Social and political responses to the fears of the Corona-19 virus pandemic are news headlines, but do they deserve headlines? Of course, they are news, but they are not really new news. We have been repeatedly warned about the destructive power of fear.
Making themselves virtually unassailable, at least initially, politicians embraced the pandemic and associated public health fears it has engendered, and assumed near dictatorial powers in the name of protecting the public health. Unmasked and unhindered, some politicians’ actions have validated the descriptive term of “the ruling class.” The 1972 cult film by the same name gave one view of the dysfunctional life-style of a fictional British nobleman whose aspirations were quite noble and infused with a sense of god-like powers, not unlike some of our governors and mayors.
A less fanciful, but more philosophically grounded observation of the 1930’s was made by H.L. Menken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” No question that the Corona virus is real, not imaginary, but Menken astutely recognizes the basic urge in politicians to use fear to control the populous.
During President Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, on March 4th,1933, he said that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
The more recent 2010 book by A. Codevilla bears the name “The Ruling Class,” and describes the outsized influence on American society by a clique of intellectuals scattered throughout the upper echelons of business, the media, political parties, and educational institutions. Constitutional rights are denigrated, as is the traditional role of religion in American daily life. These folks know that they know better than you do.
Combining a stretch of environmental-saving enthusiasm and fuzzy thinking, activists have wasted no effort in trying to link the imagined effects of climate change to its imagined impact on the Corona virus pandemic. Economic hardships and social deprivations imposed by the ruling class are said to be good for the globe, and that the necessary price to save it is a cultural and scientific retrenchment.
One author whose fictional narrative seems prescient in this current setting is Michael Crichton. His 2004 “State of Fear” is a fictional thriller whose environmental and philosophical underpinnings are well documented by him, and whose validity has largely stood the test of time. Al Gore’s perpetual predictions of global environmental disasters secondary to man-made carbon dioxide and fossil fuel use have not materialized in the intervening decade.
In a Socratic method exposition, Crichton develops the concept of fear as a tool to control the public. As one of his characters explains:
“I am leading to the notion of social control…. To the requirement of every sovereign state to exert control over the behavior of its citizens, to keep them orderly and reasonably docile…. To keep them paying taxes… and, of course, we know that social control is best managed through fear.”
“…in reality, in the last fifteen years we have been under the control of an entirely new complex, far more powerful and far more pervasive. I call it the politico-legal-media complex. The PLM. And it is dedicated to promoting fear in the population, under the guise of promoting safety.”
He identifies the role of experts and universities in the enshrinement of fear as a political tool:
“Because they had a new role to play. They became the creators of new fears for the PLM. Universities today are factories of fear. They invent all the new terrors and new social anxieties…they produce a steady stream of new anxieties, dangers, and social terrors to be used by politicians, lawyers, and reporters.”
Fears of climate change fit that narrative, in spite of the continued failure of computer modeling of global climate to accurately predict future changes.
With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, pandemonium erupted worldwide as fear of the unknown initially governed both social and scientific responses. Leaders abhor the prospect of telling a frightened public that they do not know how to respond to a new pathogen. Informed response would require a learning curve time-span to fully understand the clinical impact on the public, but no one wants to be the unfortunate guinea pig awaiting nature’s random death sentence.
Experts in epidemiology and infectious diseases were tapped for advice, and they turned to computer models for answers. Years of failed computer-based climate predictions would be no reason to doubt the ability of virus modeling to predict its worldwide impact. By mid-March, the computer had spoken and British scientist Neil Ferguson reported that many millions would die. “Flatten the curve” entered the lexicon of the media, though few noted that the area under the flattened curve likely contained the same area as the initial peaked curve. No small matter because if the areas are the same then the number of deaths represented would remain the same; they would just take place over a longer time interval. Subsequently, the computer derived predictions of millions of deaths proved to be grossly exaggerated.
Virologists and epidemiologists inhabit a different mental world than that of economists, sociologists, and physicians, and their recommended remedies might well kill the virus at some point, but the patient might also have been killed by the cure.
This latter scenario has painfully played out over the past few months as the collateral damage to a highly integrated, interdependent, and complex modern society from the epidemiological cure of isolation, implemented by the ruling class, has become evident.
“Stay-at-home” and avoid social contact is a simplistic fallback to stop an epidemic in the 21st century. It may have been the only answer in the form of walled cities in the middle ages; it may work if you isolate that first infected person and prevent him/her from transmitting the pathogen. However, in the present pandemic, the pathogen was well out of the bottle long before it was recognized to be a new pathological entity. This virus has shape changer variants in its clinical manifestations, and makes accurate and timely tracking difficult. The pandemic may or may not be beginning to burn itself out, only time will tell. However, there is no difficulty seeing the global destruction of human lives secondary to near economic collapse.
What also has been revealed is the latent enthusiasm with which the political/ruling class has claimed the moral high ground in issuing edicts in the name of the public good. “Stay-at-home” orders range from weeks to months with no solid scientific justification for a particular time span, but with political/legal imperative. Wearing of masks by the general public has become a schizophrenic policy issue. Numerous studies claim that they are not protective against the Corona virus, especially the homemade cloth varieties. At 120 nm diameter, these virus particles are not filtered out by surgical or fabric face masks. Wearing of such masks may aggravate other existing medical conditions. Official agencies differ in their recommendations. The WHO says no to wearing them by the general public; our CDC says yes. Wearing a mask becomes a measure of virtue signaling, albeit much cheaper than driving a “pious.” Some governors are true believers and issue orders to wear a mask, any sort of mask, else risk criminal charges and fines. Without hesitation, such politicians disregard basic constitutional rights based on personal whim and selective use of diverse scientific data.
Fear is a valuable, basic human emotion which functions as a self-preservation instinct. However, the current Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that members of the ruling class are adroitly curtailing our constitutional basic rights in the name of saving us from ourselves.