When members of Congress, the Cabinet, and the Supreme Court entered the U.S. House Chamber for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, they were almost entirely unmasked. Cursory attempts at social distancing were quickly abandoned—and after Biden finished his speech, the country’s highest elected officials shook hands and hugged and breathed in each other’s faces like it was 2019.
In the remarks themselves, Biden heralded an end to the era of COVID-19.
“Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, COVID-19 need no longer control our lives,” said Biden.
It’s fascinating that the president would even make this concession; as recently as one month ago, many Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media assailed Republican-controlled municipalities for easing up on pandemic restrictions. But then some focus group polling convinced Democratic strategists that the American people were losing patience, and the party abruptly changed course. (The fact that the vaccines held up well against the omicron surge, at least in terms of severe cases, also helped.)
But it’s worth repeating that even now—with the Biden administration heralding a nearly universal return to normal, and Democratic officials celebrating with few masks in sight—there remains a key U.S. demographic languishing under strict mask mandates: school children in some cities controlled by Democrats.
Indeed, in Washington D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Tuesday that students would no longer be required to wear masks while outside. This means, of course, that masks are still required inside the schools.
There are things we can do, we are told, to keep ourselves and our families safe. But first, we are warned, “A nuclear explosion may occur with or without a few minutes warning.” After this pearl of wisdom we are advised to get inside, and stay inside.
And once we are inside?
Stay inside for 24 hours unless local authorities provide other instructions. Continue to practice social distancing by wearing a mask and by keeping a distance of at least six feet between yourself and people who not (sic) part of your household.
So yes. If you happen to be among the lucky few not vaporized in a nuclear strike launched by unknown perpetrators, you should immediately reestablish your fear of Covid-19….
Aware that a frightened population is a compliant one, a strategic decision was made to inflate the fear levels of all the UK people. The minutes of the SPI-B meeting dated the 22nd of March 2020 stated, ‘The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent’ by ‘using hard-hitting emotional messaging.’ Subsequently, in tandem with the UK’s subservient mainstream media, the collective efforts of the BIT and the SPI-B have inflicted a prolonged and concerted scare campaign upon the UK public. The methods used have included:
– Daily statistics displayed without context: the macabre mono focus on showing the number of Covid-19 deaths without mention of mortality from other causes or the fact that, under normal circumstances, around 1,600 people die each day in the UK.
– Recurrent footage of dying patients: images of the acutely unwell in Intensive Care Units.
– Scary slogans: for example, ‘IF YOU GO OUT YOU CAN SPREAD IT, PEOPLE WILL DIE,’ typically accompanied by frightening images of emergency personnel in masks and visors.
Compared to a government’s typical tools of persuasion, the covert psychological strategies outlined above differ in both their nature and subconscious mode of action. Consequently, there are three main areas of ethical concern associated with their use: problems with the methods per se; problems with the lack of consent; and problems with the goals to which they are applied.
First, it is highly questionable whether a civilised society should knowingly increase the emotional discomfort of its citizens as a means of gaining their compliance. Government scientists deploying fear, shame, and scapegoating to change minds is an ethically dubious practice that in some respects resembles the tactics used by totalitarian regimes such as China, where the state inflicts pain on a subset of its population in an attempt to eliminate beliefs and behavior they perceive to be deviant.
Another ethical issue associated with these covert psychological techniques relates to their unintended consequences. Shaming and scapegoating have emboldened some people to harass those unable or unwilling to wear a face covering. More disturbingly, the inflated fear levels will have significantly contributed to the many thousands of excess non-Covid deaths that have occurred in people’s homes, the strategically-increased anxieties discouraging many from seeking help for other illnesses.
Furthermore, a lot of older people, rendered housebound by fear, may have died prematurely from loneliness. Those already suffering with obsessive-compulsive problems about contamination, and patients with severe health anxieties, will have had their anguish exacerbated by the campaign of fear. Even now, after all the vulnerable groups in the UK have been offered vaccination, many of our citizens remain tormented by ‘COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome’), characterised by a disabling combination of fear and maladaptive coping strategies.
In an interview, he now claims that the office affair with his married lover did not break the law but started “quite quickly” after Covid rules were lifted. Talking to Steve Bartlett on the Diary of a CEO podcast, Hancock, dressed like the Milk Tray man, said he “fell in love” and “it all happened quite quickly. It actually happened… after the rules were lifted, but the guidance was still in place… I resigned because I broke the social distancing guidelines. By then, they weren’t actually rules. They weren’t the law. But that’s not the point. The point is they were the guidelines that I’d been proposing. And that happened because I fell in love with somebody.”
Let us pause for a moment to unpick that knotty thicket of delusion and self-justification. Hancock clearly knew full well that what he was telling the British people they must do after a certain date was just guidance not regulation. As Lord Sumption has observed: “I think the Government knew people did not understand the difference and exploited their confusion.”
Now, Hancock has the brass neck to exploit that confusion to his own advantage. Hey, it was fine to be canoodling in his office because no law said that he couldn’t, even though lesser mortals stayed well away from their best beloved for a year in case they got caught.
Unfortunately, such a realisation would require a degree of self-knowledge to which Hancock is a stranger. He is certainly in love – with himself mostly – and that fierce self-love leads him to think that, if he keeps bouncing up with a leery Space Hopper grin, then the public will forgive and forget.
Putin has Covid Derangement Syndrome. A slice:
According to a report in a Sunday newspaper, fear of Covid has turned Putin into a paranoid near-recluse. “Ultra-strict measures to protect Putin from coronavirus,” we read, “mean that the majority of his meetings take place either across absurdly long tables or by video link.” As if that didn’t seem neurotic enough, “Many of those who meet him face to face have to spend two weeks in self-isolation beforehand.” And, most bemusingly of all, “Moscow officials are obliged to provide faecal samples several times a week to ensure they do not infect Putin.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, technocratic elites have offered us a dubious bill of goods. Aided and abetted by the media and by many academics, politicians proffered—indeed, likely believed—the idea that the pandemic would go away if everyone just did as they were told. “If everyone wore a mask for two weeks …” became a telltale refrain, a claim that was neither true nor possible. Pundits celebrated President Joe Biden’s ill-fated “hundred days of masking,” which promised “just 100 days to mask, not forever.” This habit of exaggeration and blind optimism among elites helps explain gaffes like Biden’s bizarre claim during his campaign that every single pandemic death could have been averted by better leadership.
Indeed, toddlers and small children have borne the brunt of our illogic, while mask-mandating politicians go maskless and crowds gather around bars. The covering of toddlers’ faces—a policy that has always made the United States an international outlier, and in outright defiance of WHO guidance—stands in stark contrast to the lives of many elites who never stopped partying anyway. Perhaps nothing illustrates the absurdity of lockdown culture more than the performative spectacle of diners donning masks as they enter a restaurant, only to remove them at their table as they sit for several hours shoulder to shoulder with other patrons.
Mask mandates are just one of many pandemic policies; a similar disregard for curiosity and open debate have pervaded other areas, like lockdowns and booster policy. But they offer an object lesson in how overconfident, unnuanced messaging conditioned us to assume that all dissenting opinions are misinformation rather than reflections of good faith disagreement or differing priorities. In doing so, elites drove out scientific research that might have separated valuable interventions from the less valuable, and corroded much needed public trust.
Beyond potential downsides to children, the no-downsides rhetoric failed to account for the social impact of masks. For many, seeing faces was important, and the normalization of a forever masking regime was, in fact, a real cost. For others, seeing faces was essential, and insisting otherwise was magical thinking. Or, it was the product of the same kind of technocratic mind that conceives of children as “mosquitos” who should “circulate less or will become vectors,” in one telling analogy adopted by a top Biden COVID adviser.
Many liberal elites can cite examples of misbehavior by anti-mask protesters, but fail to recognize similar hubris on their side. This is not just in extreme examples like the local politician who used her “Masks Save Lives” sign to hit a woman on the head. It was also seen in the pervasive—and untrue—sentiment held by many that if only more people wore masks we would reach zero COVID. This led to moral panic and demonization—perhaps part of the same rising tide of illiberalism that apparently led more than a quarter of Democrats in a recent Rasmussen poll to support temporarily removing parents’ custody of their children if parents refuse to take the vaccine.
In what may be the longest-lasting ramification of our flawed national discussion about masks, the opportunity to do good science was lost. Indeed, Stanford scientist and Tablet contributor John Ioannidis’ much-misrepresented warning that our response to COVID might be a fiasco because of insufficient data may prove one of the few accurate predictions of the pandemic. There was no appetite to do randomized control trials of masking, the gold standard for evidence and which were badly needed to evaluate when and how masks should be used. Unfortunately, proponents of masking proclaimed almost immediately that masks were so obviously useful that it would be unethical to study masking. Even if it were ethical, there was no room in academia for discussions. Who, after all, would study something that was known to be a panacea—and who would want to come to a “pro-Trump” finding? As a consequence, we have learned very little about when, how, or which masking policies are beneficial to help us respond to a future respiratory disease outbreak.
Some say it is unfair to criticize public health for messaging flip-flops—whether about cloth masks, herd immunity, natural immunity, or the vaccines’ effects on transmissibility—because they were just “following the science” as it changed. But in many cases, what evolved was politics, not science. The critics of public health messaging do not begrudge scientific progress—indeed, most of them want more research. Rather, people are upset by unjustified dogmatic certainty in one direction, followed by an immediate swoop to utter confidence in the opposite course of action. The pandemic produced a headfirst leap into a series of unprecedented interventions, from masks to lockdowns to school closures. In the first weeks of the pandemic, speed was necessary, and mistakes were inevitable. What was not necessary or inevitable was the suppression of healthy skepticism and discussion.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, when doctors Vinay Prasad and Jeff Flier presciently warned about the toxic climate within the scientific community, debate, nuance, open-mindedness, and curiosity have been driven underground. Now, the same ham-fisted responses that badly damaged our ability to respond intelligently to the pandemic hamper our return to normal. Elites—even those who now want to convince us to “live with” COVID—now find themselves stuck. They inspire little trust. They’ve locked some into a “forever pandemic,” others into conspiratorial thinking, with the sensible middle in a place of frustration and distrust.