My latest column in the American Institute for Economic Research, “The Devil Didn’t Make ‘Em Do It, and Neither Did the Pandemic,” discusses a verbal laziness of our times encouraged by politicians and reporters: “Almost from the very moment unprecedented government actions were announced worldwide to stop the spread of Covid-19, people became accustomed to referring to the virus as a sentient being with the ability to bend people to his will.”

Among other reasons, here’s why that is a problem:

Such childish anthropomorphism is encouraged by government authorities and media reports, and after all, why not? With such a mercurial godlike character on the scene, they can act as Covid priests, and who can question their divine revelations?

In shameful consequence, people have learned to behave as if Covid infects when someone transgresses. Being infected is seen as a consequence of someone’s Covid sin — whether by the infected or by the wanton acts of perceived Covid heretics. This superstition strips them of simple human compassion for people who become ill — unless it’s a loved one who has been a devout adherent to Covid’s revealed will, in which case they are very angry at supposed miscreants, especially non-celebrity anti-maskers or the unvaccinated. These toxic beliefs are destroying social comity and ripping apart the fabric of our society.

But it goes deeper than that. It excuses people for terrible choices with terrible consequences by making them seem to be helpless automatons:

Believing Covid shuts down businesses, closes schools, causes substance abuse, requires emergency orders, and so forth requires the unstated presumption that individuals are not the ones choosing to shut businesses, close schools, overindulge in alcohol and drugs, overindulge in emergency orders, and so forth. It’s a signature fallacy in the Covid era, and one that I had thought people would have given up by now.

To be blunt: Covid-19 cannot do those things. They are results of individuals’ choices. …

But what media reports miss so consistently, to the point of deliberate ignorance, are the choices of certain other individuals and their effects. They include governors, public health bureaucrats, local officials, and even mayors who decided to order closures of certain businesses as “nonessential” or “too dangerous” and who decided to cripple the business models of many others with capacity limits, restricted hours, mask requirements, and whatever other arbitrary and capricious measures they willfully decided to impose. These individuals used real or asserted authority to coerce business owners into shutting their doors, putting their employees out of work, and taking other steps they might otherwise have not made on their own.

They, not Covid, are also responsible for closing the schools — if not executive officials, then the school board members or leaders. For families leaving public schools, it’s not the virus that’s making them seek alternatives. …