So much basic scientific data and so many best practices and ethical standards in public health were abandoned during the Covid pandemic, it would be difficult to list them all.
Nevertheless, we must remember just how much reality has been warped since March 2020 and try to understand how that warping occurred. Maybe if we understand what happened, we can prevent it from happening again. Maybe we can unwarp the narrative enough so that more people can see clearly what went wrong.
For my own sanity, I need to understand what happened, so I can come to terms with why people behaved the way they did, and why so many of my own assumptions were shattered during the pandemic.
I want to know why real science got thrown out as misinformation, propaganda turned into absolute truth, the free press morphed into a government mouthpiece, and supposedly liberal and scientific institutions abandoned ethical standards and critical thought to impose zero-evidence, zero-Covid authoritarian lockdowns and mandates.
How did my family, friends and neighbors – who I thought shared my liberal, humanist values – turn into a group-thinking, bullying herd? What forces were exerted to erase scientific and intellectual integrity from the minds of literally millions of doctors, scientists, economists, journalists, educators and other normally curious and compassionate people worldwide?
To answer these questions, I am less interested in an exact timeline than in a story that makes sense of seemingly senseless behaviors. I am also less interested in the culpability of specific individuals than in an examination of the factors – psychological, social, historical, political – that drove those behaviors.
Overall, I believe four extremely powerful forces converged catastrophically to initiate, and then perpetuate, the snowball that became the avalanche of Covid insanity. And by insanity, I mean the imposition of unprecedented, untested and predictably unsuccessful – not to mention horrifically damaging – pandemic containment measures.
Those four forces were: panic, politics, propaganda, and profits.
I believe pandemic panic was driven from above – from the highest echelons of the most powerful governments – and below – within populations primed for disaster and perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Panic from above: it had to be a lab leak
The stratospheric level of panic unleashed over a virus of relatively low lethality (estimated overall infection fatality rate <0.2%) has always seemed wildly disproportionate to me. When previous, much more lethal viruses were discovered in various populations, nothing near the level of Covid hysteria happened.
I therefore surmise that, at the onset of the Covid pandemic, there was a spark of panic from a very powerful place that ignited the fear already smoldering in the population.
Where did the initial code-red alarm come from? A likely explanation, based on Covid origin research and many reports of Covid detected before December 2019 as well as the strange, erratic behavior and sudden policy reversals by top US health officials, is that the “novel coronavirus” leaked from a high-security US-funded lab in Wuhan, China.
Much has been written about the lab leak hypothesis in terms of detailed timelines and specific people involved. To me, the most compelling argument in its favor is psychological: Without the lab leak there would be insufficient momentum to fuel such a juggernaut of global panic, causing scientists and public health experts to abandon everything they knew about respiratory viruses, and leading democratic governments to adopt Chinese-inspired authoritarian policies.
Specifically, the Wuhan lab leak makes sense as the source of initial panic because the research conducted there is highly sensitive and controversial. It involves EPPPs – enhanced pandemic potential pathogens – viruses engineered to be very contagious so their spread can be studied in animal models. Interest in this type of research comes not just from the virology and epidemiology fields, but also from national security and intelligence agencies focused on bioterrorism.
If both public health and intelligence officials knew, or suspected, that a virus had leaked from a lab studying EPPPs, there would be huge levels of apprehension, not to say hysteria, in that group, even if initial data showed, as it did, that the virus was not very dangerous to most people and affected mostly those over 65 with multiple underlying conditions.
If the virus was intentionally engineered for its pandemic-causing potential, it could be way more dangerous than just any old pathogen jumping from animals to humans. Who knew how an engineered virus would evolve? How much more virulent could it become? Intelligence and national security officials, in particular, might push for a maximal response without reference to standard epidemiologic or public health protocols.
In fact, it is almost impossible to explain the drastic abandoning of everything scientists and public health practitioners knew and believed about flu-like pandemics, without adding to the equation the terrifying unknown of what an engineered pathogen might do.
And to top off the panic palooza, if and when the truth of the virus’s origins came out, those involved with the EPPP research, already riddled with safety concerns, would be blamed. Major international and diplomatic crises could ensue.
Further strengthening this hypothesis is the fact that the countries with the strictest and most prolonged lockdowns, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada, were all members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, along with the US and UK. It makes sense that precisely those countries sharing the earliest and most detailed intelligence about the lab leak felt not only justified, but compelled, to carry out the strictest lockdowns.
All of this leads me to conclude that a small group of top intelligence and public health officials, fearing a catastrophically deadly engineered virus had been released (regardless of its observed effects in the real world), convinced themselves, their governments, and in turn their populations (without publicly revealing the virus’ origin) that the strictest containment measures were needed or else millions would die.
Panic, then, became not just a reaction to the virus but, in the minds of those instigators, a necessary state in which to hold the population in order to elicit maximum compliance with containment measures. As inertia set in following the big initial push, panic and compliance became not just means for supposedly ending the pandemic but goals in and of themselves.
Scientists and media enlisted in panic campaign
All major media outlets, including the billionaire owners of the largest social media platforms, were likely asked by panicked government officials for their help in supporting draconian virus-suppressing measures. It seems likely, based on the strict adherence to the panic narrative, that guidelines were disseminated as to how the pandemic should be discussed, warning that any deviation therefrom would lead to countless unnecessary deaths. The threat of the virus could not be overstated. Questioning anti-virus measures was taboo.
Although prominent epidemiologists and public health experts outside the inner circle tried to publicize alternative, more realistic scenarios, based on data already gathered about the virus’s actual fatality rates, I believe the government’s allies in academia – some perhaps apprised of the EPPP situation, some politically motivated and/or petrified by the propaganda (as discussed below) – brutally silenced any discussion or debate.
Panic from below: the madness of crowds
The US population was primed to react strongly when massive panic from above was unleashed upon it. Covid fears had already been building since early 2020, with the proliferation of terrifying videos and reports of people falling dead in China’s streets from a hitherto unknown virus. We now know these videos were most likely fake and related to the Chinese propaganda campaign discussed later in this article. But at the time, they went viral, fomenting fear of the new virus.
Even before that, in the years leading up to the pandemic, especially in liberal coastal cities, a culture of hyper safety and risk aversion had taken hold. It was a perfect setup – in addition to the strong political forces acting on the very same populations (as described below) – for pandemic hysteria to proliferate even more virulently than the pathogen that prompted it.
Once large socioeconomically and politically homogeneous groups embraced the panic, as Gigi Foster, Paul Frijters and Michael Baker so cogently explain, herd mentality, or the madness of crowds, took over. To this day, the crowd madness continues to block any critical analysis or questioning of Covid policies in these groups.
If the pandemic had not happened during the Trump presidency, the panic from above and below might not have garnered enough scientific and media buy-in to turn the entire Democratic Party, as well as other self-regarding liberal governments around the world, into mirror images of totalitarian authorities they so often decried.
Trump was considered by the politically left-leaning coastal elites in the US (myself included!), and their allies around the world, to be a menace the likes of which had never been elected before, and a clear and present danger to the very foundations of democracy. For over three years, these groups, largely controlling the mainstream marketplace of ideas, spent much of their time ridiculing, lambasting and whipping up fear of Trump’s incompetence and nefarious intentions.
Like many others on all sides of the political spectrum, I believe criticism of Trump was largely justified. However, for many Democrats, Trump hatred went beyond rational debate and came to dominate not just the discourse but the very identity of the party, fostering a self-righteous superiority complex displayed through ritualistic virtue signaling, and engendering the apt label “Trump derangement syndrome.” The derangement part was the turning of anti-Trumpism into a self-identifying obsession and singular standard of virtue, to the exclusion of any objective examination of Trump’s words or deeds.
Anything Trump said, the anti-Trump camp felt it their civic and moral duty not just to proclaim, but to deeply believe, the opposite.
When it came to the pandemic, this meant that:
- If Trump warned that prolonged lockdowns would wreck the economy, left-leaning economists derided anyone who, as they myopically contended, put economic concerns over human life.
- If Trump claimed children were immune to the virus, every Democrat was convinced it would kill their own children and everyone else’s, and that schools should be closed indefinitely.
- If Trump said masks don’t work, doctors who for years had known masks to be useless at blocking transmission of flu-like viruses, now believed masks should be mandated everywhere forever.
- If Trump suggested that the virus came from a lab in China, editorial boards at major newspapers believed this must be a racist smear which should never ever be entertained, let alone investigated.
- And, in my personal life, if I tried to share data showing Covid was not very lethal or that mask mandates did not work, instead of discussing the merits of the data, my friends (who knew very well my ultra-leftie politics and socialist worldview) would turn to me in horror and ask: “Are you a Trumpist?”
Thus was Trump derangement syndrome seamlessly transmuted into Covid derangement syndrome. All the rage directed at Trump was redirected toward anyone who, like Trump, dared to doubt its deadliness or question the authoritarian measures used to fight it.
To top it all off, the pandemic happened during an election year. So Trump hatred and pandemic hysteria were effectively bundled together to get Trump voted out and Biden, a Democrat more aligned with the public health establishment, in. Subsequently, anyone elected on a pro-lockdown, zero-Covid agenda was incentivized to continue advocating for the strictest measures for as long as possible.
The third force contributing to global Covid hysteria was, as Michael Senger points out in his eye-opening book Snake Oil: How Xi Jinping Shut Down the World, a concerted propaganda campaign by the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, that managed to turn the pandemic (at least until recently) into a celebration of China’s inimitable social cohesion and a showcase for the supposed success of its authoritarian anti-pandemic measures.
Previously, China had suffered loss of face and international condemnation due to a pandemic outbreak and coverup. This time, the CCP seized control of the narrative by imposing draconian, unprecedented zero-Covid measures no democratic government would ever dream of, then claiming, contrary to logic and basic epidemiologic science, spectacular victory.
Everything from social media bots to China-friendly editorial boards at prestigious medical journals was leveraged to denigrate any state or nation with a less restrictive approach. Deviations from the Chinese methods were labeled – in a brilliantly insidious 21st-century demonstration of Newspeak – heartless, pro-death, anti-humanitarian and materialistically motivated.
The World Health Organization, largely supported by and beholden to China, vociferously praised the CCP and the Chinese people for their discipline, commitment, and ultimate victory. Fawning scientific and general press coverage marveled at how sometimes authoritarianism could be good, if it meant saving millions of lives.
Thanks to the propitious convergence of panic and politics described above, the CCP propaganda succeeded spectacularly in convincing democratic governments to adopt hitherto unthinkable authoritarian measures and to pretend, or convince themselves, that such measures actually worked.
Although they knew from the experience of past epidemics, and from basic epidemiologic science, that it is not possible to stop the spread of a flu-like virus once it has seeded itself throughout a global population, I think public health and national security officials – especially those in the lab leak group, as described above – desperately wanted to believe that the Chinese measures were working. After all, nothing like that had ever been tried before. If China said it was working for them, maybe it would work everywhere else. It had to work. Otherwise, they feared, millions of people would die and they would be blamed.
Even as months and years passed, and the virus continued to infect every population in every other country, the world continued to believe China’s zero Covid reports. In fact, the scientifically and medically nonsensical “zero-Covid” goal became the mantra for the authorities imposing Chinese-style virus containment measures everywhere else.
Scientists and media successfully propagandized
One very influential part of the effort to freak the world out about Covid was the early modeling provided by the Imperial College of London in early 2020. Not coincidentally, as proudly declared on its own website, Imperial College is one of China’s top academic and research partners in England.
The Imperial College models, which were very soon proven to be grossly wrong, predicted millions of deaths from the virus in just a few months if strict Chinese-style measures were not imposed. The reports accompanying the models strongly recommended unprecedented zero-Covid suppression rather than normal pandemic mitigation measures (like those, for example, adopted by Sweden).
Major media outlets immediately publicized these highly uncertain models, making them sound like proven facts and never mentioning the past failures of Imperial College models that had led to terrible government policies or questioning the obvious biases in the models’ underlying assumptions.
A scientific and journalistic consensus quickly coalesced around these models and the necessity for the zero-Covid measures they supposedly proved. As mentioned above, dissenting views were silenced, but they were also a small minority. The toxic confluence of panic, politics and propaganda worked like an anti-truth potion to preclude even the possibility that someone would think, let alone publicize, anything suggesting it wasn’t as bad as everyone – the Chinese, the US government, the leading newspapers and scientific journals – said it was.
President Biden took office just as Covid vaccines became available. This was supposed to be the beginning of the end of lockdowns and a return to normal.
Alas, at this point so many profit-driven interests had piled onto the zero-Covid train, that it continued to hurtle forth at unstoppable speeds.
The nonsensical, non-scientific zero-Covid measures that had begun from a place of mortal panic, spread through political polarization, and amplified by Chinese propaganda, now generated unprecedented profits for anyone who made anything related to the pandemic.
As far as these money interests are concerned, the pandemic might as well go on forever.
In assessing the potential influence of profits on the indefinite continuation of the state of Covid emergency, the numbers speak for themselves. Here are just a few of the jaw-dropping reports on the beneficiaries from never-ending Covid:
In October 2021 the New York Times reported: “In the last year, the five tech superpowers — Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook — had combined revenue of more than $1.2 trillion. … some of the companies are growing faster and are more profitable than they have been in years.”
Test Makers and Sellers
In January 2022 CBS reported “Windfall profits for test makers,” including Abbott Laboratories ($1.9 billion in third-quarter sales related to COVID-19 testing, up 48% compared to the year-ago period). Other beneficiaries with skyrocketing profits were labs that process PCR tests and drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens.
In February 2022 The Guardian reported that Pfizer made nearly $37 billion in sales from its Covid-19 vaccine in 2021 – making it one of the most lucrative products in history. Pfizer’s overall revenues in 2021 doubled to $81.3 billion, and it expects to make record revenues of $98 – $102 billion this year.
In January 2022 OxFam reported: “The world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion —at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3 billion a day— during the first two years of a pandemic that has seen the incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall and over 160 million more people forced into poverty.”
“If these ten men were to lose 99.999 percent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 percent of all the people on this planet. They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people.”
- An engineered pandemic potential pathogen leaked from a high-security US-funded lab in Wuhan long before it was acknowledged by China. By the time it became known, it was too late to contain.
Having outlined the cataclysmic convergence of forces I believe came together to create the Covid catastrophe, I now have a Covid story that makes sense to me:
- When they found out, top US intelligence and public health officials affiliated with the Wuhan research panicked, fearing millions of deaths, international mayhem and personal culpability. This caused them to disregard real-world data about the virus and to abandon basic epidemiological principles and best practices in public health.
- The Chinese authorities adopted scientifically nonsensical zero-Covid policies not because they thought they would work but to deflect attention from China’s role in the viral leak and coverup. In a brilliant propaganda coup, they turned the pandemic into a celebration of their authoritarian measures, convincing the world to follow their example.
- All Democrats in the US and their allies elsewhere reflexively and uncritically favored all the policies that President Trump – viewed as their mortal enemy – opposed. These were the very same scientifically bogus policies that the panicked officials and Chinese propagandists were pushing.
- Many who controlled the narrative in media, academia, public health and medicine were particularly susceptible to panic, politicization of the pandemic, and Chinese propaganda, which all came together to induce widespread groupthink and herd behavior. As cogently explained in The Great Covid Panic, such behavior is detached from logical reasoning and the ability to objectively evaluate reality.
- Major industries and individuals with enormous wealth and influence saw huge gains from the pandemic. It was, and still is, in their best interests to push for more testing, more treating, more vaccinating, more remote work and learning, more online shopping, and more of everything else pandemic-related.
Although terrifying and depressing to the extreme, this story helps me understand how so many people’s views of data, science, truth, ethics and compassion became so warped. I hope the telling will at least help a little with the unwarping.
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