Lest Anyone Take Umbrage at the Title
I should say at the outset that I am taking care to sharply distinguish two crises, as I have done from the very beginning of this unraveling mess. To those exhausted doctors and nurses who are in the front lines treating those with COVID-19, to those researchers who are working extended hours to fast track a vaccine or an effective treatment, and to those families who have lost someone dear to them, or who might possibly lose someone dear to to them, to those areas of Italy, France, and China that have been devastated by this epidemic, the only thing that should be extended in their direction would be our grateful and/or sympathetic prayers. Nothing I say should be taken as minimizing the actual plight of people in active war zones.
But there is another aspect to all of this, yet another gaudy float that has been entered into history’s great parade of buncombe. This is a distinct thing altogether from the health crisis presented by the virus itself. I am here speaking of the political equivalent of ingesting fish tank cleaner in the hope of making things better.
Some are concerned that there is insufficient respect for the wisdom of our political authorities, those who are hovering over the virus in the name of protecting us all. But generating this kind of disrespect is the easiest thing in the world, actually. What you do — and it is the politicians who really know how to do it — is declare to the world that we are in new territory, such that we can NO LONGER DO BUSINESS AS USUAL, and as a consequence throw hundreds of thousands of little guys out of work, give them each a thousand dollars, which is nice I suppose, and then, in the same bill, in a BUSINESS AS USUAL sort of way, give the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts $25 million dollars.
The first scenario is COVID-19. The second is COVIDIOCY-19. The first is what it is. The second is parasitic and feeds off how the first scenario is being represented by the media in lurid colors to the world.
COVID is people getting sick and dying. COVIDIOCY is locking down a state, but keeping essential services like pot shops and abortions clinics open. COVID is not enough ventilators or hospital beds; COVIDIOCY is shutting down schools, but not day care centers — those well-known petri dishes. Someone might reply that day care centers are essential because ER nurses could have kids in day care, and everybody knows that ER nurses never have school-aged kids. COVIDIOCY is locking everybody down in an area with no cases, but allowing travel to that area from certified hot spots. COVIDIOCY is saying that California worship services are not essential, but that cannabis procurement is. I am not making these examples up. We are in the midst of a crisis, our leaders say, and so on their terms they are behaving in indefensible ways.
Snippets of Sanity, and then Socialism
Allow me to begin with some more information that you might not be getting from the approved Panic Monger Sources. Thankfully, more and more stories are starting to appear that are questioning the madness of our way-overdone response to the coronavirus. And here is another one. And another one after that. But as you read these little snippets of sanity, please understand that I have a much broader point to make here, which I will get to shortly. Give me a minute.
This broader point has to do with the deadly allure of socialism. Our immediate crisis is the virus, and the secondary (and much larger) crisis is the result of the panicked response to that little COVID beastie. But there is yet a third crisis waiting for us all behind that one, and that third one is the real horror.
What we have been doing (wrong) in response to the first two should be considered as the staging area for the launch of the third. And in order to counter this opening gambit, I wanted to challenge how issues like our response to the virus are being framed. I don’t want to debate just yet. I want to discuss the question to be debated, and I want to insist that the question before the house be framed in an intellectually honest way. This issue is touched on in one of the articles I linked to at the top.
“The moral debate is not lives vs money. It is lives vs lives. It will take months, perhaps years, if ever, before we can assess the wider implications of what we are doing . . .”
This refers to the central and standard framing technique, beloved by socialists everywhere — “people over profits.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? If the light is dim, and if you squint, it can even sound biblical.
It reminds me of the friend who came to visit his friend in the hospital, a friend with coronavirus who was on a ventilator and in a bad way. The visiting friend was effusive and warm and encouraging, and for the first part of the visit he was quite a comfort. Unfortunately, there came a moment when he went around to the other side of the bed in order to hold his friend’s hand, which also meant he wound up standing on the oxygen hose. A natural mistake, could happen to anybody, but the striking thing then happened when a nurse tapped him on the shoulder and told him to move it. He drew himself up to his full height, and said, somewhat archly, “I think that people are more important than little lengths of plastic tubing, don’t you? People over plastic, eh?”
Fortunately, the nurse was trained in the old school, and the officious friend was promptly trundled off by a couple of orderlies.
People over profits makes about as much sense as saying “people over food” or “people over oxygen” or “people over sunshine.” When Joseph went to feed the people of Egypt during the seven hard years, what did he use? He fed them with profits. He fed them with surpluses.
But if someone expresses the least bit of concern about all the trillions we have doused with lighter fluid, lit off with a blow torch, and sent wafting away toward the distant horizon, one of the first things that will be said to him and his concerns is that he is prioritizing things wrongly, and that we should value people over profits. And in lamenting the lost trillions, I have not forgotten what I just wrote above. Deficits aren’t profits. The story would have gone a lot differently had Joseph opened the storehouses of Egypt, and a couple of moths flew out.
Lives or Money
A week ago, Rusty Reno at First Things wrote a doughty article, rejecting death’s dominion, with perhaps too many eggs in the pudding. Brad Littlejohn wrote a piece in response, and then Rod Dreher at The American Conservative piled in, praising Littlejohn’s article as the best that he has read. Then this morning I read Matthew Lee Anderson’s appreciative and yet dissenting rejoinder to Littlejohn, and everybody appears to agree that there are trade-offs. But hold on to that. That is the essential thing. Whenever the country opens for business again, it will happen at a time when the coronavirus has not yet been fully eradicated, which means that everybody will at that point agree with Reno, only at a different price point.
As might be expected, Brad Littlejohn said a number of good things, as did Reno, as did Anderson. But it is possible to articulate great principles, but then because your facts are wrong, apply the great principle in a not-so-great way. Take this, for example, from one of the articles linked at the beginning.
“But governments must remember that rushed science is almost always bad science. We have decided on policies of extraordinary magnitude without concrete evidence of excess harm already occurring, and without proper scrutiny of the science used to justify them.”
If your principles are good, as Littlejohn’s mostly are, but your facts are wrong, the results can still be disastrous. Consider this from his article.
“Behind the anguished cry, “But the economy!” I suspect, is a futile grasping after the mirage of freedom that is now fast slipping away—the idea that we can and should be free to make our own decisions about our lives without regard to the effects of these decisions on those around us, that you’re welcome to give me advice about when it’s safe to leave my home, but how dare you give me a command?”
Now I quite take his point if we were talking about a park ranger knocking on the door of an ornery old widow lady who lived two miles downstream from a dam that was about to give way. The fact that she didn’t “hold no truck” with these reports about “no bursting dams” should not even slow the park ranger down as he hauls her off. This is an easy one because the park ranger is right about the dam and the whole world knows it, except for the widow lady, and she thanked the ranger profusely the next day.
This is quite a different proposition from the truckloads of lies, now stacked on pallets in warehouses, that globally-funded disaster-mongers have been telling and selling us for half a century now. Littlejohn refers to the problem of individuals making decisions “without regard to the effects of these decisions on those around us.” Let us modify this, shall we?
“Without regard to the effects of these decisions that certain self-appointed experts, who have been wrong repeatedly, but who are still driven by the lust of the anointed, and who still want to pave the way for globalist socialism and their other grand designs, say that we will have on those around us.”
Right. I don’t believe them anymore, rejecting as I do all forms of social engineering done in the name of Science, all rise, and that brings us to the next section. I say this because social engineering is politics, not science, and despotic politics to boot.
But the Science . . .
I wrote in an earlier article on all of this that computer modeling is not science. That remains true, but more is going on with that than a simple confusion of categories. We live in a time when the postmodern rejection of objective truth has gotten into everything. Well, not quite everything — relativism has not yet ameliorated or softened the postmodernists’ lust for power. But it has rotted out every other container that has tried to hold it.
A few years ago, a couple of smart guys (Funtowicz and Ravetz) argued that we were now in an era of post-normal science (PNS). What are socially responsible scientists to do when the “facts [are] uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent”? What they do is use the moral authority that science earned back in another era (an era when objective verification was still required), and use that residual authority to urge the masses to accept certain policies that were now considered “socially responsible.” This is the framework behind all the climate change foolishness. Science used to be able to prove things, and we can’t do that anymore, but we still have the funded laboratories and the white lab coats, and so it is time for them to use their authoritative science voices to tell us to try socialism.
Climate change activism has been socialism’s ground game. The COVID-19 panic has been their two-minute offense. These people have all the same goals, they are using the same methods, and they are unwilling for old school science to be given a moment to demonstrate that their proposed measures are drastically, devastatingly, ruinously wrong.
When the facts are uncertain, when values are in dispute, when the stakes are high, and the decisions are urgent, their stance is that we should simply let them be in charge. As in, ready, fire, aim.
In the false dichotomy of “people v. the economy,” the authorities are making the economy eat a bunch of fish tank cleaner, and then when they find a bunch of ruined lives in the aftermath of all their do-gooding, a do-goodery that descended on our country like locusts out of the prophet Joel, nobody will be more surprised than (most of) these authorities. That is not what most of them intended. But by then the learned think pieces that will be written by responsible sorts, assuming a free press, will no longer be thinking in terms of false choices like lives v. money. Rather they will write the way they should have written all along, as those who granted the inescapability of trade-offs, of lives v. lives, which is to say, lives protected by wisdom v. lives protected by panic and fear.
And On Another Front
You perhaps remember how I predicted a few months back that evangelicals were going to be scapegoated if current trends continued. Well, current trends accelerated, and here we are.
And you know, it doesn’t bother me as much as it should that I am accused of being anti-science. I did, after all, write the preceding section, and that, while not actually being anti-science, could easily be represented as such within a couple of minutes. All you would have to do is cut and paste a few lines out of context, attach my name, and there you are.
But it does bother me, let us be frank, you and I, to be accused of being anti-science by people who have forgotten all that XX and XY stuff from biology class, by people who have not yet figured out there is a relationship between the climate and that big ball of burning gas in the sky, and by people who think that the chickadee and the sea lion are distant cousins. That would get under my skin a little bit, if I weren’t being so spiritual about it all.