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Reblogged:Five Pandemic Surprises -- to the Establishment

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I resent people who view life this way trying tell me what to do. (Image by Edvard Munch, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
Throughout the pandemic, I have avoided, as much as possible, the ignorant, relentlessly negative, and patronizing news coverage thereof from the media establishment.

I have found my own sources of information, and am glad to have armed myself years ago with an advanced degree in bioscience. So I was both better able to integrate knowledge than most journalists anyway, and much more likely to simply yell at the television set if I wasted my time watching it.

(My training made it easier for me: That is hardly to say that such training is necessary for someone to make sense of the events, as this long piece, by a layman, about super-spreaders, shows, albeit to an extreme degree: Weighing what experts say carefully is neither to treat their words like orders nor to dismiss them when they admit error or change their minds.)

Yesterday, I found a pretty good post-mortem of public health messaging by a reasonable person I had managed not to hear of until then, Zeynep Tufekci of the Atlantic.

I don't agree with everything she says here, but she makes lots of very good points. Her piece is titled, "5 Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Repeating."

I blame our dominant altruist-collectivist culture for all but the last of these five. And from Tufekci' s list, I have distilled -- in the form of single-sentence quotes -- five things that would seem to come as a complete surprise to the miseducated, entitled, and out-of-touch would-be philosopher kings, who made this pandemic much worse than it had to be.

My comments follow the quotes in bold:
  1. [M]ost people are already interested in staying safe from a dangerous pathogen. Self-interest, our greatest motivator and protector, is a mystery to those who fall -- hook, line, and sinker -- for the commonplace idea that selfishness is evil.
  2. A focus on explaining transmission mechanisms, and updating our understanding over time, would have helped empower people to make informed calculations about risk in different settings. Ayn Rand correctly attributes American "common sense" with being a remnant of Enlightenment influence on our culture. One needn't be an expert to understand or correctly apply advice from experts; one need only be honest and conscientious. (See self-interest, above.) Again, the fact that someone hasn't a Ph.D. or an Ivy League education does not make that person a moron.
  3. haming people for failing to take sensible precautions, such as wearing masks indoors, do[es] not necessarily help. (That's putting it charitably.) This is what happens when people who do not really understand why they ought to do something adopt it for quasi-religious reasons. They don't know whether mask-wearing is desirable in a given context, or why it is, if it is. But they know a heretic when they see one.
  4. Risk can never be completely eliminated... This is projection in two dimensions: (1) They don't know what they're talking about, so their own fear of the unknown (which they assume we share) kicks in; and (2) they regard the public as even less competent than they are at understanding and weighing risk. And if you see others, not as individuals who own their own lives, but as members of a collective, it makes perfect sense for government officials to force them to take Pascal's Wager-like measures.
  5. [T]he way that academics communicate clashe with how the public constructs knowledge. Yes. It's worse than it has to be, but... It's an issue of target audience, and they're writing for each other, not for laymen or, worse, advocates for left-wing causes -- on behalf of people they regard as hapless fools -- masquerading as journalists. (Don't get me started on how stupid most coverage of aerosol spread -- which practically never also mentioned dose or ventilation -- sounded or how worried I was that some politician would go to the races with new "precautions" based on it.)
All of these problems would have been bad enough on a cultural level alone, but our governments often failed to do things they should have done (such as ramp up contact tracing) or made things much worse (such as by implementing the unjust and ill-conceived Bush administration concoction of lockdowns). But the folks at the Ayn Rand Institute have already done a much better job of putting forward a positive vision of what a good government response would look like, so I'll refer the interested reader to that, once again.

It is interesting, and not in a happy way, to consider what this pandemic has revealed to us about the state of our culture (as manifest in its intellectual and governing classes), both in terms of what passes for knowledge and in terms of how society should be organized.

-- CAV

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