Why the wrong people are advocating the right things and the right people are advocating the wrong things

Image credit: Hachette

OK, I know we’re either all too hysterical to be capable of absorbing reasoned argument, or too bored to care.

But… this is important, so let’s give it a try one last time (and I promise I won’t write about covid-19 again).

How did we end up where we are today, with half a billion people across Africa and Asia thrown into absolute poverty and starvation and tens of millions of those living in more developed nations out of work and, in many cases, unable to secure sufficient funds to prevent themselves from serious distress? How did we persuade ourselves that shutting down the world and spending trillions of dollars to bail out corporations was the best way to protect the vulnerable?

We got here because we the citizens were stampeded into hysteria by a totally irresponsible mass media that relies on churning out a continuous stream of sensationalist reportage in order to maintain its revenue streams. As we panicked and screamed, dull-witted politicians scrambled to look for ways they could appear “to be doing something” and thus avoid losing too many votes at the next election.

In short, we screwed ourselves.

Instead of thinking about what we knew and considering the range of solutions available and then picking options that provided the greatest benefit to the most vulnerable, we ended up with absurd policies that have created the largest surge of absolute global poverty since the Great Depression. And we’ve “saved” almost no additional lives.

The fact is, we’re almost certain to have killed more people as a result of our abject panic than even the most wildly optimistic projections of lives “saved” by our actions.

Here are some uncomfortable facts:

A careful study by Oxford University showed that a very significant percentage of the elderly whose deaths are being attributed to covid-19 would have died anyway within a few weeks. Because guess what? When you are 89 and frail, your life expectancy is very, very short. Aunt Mary may have been counted as a covid-19 victim but she’d have died of something else within a handful of weeks anyway. So the idea that we’re “saving lives” is in a great many cases entirely spurious.

Aside from the elderly, most of those also at risk from covid-19 are those who are already at greatest risk of dying in the near future from self-imposed illnesses: the obese and the smokers. So when we talk about “saving” these people we ought more properly to talk about incurring vast social costs in order to enable them to die a little later thanks to their poor lifestyle choices. Yes, this sounds callous. But it also happens to be a highly pertinent truth.

What’s really callous is how we’re ignoring the fact that today, thanks to our global shutdown, around half a billion people are starving. Many won’t survive. They could have lived for years or decades more but we pushed them into early graves because we shut the world down. We cost them the jobs they depended on to be able to eat every day. Just because the Western media isn’t reporting this doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It’s just too off-message for the media to push into our eyeballs.

Moving now to another self-induced catastrophe, the WHO estimates 117,000,000 children are now at risk of contracting measles, which has a much higher fatality rate than covid-19. This is because the shutdown has stopped essential vaccination programs. As a result, who knows how many millions of children will now die. This is not hypothetical: outbreaks of potentially fatal measles are being reported in many countries around the world and numerous children are already dying. Not a single one of those deaths was necessary. We made it happen through sheer stupidity.

I’m not even going to count the huge spike in suicides that has occurred over the last few weeks as the vulnerable have been deprived of essential contact. Twelve young people have killed themselves in the last four weeks at my son’s university; he’s on the Academic Council and consequently knows his university’s experience is about the average across the UK. The mass media is silent on this topic because it would contradict their core messages. It’s important to stay on-message when your revenue streams depend on it.

Let’s now acquire some important context:

Today, four months into the pandemic, fewer than 130,000 people worldwide have died while infected with covid-19. In that same four months more than 270,000 people have died in automobile accidents, more than 1,000,000 people have died of obesity-related diseases, and more than 2,300,000 people have died from smoking-related diseases. Oh, and on average around 350,000 die each year from ordinary flu over the same period of time, just so we can keep that in mind too.

In other words, covid-19 has killed hardly anyone in comparison with the ordinary everyday things that shorten people’s lifespans. That’s why the media is very careful never to provide context. It would ruin their message and spoil all this wonderful mass hysteria. Imagine if CNN or the BBC or the New York Times ran a story that truthfully said, “Covid-19 was responsible for only 3.2% of all avoidable deaths over the last four months!” That’s so off-message it’s never going to happen, because it might possibly enable people to realize they’ve been stampeded into panicking for no good reason at all.

All available data shows that the actual fatality risk from covid-19 across the general population is much less than 1%. Sure, the mass media gives the highly misleading impression that everyone can get it and everyone will die but the data shows this is a grotesque distortion perpetrated entirely for the purposes of revenue-generating sensationalism. Let’s look at the numbers.

Switzerland has recorded just under 1,200 fatalities in a population of 8 million. Let’s assume this fatality number goes to 10,000 before the pandemic is over. That would mean a fatality rate of 0.13%.

Germany has recorded a fatality rate of approximately 3,500. Let’s assume this number goes to 30,000 before the pandemic is over. That would mean a fatality rate of 0.04%.

Around 19,000 people have died in hard-hit Spain, which is now seeing a daily decrease in new cases. Let’s assume the final fatality number is 160,000. That would mean a fatality rate of 0.34%.

Sweden, which has imposed no lockdown, has seen 1,200 deaths. Let’s assume that goes to 10,000 before the pandemic is over. That would be a fatality rate of 0.1%.

Italy has seen 21,000 deaths so far. Let’s assume this goes as high as 160,000 before the pandemic is over. That would be a fatality rate of 0.27%.

We can perform the same analysis across every country in the world and the outcome is always the same: even using the very worst-case scenarios (and far worse than anyone is actually projecting) the fatality rate is never higher than 0.5% of the population. At worst, around half of us would get symptoms of a mild cold while the other half would be entirely symptom-free.

In other words, we’ve screwed ourselves; and most of all we’ve screwed the world’s most vulnerable people over a disease that will leave at least 99.5% of us totally unharmed.

So we’ve shut down the entire world and imposed enormous harms on the most vulnerable citizens in order to “save” ourselves from something that is far less deadly than many other problems we face. And because of our panic we’re not even properly protecting the people who are actually most vulnerable. That’s why so many are dying in nursing homes, for example. We failed to do the smart things because we were too busy hysterically doing the wrong things. Illusion triumphed, as it so often does, over purposefulness.

The mass media stampeded us into global hysteria by presenting context-free sensationalism. And we bought it, hook line and sinker.

Not smart, really, is it?

The terrible irony is that in the upside-down world we’ve created through our own folly, it’s actually the repellent and dull-witted who are promoting the right thing to do, and the responsible and socially concerned who are embracing the wrong things to do.

Because ending the global shutdown is the best way to ensure hundreds of millions of people in poor countries don’t starve.

Because spending money focused on the vulnerable is far better than bailing out huge corporations.

Because virtue-signaling with pointless face masks and indulging in “distance shaming” is counter-productive (those warm moist masks rapidly become breeding grounds for bacteria which are then inhaled deep into the lungs, and “distance shaming” destroys the very basis of the social fabric we all rely on).

Because “flattening the curve” is politician-speak for “we intentionally cut back on investments in health services for many years because we wanted to spend the money elsewhere and no one seemed to mind at the time.” When we look at Sweden, which neither imposed a lockdown nor under-funded its health services, we see no problem with meeting additional demand for respirators etc.

Because if people stopped fatuously applauding health workers each night and started asking, “why doesn’t our country have enough basic equipment?” there might be some possibility of positive change when this is all over.

Because feel-good is rarely the same as do-good.

Of course, it’s sadly obvious that when everyone’s panicking, reason has no purchase. For every one or two people who read this article and agree with its sentiments, there will be hundreds who “just know” the argument is wrong even though they can’t actually refute a single point herein. After all, it’s easier to shout “stone the heretic!” than to attempt to engage one’s brain in the arduous and not-often-attempted task of reasoning.

It seems this global hysteria will have to persist until it burns itself out. It’s improbable to imagine we will learn anything from our period of mass folly. No doubt most people will happily congratulate themselves on how their face masks “helped save lives” and never once ponder the fact that we created magnitudes more harm than any supposed benefit we achieved.

But maybe, just maybe, there will be some people who look back on this time and see the folly inherent in our actions. Maybe there will be retrospectives that look at all the roads not taken, and some people may begin to talk about how we could have dealt with this challenge in a far better way.

After all, we did this to ourselves. We could have made much better choices.

I wouldn’t bet on any lessons being learned from this time of media-induced mass hysteria. But I have to hope against all historical evidence to the contrary that someone, somewhere, might actually learn something valuable so we don’t find ourselves back here once again, far sooner than most people would believe possible.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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