Much has been made of late about ‘misinformation’ on a certain podcast. I’m not here to talk about that, at least not directly. There’s been some very good perspectives, including critiques about what was said and not simply whether the individuals involved had the right to say what they did.
What does worry me is the desire to shut down criticism and open discussion. There’s something very theocratic about the whole business: the infallible Pontiff has spoken ex cathedra, the discussion is over.
My experience with the skeptical is that very few believe in lizard people, chips and the mark of the beast. My direct experience, heavy sampling bias admitted, is that skeptics are far more informed than the average person who’s just been skimming the headlines this whole time.
To make a point, here’s a recent article about winter travel plans in the Dutch news:
One man, Luke, who has a skiing holiday in Austria booked, told DutchNews: ‘I’ve literally done everything I was told as soon as I could. I’ve had Janssen, had a booster and had Covid. But I still don’t count as boostered.’
In Germany people with a Janssen vaccine alone are classed as unvaccinated, whole those with a booster jab count as fully vaccinated but not boostered.
Another potential headache for Dutch travellers is that Germany has cut the validity of recovery certificates to 90 days, while in the Netherlands people who test positive have to wait three months to book a booster vaccine.
This is a mainstream publication and the people here simply want to follow the rules and health advice of their country. Yet doing so could easily get you classified as “unvaccinated” in a neighboring country.
To wit, 3 of the 4 Western vaccines are now no longer offered to everyone in many European countries due to safety concerns, one is so widely considered ineffective that receiving it no longer counts as being vaccinated in some countries, none of the vaccines are considered effective in their original dosage and cloth masks are widely said to be useless by public health authorities.
Depending on when you had posted the above information on social media, you would have been branded an anti-vaxxer, spreading misinformation or an agent of the Kremlin.
When it comes to boosting, some countries are getting ready for a fourth shot; others, such as Norway, are questioning whether boosters make sense at all for people under 45. American two-year-olds have to wear masks, Dutch teenagers don’t. The contradictions from actual scientists go on and on.
The one thing to keep in mind in the background to all of this: Sweden, the country that has had the least medical theater in the developed world, had Europe’s lowest excess mortality rate in 2021.
All this is to say, that nearly every dogma that’s been held to be sacrosanct in the past two years has turned out to be false — not in the opinion of someone ranting on social media, but by the health agencies of European nations. This should caution anyone wanting to ban misinformation, which apparently simply means what one’s political opponents are saying, given how quickly even the mainstream of accepted facts has changed. Take an even longer timespan, and nearly every single scientific fact will be disproven. Let’s leave the arbitration of truth to the theologians.
The erosion of trust
The lack of humility that many public heath officials have had over the past two years, as well as those screaming about misinformation, has done more to damage trust in public health than any podcast ever could.
Imagine an ancient religious debate where one side claimed the timing of an eclipse would prove God was on their side to the detriment of Ba’al. If that eclipse didn’t happen when predicted, the debate would be over pretty quickly.
Unfortunately, the high priests of scientism have done precisely that — it’s not hard to find claims of nearly 100% protection from infection with the mRNA vaccines. Anyone who doubted was an anti-vaxxer. And thus the worshippers of Ba’al won.
Public health authorities have become theologians in many countries. They make dogmatic claims and they threaten damnation if they aren’t obeyed unquestioningly.
Traditionally, public health took a very different approach. Humility wins over the skeptics, pointing out the positives of vaccination does more to increase vaccination rate than threats. Public health thinks long term, even if that means a few short term defeats. Scandinavia has largely followed this approach. Lo and behold, they have incredibly high vaccination rates. The US has government talking heads, up to the President himself, continuously scolding heretics on TV. The vaccination rate remains stubbornly low.
The clerics and the natives
Incidentally, I recently started reading the Dawn of Everything by David Grabber and David Wengrow. One of the key points, so far, is that during the first period of extended cultural contact between Europeans and indigenous North Americas, it was the Americans who passed on Enlightenment ideals to the European colonists:
Equality here is a direct extension of freedom; indeed, is its expression. It also has almost nothing in common with the more familiar (Eurasian) notion of ‘equality before the law’, which is ultimately equality before the sovereign — that is, once again, equality in subjugation. Americans, by contrast, were equal insofar as they equally free to obey or disobey orders as they saw fit. The democratic governance of the Wendat and Five Nations of the Haundenosaunee, which so impressed later European readers, was an expression of the same principle: if no compulsion was allowed, then obviously social coherence as did exist had to be created through reasoned debate, persuasive arguments and the establishment of social consensus.
It really seems like some countries have gone back to their clerical roots of European culture and are resorting to ecclesiastical authority. There are heretics who aren’t to be debated with or convinced; they are merely to be condemned.
The early Jesuit missionaries were more than a little shocked to find that the peoples of Great Lakes not only had no need for Christianity, they were ready to reject it with rather sound philosophical arguments.
We’re at a similar moment in history. The current ‘clerics’ are convinced that their opponents are morally and mentally deficient. Those that are actually willing to engage in dialogue are likely having the same shock those Jesuits did: what if the savages are actually far more refined than we are?
Right wing politicians in the US have been obsessed with abortion since the late 1970s. Curiously enough, they don’t care one iota about reducing the actual number of abortions. That’s easy enough: make birth control easily accessible and provide comprehensive sex education. No, they’ve been obsessed with outlawing abortion itself, which is a surefire way to not reduce the number of abortions.
What’s even more curious is the political left in many countries has taken this very approach to vaccination. Instead of a realistic goal of a high vaccination rate, they’ve chosen a much lower rate in order to cling to an ideal of 100% compliance.
A call not to arms
What I’d like to see happen, although I’m not particularly hopeful, is for a cooling off. The media and politicians stop othering their political opponents, they stop making laws and regulations that are purely punitive under the guise of public health and that the theologians pack their bags. The Liberal values of free speech and an open society are worth far more than scoring short-term political points.