Letters to the Editor: 'Toxic individualism' and other vestiges of pre-pandemic life that need to go

Travelers still wear masks at Los Angeles Union Station on the first day California fully reopened its economy on June 15 (Los Angeles Times)
When I think about over a year of reader comments on the pandemic, I remember the first letter from The Times - March 15, 2020 - when our society began to experience the upheaval that a threat like COVID-19 required. The schools closed - for at least two weeks, my group of children announced at the time - our scarce supply of masks was still only for medical professionals, and the unwillingness of the federal government was alarmingly noticeable.
Yet the letter, written by a doctor, expressed hope in the midst of all the chaos and fear. It was not a naive hope that borders on dangerous wishful thinking from the White House, but a hope based on reality - that the pandemic will force us to recognize the weakness of our health infrastructure, that it will value us and institutions like the Centers for Disease Fully fund Control and Prevention and reduce carbon emissions by keeping more workers at home.
The letter turned out to be forward-looking. More than a year later, as California lifts most of its pandemic restrictions and citizens are grappling with the kind of "normalcy" they want to return to, the Times editors set out to recreate ways of life in post-COVID California to shape a more sustainable, fairer society. The series, based on reader input, included eight editorials on topics such as homelessness, education and general health care.
Now is the time for readers to get involved again, this time in our editorial series.
- Paul Thornton, Editor-in-Chief
The pandemic and "toxic individualism"
To the Editor: Your editorial, "COVID-19 Unveiled Truths America and California Can No Longer Ignore," should be required reading for all of us, and should be followed by a serious discussion of the myriad challenges facing our country.
Inequality in health care, housing, childcare and education affects us all, regardless of income, ethnicity or living conditions. If we are truly one nation, we must support policies and leaders that will bring us to fairer conditions in all walks of life.
Alison M. Grimes, Yorba Linda
To the editor: The Times is an excellent tone for our post-pandemic and post-George Floyd social awareness. "We have to move from toxic individualism to a collective uprising" - we really have to.
Achieving any of the long term goals that lead us there will be a complex matter, but I think it will be easier if we first answer a fundamental question: Do we want to create systems - business, health, education, justice, and others? - that serve the needs of the vast majority of our people, or do we want systems that serve the needs of a small minority at the top?
The answer is obvious. Once the choice is made, any new initiative should go through that choice's filter to ensure that it passes the screening.
Nations evolve over time. Our nation took a huge step forward in the 1930s. This step, as clumsy and flawed as it may have been, has served us well. Let's take another one.
Bart Braverman, Indio
To the editor: Thank you for taking a careful and balanced look at the COVID-19 truths. You see this in California. I see her here in Arizona. I'm sure people see them in different shades not only in the US but around the world as well.
We have a culture of both personal toxic individualism and toxic corporate individualism. I think you got to the heart of it with "toxic individualism" and your observations on health inequality. We can generalize these observations to many other areas.
In "A Beautiful Mind," the character of John Nash says that we all win if we do what is best for ourselves and the group. That's the kind of individualism we need now.
My inner libertarian protests when I say that we have to let the government control companies more, but I don't know what alternative we have right now. I think it would help alleviate several of the problems you identified if government were to restrict the influence and independence of companies while preserving the freedoms and protection of individuals.
These problems are incredibly complex. That doesn't mean we're not trying to solve them. If there is any way to describe our species, it is that we are overcomers. We can do it as long as we do it together.
Eric Prelog, Goodyear, Ariz.
California can now have payer health care
To the editor: The Medicare payer program was finally passed in 1965 with political capital, threats and innuendos, as was Canada's Medicare system. The individual payer is more affordable compared to our current inexorably increasing premiums, deductibles, deductibles and drug prices as insurance coverage becomes less comprehensive and profits accrue. ("Want a Single Pay? California Needs Public Option First," editorial, June 6)
Healthcare has been seized and exploited by American corporations and public companies, reducing doctors to sources of wealth in order to maximize reimbursement for the latest technology and procedures. This is clearly unsustainable and cannot be mitigated by a public option that editor Jon Healey prefers to the individual payer.
Anything less than a public health service will fail.
Jerome P. Helman, MD, Venice
To the editor: I appreciate Healey's approach to insuring more Californians. A single payer might be the best way to go, but incremental changes like offering a public option on the health exchange could help us move closer to the elusive goal of universal coverage.
Nevertheless, it is a pity that we are continuing these discussions at all. What happened to a social contract to take care of one another?
Newsom recently said of gun violence, "What the hell is going on in the United States? What the hell is wrong with us and when are we going to get a grip on it?" Unfortunately, the same applies to the way in which we offer health care.
William Tarran, Pacifica, California.
The author, a podiatrist, is treasurer of the California Physicians Alliance.
To the Editor: In response to Healey's statement on lawmakers "stunted in the face of opposition from hospitals, drug manufacturers, and health care companies," readers should know that Rep. Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) passed Assembly Bill 1400, the California Guaranteed Health Care For All Act.
The bill, which would introduce a comprehensive, universal coverage program for a single payer and a system of cost control in healthcare, was recently withdrawn from scrutiny but will be reintroduced next January.
Over the next six months, Californians must familiarize themselves with this bold, enlightened piece of legislation and let lawmakers know that they support it.
Newsom has also advocated a deposit system in California, and we need to keep reminding him to keep his promise.
Carol Fodera, La Crescenta
To the editor: This is a political dream for politicians in California and other blue states. Of course it is "doable", just as California turns red in 2022, it is "doable".
The problem is having access to money to pay for. Until a state can print US currency, this is not really feasible.
David L. McDaniel, Capistrano Beach
We can have endless growth or a garbage free world
To the editor: Thank you very much for Mariel Garza's informative, carefully crafted, inspiring piece "The pandemic lets us imagine a world without waste."
What a happy thought - a world without waste.
Still, I am not comforted by how we can achieve a "circular economy" without addressing our unwavering call for economic growth. For example, countries are now responding to the "threat" to growth by supporting policies that encourage population growth.
The call for a circular economy that grows and demands more people on this earth is an incomplete answer to a sustainable world ecology.
William K. Solberg, Los Angeles
To the editor: I agree with Garza's concerns about single-use plastic. If the Times agrees, maybe they could stop wrapping my morning paper in plastic every day. There was a time when the paper was only wrapped in plastic wrap when there was a risk of rain.
Tom Mitchell, Sherman Oaks
To the editor: I grew up during the Great Depression and after World War II. For us the motto was: "Use up, wear out, do without". My grandmother went to extremes of the motto until some called my grandfather "Sam Patches".
Today's throwaway and consumer society, caused by human greed and the rampage of capitalism, has brought us to this point. I doubt if the lofty goals of Garza's editorial are possible for humans.
But yes, we have to take the first step to preserve our civilization on our beautiful spaceship called Earth.
Charles Van Cleve, Palm Desert
In defense of the study
To the editor: I'm so sad about what appears to be an anti-academic trend in education. ("You Shouldn't Need a College Degree to Live a Decent Life in America," editorial, June 6)
Many employers may require college for employment, not just expertise. Apprentice programs can provide opportunities to learn skills, but not what the real purpose of advanced education should be: to have a variety of professional experiences that develop reasoning and communication, among other non-"skilled" skills.
We should try to raise the level of education for everyone instead of just giving some people a lifelong job. My education enabled me to become a secondary school teacher, after which I became a lawyer, now in my 39th year as a lawyer.
I hope we can push up, not hold down.
Jacqueline Melvin, Sherman Oaks
To the Editor: In America, school starts at home, nurtured by parents' resources, values, and education. Children can also be influenced by what they see around them, whether on the streets of an impoverished neighborhood or on international family vacations.
While college prep courses aren't the best for everyone, I suspect few high school students want to become the clerks and supervisors of today's hard-to-fill jobs. I hope education can serve a purpose other than getting students into the job market.
Instead of submitting to a tight curriculum, students need to be challenged and involved in their coursework. You should learn to think independently and develop literacy skills in various fields in order to become knowledgeable citizens of an ever-changing world.
Katharine Paull, Kagel Canyon
To the editors: Editor Karin Klein claims that a decent life is possible even without a university degree. She neglects to tell us what she means by a "decent life" and thereby misses the important distinction between education and training.
A “decent life” involves much more than a decent “life” through the production of goods and services. A decent society is populated by decent people.
The problem is not "educational inflation". The problem is failing to understand that the purpose of education should be to enable students to think critically - to distinguish the important from the trivial, to recognize the difference between truth and falsehood, to distinguish principles from power, and unite develop a sane sense of morality.
The problem is that much of higher education today is focused on producing a decent number of graduates in a decent number of years, managing the high costs, competing for new entrants, and ensuring the health and viability of the institution.
In a postmodern society in particular, critical thinking is necessary to withstand the disgusting effects of technology, which is producing a hurricane shower of information in which the difference between truth and falsehood is unclear. Citizens must be able to distinguish the politics of power from the politics of principle.
We now live in a society full of conspiracy theories that resulted in people marching into the U.S. Capitol on January 6th to keep Donald Trump in power. Most of these people had decent jobs; however, they weren't decent people.
They have the ability to be productive in their jobs but not the ability to recognize that they are susceptible to manipulation by the first snake oil seller to use them for his own selfish ends.
Stephen Sloane, Lomita
Working from home wasn't invented during the pandemic
To the Editor: Reading Kerry Cavanaugh's editorial about working from home, I didn't feel like she was talking to real employers.
It implies that companies will only allow teleworking with some kind of intervention. My own experience and reading the company's history will show you that the situation is more complex. It reflects the diversity of American companies.
I have worked in government agencies, nonprofits, and businesses both small and large that used a mix of office work and teleworking. The decisions about the place of work were made jointly by employers and employees.
Most managers make decisions based on an individual employee's situation and overall team satisfaction. It's a give and take.
It's good to have policies that encourage remote working. Forcing employers to let workers set the terms is shortsighted and counterproductive. Right now employers know that employees have options for where to work.
Over time, employees and employers will come to agreements that make sense for all parties.
Laura Curran, Newport Beach
A competition to end homelessness
To the editor: Homelessness is a national and nationwide problem that is often banished to cities that are disproportionately affected. ("To Solve Homelessness, California Should Provide Housing Right," editorial, June 11)
The work of housing experts, the Section 8 “Lottery System” and other funding efforts have undoubtedly helped, but they have proven to be inadequate. Ombudsmen have recognized that prototypes like "Project Roomkey" in California are the only way to do more with limited (albeit growing) resources to eradicate homelessness and the toll it takes on all of us.
More funding alone is not the answer. I'm proposing an international engineering and design competition to bring new, affordable solutions to Los Angeles and our state.
Dan Constant, Manhattan Beach
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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