Corona and Western Consensus Thinking
I’ve previously written about Western Consensus Thinking. Here’s a short recap: the prevailing mode of thought in developed nations, in fact the only officially sanctioned philosophy-religion, is a sort of “end of history”, all problems have been solved mix of unlimited development.
The Western Consensus Thinking approach
Western Consensus Thinking only admits progress, which meant that Sars-Cov-2 had to be eliminated. Raising the general public health levels by seriously discussing obesity and other risk factors wasn’t enough. Creating much larger hospital capacity over the long term also isn’t a viable solution — that would mean paying more workers and cutting into corporate profits.
The approach that most Western politicians ultimately took is deeply rooted in the denial of death and illness as inevitable as well as the near religious devotion to only hi-tech solutions being our only salvation.
Hence Western nations would only accept vaccines made with new technologies, dramatic signaling and calls for elimination, regardless of the actual efficacy of any of these.
Challenging this approach summoned something akin to burning heretics at the stake. This was clearly an emotional response because questioning the wisdom of masks, vaccine mandates and other overreactions to the Sars-Cov-2 response is actually questioning the entire premise of Western Consensus Thinking: constant progress and a technological solution to every problem.
Wu wei — the path of no solution
The problem, of course, is that the approach of the Western Consensus Thinking didn’t produce the best results. Luckily Sweden didn’t give into the insanity and serves as a control group: no mandatory masks, no school closures, no vaccine passports, no zero Covid.
The results speak for themselves: Sweden had the lowest excess death rate in Europe in 2021 and one of the lowest in Europe over the course of the entire pandemic1.
The harshest lockdowns didn’t correlate to better outcomes. Lockdowns and masking became destructive rain dances that didn’t actually stop the spread of Sars-Cov-2.
The vaccines have also been a mixed bag. Of the four Western vaccines, only one of them is safe enough to be recommended for everyone in most European countries (the clot shots J&J and Astra-Zeneca are no longer widely available, Moderna isn’t administered to men under 30 in much of Europe). Questioning the safety of the vaccines a year ago would have been a quick way to get a social media ban. But we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.
Effectiveness also seems to be a bust. We’ve known early on that the vaccines don’t stop transmission. How long lasting the protective effects against severe illness last is anyone’s guess.
For what it’s worth, I got Coronavac, one of non-Western vaccines, and came down with Corona a few months afterwards. Without a control, it’s impossible to say I got a lighter case than I otherwise would have without the vaccine.
The dramatic interventions were mostly infective at reducing Covid deaths, may have been counterproductive and society will be paying the price for decades.
The argument against this is the no true Scotsman fallacy in a fresh kilt: we didn’t lock down hard enough! We should have put the entire world under house arrest and forcibly injected everyone, then we would have won the war against Eurasia.
The other approach
The great wisdom traditions of the world such as traditional Christianity, Buddhism or Stoicism have similar approaches to death, aging and disease. They are inevitable and largely beyond our direct control2.
Bad flu seasons come and go. Completely eliminating a respiratory virus with wide animal reservoirs isn’t realistic. The best we can do is provide some protection for the vulnerable during waves of illness.
Everything else needs to be done well ahead of time. Politicians had stripped hospitals of funding for decades. The sedentary Western lifestyle had left much of the population obese yet malnourished (for example, vitamin D deficient) and thus vulnerable.
We will all get sick, we will all eventually die — perhaps unexpectedely. But life and society go on.
Compare this with the panicked approach that most Western politicians took that is deeply rooted in the denial of death and illness as inevitable and that only hi-tech solutions can save us.
None of this is to say we should embrace a passive fatalism and give up doing anything. Not at all. But, understanding that we, as humans, have limits and are not the complete masters of our destinies is ultimately liberating. We can work on the things under our control instead of giving into neurosis about that which is beyond our grasp.
How this happened: good intentions
Admitting that we don’t know everything and that there are problems that we will never solve has become subversive. You’ll be accused of being a pessimist, luddite or whatever.
How why actually got here, where large enough sections of society embraced the rituals of Western Consensus Thinking in order to impose draconian measures is a curious thing. I don’t believe in any sort of tinfoil hat conspiracies. Instead, I think a lot of good intentions gone awry, some philosophy explain it all and a flawed conceptual framework mostly explain it.
Let’s take Bill Gates. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has good intentions. That said, his approach to this pandemic is the culmination of a lifetime of gracefully failing — without consequences, of course.
I’ll quote extensively from Brownstone:
After finally stepping back from Microsoft’s operations, Gates started dabbling in other areas, as newly rich people tend to do. They often imagine themselves especially competent at taking on challenges that others have failed at simply because of their professional successes. Also by this point in his career, he was only surrounded by sycophants who would not interrupt his descent into crankiness.
And what subject did he pounce on? He would do to the world of pathogens what he did at Microsoft: he would stamp them out! He began with malaria and other issues and eventually decided to take on them all. And what was his solution? Of course: antivirus software. What is that? It is vaccines. Your body is the hard drive that he would save with his software-style solution.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I noted that Gates was pushing hard for lockdowns. His foundation was now funding research labs the world over with billions of dollars, plus universities and direct grants to scientists. He was also investing heavily in vaccine companies.
Early on in the pandemic, to get a sense of Gates’s views, I watched his TED talks. I began to realize something astonishing. He knew much less than anyone could discover by reading a book on cell biology from Amazon. He couldn’t even give a basic 9th-grade-level explanation of viruses and their interaction with the human body. And yet here he was lecturing the world about the coming pathogen and what should be done about it. His answer is always the same: more surveillance, more control, more technology.
Once you understand the simplicity of his core confusions, everything else he says makes sense from his point of view. He seems forever stuck in the fallacy that the human being is a cog in a massive machine called society that cries out for his managerial and technological leadership to improve to the point of operational perfection.
People like Gates genuinely think their “management expertise” is all that society needs. Working in the tech industry, I see this sort of arrogance all the time. Every half way decent programmer thinks he (and it’s almost always a he) can solve every problem in the world.
How this happened: schismogenesis
One important factor would seem to be the gradual division of human societies into what are sometimes referred to as ‘culture areas’, that is, the process by which neighbouring groups began defining themselves against each other and, typically, exaggerating their differences. Identity came to be seen as a value in itself, setting in motion processes of cultural schismogenesis.
— The Dawn of Everything, Graeber and Wengrow
One’s response to Sars-Cov-2 became an easy way to mark yourself as either part of the elite and right thinking people or as a Girardian scapegoat for all the problems in the world.
It didn’t help that some truly odious politicians took questionable early positions on the pandemic. This sealed the fate of the rest of us: in order to show that you’re not one of them, you have to go overboard in the opposite direction.
Had a certain loudmouthed American politician taken an early position of extreme lockdowns, the anti-wrongthink crowd would likely have been fighting to keep schools open and pointing out that cloth masks don’t actually do anything.
This can all be explained with basic mimetics, scapegoating and schismogenesis.
All this goes to show that Western Consensus Thinking isn’t some mere background noise. It’s having a profound impact on our daily lives. It’s not some sappy positivity, can do spirit and a pinch of annoying self help—belief in eternal process and the solvability of every problem with technology is a disaster.
The first claim is taken from data provided by the Economist while the second claim is straight from the WHO as analyzed here ↩
For example see Buddhism’s five daily reflections ↩