At this late stage in the COVID19 situation, society continues to oppress the younger populations with restrictions to curb the spread of a disease that rarely affects their age group. There are stories of young people needing to show proof of vaccination, or at least proof of a recent negative PCR test, before allowed into spaces such as schools, stores, entertainment venues, or travel.
Among these examples, the worst are what we are imposing on children in primary and secondary, or even kindergarten or preschool. In many areas, they are still mostly schooling remotely, using computer video to interact with the class from their respective homes. When they are permitted to go into schools, they must wear masks all day, keep large distance from each other including in classroom seating that greatly reduce the overall class size. There are reports where there are drawn boundaries assigned to each student and that they are not permitted to cross. There are even cases where they are assigned individual tents.
Based on my earlier writings on education, the smaller class size should be beneficial. In this case, there is no benefit because the teacher is even more distant than in larger classroom sizes, and in many cases the teacher, through fear of through school policy, keeps a large distance from students and even hide behind a mask and face-shield or even a plexiglass enclosure. The teacher is unable to get up next to a student to help them through some problem, and even fellow students are unable to interact with each other.
One recent story that especially worried me was of districts that would send children home from school if one of their class mates tested positive with a PCR test. The positive-test student need not have any symptoms, but that doesn’t stop the eviction. The other students are sent home with stern instructions that that child must be isolated within the home for 14 days, ideally kept alone in a room with no direct contact with their family. Families with spacious homes are complying by setting aside one room to isolate the child for the proscribed period. This effectively assigns them to solitary confinement for two weeks. The family complies, perhaps out of their own fear of the disease, but perhaps more so of the fear of the government imposing even more restrictions on the family or the government not approving the return of the student even after 14 days free of symptoms or positive tests.
Many parents are frightened based on the constant fear messaging expressed in media and from government and its healthcare bureaucracies. Even after a year when people have not personally experienced any close relative or acquaintance being harmed by the disease, they remain fearful that this pandemic is excessively dangerous. The reason why they haven’t experienced its impact is because the disease hasn’t reached them yet.
I can understand the fear among the general population. They are given little choice because all the media and the government messaging constantly reminds them of the threat backed up with large numbers of cases and deaths expressed outside of context of the total population size, of normal all-cause hospitalizations and deaths, or of demographic variants. The media and government goes further to suppress all counter arguments. When evidence of the lower risk of this situation does get out, the government and the media counter by designating this information as misinformation or designating the counter-advocates as anti-vax or anti-science, even when these counter arguments reference scientific evidence.
The larger problem is the fear among people in government. The lowest level of government, government at the local levels, is one step up from individuals. The people in this level of government are themselves very close to the people they government and can be expected to share the same concerns. However, there should at least be some additional pressures from higher governments to be better informed about broader issues. For example, that information should include the lower risks for younger populations, either for their having serious outcomes, or for their likelihood of spreading this particular virus. In my thinking at least, the role of government should be to negotiate with the population. The local government needs to share the concerns of the population, but it needs also to share with that population information that could alleviate those concerns.
In this particular situation, there is no alleviating information coming down from higher levels of government. The entire chain of government, all the way to the CDC, is expressing nothing but fear and grasping advice out of desperation bordering on panic. Coming down from high are recommendations to wear masks, stay distant from everyone, restricting activities to those that the government deems essential, and promoting a new injectable medication as a vaccine.
The justification for masks comes from illustrations that show them helping when people sneeze and cough, yet when I go out and see people in masks, I can’t remember the last time I even heard a distant cough of sneeze. Even the case for coughing does not make sense when a person continues to breath through the same mask, pushing the virus until it reaches the outside where it may be launched with a normal breath or especially with the next cough or sneeze. The virus does not adhere to cloth.
The justification for social distancing likewise involves tales about how emissions from coughs and sneezes may spread but in most places there isn’t anyone coughing or sneezing. Normal breathing might launch viruses, but that must come from a large repository of viruses in the lungs. If a sufficient repository did exist, the person would have symptoms.
Restriction to essential businesses and other lockdown measures have the benefit of easing the task of contact tracing. If a person is infectious, the limited amount of potential contacts are more easily traced. The entire concept of contact tracing makes sense very early in the epidemic when the virus was limited to just a small territory. Once the situation became a pandemic, it is impractical to do contact tracing.
Another reason for lockdowns and restrictions concerned the conjecture that this would flatten the curve. In particular this would be an attempt to keep the number of cases needing treatments to remain below the capacity of the healthcare system to accommodate those cases. This also only makes sense when the scale of the infection is very localized. Once the infection is widespread, the restrictions would have the paradoxical impact of reducing the capacity further as the supply chains degraded and funding sourced decline.
If healthcare capacity is a concern, the smarter approach would be to expand capacity by relaxing restrictions on people to participate or to implement augmenting services such as visitation for at-home care. Expanding capacity would expand contact opportunities and this could be acceptable when the capable people were themselves at low risk of getting seriously ill or of passing the infection.
In either case, the restrictions and lockdowns did not have a noticeable impact on the so-called curve. The case counts followed the trajectory predicted from the initial conditions that showed a declining rate of growth. Also, comparison of locations with varying degrees of lockdowns, from severe to none at all, showed little difference in the curve.
The expectation is that government apparatus would have the luxury to consider this information and then propagate the information out to the population. The expectation is also that the government would strive to inform people of evidence that should reassure the population and allow them to relax.
Instead the government preferred dismissing any good news, preferring instead to bring to the public’s attention even more things to worry about.
The only way I can explain this behavior is that the government was scared. The government’s fear is that the latest new fear may be the one that finally sets off the catastrophe. When things finally get to the point where millions of people die, no one wants to be remembered as the one who encouraged people to put the threat into perspective and get on with their normal lives.
The experience over the past year brings attention to a fundamental question of whether the optimal government is one that obsesses over warning of possible catastrophes. Governing by catastrophizing has been a problem in our government for a long time. Government funds an entire industry of scientists who are rewarded when they come up with new catastrophes or when they come up with reasons to be concerned about previously identified possibilities. We’re watching out for everything from long overdue massive earthquakes, super volcanoes, city-sized asteroid strikes, and even a solar micro-nova. There is such a long list of possible catastrophes that it seems a miracle we got through a year where the worst thing that happened was a virus that didn’t live up to its promise for mayhem.
I don’t understand why government is concerned with such mega catastrophes, even including a pandemic of similar impact as the black death plague. The losses will happen no matter what government does. Any embarrassment for not doing enough to prevent the scale of destruction would be moot because the person in the appropriate position would likely be dead, or the surviving population has more pressing concerns. Any ridicule for prior mistakes would likely be a source of entertainment, a distraction from the difficulties that the survivors would face.
The fundamental question is whether it is really useful to have a paranoid fearful government at all.
To be clear, there is a role for government to worry about routine matters such as regulations on matters that are manageable, such as regulating the quality of food supplies, or regulating against improper disposal of harmful pollutants. These are issues that if not regulated would cause harm but this harm is not catastrophic at the existential scale.
The government is increasingly obsessing over the existential catastrophes and it is finding new possibilities every year. Each new possibility is another way we will see the end of the world as we know it. And each possibility will come with an impressive scientific analysis with peer-reviewed models, and with a bill in congress to fund some program to research ways to prevent it from happening.
This catastrophizing aspect of government has been around my entire life. I recall growing up with the obsessing about nuclear war with Russia. I recall the childhood drills for what to do if a flash occurred outside. The fear pushed on us then is analogous to what we are doing now to our children with COVID fears. Although my childhood fear was of becoming instantly vaporized or of living though some hideous radiation poisoning, the actual drills were not that frequent. The fear we are pushing on today’s children is far worse because in effect they are going though nuclear-blast drills every hour of every day. They spend their entire days behind masks, often when plastic barriers, and never allowed to get close to each other.
I recall the nuclear drills. Afterwards we would make contact with each other. The boys may end up wrestling. The girls may end up hugging. In any case, the touch of a fellow human reassured us that the drill was over. The current generation is never getting that satisfaction, and may never get it now that is seems this is going to be the new normal forever.
The government now is pushing a vaccine that is a vaccine in name only. This vaccine does not stop an infection from occurring, and it does not stop the infection from getting bad enough so that one may spread it to others. Instead this is a prophylactic, something that will make the symptoms less severe the disease does arrive. The government grasped this solution out of desperation. It used the vaccine designation to bypass its regulations against catastrophizing of harmful drugs. A vaccine is a biologic typically involving a dead or weakened pathogen similar to what one might be expect to encounter in nature. This concoction gets this vaccine exemption even though it is totally artificial, similar to a pharmaceutical drug but using RNA instead of some other chemical.
The urgency the government is putting behind this vaccine is startling. Clearly the government is afraid. It is afraid of the virus. I don’t see how the vaccine allays their fear because it was prematurely developed with no evidence that it offers protection for more than few months, if it offers any protection at all. Even more baffling is the government’s suspension of its usual catastrophizing by dismissing the real possibility that this universal vaccine project could very well be the existential catastrophe it has grown accustomed for fearing. The vaccine has not been safety tested. It permanently alters the cell machinery that could lead to future outbreaks of irreversible neural disorders, immunity deficiencies, cancers, or sterility. The potential catastrophe would be the extinction of the human race within a couple generations, caused by a rush to vaccinate every man, woman, and child within a span of a year or so.
Since about two months after this pandemic started, I could not understand the government’s fear about this disease. The disease needs respect, but it is not an existential threat to humanity because it is not really threatening our younger populations. I imagine that someone in government knows something about this virus that we do not. I imagine that secret is that it is an artificial virus with a deliberate gain of function to make the virus more dangerous to humans. That invention came from our government in one way or another. If that is what happens, then the current government obsession makes sense, at least to me.
It might be just a natural virus and the government is simply full of people afraid of being known as the one in charge when calamity struck.
The rush to push the vaccine may have another purpose. I recall early on hearing from a scientist that advised against the overreaction of lockdowns and restrictions. I particularly recalled his answer about what can be done now that the government over-reacted. His answer was that there was no way to undo the lockdowns. Once the population is alarmed, there is nothing the government can do to remove that alarm. It will inevitably take at least two years for the population to calm down again.
He was right, the initial declaration of emergency spilled down from the upper level governments to the lower level governments. The problem then lingers as the multiplicity of lower level governments compete with each other as to who is taking the bolder or stronger approach. Within each government, there is a similar competition between different political factions. Once started, there is no way to stop this kind of dynamic. All we can do is wait for the entire system of government to completely exhaust itself.
The push for the vaccine may be an attempt to find a quicker resolution. Clearly if this were a true vaccine, and if it were really effective and safe, then it would solve the problem once and for all. Vaccinating the world puts an immediate end to everything started with the negligent declaration of pandemic emergency.
This vaccine is not a true vaccine, and it is neither effective nor safe, especially over the long term. As a result, it is serving a different purpose. This vaccine is a placebo for a population. To work, the population needs to believe this is the right vaccine and that it will lead to herd immunity if enough people get the shot.
Like in the earlier vaccine trials, the placebo can not be completely harmless like a saline solution. It has to be something that would cause some reaction to convince the recipient that this was a real immune reaction to a vaccine.
The vaccine as a population placebo has to have a similar reaction on a population. The population-placebo vaccine has to have adverse effects normally associated with vaccines. There needs to be people who will suffer from reactions, and even some some people die from the vaccine. This would prove to the public that this is real, and if it is real, it might be effective. The placebo effect is on the entire population in order calm it back to something closer to normal.
I like this theory. In my opinion, that is exactly what we need right now. A placebo for the population.
Unfortunately, it is not working, if this is what they hoped for. The dynamics of multilevel democratic governments are already undermining the project with more competition to identify new variants to fear. The fear is that the new variants would require even newer vaccines. We need to wait for these new vaccines because even if the variant does not cause as many hospitalizations or deaths, a subsequent more dangerous variant will inevitably follow. Evolution is reliable in this cleverness.
The scientist is right. This will only end when the governments exhaust themselves. It will take another year.
There is a lesson here about government needing to pacify a population with a placebo policy. Such a policy would be very effective in the current situation. The problem is that democratic governments are incapable of implementing a placebo policy. The political combativeness between parties and between different parts of government would expose the placebo or would undermine it in other ways. The democratic process has to solve this kind of problem by exhausting itself over multiple years, exhausting and damaging the population in the process.
In earlier posts, I described an alternative form of government I called a dedomenocracy. This is government by algorithms. Normally the algorithms do not govern at all. Instead the government collects extensive data about the population and their environments. The government is triggered to respond when the population expresses some sense of urgency and with super-majority consent. The response is a calculated policy using the preselected algorithms against the most available information. The resulting policy is completely automated with no opportunity for human debate or veto. The policy would be enforced relatively briefly, typically just a few months. During the brief effective period, the policy would be enforced ruthlessly with total authoritarianism. The population has no role in debating or in factional competition of alternative policies.
In my earlier imaginations of such a government, I proposed that the algorithms would find some opportunity to exploit. That opportunity may be to avoid some future hazard, or it may be to exploit some new opportunity. In either case, my imagined government picks the optimal choice that maximizes the population’s previous expressions of what they want for the future.
I see now that there can be a third optimization, one that effectively does nothing. The government must respond to the population’s urgency for some policy. The population already expects that the policy would be enforced authoritatively. The policy, however, could be a placebo. The policy would be to come up with an injection that promises immunity for the new disease. This new injection would make some people sick, and perhaps even kill a few people. But the policy will force everyone to take it. When it is over, the policy expires and the normalcy of widespread liberty will return, as it must in order to collect the best data for the next emergency.
The distinction with a dedomenocracy is that it does not have to pretend to come up with a vaccine in the modern sense. The placebo injection may be mostly a mild irritant to give the impression that something is working. Given the diversity of people, it is inevitable that some people may react more strongly to the irritant, and some reactions may be fatal. Unlike the mRNA vaccines, this concoction would quickly flush out of people’s bodies so there would be no long term impacts for nearly everyone.
The dedomenocracy placebo injection may have similar claims about being mostly (but not 100%) effective. The population wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.