Dialog Of The Deaf
Our brains contain around 100 billion neurons, each of which can have up to 10,000 connections. We learn by means of some neurons establishing connections to other neurons and thus creating circuits which are then “weighted” by means of dampening or intensifying input from other neurons. In a very crude sense, our brains are massive logic circuits.
What this means is that when we learn something, we do so in a very concrete and physical way. A reasonable analogy is with laying down railroad tracks. Once the track has been laid, it’s there for life. There’s no easy way to tear it up and put it down somewhere else instead.
Furthermore, our tenuous sense of self is strongly connected to our beliefs. Thus when we are confronted with evidence showing our beliefs are incorrect we feel personally threatened. This is not a comfortable sensation and in general we want to avoid feeling this way. The easiest way to avoid feelings of cognitive dissonance is to close our eyes to whatever it is that’s being presented to us, and to assume that our beliefs are correct simply because they are now part of us.
This is why we cling to our beliefs even when there is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that our beliefs are erroneous. We’ve laid the track. Those neurons are hardwired into the pattern of our original belief and in order to over-write the logic circuits, a great deal of new circuitry needs to be created. This is a much more energy-intensive task, and far more difficult, than simply rejecting facts and denying reality. Consequently, most of us deny reality much of the time. From an evolutionary perspective this was a viable and adaptive solution for most of our history as a species.
In our modern technological inter-connected world, however, it frequently has catastrophic consequences.
Over the last several months we’ve witnessed global hysteria on an unprecedented scale and even today a great many people continue to believe that SARS-COV-2 presents an existential threat. Ceaseless sensationalist media presentation of numbers in a context-free and analysis-free manner created this perception and continues to reinforce it. Politicians, never the brightest people in society, have further reinforced the perception by rushing to ill-considered policies designed primarily to retain votes at any cost.
Meanwhile, most concerned people believe that “any price” is worth paying in order to “save” lives, which is an incoherent position. Every action has a cost, and our collective actions over the last several months have had horrific costs. Fortunately for comfortable folk living in the West, the vast majority of these costs have fallen on people too poor and too distant (and too dark skinned) for Western media to be bothered with. They can die pleasantly out of sight and not disturb us by presenting us with the consequences of our actions. So long as all deaths are presented as covid deaths, we can continue comfortably holding on to our beliefs.
There is now, however, ample data to show us how misguided we’ve been. Not surprisingly, the media has little interest in publicizing this information because it contradicts the standard narrative and editors know that you don’t retain an audience by challenging its beliefs. Therefore people continue to believe the narrative even as more and more readily-available information contradicts it at every turn. And thus official policy continues to be incoherent and self-harming.
Let’s take a look at some of the problems with the standard narrative.
One: SARS-COV-2 is an existential threat to which everyone is potentially vulnerable. Well, even from the very earliest data we knew this wasn’t the case. Unlike regular flu, children and young adults are largely immune and subsequent data from all around the world has shown this to be true. Furthermore, even from the earliest data it was apparent that at least half of all infections remained totally non-symptomatic, with nearly all the rest producing only very mild symptoms.
The media, of course, focuses only on the rare unrepresentative event, because this is what grabs people’s attention. That’s why airplane crashes dominate the news cycle while telegenic autocue-readers avoid mentioning the fact that usually 100,000 flights per day pass without any incident at all. Ordinary people thus dramatically over-estimate the danger posed by flying, because the media narrative purposely excludes important information in order to present sensation instead. This is because we’re suckers for atypical sensation. The media feeds us what it knows we want, but like junk food, what we want isn’t good for us.
Two: Lockdowns were the only way to prevent the spread of the disease and consequent overloading of health services. Well, the Netherlands and Sweden didn’t implement lockdowns and they didn’t see hundreds of thousands of deaths.
While Sweden’s per capita mortality rate has been significantly higher than its Nordic neighbors, after adjusting for the distribution of ages within the respective populations and adjusting for factors such as proximity (e.g. people who are in the final stages of life and consequently all together in care homes are simultaneously more vulnerable to any disease that comes along and more likely to infect each other) what we find is that most, though not all, of the difference between Sweden’s per capita mortality rate and those of its neighbors were due to these factors.
We also find that both Sweden and the Netherlands have lower per capita mortality rates than some countries that implemented full lockdowns. The Netherlands is particularly interesting because neighboring Belgium implemented a very strict lockdown yet saw more deaths per capita.
Furthermore, in Sweden and the Netherlands, suicide rates haven’t risen (they have in countries that imposed lockdowns) and people haven’t died because surgeries were postponed (thousands have died across the West because their surgeries were delayed). Nor have people in those countries been plunged into financial insecurity due to massive job losses (tens of millions have lost their jobs, many forever, thanks to lockdowns).
Remember: all actions have costs, even if those costs aren’t presented by the media.
In other words, when we look at the range of factors that influence mortality rates, and when we take consequences into account, we see that there’s no simple picture of lockdowns good, no lockdowns bad.
Three: Now that the spread of covid-19 is under control, we can come out of lockdown and things will return to normal, more or less. Countries rushed into lockdown without any plan. It was a pure panic reaction induced by the fear of losing votes. Consequently, all manner of pseudo-scientific nonsense has been brought to bear in order to permit politicians to reverse course in order to cease imposing massive economic harm on their economies and thus on their citizens. Not surprisingly, none of the “reasons” for easing lockdown bear any scrutiny.
Due to the fact the purported reasons for easing lockdowns were bogus, it’s not surprising that post-lockdown experience has been shambolic. This is because an accumulation of nonsensical statements and beliefs is inevitably going to clash with basic reality.
Here’s the problem with our current situation: people were told that infection rate was the problem, when actually it was the per capita mortality rate we should have been focusing on. As infection rates slowed due to draconian restrictions on freedom of movement, infection rates declined. Obviously this meant that fewer people would develop immunity.
So what happens when we ease lockdowns? Obviously infection rates will rise again as people come into contact with each other once more. Furthermore, as test kits have now been manufactured and are more widely used, the more people we test, the more positive results we’ll get. In other words, much of the increase in infection rates is not due to a real increase but due to more widespread testing.
I mean, what did we think was going to happen? Just staying indoors for a couple of months was never going to change the fact that post-lockdown infection rates would necessarily rise.
Four: Infection rates imply death rates. Oh dear. It takes literally one second to perform an Internet search to show how totally wrong this belief turns out to be. Everywhere we look we see per capital mortality rates falling and remaining low, even as infection rates rise due to easing of lockdowns and far more testing.
The USA is an instructive example. The sensationalist media narrative is all about rising infection rates, the implication being infection = death. Meanwhile, unreported, death rates actually are on a clear downward trend. The two charts below tell the real story.
Why is this the case?
First of all, there’s an argument to be made that deaths lag infections. This is a perfectly reasonable argument and there’s some truth in it. We ought to see US mortality statistics increase a little in the coming weeks.
That is not, however, most of the story.
When we look at every epidemic we see the same thing: there’s an initial rise in per capita mortality as the old and the sick succumb. We see this every flu season, for example. But after this cohort of especially vulnerable people die, we then see a dramatic fall in mortality rates because the rest of the population is more able to develop antibodies.
This is what we’ve seen across Europe: after the initial spike, regardless of variations in lockdowns and facemasks, mortality rates declines precipitously even when infection rates suggested deaths should have been greater.
Furthermore, it’s now becoming apparent that harmful medical interventions caused a significant percentage (perhaps as high as two-thirds) of all early covid-19 deaths. Induced coma to enable intubation and dehydration caused patients to suffer kidney and liver failure as well as sepsis arising from bedsores (obese people in comas quickly develop suppurations). As obesity turns out to be a major risk-factor for SARS-COV-2 complications, compounding this with induced coma treatment resulted in a huge number of unnecessary deaths. Now that doctors are instead using simple O2 nasal clips, those unnecessary deaths are being avoided.
Oh, and this also removes the notion that “lockdowns were necessary to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.” Neither Sweden nor the Netherlands were overwhelmed, despite imposing no lockdowns. Only countries with poorly-managed health systems experienced capacity issues, and nearly all those capacity issues resulted from the mistaken belief that huge numbers of ventilators were necessary in order to “save” patients. As coma-plus-ventilator protocols were actually killing many covid-19 patients, health services that lacked ventilators can now, ironically, consider themselves fortunate. Lacking ventilators, they killed fewer of their patients.
Meanwhile, data is emerging to show that nearly all the population has nothing whatsoever to fear from being infected with SARS-COV-2. Last week the UK published the results of randomly sampling citizens: 80% of those who tested positive for covid-19 antibodies had never experienced any symptoms at all.
And the data shows us that the real risk of death is miniscule. To date, the UK has experienced a per capita mortality rate from SARS-COV-2 of 0.069%. Yes, that’s correct: less than one-tenth of one percent of the population. Not exactly the Black Death, is it? And remember: most of those deaths were caused by rushing to put people into induced comas and ventilating them, which ended up killing them unnecessarily.
Five: Facemasks are a worthwhile precaution. We’re back to our old friend, the belief in benefits with zero costs. In fact, all actions have costs. Let’s examine the case for facemasks first.
The idea that facemasks can “protect people” from SARS-COV-2 is based on two pillars. The first is psychological: when confronted with real or imaginary danger, we humans hate feeling helpless. We want to do something, anything, to give us the feeling we have some degree of control over our fate. It’s why we prey to invisible magical creatures, it’s why we’ve historically embraced all manner of nonsense from surgical bleeding to restore the balance of the four humors to practicing duck-and-cover drills to “save” us from thermonuclear blasts. We never examine the coherence of our safety-oriented beliefs because we need them so desperately. Far nicer to believe our flimsy wooden desk will protect us from megaton blasts than to accept the fact that we’ll actually be vaporized.
Facemasks thus give us the illusion of agency over our fate. If there were no costs associated, wearing a facemask would be harmless hygiene theater, cost-free virtue-signaling for those who believe they are “protecting” others as well as themselves.
More importantly, however, despite everyone and their pet hamster parroting claims about “overwhelming evidence” that facemasks do reduce transmission, the actual evidence is extremely dubious.
The first experiment regarding facemask efficacy was laughable: a machine blowing air/moisture mixture along with viral particles onto an absorbent fabric. This bore no resemblance whatsoever to any real-world situation.
The second was nearly as bad: genetically-engineered hamsters were placed in cages. One was infected with SARS-COV-2. Air from the infected animal was blown through tubes into the cages of the other hamsters, some of which had cloth between the cage and the air-tube.
There were two glaring problems with this experiment, both equally obvious. The first was the fact that more than 90% of the time the results of studies done with rodents fail completely to predict human outcomes. The second was that only a handful of animals were used, thus rendering any results statistically void.
The other studies on the subject of facemasks reducing transmission of flu virus are entirely inferential. In other words, the researchers made an a priori assumption of effectiveness and looked for data that, if not considered too carefully, could possibly make a slender case for efficacy. When we read the actual papers there are so many inferences and assumptions that it’s astonishing anyone would give the conclusions much credence. Perhaps this merely shows how few people bother to read the actual research papers and instead merely rely on misleading media reportage.
Using the same approach as the above-mentioned studies, I could make a case for life existing in the under-crust water of Europa. It’s a nice speculation but there’s no real evidence.
As for the so-called “silent spreaders” so beloved of the media, once again the supposed evidence is largely speculative. There is reasonable evidence to believe that people who are symptomatic can spread the virus by coughing near someone else; there’s nothing but speculation to suggest that pre-symptomatic spreading is a real risk. It may be a risk, or it may not: there’s simply no hard evidence either way. Speculation and assertion are not, ever, a basis for belief.
Now let’s look at the costs, because all actions have costs.
The psychological cost of facemasks is the reinforcement of the idea that there’s an invisible existential threat to which we can all succumb if we’re not vigilant. It increases fearfulness, and when we’re fearful our already-modest capacity for reason shuts down entirely. We know what happens when people are frightened and stop thinking. This is not really a facet of human nature we ought to be encouraging.
The Canton of Vaud introduced mandatory facemasks a couple of days ago and the results have been very unfortunate: ordinary people are now clearly more nervous and some are obsessively cleaning supermarket shopping carts as if death lurks everywhere. Inducing spurious terror into people’s heads seems like a poor idea to me. And of course when the face is partially concealed we lack the normal social cues, leading to a sense of isolation from those around us. Again, this doesn’t seem particularly helpful. Do we really think it’s clever to create a world in which everyone is behaving like a late-model Howard Hughes? We’re normalizing neurotic behaviors because we’ve totally over-stated the threat to an absurd degree. Remember: less than one-tenth of one percent of even the worst-hit nation has actually died in any way connected with SARS-COV-2. Less than one-tenth of one percent. Think about that for a moment.
Furthermore, there’s emerging evidence from the British NHS that cloth facemasks, when worn for extended periods and not sanitized between usage, act as an ideal breeding ground for various bacteria that can cause respiratory infections. This is probably a minor risk, but if facemasks have no strong evidence in support of efficacy, why would we want to incur even a slight risk of totally unnecessary bronchial infection?
The final argument some people make when confronted with the reality of SARS-COV-2 being in relative terms a total non-threat is “well, all lives are precious so we have to do whatever it takes to protect them!”
This argument collapses instantly.
First of all the WHO estimates forty million people will die over the next decade as a direct consequence of our covid-19 panic. That will massively exceed even the most wildly pessimistic estimates of total covid-19 deaths over the next few years. So we’re killing more people than we’re “saving.” How is that “protecting lives at all costs?”
Secondly, if all lives are precious, then why are we so complacent about the fact that every year around fourteen million people will die of entirely avoidable self-inflicted harms? Obesity-related diseases and smoking-related diseases and automobile accidents resulting from bad driving will kill nearly thirty times as many people as have died so far from covid-19. Why aren’t we far more agitated about these deaths, when all life is precious? Why haven’t we taken action to save nearly thirty times as many lives?
Obviously we’re all worked up about SARS-COV-2 because the media has stampeded us all into mass hysteria. Diabetes and lung cancer and auto crashes are boring. But an invisible killer virus… irresistible copy.
My personal view on the topic of facemasks is largely neutral. As the WHO states, “wearing… facemasks may possibly have some protective effect” under certain conditions. And frankly, if you see someone who’s just disemboweled themselves with a chainsaw, it hardly matters if they’re now sticking a pin in their finger in order to provide themselves with the illusion of control over their situation. While facemasks may be nearly worthless as a prophylactic, they seem mostly harmless as hygiene theater, aside from the negative psychological costs.
This is true, however, so long as no one imagines that those who prefer not to indulge in hygiene theater are “irresponsible.” Such opinions result from ignorance of the facts and contribute to the psychological and social harm caused by facemasks. If you happen to imagine that facemasks will “save lives,” please remember this is merely a belief and not a fact-based position. Condemning others for believing otherwise is no different from condemning people because they don’t believe in your particular religious mythology. Ignorance masquerading as outrage is not an attractive feature under any circumstances.
The final argument usually resorted to by those determined to cling to self-righteous hysteria is this: “How can you say covid-19 isn’t serious when more than half a million people have died so far?”
Here’s the thing: numbers on their own, with no context, have no meaning.
So let’s provide some essential context. As of the date of this article approximately 560,000 deaths have been (often incorrectly, as we saw above) attributed to SARS-COV-2. Since the beginning of the outbreak approximately fifty million people have died in the normal course of events. Thus even if all supposed covid-19 deaths really were due to the virus and not due to medical malpractice, this means that over the relevant period covid-19 deaths have accounted for 1.12% of all deaths.
That is not an existential crisis by any stretch of the imagination.
Furthermore, eight months into the pandemic, fewer people have died than succumb in a bad flu season (650,000 deaths, WHO figures). During the same period, more people have died in automobile accidents than from covid-19. More than eight and a half million people have died during this period from diseases resulting from poor lifestyle choices. Surely those totally avoidable deaths should be exercising us just a little? But no, because the media can’t use them to whip us into a frenzy of fear. So they’re conveniently left out of the narrative. So we don’t take them into account.
When we fail to put information into its proper context we’re left with mind garbage. Basing our beliefs on mind garbage is a pretty poor strategy.
As we come to our final paragraph, we must perforce end with bathos. Given the reality presented in the opening paragraphs it is obvious that this article, and any others like it, will most likely change not a single mind. Those who are inquisitive and dispassionate enough to have reached the same conclusions independently will feel affirmed; those who have been conditioned by relentless media narrative will reject both facts and consequent conclusions.
Which raises the question: why write such articles at all?
Simply because, many years from now, it may help historians to recreate a fuller picture of present events.
Sometimes we write not for those alive today, but for those who will live in a future we ourselves shall not see.