiness,” personally, I think Brendan and Chase’s “On Swine Flu” is a much better read.