The overwhelming desire of a terrified public for evidence of interventions that effectively eliminate the risk of infection will inevitably pressure scientists to provide that evidence. Ideally, an acknowledgement of this bias would result in increased skepticism from other scientists and media outlets, but that hasn’t happened
We have already seen many instances during the Covid pandemic where despite assurances to the contrary, things did not evolve as expected. It seems clear that we simply don’t know what is going to happen next, or what the consequences of our actions and choices will be. What is perhaps most troubling is that this acknowledgement has been almost completely absent from the rhetoric of our leaders and decision makers. It does not show ignorance or weakness to be honest about this reality, it shows wisdom and discernment.
We must bring this sad state of government-promoted mandates to an end. And we must follow the wisdom the field of public health has acquired over a hundred years about what works, what protects people from both COVID and other health risks, and what protects the social fabric of our larger human experience.
Those who think their fear of a microbe gives them the right to destroy society have it backward; your fear (irrational or otherwise) doesn’t give you the right to take away everyone’s inalienable rights and essential liberties; if you want to live in fear then you are perfectly free to do so.
To today’s Americans, appearances are everything — we are afraid to be different, lest it make our friends uncomfortable (maybe we will lose one, whatever will we do?!) We have ceased caring about truth and authenticity entirely. We have tacitly agreed as a society that true things should be hidden whenever they conflict with what is “popular”; with what everyone “smart” and “cool” is doing. Anyone acting outside of these boundaries — the “eccentrics” of centuries past, considered by Mill to be geniuses — are today’s untouchables.
The epidemiologists asked to advise governments almost invariably admitted that what they were advocating was only based on their projections of Covid cases and Covid deaths, devoid of any analysis of the effects these actions would have on public health, the economy, education and other important aspects of life. They nonetheless had no problem advocating lockdowns and other draconian measures.
The case against lockdowns and state medical mandates is the obverse of the case for freedom itself. It seems unconscionable for any liberal mind to be wrong on this point. That so many have gone silent or even shown sympathy for medical despotism reveals just how tremendously confusing these times have been.
There will always be a new variant, there will always be a new mandate, and there will always be the new carrot dangling on the stick in front of your face (like the booster jab) only to be pulled away again. You can acquiesce to this conditioning and reorganize your entire life around the principle of avoiding this one pathogen while giving up all expectations of freedom. Or you can resist the propaganda, get informed, and join with those who are working to rebuild after the disaster of the last year and a half.
These principles can help risk assessments function as intended – as a tool to help individuals and communities evaluate risk and put in place targeted measures, to contain and ultimately reduce anxiety, and to move away from more performative measures that simply serve to entrench anxiety and cause harm, without any benefit.