A dark cloud of disrepute hangs over all official institutions in the developed world. It affects governments most but also all the institutions that cooperated with them over three and a half years, including media, the biggest corporations, and tech companies. The cloud covers most all academia, medicine, and experts in general.
The reason traces to the utterly preposterous pretense that by the mass violation of rights and freedoms, governments would somehow contain or control (or something) a common respiratory virus. Not one tactic they tried worked – one might suppose that at least one would show some effectiveness if only by accident, but no – yet the attempt alone imposed costs that we’ve never before experienced on this scale.
The population of most developed countries – Sweden excluded because they largely ignored the demands of the WHO – is now suffering ill-health, demoralization, educational loss, economic stagnation, population declines, and a mass loss of trust in everything.
Crime in the US has exploded in ways we never imagined. Whole cities imploding, including the greatest of all such as Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston, and New York City. The commercial real estate crisis is around the corner. Whole business districts have been wrecked. Malls are closing up, which would be fine if this were a pure market at work deprecating a once-fashionable thing, but this comes three years following a period when nearly all were forced to become ghost towns by governments around the country.
Even in the face of all this evidence, there is only denial. There has been no serious coming to terms with what happened, not at any level in any way. Writers describe symptoms but rarely trace to the causation. The lockdown – completely without precedent in Western policy history – is the great unmentioned. The trauma is so deep, and the range of implicated institutions so broad that it has been deliberately vanished.
The only possible redemption that could follow such a disastrous period in human history would be abject apologies on a mass scale, followed by ironclad promises never to do this again. That should have included dramatic reforms in power, accountability, and personnel. There needed to be a reckoning.
But here we are forty months later and we hear only silence from all official sources. The way in which this topic – the proverbial elephant in the room – has become taboo is most striking. Major media dares not bring it up. Candidates are not questioned about it. Public health officials are mostly in hiding. Scientific establishments are chugging along as if nothing happened.
Tech companies are quietly rolling back their most egregious actions but admitting nothing. Mainstream publishers stay away from the issue and major media is trying to manufacture a kind of collective amnesia. Both parties are happy to drop the subject because they were both involved: the pandemic response stretched over two administrations under different control.
We’ve never lived through such times when there is a near shutdown of discussion of the biggest and most globalized trauma to our lives and civilization in living memory. In fact, prior to having seen this unfold over forty months, no one would believe it was even possible. And yet here we are. So many people and institutions are implicated in the great mania that it has become the crisis that dares not speak its name.
A naive read of the history of science would seem to rule out times such as ours. We’ve previously supposed that human society was capable of learning from error. We presumed that there was an impulse within the public mind to get things right rather than systematically wrong.
We believed that learning was baked into the human experience and that humankind would never succumb to mass denial. That’s because we previously assumed some degree of honesty at the core of social and governmental functioning. Especially with digital media, with ever more information sharing, we would find our way to a better world.
The trouble is that honesty is not there. It’s actually worse than amnesia. The top players who made the pandemic response happen are gradually being taken out of power and being replaced by people who believe the exact same things as their predecessors. And they have every stated intention of doing it all again, under whatever pretext. The great calamity is now the template for the future.
The new head of the CDC, for example, is a dedicated lockdowner, and is likely to be worse than the person she replaced. The World Health Organization that assured the world that China was doing virus mitigation the right way has stated its every intention to repeat the experience again.
Governments around the world are constructing retrospectives that exculpate themselves for any responsibility for wrongdoing. Even teachers unions claim that they are the ones to trust to remedy the educational and cultural crisis that its own policies caused, and they expect us not to notice this.
Or consider the behavior of private enterprise these days. Bud Light has been dethroned completely and yet the company that produces it cannot seem to bring itself to say anything truthful, much less express remorse. The great Mark Zuckerberg completely flamed out with his “Twitter killer” called Threads and yet he slinks away as if this is entirely normal. The latest woke live-action movie from Disney will surely die at the box office and yet no one in a position to fix the problem understands why.
If private enterprise – once responsible to consumers but now only to financial benefactors – cannot seem to pivot in light of all the signals, what hope can there be for public health and governments who face no market signaling? And what of media companies that ride their own censorial models straight into nothingness?
No one can deny that trust has evaporated. Just today, the New York Times has published another scary headline about another model that predicts certain doom based on some scientific consensus. The topic is of course “climate change” but the template is exactly the same one they deployed to panic the planet about a virus. This time, however, we are like the city folk listening to the boy who is warning about the wolf.
We just don’t believe it.
And so Brownstone, without losing track of its essential role in understanding recent pandemic response history, has naturally turned its attention to these many other pretenses for power grabs, climate change, “misinformation,” and financial coercion among them. Now schooled in how economic and social wreckage takes place, we are better positioned to recognize the phony baloney when it is dished out. And call it out for what it is.
At the same time, the inevitable attacks on our work are gaining ground too. Should we worry? Not so much. At this point, attacks have become a badge of honor, even the very painful ones, such as those attempting to shame our donors. They are made of strong stuff, however, and have no intention of backing away from their benefaction.
The turning point is here. We can either embrace old forms – human rights, freedom, the rule of law, constitutionally restricted governments – or acquiesce to growing despotism under “expert” advisement, no matter how cruel and incompetent.
How broken is the world? That is what we are finding out now. The answer seems to be: much more than we thought. More now than in living memory.
This is our first experience with what it is like to live under a dark cloud of incredulity that hovers over the whole of everything we used to trust. We do not know how this ends or if it does. This much we do know: it won’t end if we do nothing about it. This is the rebuilding stage. And it must begin with open and honest admissions of what went wrong.
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