2+2 = Whatever We’re Told It Is
The human brain has evolved to prefer simple over complex for the very good reason that attempting to grapple with complexity burns up a lot of calories in the brain. For nearly all of our evolutionary history calories were scarce and uncertain, and so thinking as little as possible was a highly adaptive strategy.
Unfortunately the world really is a complex place and our clever technologies have made it infinitely more so. As a result, we continue to gravitate towards simple-minded ideas but now very often cause ourselves a great deal of unpleasantness by mistake.
This is, by the way, one of the many reasons for the complete failure of representative democracy. It’s why we have succumbed to the tsunami of mindless populism that has swept the globe since 2015. It’s why we have Brexit, Trump, Modi, Bolsonaro, Orban, Erdogan, and all the other blustering prancing imbeciles who are tearing our civilization to shreds: we voted for them because they offered us easy-to-understand lies in place of difficult-to-understand reality.
Today we’re seeing up-close and personal another example of the human brain’s incapacity to perform rudimentary reasoning tasks. SARS-COV-2 may be a trivial health problem (for justification of this statement, see the data at end of this article) but we successfully amplified it into a global catastrophe, creating the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. We’ve thrown 1.5 billion people out of work, caused at least 25 million to starve to death (but don’t worry — they have dark skins and our media won’t talk about their plight because it’s off-message), and we’ve put more than 300 million at risk of later death due to cessation of vital vaccination programs, collapse of food aid, and other deeply harmful and entirely unnecessary events.
All to “save” a much smaller number of lives. Which is akin to slicing off our legs in order to prevent an ingrowing toenail.
Fortunately for those who find a macabre pleasure in gazing at the unchecked folly of our species, there’s every sign we will continue to fail miserably at rudimentary thinking. My current favorite example is as follows:
We are told that infection rates must be kept low, even though there’s now a great deal of data showing that infection and mortality rates largely decouple after the initial “spike.” Although 99.5% of people who become infected with covid-19 experience either no symptoms at all or merely very mild symptoms which cause no distress, and although very few people will die as a result of contracting covid-19, we’re continually treated to reportage that conflates infection with death. Furthermore we’re informed that “just because a person has antibodies to the virus doesn’t mean they are immune or will remain immune.” Thus we must expect to maintain social distancing, pointless hygiene theater, etc. in order to avoid infecting others.
So much for this set of information.
At the very same time, we’re told that a miracle cure may become available as promising vaccines pass through the initial stages of the clinical trials process. So if an effective vaccine is made, we’re all going to be safe (even though at least 99.5% of us are already perfectly safe…).
Now I would hope that even a small child would see the problem here, but apparently we have a shortage of perceptive small children in our media-sensation-addicted world. Let us therefore spell out the obvious contradiction in these two postures.
Why are we social distancing, wearing masks, frantically sanitizing everything we see? Because we’re informed that infection = death. Recovering from infection (normally a sign that a person is now immune, and thus actively preventing the spread of the virus) is not, we are told, absolutely not, a sign that anyone is safe.
If antibodies don’t confer meaningful resistance to SARS-COV-2, however, then how will a vaccine help? Because vaccines work by triggering the immune system to create antibodies.
So either (a) having antibodies is not an indicator of immunity, or (b) having antibodies will provide immunity.
In other words, we’re being told two totally contradictory things.
Of course we all want to believe in magic, because the fundamental basis of magic is the idea that wishful thinking can sweep away the complexities and constraints of reality. That’s why people worship invisible magical creatures, mutter incantations and supplications, believe in New Age crystals and cleansing footbaths, and all manner of other nonsense.
But ultimately we have to live in the real world, and ultimately this means that two mutually contradictory and mutually exclusive ideas can’t both be true.
In turn, that means much current policy must be wrong. Either (a) we shouldn’t be social distancing etc. at all because the faster we spread the (almost always totally harmless) infection the faster the virus will die out and vanish due to lack of new hosts, or (b) we shouldn’t be spending billions on a race to develop vaccines, because antibodies won’t confer immunity.
Either way, official policy is a catastrophic mess and our belief systems are equally incoherent.
Unfortunately the human brain is not equipped to perform syllogistic reasoning and so this mathematically obvious argument will be beyond the grasp of a great many people, who will continue to absorb whatever they’re told by the mass media. And so we will continue to believe that 2+2 is whatever we’re told it is.
Which means, regardless of the outcome of this particular pandemic, we will be back here once again far sooner than most people imagine.
Statistics regarding the real danger of SARS-COV-2
Anecdote (which the media adores for its “human interest” angle) is meaningless. In a world of 7.4 billion people we can find anecdotes to “prove” anything at all. Which is why we must look at real-world data instead to see real patterns of real risk.
To date in even the worst-hit nations (which ironically does not include Sweden and the Netherlands, which never practiced lockdowns nor closed their borders) the mortality rate remains firmly under one-tenth of one percent of the population. Smallpox, meanwhile, kills around 34% of the population (which is why we’re so terribly clever for having shut down the world and thus stopped 140 million children from receiving this important vaccination, among other equally vital treatments). The Black Death killed over 34% of the population. The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed around 7% of the population. Today indoor pollution is estimated to kill more than 10,000,000 people per year and outdoor pollution kills another 4,200,000.
So a virus that kills less than 0.1% of the population and leaves at least 90% totally asymptomatic is not, despite all the media hysteria to the contrary, an existential threat. Not even close.
Furthermore, we see from the data that deaths per 1,000 cases has plummeted since the early months of the pandemic. This is because doctors (for the most part) are no longer rushing to thrust hapless patients into induced coma in order to intubate them instead of simply giving them nasal O2 supplementation. It’s now estimated that the practice of putting patients into induced coma killed up to 70% of all hospital cases. So the idea that we had to “flatten the curve” in order to avoid running out of beds with ventilators was terribly misguided. A great many patients seem to have been saved by the absence of available ventilators rather than harmed by this shortage.
Sure, it’s easy in a world with 7.4 billion people to drum up impressive-sounding numbers (OMG! 600,000 people have died worldwide in the last 8 months!), but let’s remember: obesity kills more than 3,000,000 per year, every year. Smoking kills nearly 8,000,000 a year, every year. And every month around 6,000,000 people die in the normal course of events.
Which means the current mortality number for SARS-COV-2 over the last 8 months is 1.25% of all deaths, which as any statistician will tell us is a rounding error. Furthermore, as testing regimes improve, it’s turning out that around 90% of cases are totally asymptomatic.
Which means, as some of us have been pointing out since the start, SARS-COV-2 was never a reason to shut down the world and throw 1.5 billion people into abject financial insecurity, from which half will never recover and from which tens of millions will die in the months and years ahead. Even the WHO has pointed out repeatedly that we’ve killed many, many more than even the most optimistic projections of lives “saved.” All actions have costs, and when the costs dramatically outweigh even the most optimistic notion of benefits, it’s clear we’ve done something amazingly stupid. Again.
All because we can’t do simple thinking.