2020s Prohibition Era 2.0

It is a very pleasant spring day, cool day and breeze with partially cloudy, but it felt nice to be out.

During my walk, I noticed a lot more traffic on roads than normal. I noticed it by having to watch for traffic more often, and get out of the way more often. In town center, the sidewalks were much more crowded than usual as well. Things would seem to be normal except everyone was wearing masks.

All stores had entranced with big signs forbidding entry without masks. While I understand that the stores are pressured to put up those signs, I still feel disappointed.

I don’t understand the logic of the masks. I saw the demonstrations of someone sneezing and coughing with and without a mask. My complaint is that I never see anyone coughing or sneezing. Even if I felt an urge to cough and sneeze, I’d take off my mask and cough or sneeze into a handkerchief that will return in my pocket. The thought that I would sneeze or cough into a mask and continue using that mask seems disgusting at the very least.

The demonstrations never explain what happens after the sneeze or cough. Presumably, the little nasties are caught up in the fabric or fibers. Subsequent breathing will jostle them around until they reach the other side of the mask and at that point would be launched on their way. The mask was just an inconvenient delay to something that doesn’t pay attention to time. Having people breathe through the same mask for hours at a time gives plenty of opportunity to make the transit from one side of the mask to the other.

Yet, we are told to wear masks and that scientists are assuring us that it makes a difference. We wear masks.

It has become normal. I fully expect that there will be mask mandate for the remainder of this decade. The narrative has been set that not wearing a mask makes one complicit if not responsible for someone else getting sick and dying. For all of human history, we had people die from infectious disease that they must have acquired from someone else, and that someone was probably not visibly sick in a way that would have warned others to be more careful. Now it is different, we are tracing where the infection came from and blaming that person for spreading the disease. Currently this blame-tracing is just for one particular type of virus, but inevitably it will apply to every possible communicable disease.

It is a matter of time when people will begin getting sued for not wearing a mask if that person had come close to someone who later got sick and died. Constant mask-wearing in public will become a permanent feature of life.

Similarly, people are now accustomed to wearing a mask to enter store or restaurant, and make exaggerated detours to avoid getting within six feet of someone else. In a restaurant, people are now getting comfortable wearing their masks while at their table, briefly lifting the mask to eat or drink. I’m sure it is becoming habitual to many people. Those people will look disapprovingly to others who don’t behave similarly. Eventually, they’ll demand the eviction of anyone who does not behave that way. There will be few who would need to be confronted.

We are now seeing the widespread vaccination using material that was approved for emergency use only. The emergency use designation is somehow distinguished from being fully approved as safe and effective. There is no practical distinction when everyone is highly encouraged to take the experimental concoction. Soon there will be vaccine passports that businesses can voluntarily use to qualify people entering their establishments.

Like the signs requiring mask wearing, the passports will be voluntary so that ultimately it will be the business’s choice. If the business chooses not to implement it, they will receive harassment until they do. Eventually every place will require proof of vaccination and this will result in more complete compliance.

Also like the masks, the vaccinations do not actually prevent the spread of the disease. At best, they would lessen the conditions when one gets infected, and even then many who are vaccination will still get very sick or die from the disease. The vaccination promises to help with the statistics. There is no promise to individuals. Also, the vaccines do not prevent new infections and consequently they do not prevent the subsequent spread. The vaccines are just like the masks, presenting a mere inconvenience to the virus that is incapable of feeling inconvenienced.

It does not matter now. The vaccines are baked into normal life for the remainder of this decade, at least. There are reports that the vaccine’s protective effects quickly wear off so that reminder shots will be needed at least once a year, and probably multiple times a year. In addition, there are reports of variants that require new vaccines that similarly require universal distribution to keep everyone safe.

This will become normal. The vast majority will go along with it, and they will require vaccinations of everyone they encounter in daily life.

The vaccines have side effects for most people. These people who otherwise would feel fine will need to be inconvenienced with ill effects for at least day or so after the shot. This will be a periodic experience. This universal inconvenience is survivable, at least for most people. Just as people will habitually wear masks and social-distance everywhere, people will accept that on certain times of the year they will need to tolerate the ill-effects of yet another vaccination, and accept that some experiences may be worse than others.

There are people getting serious complications following the vaccine. We believe that these are rare and rare enough that these may be just coincidences, the people may have been fated to have the same outcomes even without the vaccine.

The diversity of complicating conditions and the variety of expressions makes it very difficulty to prove causal relationship with the vaccine. Vaccines are injected into the body, bypassing most to the body’s defenses. The vaccines are injected with abundant quantity that can spread throughout the body but differently depending on the precise injection site relative to blood vessels, and the body composition of the individual. The effects are essentially guaranteed to be widely variable, too variable to definitively establish a cause and effect.

There already are stories of people having lasting and sometimes serious complications following the vaccines. While horrifying at first, the continued popular dismissal of the cases is numbing the population. This is just what happens in modern life. An analogy is how we accept trauma and deaths from traffic accidents. It is a risk we have to accept.

In the case of vaccines, the risk is for the comfort of hoping that this suffering is balanced by the reduced suffering by natural causes. Modernity accepts being harmed by deliberate human actions that purport to attempt to do something beneficial. It is many times better to be harmed by good human intentions than by natural causes that have no deliberate intentions at all. This is summarized by the objectives of the greater good. The greater good refers to the statistics, not the individuals.

I am convinced that this will be our world for the coming years. Every place that is open to the public will require abiding by a protocol of wearing masks, social distancing, and showing proof of full vaccination compliance. Such places will include all retail and hospitality businesses. It will also apply to offices and government facilities. All public situations that the vast majority of people regularly experienced prior to the pandemic will require these protocols. The public’s yearning to return to that normalcy will sufficiently encourage their compliance.

On practical terms, the public will forget that the pre-pandemic behavior was considered healthy and appropriate. They will look back and judge the past as behaving irresponsibly. To them, it is obvious that the responsible and appropriate thing to do is to follow the current protocols.

As I walked through town today, I realize that that time has already come. In this short span of just a few month, we have abandoned a behavior that permitted people to see each other’s facial expressions and approach even strangers and get into conversations that had no inherent time constraints. We abandoned the concept of crowding into spaces and staying there for long periods of times, raising our voices as we did so.

We abandoned our humanity and replaced it with hospitalization.

All of the above leaves me with an image that we have turned the entire world into a large hospital. In a hospital the stated objectives is to keep everyone safe. The most highly rated hospitals have very large hallways. Different areas have generous separations and that cleaning staff immediately follow any activity. The hospital’s inpatients have accompanying charts that list all of the prior observations and there are scheduled appointments for administering of medications.

All of these behaviors and characteristics of the hospital are now the model for all of modern life. All of life is now one large hospital. Like I mentioned before, there will soon be malpractice liability for anyone who fails to abide by the rules. We are all conscripted into the medical profession. All of our life decisions are medical decisions subject to scrutiny by medical review boards.

I recall recent examples where there was a global email announcing that a contamination event occurred in some location and that the area is being sanitized currently. It reminds me of the loud speakers in a hospital warning the appropriate people that something bad is happening. However, in the case of the email it was the discovery that someone visited a building and that person later tested positive.

I walk by restaurants and I see staff diligently rubbing down not only tables but the windows and any other surface someone might have touched. They assume the touching occurred without their seeing it happened, so everything gets wiped down in a rotation pattern so that when they return to the starting point it is time to wipe that down again.

Thankfully, I haven’t seen examples of what I saw out of China last year where city workers were disinfecting the streets and sidewalks constantly. I still expect that will show up here for the practical reason is that it creates government jobs that are more efficient for distributing government funds than the current stimulus payments.

The new normal is the hospitalization of the old model. We are now all medical workers and we have a duty to behave like medical workers.

The transformation has been so complete that the only place that is outside of the hospital is inside one’s private residence. This too may be temporary as we are seeing in other English speaking countries that are empowering police to enforce rules even within a private house. It is all for the greater good because nature has viruses that can kill some of us.

This latter image reminds me of the stories of the prohibition era exactly a century ago. During prohibition, the leaders considered alcohol to be the pandemic. Prior to prohibition, alcohol consumption was very common, and often with abundance. Occasionally bad things happened with alcohol poisoning, or violence that otherwise would not have happened without alcohol. Also alcohol consumption was often diverting family income away from supporting the family. The solution was to ban the production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol.

What little I know about the era, I understand that prohibition was largely successful. A good portion of the population complied and adjusted their habits away from obtaining and consuming alcohol in public. I recall reading that despite the eventual repeal, the prohibition was successful. I believe that prohibition successfully disappeared the kind of public alcoholic culture that was common prior to prohibition.

Prohibition forced alcohol culture to adapt. Instead of being in spaces open and welcoming to the general public, alcohol culture moved into large private residences that could have some form of security and discreet entrances. One term describing these places were speak-easies. The patron would approach some private entrance and announce in a quite voice with the appropriate language to gain entrance. Inside there could be a crowd but that crowd would not be visible or noticeable from the outside. There would be some form (or many forms) of entertainment and there would be alcohol.

Occasionally, the police would raid these locations and arrest many people. These were the minority of such establishments that existed in jurisdictions that strongly enforced the rules and where the establishments were delinquent in paying the bribes.

This is not a discussion of the actual details of what happened during the prohibition. I only want to note that it was a period that abruptly terminated what was previously normal part of public culture. A large portion of the population complied and adjusted to the new normal. There was a stubborn minority that recreated the culture from being public to being private. Sometimes police would raid these private places, and sometimes with great violence and destruction. The private places adapted by paying for more security making the raids more difficult and dangerous for the police. They could also pay off the appropriate person within the government so that the raids would stop.

I have only a vague image of what it was like to enter one of these private establishments. I think it is mostly informed by movie depictions. A person would enter along an otherwise very quiet residential area. There would be a dark path leading to a back entrance with a windowless door and a windowless wall. Upon knocking, someone would open a tiny slot to answer the knock. Upon an acceptable exchange, the person would enter an antechamber with another entrance. There may be a little time in this chamber to approve of this new visitor and then he would enter the larger room with the entertainment.

I also think the real motivation behind alcohol prohibition was more about the public gatherings of strangers spending a lot of time together, both made possible by alcohol. Whatever dangers the rulers perceived about alcohol paled in comparison to the dangers of a broad cross section of society repeatedly gathering in the same place for long times. I am not sure what the rulers were afraid of, but they preferred people to be more isolated, preferably in their own homes or in spaces where they would not stay long, for example just enough time to have something to eat or watch a show, either of which should end before 10PM or thereabouts. The prohibition was about people socializing, and less about alcohol.

It is in my imagination I see an identical situation occurring right out now. We are experiencing a second prohibition of people socializing. This time there is no restriction on alcohol in part because we already live in the legacy of the last prohibition where most alcohol consumption is in private residences. Although, I do notice that only recently have we seen a resurgence of a multitude of establishments that are first about beer or wine and only secondarily about the food. Restaurant bars have been around for all my life, but I recall a few years ago noticing that there was an unusual high density of bar restaurants. I wonder if similar forces are at play. Our ruling class disapproves of this kind of socialization opportunity.

The last prohibition left a lasting lesson that it is not appropriate for government to ban alcohol. Government would not dare repeat that, at least not this soon. During the interim there arose a new science that describes virus and how their disease conditions are far less treatable if treatable at all compared to bacterial infections. Also during this time, there were more convincing mathematical and computer models that can predict possible calamities upon the arrival of a particularly highly infectious virus causes diseases with high consequences.

When a possible candidate arrived, the rulers had the opportunity to shut down socialization with a more scientific justification rather than previous moral justification of some perceived evils of alcohol. The new justification is an disease vector that is invisible to all but a few with very powerful microscopes and those can not watch the virus do its damage. Instead we have computer models for what the virus must be doing. Those models describe a vulnerability everyone has because it is inherent in certain cell types. As a result, computer models assume everyone is susceptible and a good number of those will end up dying as a result.

Using those models shortly after news of this new virus, we had scientific-approved prediction that a significant fraction of the population would die if people continued to socialize as they have been. Immediately, we had the mask mandates, the social distances, the occupancy restrictions or outright lock-downs of anything deemed non-essential. Conveniently all of government and its propaganda apparatus were essential.

There is a case that the first prohibition failed because it was based on a moral justification and people can argue about what is moral or not. This second prohibition is on more solid ground based on a scientific justification. Computer models tell us what this invisible virus does when it enters a cell. Because this vulnerability is universal, other computers can project early case fatality rates to the entire population. The justification now is scientific assurance that everyone will end up knowing someone who will die from this disease if the disease doesn’t kill them.

I just described dark-data science that I keep denigrating in this blog. We made policies on computer models and trusted that those models were true descriptions of what we could not directly observe.

While it is fortunately that the bright data of observing this actual virus proves that the dark data was wrong, we may now be in a worse situation because we have adapted the entire culture around this particular experience. We now have the precedence that our reaction with social distancing, mask wearing, vaccine mandates and passports, and constant sanitizing is the appropriate guidance for every single cold or flu season where numerous people typically die every year.

As long as there is the possibility of an infection spreading to a person would would succumb to the disease, we need to follow the new rules. This prohibition is going to last forever.

I am convinced it will last a long time. The current circumstances will extend for most of the rest of this decade. Science may get us out of this predicament with a more nuanced understanding of who is susceptible and how to protect and treat them. Such a conclusion is possible now and it would repeal everything we are doing: all the way from the masks to the vaccines.

I don’t have much hope in science. I believe science is completely infected with dark data. Even with good observational evidence, too many adherents to dark data hold authoritative positions and they can continue to dictate to us that masks are more effective than vaccines but both are ideal. They have a stranglehold on this justification.

I do expect that this current prohibition will eventually be repealed by popular approval for the repeal. It will take a few years for a culture to rise in popularity to the point where it becomes politically potent.

That culture will emerge similarly to the speakeasies.

Both are responding to the basic human need to socialize far outside their relatively or close associates. That socialization with strangers demands full access to viewing body language and facial expressions in particular. Because the strangers have different points of view, the socialization requires extended conversations, debate, arguments, or even raised-temper shouting episodes.

In the current environment, there needs to be a replacement for what once was plentiful in the form of crowded restaurants, bars, and other entertainment or hospitality venues. All of the publicly accessible options must abide by government pressure for force the new rules on their patrons. I see these businesses adapting to perhaps profitably operating under these conditions. They are open and show no signs of closing.

I have no desire to enter these places. Using their services is like using the services of a hospital. I need to check in, and then I’ll be directed to my private space with a curtain divider to surround me while I wait for my attendant to serve me whatever I ordered. I don’t want to voluntarily admit myself to a hospital.

Personally, I’m content to just live a solitary life in my home. I also know people like me are rare. Most people enjoy those crowds or else those crowded places would not have existed and in such abundance. Eventually, these places will emerge within private residences with restrictive admittance qualifications. I say eventually, but I have no doubt these are already present, we just haven’t heard about them. The real eventuality will be the breaking news of a large police raid of a such a place that is violating the social distancing rules.

The news will involve some violence and destruction and this would get everyone’s attention. The rulers will think this to be a good lesson for everyone, but the real lesson will be for these places to find more secure locations and provide more security to make the next police raid more difficult. More news will come out, and people inevitably will side with the outlaws at least to the extent of repealing the social distancing rules.

The last repeal dealt a major blow to governing by morality. The next repeal will deal an equally devastating blow to dark data science. It is just going to take 10 years to get there. In the mean time, enjoy the social distancing restrictions, it will be here for the rest of this decade.


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