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Pandemic Nightmares

Conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 pandemic are legion and sometimes go like this (I have heard such theories more than once): governments everywhere, avid as governments by their very nature always are, for increasing their power and control over their populations, have seized the opportunity presented by the epidemic to impose drastic restrictions on freedom, in the process destroying economies so that they have to be rescued by indebtedness. This in turn will inevitably lead both to higher taxation and increased government participation in, and regulation of, economic life. And, of course, once powers are taken by governments they are rarely, and only slowly or reluctantly, relinquished.

The wilder conspiracy theorists believe it was all planned from the outset, even that governments created the offending virus expressly for their nefarious purposes; the more moderate conspiracy theorists believe that governments have merely been opportunist. But the end result is the same: an inexorable slide into totalitarianism, all in the name of public health.

This, in the opinion of the conspiracy theorists, explains the grossly disproportionate reaction to the epidemic which, after all, has still killed considerably fewer (in proportion to the world population) than the Asian and Hong Kong flus of fifty and sixty years ago. It is nothing like the Black Death, which killed a third of the population of Europe, or even the epidemic of plague in Marseille and Provence in 1720, which likewise killed a third of the population (since when only sporadic cases have been known in Europe). Moreover, the deaths due to Covid have been predominantly among the old: and age remains by far the most important risk factor for death from Covid infection.

I admit that once it became clear, as it did quite quickly, that it was the old (among whom I am now obliged to count myself) who were by far at the most risk, my favoured response to the situation was to confine the old—those over 65, say—in their homes, and also other especially vulnerable groups, and let the rest of the population go about its business normally. Of course, there were exceptions to the generalisation that it was the old who were in danger: a small proportion of the young fell victim to the disease. But to close down a whole society to avoid a few such deaths was like prohibiting all road traffic because young people are sometimes killed in accidents.

There were respectable epidemiologists who suggested some such scheme. And surely, I thought, it was within the capacity of our giant apparatus of welfare and social services, to say nothing of supermarkets, to ensure that the old were supplied with food and not otherwise neglected.

Whether the scheme, or something like it, would have worked now cannot be known, as well as whether it would have had to have been enforced rather than adopted voluntarily. As I look around me in Paris, the day before the 6 o’clock curfew comes into force, I see that many people are openly flouting precautions, probably because (understandably) they feel at little personal risk; but among the flouters of precautions, there are almost no elderly. They seem to have taken the epidemiology to heart.

One objection raised to the scheme when proposed publicly was that it was a kind of apartheid, except that it was apartheid by age rather than by race. This objection was the triumph of slogan over thought, for the age groups were to be treated differently because of important and relevant differences in their situations. One might as well say that paediatric or neonatal wards in hospitals impose a kind of apartheid because they separate human beings by age.

A more serious objection to the scheme was that, even though the numbers of seriously affected younger people requiring hospital admission might be small as proportion of their total numbers, yet still it might be a very large number in the absolute, so large in fact that it would overwhelm the medical resources available to treat them. Thus many might die who would never have contracted the disease if, either voluntarily or compulsorily, they had followed proper precautions and had been locked down.

Since the value of human life is incalculable—even to allow thoughts in terms of value is to become brutish—we cannot stop to consider the question: which, however, has every day to be decided.

Not many governments, understandably, have been prepared to take the risk of pursuing such a policy: for if in fact it resulted in additional deaths, or appeared to do so, no government would dare to face its electorate and say, “Well, we think it was a price worth paying for the sake of preserving some semblance of normal life.”

This in turn brings us to the value that we place on human life. We live in an age, after all, in which we hope to wage war without losing a single soldier. In a sense, this must represent a moral advance over a time when generals could send thousands, even tens of thousands, of young men to their deaths for the sake of a military advance of not more than ten yards of muddy ground. And the fact the lives saved by strict sanitary measures that are destructive of everyday life will be mostly those of over eighty will not be allowed to enter into the public debate because to allow it to do so would be to devalue the lives of the old: even if, in our hearts and our daily life, we do not really value them.

Thus governments must be seen to be trying to save human life, whether or not they actually succeed in doing so, irrespective of the collateral damage, so to speak, caused to the economy and social life of the country. Because of the sentimentality of their electorates it is politically impossible for governments to say to their electorates that public health is anything other than an absolute good, and human life must be preserved at all cost. The public does not want to consider the question of what price we are, or ought to be, willing to pay to save one life, a hundred lives, a thousand lives, ten thousand lives. Since the value of human life is incalculable—even to allow thoughts in terms of value is to become brutish—we cannot stop to consider the question: which, however, has every day to be decided.

If one of the consequences of closing down the economy to save human life is the bankruptcy of small businesses and the further concentration of wealth in the hands of the already-possessing classes, this has either to be borne or dealt with later by, for example, the imposition of a wealth tax on the richest 1 per cent of the population. The fact that the truly wealthy will always manage to avoid such taxation will only serve to concentrate wealth further.

“Precisely!” exclaims the conspiracy theorist. But, of course, he forgets that everything that happens, even as a result of human volition, is not what is aimed at.

Reader Discussion

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on January 21, 2021 at 07:43:47 am

The World Economic Forum explicitly states that they are using Covid lockdowns to do *exactly* what Dalrymple lays out in the first paragraph. WEF calls it the Great Reset and has several websites devoted to the plan, books available on Amazon on the subject, regular news releases, etc. WEF includes the global governance organizations, NGOs, the wealthiest people and corporations on earth, governments including China...

For Dalrymple to call this a “conspiracy theory” is ridiculous. WEF is happy to tell you they are doing exactly what Dalrymple describes in the first paragraph.

Law and Liberty needs new editors.

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Charles N. Steele
on January 21, 2021 at 10:20:50 am

Too smart by a half.

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Michael Bond
on January 21, 2021 at 11:53:32 am

You forgot to address the fact that certain medical treatments that could have saved lives were banned based upon erroneous and fraudulent information.

““Precisely!” exclaims the conspiracy theorist. But, of course, he forgets that everything that happens, even as a result of human volition, is not what is aimed at.”

You forgot to mention that one can only conspire against Truth; one cannot conspire for Truth, and thus, when it comes to those who intend to engage in evil acts with other evil actors, there you will find actual conspirators, and not theorists.

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N.D.
on January 21, 2021 at 12:53:48 pm

After reading Professor Steele's last line and the only line by "Bond, Michael Bond," I quote Thackeray in Vanity Fair: "The sooner it is done, the better...; them's my sentiments..."

As for whether the lockdowns are part of a much larger dirigiste thrust, I would say, "No, Doctor D, it's not a fantasy or a 'conspiracy theory.' There really are bad people out there, and they really do conspire to deploy the power of government against the good, the decent and the innocent. One need only be empirical. Look! You can't miss the mountain of evidence. Consider just yesterday, when the Democrats converted Washington DC into an armed camp, reminiscent of Berlin in May 1945, a stage of political theater for playing a faux-drama of military might made necessary to oppose the contrived fantasy of a threatened Trump insurrection. "

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paladin
on January 21, 2021 at 16:05:08 pm

A few random observations:

1. The assertion that "the public does not want to consider the question of what price we are, or ought to be, willing to pay to save one life, a hundred lives, a thousand lives, ten thousand lives" is not quite true. The observation regarding governments, i.e. that they must be seen as pandering to popular sentimentality is also true of he public itself. Few serious people believe that drastic measures are justified if "it saves just one" (or ten or a thousand) life. Consider, for instance that the H1N1 epidemic of 2009 killed about 28,000 Americans yet, there is little support for the notion that it was a mistake to not lock down the country to mitigate these deaths. There seem to be no serious allegation that governors murdered vulnerable citizens of the time by not declaring a state of emergency and instituting those measures that resulted from SARS-CoV-2. We know how influenza spreads and that people die of it every year, yet economic paralysis is not an accepted intervention. People die on ski slopes, of smoking related illnesses, complications of obesity, in swimming pools, bicycle accidents, etc, without provoking emergency interventions that infringe upon normal human behaviors. Moreover, the idea that we cannot put a cost on saving lives is fallacious. Not all costs are economic. A person with metastatic colon or breast cancer may consider that the cost of preserving a few months of biological functioning (those costs being foregoing living the remainder of one's life doing what is most meaningful to the person rather than submitting to a hospitalized existence of poking, nausea, imaging studies, tubes running hither and yon, needing permission to get out of bed, etc.) is not worth it. The cost is too high for the benefit. The idea that we must preserve life at all cost is contrary to the realities of human existence. Appeals based on this idea are fallacious and should not be accorded a presumption of good faith.

2. Most people instinctively know that the idea that human life must be preserved at all costs is wrong. As a result, leaders substitute equally dubious claims, such that they are "following the science" or that wearing a mask will save grandma's life, or that drastic interventions are necessary to "bend the curve," and such. As to the claim about following the science, it is useful to recall that the word "science" comes from the Latin for "to know." If we are following science, we should therefore be able to point to what we know. What do these questions tell us about the state of "the science":

1. What is the case fatality rate, and why does it seem to have changed significantly since the spring of 2020?
2. What is the coinfection rate with other pathogens?
3. Does infection confer lifelong immunity?
4. What are the determinants of COVID cardiomyopathy or coagulopathy?
5. Is there asymptomatic spread or not?
6. Does zinc or hydroxychloroquine work? Vitamin E? Convalescent plasma? Ivermectin?
7. What accounts for differing case rates among populations that used the same mitigation strategies?
8. If SARS-CoV-2 came from an animal reservoir, will it find another one as the epidemic rolls on?
9. Why did the incidence of COVID and influenza diverge? Will there be an increase in deaths of medical neglect, such as from heart disease, cancer etc, that resulted from the lockdowns?
10. Do angiotensin receptor blockers help or hurt, do ventilators have a positive or negative effect on mortality, what is the benefit of testing? etc.

If "science" depends on what we know, it sure seems that our policies are based on an awful lot of unverified assumptions and therefore, are not scientific. Into this breach, we are told that "it is clear that wearing masks works," that admitting COVID patients to nursing homes saved lives, that arbitrarily labeling business as "essential" and "non-essential" avoided the necessity of mass graves, and so on. Here's a question: did anyone in the United States die of COVID because we ran out of ventilators? Is there any scientifically verified proof that any particular policy intervention had any mortality benefit at all?

3. The vaccination plan is a mess. The first thing that one notices is that "the strategy" depends on what the objective is. If the goal is to "stop the spread," we have different vaccination priorities than if that goal is to minimize mortality, or protect the most vulnerable, or open the economy again. We can't even seem to decide on this rather important point. Is the goal herd immunity in the shortest possible time, or with the least economic disruption, or with the minimum number of life-years lost to the virus? Here's a thought: if we counted deaths associated with vaccination the same way we count deaths associated with the virus, no one would get vaccinated.

4. Dr. Dalrymple's allowance that suspicion of government opportunism results from conspiracy theories is a gentlemanly concession of good-faith motives to government bureaucrats where none is warranted. Government management of this disease, a disease which is far from the worst in human history, has been marked by incompetence, pettiness, venality, opportunism, stupidity, and grandstanding, none of which are compensated for by the occasional good intention. I will concede one thing to Dr. Dalrymple's thesis however: incompetence, pettiness, venality, opportunism, stupidity, and grandstanding do not require conspiracies.

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z9z99
on January 21, 2021 at 16:37:03 pm

It would appear that this essay has been mis-attributed. It must have been written by Anthony Daniels and NOT that Dear Fellow, recently escaped from the Bailey, Mr Theodore Dalrymple.
Bon, Michael Bond is half right. Only half of the essay is smart. i.e., that part which is suspicious of certain conspiracy theories.
While Daniels alludes to "opportunism", he simultaneously dismisses by the absence of any discussion involving how the elite governing and communication duopoly have advantaged themselves by either imposing some rather draconian proscriptions of our liberties and / or by willfully (and quite skillfully and successfully) either minimizing or trivializing any countering opinion, data or scientific analysis.
One need only recall the peculiar "adjustments" made to voting protocols this past election cycle as one salient example.
Nor should one dismiss the latent tendency to accrue / misappropriate power that has been made immanent by various political *leaders*

BUT THE MOST SALIENT EXAMPLE OF OPPORTUNISTIC ADVANTAGING IS THIS:

Our newly installed President Emeritus, Joseph R. Biden, at the urging, if not highly rational insistence of the Democrat Party apparatchiks managed, under the cover of the ChiComm Flu was able to conduct a most peculiar Presidential campaign from the sanctuary of his basement. So protected from either prying eyes, or "inquisitive" microphones, to the extent that microphones of such caliber may still exist was able to present an image of competency, rationality and levelheadedness.
This "cover" served the physically and mentally ailing "Boy from Scranton" quite well. Hidden from public scrutiny were the hours long coaching sessions, repeated rehearsals of his rather formulaic prescriptive policies, the physical breakdowns and the "gaps" in both comprehension and linguistic expression that, had they been observed by the citizenry, may have altered the outcome of the election.
Is this not "opportunistic?
Yet, Daniels fails to mention this or any other opportunistic political advantaging seized upon and executed by the Democrat Party apparatchiks.
One may also be so bold as to suggest that another more devious "opportunism" was taking place in that basement. The "Wokeratti" of the Party had almost exclusive access, and will continue to have such access, to the Boy from Scranton, our President Emeritus, Joseph R. Biden who will dutifully "parrot" the perverse propaganda and pedagogy of the Woke Left.
One could cite other "opportunities" - but why bother?
Daniels is apparently blind to tendency of humans to take advantage of opportunity.
Curious, is it not, that one who served so long as a psychiatrist in a prison setting would not have had sufficient exposure to those who seek advantage at each opportunity to recognize it outside of the prison environment.

Bring back Dalrymple of the Bailey, is wut i say, mate!

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gabe
on January 21, 2021 at 16:43:21 pm

And, Oh, BTW:

Scenario A:
A man happens upon a gun in the street. He shoots me in the kneecap.

Scenario B:
A man is instructed by several friends where to find a gun, how to shoot it and who to shoot. He shoots me in the kneecap.

Do I really give damn if the man acted on pure opportunity (#A) or if in consort with others (#B). The end result is that I have been kneecapped.
Something which I suspect is going to occurring with some degree of regularity now that the "opportunity" to kneecap opposing political views is being proposed by the friends of the President Emeritus.

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gabe
on January 22, 2021 at 07:23:53 am

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=scene+from+my+cousin+vinny+little+dear&docid=608051392701071701&mid=938B7CCA698D8DDB8103938B7CCA698D8DDB8103&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

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paladin
on January 21, 2021 at 17:07:36 pm

And, Oh, BTW2:

Speaking of "kneecapping" divergent opinions, an OPPORTUNITY has once again been afforded the Wokeratti. It seems that the now universally recognized "insurrection" has bestirred the Democrat Party to recommend that the FBI investigate the now de-platformed social media upstart Parler to determine a) if they were instrumental in fomenting the aforesaid insurrection and b) whether or not Parler is owned or controlled by the Russians.
Gee, isn't this the same Party that had for years dismissed suspicion of Russia as paranoid "McCarthyism."?
Will "opportunity" never cease.
Will Anthony Daniels ever recognize opportunistic advantaging?

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gabe
on January 22, 2021 at 06:30:03 am

Even Babe Ruth strikes out on occasion.

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EOW
on January 22, 2021 at 07:52:37 am

At what cost? What is a life lived in fear of death? It seems we are sacrificing the mental health and well being of the young. Motivated by America’s culturally dominant generation facing their age and mortality. Death is inevitable and our cultural worship of youth has made it particularly difficult for people to accept the inevitable, mortality. What imprint are we leaving on the future, in our desperate attempt to hold onto the present?

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Samantha
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on January 24, 2021 at 10:40:18 am

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on January 31, 2021 at 15:02:28 pm

[…] This in turn brings us to the value that we place on human life. We live in an age, after all, in which we hope to wage war without losing a single soldier. In a sense, this must represent a moral advance over a time when generals could send thousands, even tens of thousands, of young men to their deaths for the sake of a military advance of not more than ten yards of muddy ground. And the fact the lives saved by strict sanitary measures that are destructive of everyday life will be mostly those of over eighty will not be allowed to enter into the public debate because to allow it to do so would be to devalue the lives of the old: even if, in our hearts and our daily life, we do not really value them. – Theodore Dalrymple […]

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