#21 The Most Dangerous Plague
Updated: Jul 17
Many years ago a junior social worker came to see me. She worked in a ‘secure’ house with five others looking after one delinquent, abusive, 15 year old girl. The girl frequently escaped to drink alcohol, take drugs, have sex (sometimes for money) and steal things. If my client was assaulted by the girl she was not allowed to restrain her. She had to wait until three colleagues came to help her subdue the girl safely. My client felt that everything she was asked to do was futile, and she was forbidden from making any other interventions. She was depressed.
She had just accepted a new position and did not want to take her depression to the new job.
“I think,” I said to her, “your depression is a completely healthy reaction to an unhealthy situation.”
"Oh," she said, and nodded slowly.
Two weeks later she moved to her new job and the depression vanished.
Reading the news and feeling low recently I have remembered that client many times. Lockdowns are abusive, hence depressing. Even peer-reviewed papers on the benefits of ivermectin are depressing because they are being so consistently ignored. Yesterday I watched a discussion amongst Canadian doctors which was uplifting because the doctors were grounded, intelligent, compassionate physicians and depressing because they were being attacked by emotionally blinkered persons in authority who were entirely in the grip of a delusion.
In Vietnam the Government has failed to learn from Sweden, Texas and Florida and is now enacting the lockdowns that it was so proud to avoid last year.
In the UK the Government is about to definitely sort of maybe relax permanently and temporarily a bit some of its lockdown restrictions, but it is still wildly adrift from a sensible response to the situation. It is moving from 12 months of playing Pokemon Cov – rushing to score points by capturing fictional dangers – to an equally fictional fantasy of managed-happy-ever-after. It has destroyed hundreds of thousands of businesses, traumatised millions of children and empowered an army of paranoid, dictatorial bureaucrats and self-righteous mask monitors. This is not going to be happy ever after.
Every day brings too many absurdities, too many bad decisions, too much bad science, too many destructive ‘safety’ measures, too many inept expert opinions and too many hysterical commentaries.
We cannot blame a virus for this mess. The current farrago is the culmination of a much longer process of decay. In the carefree garden of the old normal a lot of weeds took root. In the lockdown greenhouse they flowered, fruited and are shedding their seeds everywhere.
Beyond the disproportionate covid paranoia, everywhere from Silicon Valley to the Church of England distorted thinking is rampant.
We have moved far, far away from the old conflicts between the left and the right. Now the dominant forces combine the worst of both worlds. We have the worst of capitalism in exploitative oligopolies making the super-rich richer, screwing gig economy workers and putting small, local enterprises out of business. We have the worst of socialism in a huge increase in state intervention, inefficient and corrupt politicians and bureaucracies, ideological group-think and stifling individual initiative and opinion.
All of this madness arises from a profound imbalance in our education and hence in public discourse and state government. If you look carefully at the dominant manias from Antifa to lockdown Zealotry you almost always find one or more of the following factors:
A belief that the truth is defined and immutable
The valuation of an abstraction above real physical events and situations
A lack of emotional insight, sensitivity and wisdom
Any policy or proposal for human affairs which includes one these is probably deficient. A policy which includes two or three of them will almost certainly end in disaster. Ideologies include all three.
Let us take just three examples:
Governmental responses to Sars-Cov-2 abstracted from healthcare for the whole population a monomaniac obsession on a single, overwhelmingly non-lethal condition.
Critical Race Theory abstracts from a plentitude of individuals the single variable of skin colour.
The attempt to control global warming is focussed obsessively on CO2, a single element in a hugely complex interactive system. It defies all logic, common sense and historical precedents to imagine that trying to change a single, small variable in such a complex and partially understood system will have a predictable and direct output without dire unintended consequences.
WHAT TO DO
Amid this tempest of institutional insanity millions of good, kind people are doing their best to do the right thing even though it is increasingly difficult to know what is right.
What are the indicators of a valuable initiative, worth pursuing? Let me offer three.
Principle. The right sort of action, group or initiative is guided not by protocol or policy, but by Principle.
A protocol or policy will inevitably:
(i) be built on abstractions which necessarily fail to adequately address the richness of reality
(ii) become out-of date and hence inappropriate as the world changes,
(iii) be gamed by opportunists.
The most obvious example is Communism in the 20th century, which promised paradise and yet has repeatedly failed to deliver it and has demonstrated all three of these failings.
Principles are like the points of the compass. We do not seek to make them reality any more than we seek to reach a place called “West” or “South”. We use the points of the compass to guide us to our actual, mundane destinations.
Consider for example the issue of global warming. Setting aside all disagreements about accuracy, cost, level of threat and so forth there is already available a far more functional response to the threat of climate change. It is a not a protocol but a principle: the ancient virtue of thrift. When we are thrifty, re-use and recycle are straightforward attitudes to our assets. My older relatives darned socks, mended shirts and even ironed paper bags to store them in a drawer for reuse. I try to do the same (although not the ironing). I have an old car, which I use very rarely. It is more thrifty and better for the environment that I continue to use that car (when I can’t use my bicycle or motorcycle) rather than buy a new electric car with a huge manufacturing carbon footprint. Thrifty people do not continue to buy more and more consumer disposables from China. The principle of thrift makes environmentally friendly decisions simpler and more context sensitive.
Practical Expertise. A valuable action or initiative usually is informed or lead by experts, but it is vital that they are the right sort of expert. The right sort of expert is a person with years of practical experience, who has directly suffered the consequences of their own decisions. A GP or emergency physician with twenty years of experience is far more likely to understand public health than an academic epidemiologist.
The wrong sort of expert is a person who is learned, literate, academic, well acquainted with all the theories in their field, has published multiple papers, won many grants and awards and sat on many committees and does not have enough practical, hands-on experience even to realize how very little they understand. The tragic social, moral, economic and medical destruction of the last sixteenth months is a consequence of Governments relying on the wrong sort of expert.
The wrong sort of expert draws on their knowledge to tell you what to do. The right sort of expert helps you to learn from your own experience to discover what to do.
Connection. A healthy action or initiative fosters an emotional connection between its participants. This is nothing to do with caring or sentimentality. Healthy people can share their stories honestly and that, in itself, forms community. A functional leader is a person who is brave enough to tell the truth even when they have made a mistake, can tell a story that touches you – heart to heart – and who is capable of listening to your story and understanding that it matters.
The restrictions on visiting elders, on attending funerals and the closure of churches during lockdowns show how very little the authorities understand about what we may value in our lives and how much we are willing to pay for what really matters.
SURVIVING THE PLAGUE
The long term threat to our well-being is the plague of misunderstanding. As we stumble towards the half-lit half-exit from this madness we need to help each other, and even to help those who are still hypnotised by graphs, by fear and by well-intentioned folly.
We cannot afford to wait for other people to do it, or wish helplessly that "they" will sort it out. Each one of us needs to sharpen up our discernment, exercise a sense of proportion in our common discourse and guide ourselves not by protocol but by Principles.
Let us share our stories. Let us disagree productively. Let us trust ourselves. Let us make our own decisions and learn from them. Let us work together. And always, let us look carefully at the claims of authorities and experts and measure those claims against the evidence of the real world.
As it says in the Bible, “By their fruits you shall know them.”