Reflections on Covid Policies from Dissident Scientists, Philosophers, Artists, and More

Why would a 66-year-old medical writer like me oppose pandemic policies designed to keep her safe? Why would my despair at these policies lead me to consult a psychiatrist and try LSD in the middle of a lake? My book Blindsight is 2020, recently published by the Brownstone Institute, offers some answers. The book critiques the Covid-19 lockdowns and mandates through the eyes of 46 scientists, philosophers, artists, and others (including a comedian and a priest).

Along the way, I tell a few stories.

Follow the Science?

Remember the early days of the pandemic, when everyone was exhorting us to follow the science? The injunction never made sense to me. From the day the lockdowns were announced, I wondered: Why are only scientists being consulted? Where are the mental health experts to tell us how social isolation will affect our most vulnerable, both young and old? Where are the economists to insist on a cost-benefit analysis? Where are the ethicists to weigh in on the appropriate balance between risk avoidance and personal autonomy?

If I tried, ever so gingerly, to express my misgivings on Facebook or Reddit, I was told to shut up and stop killing grannies. Village idiot, troglodyte, negative IQ, mouth-breathing Trumptard… the online warriors threw their most creative insults at me, giving my constitutionally thin skin the workout of its lifetime.

And then, slowly, I found my tribe: scientists and ethics professors and writers and lay people with a shared conviction that the world had lost its way. Thousands and thousands of them, all over the planet. Giorgio Agamben, the famous Italian philosopher, spoke directly to my soul when he lamented the separation of “bare life” from meaningful living. Sunetra Gupta, the UK epidemiologist who doubles as a novelist, used the word “unpoetic” to describe the global response to the pandemic. “It’s a one-dimensional response to a multidimensional crisis,” she told me on Zoom.

As I continued to discover such shining stars, it occurred to me that it might be valuable to gather their insights in one place.

A Peek Inside the Book

As a medical writer I knew that writing a book criticizing the Covid response could jeopardize my career, but when the opportunity to write such a book came along, I couldn’t say no. And I knew just what I wanted to write about: the sociology of the pandemic.

The luminaries featured in the book help us understand the societal forces that shaped the Covid response and the places where it lost the plot. There’s oncologist and medical influencer Vinay Prasad, who explains why science—even very good science—cannot be “followed.” Psychology professor Mattias Desmet excavates the cultural weak links that enabled the Covid groupthink. Jennifer Sey, whose principles cost her a CEO position and a million dollars, decries the mistreatment of children in the name of Covid. Zuby, my personal candidate for world’s most eloquent rapper, calls out the hubris and harms of zero-risk culture in his pithy tweets.

Through their voices, the book addresses the questions that most troubled me during the pandemic, which have less to do with epidemiology than with ethics. Questions such as these: Is it fair to require the greatest sacrifice from the youngest members of society, who stand to suffer the most from pandemic restrictions? Do mandates and coercive measures help or hinder pandemic management? Should civil liberties simply disappear during a pandemic, or do we need to balance public safety with human rights and freedoms?

Speaking of Freedom

Most of us in mainstream Western society have grown up with large doses of freedom. We understand the trade-off—freedom comes with risks and responsibility—but wouldn’t have it any other way. Then along comes the pandemic, and public sentiment does an about-face. Safety becomes the all-consuming preoccupation and freedom gets branded as alt-right stupidity. Freedom to take a walk on the beach? Stop killing the vulnerable! Freedom to earn a living? The economy will recover! “Your right to get your hair streaked doesn’t trump my grandfather’s right to life,” shout the Twitterati, turning freedom into a caricature.

The demotion of freedom—that noble ideal of liberal democracy—into a laughingstock (“muh freedumb”) was painful to witness. Whatever happened to “they may take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom,” the iconic battle cry that brought goosebumps to Braveheart audiences in 1995? Did people not understand what they were giving up? Did they not care?

I devote a chapter of the book to freedom. The chapter showcases Matthew Crawford, a philosopher/mechanic who comes alive on the open road, and novelist Lionel Shriver of We Need To Talk About Kevin fame. Together, they eloquently argue against the fear-driven impulse to devalue freedom and trade it for pennies at the public health policy table.

Embracing Reality

The dominant Covid narrative positioned the virus as the enemy in a planetary war—an enemy that we must fight to the bitter end, costs be damned. But as it became clear that the war was unwinnable, a second story began gaining momentum. This story cast the virus as a guest that, while not exactly welcome, was here to stay, so we needed to find a way to live with Covid without destroying our social fabric. In his book Gone Viral: How Covid Drove the World Insane, Justin Hart calls the supporters of the two stories Team Apocalypse and Team Reality, respectively. My book leans into the second story: attempting to eliminate all risk from Covid is a fool’s errand and carries too high a cost. The thought leaders featured in the book explain why.

To those whose hearts rose up against the Covid policies, I hope the thought leaders featured in the book speak to you as they spoke to me. There’s nothing more validating than learning that some rather brilliant people share your misgivings. But I’ve also written the book to help people who supported the Covid measures understand why some of us despaired at the policies they cheered on.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the book will introduce you to a cast of free-spirited and courageous characters. If their insights leave you with some food for thought, I’ll call it a win.

Blindsight Is 2020 currently available on Amazon and LuLu as a printed edition or in e-reader format. Spanish speakers can find it here. Amazon reviews are gratefully appreciated. 

The post Reflections on Covid Policies from Dissident Scientists, Philosophers, Artists, and More was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education, and is republished here with permission. Please support their efforts.

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