The SARS-COV-2 pandemic began with the reasonable concern to protect hospital capacity. Infected patients could not be rightly cared for if hospitals were constantly under siege.
As we are now in a constant zylaphone condition, locking down then coming back, and then locking down again, it seems all the more evident that our ruling class managers and medical experts are being misguided by a singular focus.
The concern that makes up this singular focus can be stated in the following proposition: social life must be arranged in such a way so as to prevent sickness and death. What makes this principle concerning is not that it is wrong, but that it is only half right. The overly restrictive NPI’s (non-pharmaceutical interventions) surrounding SARS-COV-2, and their particularly indefinite and unfocused nature, end up being psychologically understood as the precise mechanism to ensure our triumph over sickness and death.
Back on February 26th, 2020, the Surgeon General of the United States, Jerome Adams, wrote on Twitter: “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” (The tweet has been removed but here is the New York Times article referring to it.)
How is it that such a statement was even intelligible in retrospect? The answer is quite simple: the prevailing pre-SARS-COV-2 evidence demonstrated that extensive and overly restrictive NPI’s had very minimal effects on the general populations. And not only was their effect limited, but the costs of doing them for an extended period of time was considered to be vastly too damaging, socially, politically, spiritually, and economically speaking.
One of the most significant affirmations of this claim stems from a 2006 study on the effectiveness of mitigation measures for controlling an influenza pandemic, which concluded with the following prophetic judgment: “Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted” (Emphasis added).
Universal mask wearing and social distancing have been rather normative in the U.S. since April 2020, with varying degrees of restrictiveness depending upon state and regional locations. If these mitigations protocols are effective to the extent that they are often portrayed, and are really aimed at reducing the number of people getting infected, then it seems that the restrictions have not been successful. The studies used to support the exaggerated impact of indefinite and more restrictive NPI’s are all based upon inconsistent and unreliable projections. The real world, on-the-ground data does not support any of these theories.
As Dr. Jay Battacharya (Stanford) and Dr. Martin Kulldorff (Harvard) have continually stated, the spread of the virus is a biological fact. In other words, the more we try to control the virus with overly restrictive and non-scientifically supported measures, the more reality pushes back. And so we can either have the humility and respond accordingly, guided by the substantive medical and scientific data regarding respiratory viruses. Or, we will politicize the problem and play a game of theatre wherein we will try to “control” the virus and, eventually, other people.
These points are further emphasized in a recent study produced by Dr. John Ioannidis and some of his Stanford colleagues. In their study, the authors concluded that the more restrictive NPI’s such as stay-at-home orders and business lockdowns have demonstrated very little impact in deterring the spread of the virus The authors defend a more nuanced approach toward NPI’s, whereby focused mitigation measures can possibly be effective. And yet, what is clear is that the data does not, in any substantive manner, support the thesis that more restrictive and long-lasting measures are effective in preventing the spread of SARS-COV-2.
Even with the recent rollouts of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it seems to be increasingly the case that such a mitigation is having very little effect upon the general public’s psychological security. The reason for this is increasingly evident: the longer we experience extended and restrictive mitigations, the more likely it is that citizens will believe that sickness and death must be staved off at all costs. And not only this, the political and medical class will inundate the public with a narrative that the latter group is increasingly unfit to self-govern in this health crisis.
In his recent book American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time (Encounter Books, 2020), political theorist and professor Joshua Mitchell observes the crippling social and psychic effects that are (and will continue) playing out as the result of the various Covid-19 mitigation measures:
…for the very first time in human history, we actually believe we can keep death at bay … Armed with the informational bits that global testing and monitoring will provide, the global managers will be able to develop and coordinate a plan to vaccinate the whole world. Until they develop a vaccine, citizens should stay indoors, get their work done with the computer operating systems provided by Microsoft, Apple, and Google … order their quarantine supplies online from Amazon; meet their friends on Facebook; have work meetings using Zoom or its equivalent … Citizens are not, after all, competent enough to exercise prudential judgment about how to care for themselves, their families, or their neighbors. They must leave that to the global managers … every day citizens will surely die if they dare attempt to figure things out by themselves or together with those around them (236-7).
Such a condition as described by Mitchell is not one that democratic citizens should want, no matter how safe it might make us feel.
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