This article addresses four thoughts stirred up by Corona-chan:
- The first truly global hysteria.
- Fear of death.
- It’s not the only way to die.
- Seen and unseen effects.
1. Global hysteria
There have been bouts of hysteria across the world countless times. Prohibition in the Anglosphere. Renaissance witch burnings. Korean anti-Japanese antics. You know many others.
The present situation is the first truly global case of hysteria, with only a few countries unaffected. There has been a massive overreaction to a problem that, in retrospect, could probably have been dealt with more effectively through moderate and focused policies. More on this soon.
Even taking into account the increased population, Covid so far appears less deadly than the
1957-1958 Asian flu, and much less deadly than the 1968 Hong Kong flu. None of the three come anywhere near the Spanish Flu, which carried off 17-50 million souls back when the global population was less than 2 billion.
Corona is not just the flu, bro, and countermeasures are required, but the hysterical reaction to the infection around the world is unprecedented for a disease of such moderate lethality.
Unprecedented. Think about it. There have been deadlier diseases which we shrugged off, in modern times, and which are not mentioned in history books. You could make the case that we ought to have done more back then, or that inferior technology and data gave us fewer effective actions to take. However, let us not deny that we’re being real scaredy cats over the present situation.
Some posit that the post-1970 feminization of society and government is to blame for our move towards extremely risk-averse policies. Could be. But there is also the following:
2. Fear of death
There’s a dive bar in town that does a good schnitzel, and the old expats sit out front and leisurely destroy their livers. When cases were rising and venues were closing, I noticed those guys still chilling on the boulevard, no masks, no worries; drinking, chatting, and enjoying their freedom while they still could.
At the time I thought, those guys are not being sensible. Their age makes them vulnerable; they should stay home.
Now I’m ashamed to have thought that. They were right, I was wrong. Life is to enjoy, and we’ve all got to die someday. No point cowering from the world.
If my dear reader is elderly or in poor health, there’s no shame in sitting this one out. However, any young, healthy person who is afraid of a virus with a low and falling fatality rate, is a sook. Do you wanna live forever? Are you brave enough to drive a car, drink alcohol (not at the same time), eat a bit of junk food, or travel to a slightly risky country? Those are all probably more dangerous for you than the Cov’. Toughen up, princess.
It is notable that the Asian flu provoked no such paranoia among those 50s’ tough nuts. What has happened to us since then?
There seems to have been an attitude shift. I’ve noticed this previous to the ‘Rone. I’d hear about how an old person died, and people would be treating it like it was some kind of cruel injustice or unnatural abomination. With our advanced medicine, we’ve started to think that no one should die, that each life has infinite value.
We are human. We get sick and injured. We grow old and die. Deal wiv it. I wrote a post about the acceptance of death back in the days of RoK, and I still agree with most of it now.
Nobody lives forever, nor should anybody want to. We do not even give an infinite value to our own lives – we all take risks, some more than others. That makes sense because we have limited time on the Earth anyway.
Another factor is the decline of religion and philosophy. A Christian might see death as a journey to the next stage. A Stoic accepts it as a thing we have no rational need to fear, and instead steels himself to face it manfully when the day comes.
The modern secularist unversed in philosophy sees only the terror of non-existence. To him, death is a horror, the worst thing that could ever happen. So we get terminally ill patients destroying their quality of life with treatments that may or may not prolong their suffering a while longer, instead of making use of what time they have left. Doctors are far more likely to limit treatment if they suffer such illnesses themselves, because they are more hard-nosed about the likely outcomes.
We have even made the discussion of death taboo. The TVs and the Internets talk about trans this and gay that, race and religion, tampons and constipation, and sex sex sex sex sex. But if I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds! This post itself will be uncomfortable for some.
Doesn’t anyone have pets anymore? Backyard cemeteries in which repose the mortal remains of four beloved dogs, two beloved cats plus that evil one, a rabbit, a blue-tongued lizard, and a dozen nameless budgies. Do you think that your own species is so different to these others, that you will not share the same fate? You probably won’t end up two feet under the shrubbery, but your number will come up.
3. Corona is not the only cause of death
I have seen this blinkered view inflict both policymakers and the general public. Certain reactions to the outbreak would make sense if the Covid was the only thing that could kill a man, but because it is not, the reactions appear to be counterproductive if ‘keeping people safe’ is the overriding objective.
This is most obvious in the Third World, where death can come more easily than in the West. I have mentioned that in the Philippines, people are having a hard time getting back to their home provinces, leaving them stranded, jobless, and far from family in Manila and Cebu City. Which is not safe. The general shutdown of the economy will also cost lives in a myriad of mostly uncountable ways, as will the disruption to schooling.
But here is the poster child for hysterical, ineffective, and counter-productive measures implemented in the name of public safety. I joke a lot, but THIS IS NOT A PRANK:
First the government tried to ban motorcycle back-riders. As this is the main way poor people get around, and often involves husbands dropping off their wives at work, there was an uproar.
So the government relented and said that couples could co-ride if they had proof of their relationship, same-sex pairs could not ride, and riders would need to use the nifty little device pictures above.
So you can give a lift to the girl you’re sleeping with, just so long as you use this anti-Corona motorcycle shield, which will definitely not cause any accidents in the wind at all.
But are they really enforcing this nonsense? Yes they are.
There are no rules for families travelling in cars. The rich will not tolerate such inconvenience.
Before you start mocking the poor old Filipinos, none of whom are stupid enough to think this is a good idea except for the ning-nongs on the committee that made the decision, take a look at richer nations.
In the UK, for example, hospitals have been emptied in preparation for the towering curve that never came, and are empty still. People already on long waiting lists for treatment are waiting even longer. Some are dying as a result. In the US, there has been a spike in non-Covid deaths relating to heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses as people either cannot access treatment or are too afraid to seek it. More will die as time goes on. Other countries are no doubt the same. In some years, when the politics of the situation has settled own, we may discover that more people died from effects of the hysteria than from the disease itself.
One might argue that without tough countermeasures, far more people may have died from Corona. However, this only makes sense if those countermeasures were, indeed, effective against the disease. Motorcycle barriers and mothballing hospitals are unlikely to help very much.
4. Visible vs invisible effects
I think it was Hayek who pointed out that policymakers are always under pressure to do the thing that looks good, not the thing that really is good. For example, reducing a tariff on widgets might lead to the closure of a widget factory, but might also benefit many exporters of whatsits and gizmos through a reciprocal trade deal, and benefit all consumers through lower prices. Those lower prices would also benefit other producers, because consumers left with more money in their pockets after buying widgets, will spend the remainder elsewhere. Or they will invest it, further benefiting the entire economy.
The problem is, the widget factory is visible. Everyone can see it on the telly, and we feel sorry for the newly unemployed workers. It is much harder to see the other side of the equation: the exporters, consumers, and other producers are too diffuse, the benefits real but too abstract to win public attention. Thus it’s hard for politicians to get support for reducing tariffs even in cases where they are convinced it would be in the national interest.
The same principle applies for other policies. You might think the motorcycle barrier is mad, and it is, but when you see bikers struggling not to get blown off an overpass, you think, the government is really taking this virus seriously. They’re not doing things by halves.
This is also the case with mandatory facemasks. These are probably effective in protecting others from your own germs if you are trapped in enclosed, crowded spaces for long periods of time, hence their enduring popularity in Asian subways.
However, some jurisdictions have declared that they must be worn at all times when one is out of the house. The chances of passing on the ‘chan by walking past a person on a quiet, suburban street, is virtually zero.
I’ve heard people say, ‘When people see everyone wearing masks, they’ll remember that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and start treating this bloody thing seriously!’ That’s the hysteria talking. TV ads can pass on health messages with far less disruption. In any case, sensible people will be sensible, dickheads will be dickheads, and no amount of legislation will ever change that fact.
I don’t want this to turn into a Mask vs Freedom normiefight – the issue is already far too politicized. Rather, I am making this point: requiring masks in a crowded, enclosed space might be a good faith measure against infection at the height of a pandemic. Requiring masks everywhere is politicians trying to look as though they are doing something about the problem everyone is so hysterical about, without bothering whether their actions are actually helping or not.
At the same time, hidden but effective measures have been neglected all over the place. The most important thing was to keep Corona out of nursing homes, but outbreaks keep on occurring. Upon closer inspection, various issues come to light: sending patients home when they are still infected, insufficient protective gear, poorly trained staff (often uneducated refugees), low-wage staff working across multiple care centers or in other industries as they try to make ends meet, and so on.
Another hidden issue was in Melbourne quarantine centres. Once again, untrained security guards did everything wrong, got infected, displayed symptoms but didn’t get what was happening and passed it on to ten family members. This last detail was the premier’s dog whistle that illiterate South Sudanese with limited English were to blame, but I personally blame Australians for taking them in and giving them far more responsibility than they were ready for. In any case, the lack of police or other, highly-trained officials in the quarantine centres was at the heart of the second-wave outbreak.
These problems are nuanced, specific – and not very visible. In the end, however, inattention to these issues will cost far more lives than window-dressing like closing beaches, banning the sale of alcohol, or fining people for not wearing a mask while they walk in the park.
I’m coming to the view that most lockdown measures were ineffective, hysterical, and that more targeted policies would have better controlled the pandemic while causing fewer harmful side effects to our economy and society. But those side effects, too, are much less visible than the daily Covid numbers that hysterical voters see, so it is not surprising that politicians throw reason to the wind in their efforts to get the numbers down.
Those are my recent thoughts about Corona-chan. There’s a global hysteria, people are unduly scared of a small chance of death, we forget that people can still die of other causes, and politicians want to look good more than they want to explain tough trade-offs between visible and invisible outcomes.
I do not claim to be an expert on these issues. I’m just a guy with a lot of opinions.