Joakim Book is understandably pessimistic about how humanity’s hysterical reaction to Covid-19 – about how humanity’s shamefully gullible acceptance of the use of massive arbitrary power – will end. A slice:
We are watching, in real time, the destruction of our own civilization. In the history books, events like these seem so quick and inevitable, following one upon the other until rescue from madness is too late. With the benefit of hindsight that plagues most history, this makes caricatures of the past: really, ask even precocious middle schoolers, couldn’t the secessionists or democrats or the nationalists or the Bolsheviks have anticipated what their inane beliefs and actions would lead to?
Yes, they could, but they discarded them as unrealistic, low-probability outcomes that we didn’t have to care about right now: look at all the beautiful things we are trying to achieve! When the disasters that these movements had unleashed upon civilization were more clearly visible, it was too late to roll them back.
There’s widespread agreement, then, that government officials around the world are exploiting the pandemic to expand their power and to suppress opposition. That’s the case not only among the usual suspects where authorities don’t pretend to take elections and civil liberties seriously, but also in countries that are traditionally considered “free.”
It’s wildly optimistic to expect that newly acquired surveillance tools and enforcement powers will simply evaporate once COVID-19 is sent on its way. The post-pandemic new normal is almost certain to be more authoritarian than what went before.
The adulation of science is, in reality, simply worship of politicians who recite the right phrases. New York governor Andrew Cuomo was lionized by the media for his press conferences which won an Emmy award and his self-tribute, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, quickly became a bestseller. Cuomo effectively seized absolute power in New York state after the start of the pandemic, and compelled nursing homes to admit Covid-infected patients and permitted Covid-infected staffers to keep working at those homes. More than 10,000 New York nursing home patients died of Covid.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, Alberto Mingardi bemoans the arbitrary, tyrannical restrictions imposed in Italy in response to Covid-19. His essay’s title says it all: “Italians Will Be Frozen in Place This Christmas.”
Charlie Baker has become my model of a pandemic governor. Twice I’ve commended him for admitting, as early as April, that his state’s contact-tracing effort was mainly a show so voters would see that Massachusetts wasn’t sitting on its hands. In November, his outdoor mask-wearing mandate was panned as unscientific and unenforceable. He acknowledged as much, saying it was a signal, a new way to get the public’s attention.
Pandemic theater is too pejorative a term. Mr. Baker gets credit in this column for exhibiting realistically the relationship between science and politics. Science can tell us many things. It can’t tell us what to do.