Figuring out why sound public-health practice was rejected in favor of lockdowns is the job of writers and researchers for many years to come. But this much we know already. We had the information we needed to rationally address this threat. We had the experience and knowledge we needed to approach this responsibly and scientifically. A very small group of people on both sides of the Atlantic chose a different path.
While many historical analogies have been offered for our present moment, from the campaign to combat polio to the National Socialist dictatorship of Germany, it is perhaps this wholly unnecessary self-destruction of a civilization that our own era most readily resembles. The campaign by our government to prevent every possible infection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus regardless of the cost has unleashed a hollowing of once trusted institutions and ideas.
What strikes me most in retrospect concerning the idea of the lab leak is the following. During the most critical weeks leading up to the obvious spread of the virus all over the Northeast of the U.S., leading to incredible carnage in nursing homes due to egregious policies that failed to protect the vulnerable and even deliberately infected them, public health officials in the US and UK were consumed not with a proper health response but with fear of dealing with the probability that this virus was man-made in China.
This is the model that will consume all public discussion of the pandemic response in the future: seeking but never finding anyone to bear responsibility. This is typical for episodes in history that are characterized by mass frenzy and distorted fanaticism. Once the mania is gone, it is hard to find anyone who is willing to accept responsibility for feeding it and acting upon it.
What Sotomayer said about machines and humans was not rooted in ignorance as such; it was the fulfillment of the delusions of countless intellectuals the world over for most of this century. She was summarizing countless papers and presentations in the form of a casual quip, thus revealing it for the fundamental insanity that it truly is.
We are, under the pressure of what is arguably the most ambitious and well-coordinated perception management campaign in history, having some of our more basic perceptual and behavioral instincts rapidly bred out of our lives. And worse yet, most people have yet to fathom or even contemplate the actual reasons why this is being done and, what it all portends for the future of human dignity and freedom.
What a stunning repudiation of state policy – the worst failing of public health and public policy perhaps in the history of the US if not the entire world. We are right now living in its last days. Remember these days, my friends. They are legion and mark what is likely the end of the great fiasco.
For a certain part of the population, perhaps bereft of rituals and practices designed to help them transcend the crude, cruel and ambiguity-generating rhythms of our now largely transactional culture, the surrendering the self to authority can take on an almost religious allure.
The ambition to wipe out the virus in two weeks or permanently “slow the spread” only prolonged the pain. Older people had to be isolated much longer. Younger people who never should have faced lockdowns at all were denied normal lives, including two years of educational losses. The ensuing public health calamity will vex us for decades hence.
Will brings to mind Oxford’s Sunetra Gupta (or she brings to mind Will) when he writes that “The interconnectedness of the modern world, thanks in part to the jet engine’s democratization of intercontinental air travel, deters the weaponization of epidemics that the connectedness facilitates.”