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Reblogged:RE Covid: Amnesty Maybe. Amnesia Never.

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Writing at The Atlantic, Emily Oster of Brown University suggests that we "declare a pandemic amnesty" regarding positions many held that were eventually proved wrong.

She seems overall reasonable, if more cautious then than I, and has a point:
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Image by DDP, via Unsplash, license.
Some of these choices turned out better than others. To take an example close to my own work, there is an emerging (if not universal) consensus that schools in the U.S. were closed for too long: The health risks of in-school spread were relatively low, whereas the costs to students' well-being and educational progress were high. The latest figures on learning loss are alarming. But in spring and summer 2020, we had only glimmers of information. Reasonable people -- people who cared about children and teachers -- advocated on both sides of the reopening debate. [bold added]
And, much later:
The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn't accord with the facts. All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet. These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive. In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn't a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.

We have to put these fights aside and declare a pandemic amnesty. We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation while forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge. Los Angeles County closed its beaches in summer 2020. Ex post facto, this makes no more sense than my family's masked hiking trips. But we need to learn from our mistakes and then let them go. We need to forgive the attacks, too. Because I thought schools should reopen and argued that kids as a group were not at high risk, I was called a "teacher killer" and a "génocidaire." It wasn't pleasant, but feelings were high. And I certainly don't need to dissect and rehash that time for the rest of my days. [bold added]
This mostly sounds good, although with the perspective of my late middle age, I think that anyone who feels a need to gloat -- or who becomes defensive when proven wrong -- should take that as a sign that they have soul-searching and thinking to do.

Learning about the pandemic should have been about getting oneself and one's loved ones through alive and well -- not about comparing oneself to others.Worse still were those whose focus during the pandemic was on forcing other people to follow orders.

Oster speaks of officials having to make hard calls. While it is true that our mixed economy improperly places officials in such positions and many were trying to act in good faith, it was also clear that many government officials were quite happy to trample on their constituents. It is these last (and their many civilian cheerleaders) I can't and won't forgive.

I have argued or referred readers elsewhere for a more pro-freedom approach to infectious disease. I will not belabor it here other than to say that Gavin Newsom was wrong to impose indefinite universal home detentions and Ron DeSantis was wrong to force companies to ignore the vaccination status of their employees and customers. What happened to the idea that individuals should take care not to infect others, while weighing their own risks from the disease?

Sure, we should resist the temptation to rub people's noses in their past mistakes. But if one lesson from the pandemic is that it's damned hard to make decisions on limited information, there is another we risk missing through a hasty or indiscriminate "amnesty:" Governments need to make clearer, rights-respecting plans about pandemics ahead of time to limit the damage that free-wheeling, error-prone, and sometimes abusive officials can do by forcing everyone to abide by their bad decisions.

I personally know both anti-vaxxers and healthy people who still wear masks in public. I have no ax to grind with either and do my best to be polite to them when Covid comes up.

But I will never forgive the army of politicians who presumed to do my thinking for me and tried to order me around during that already-difficult time.

Forgetting history vs. dwelling on it is a false dichotomy: One must evaluate history and decide which hatchets to bury and which to sharpen. Ignorance about Covid can be forgiven; indifference to individual rights cannot.

-- CAV

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