More and more voices are being heard declaring confidently that the Covid was greatly overestimated, almost a nothingburger, and that the whole business of lockdowns and other measures surely had nothing to do with the virus’s actual danger, but only with the incompetence of experts. The fact that increasing numbers of nations have begun loosening restrictions with no sign so far of a dramatic spike in cases seems, certainly, to bolster this case—and if expert incompetence or inconsistency is one’s favorite quarry, there is no denying these past few months of pandemic have presented rich and thrilling chances for Bastard-hunting.
In particular, though, one hears much of the claim that the virus has been deliberately “overhyped” by elites as a way of sowing fear, instituting draconian measures, and thereby increasing their control over the population.
As far as that last sort of claim goes, there remains much that is doubtful. For one thing, if the experts are really as incompetent and contradictory as they lately have seemed to be, how could they be expected to systematically and synchronistically create and carry off a deception of such a massive kind?
This is not to suggest that elites and experts never conspire—indeed, expertise itself may be viewed in some cases as a kind of stabilized, instituted conspiracy—but only to suggest that if the experts are as incompetent as they have seemed to be, it is remarkable indeed if they have nonetheless conspired so competently to fill us with wholly fatuous fears.
All in all, when I pause to reflect, I find it just as plausible (if not more so) that the danger of Covid is currently being systematically underplayed, and that disturbing aspects of the disease are being systematically soft-pedaled or suppressed.
Consider the stakes in either case: what do elites have to gain by keeping their populations in indefinite lockdown? Far-reaching police powers, yes. Demolition of civil liberties, perhaps. But what will these elites have left to rule over, in that case, except an impoverished, unproductive economic wasteland, slumping towards medieval stasis? Moreover, what country could expect long to hold its own in the estimation of other nations, if all its productive industries and daily affairs remain shut down (or nearly so) indefinitely?
Maybe even more urgently, an elite that locks down for too long risks internal threats to its own power. As the population grows increasingly restless and begins to search for scapegoats for its misery, revolution is sure to enter the minds of many—and no revolution is really a revolution without some elites to blame, if not behead.
A nation-state that remains shut down for too long, therefore, risks becoming globally irrelevant—a backwater, inactive, left behind, internally unstable, easy prey for rival nations, and last but not least, singularly unprofitable.
Many are saying that the lockdowns were not really carried out to stop the virus, but as an opportunity to instate spying and police powers that came with lockdowns. The virus, on this view, was mainly a pretext, if it was really any danger at all.
Yet I find this reasoning too makes little sense. Though such powers as conferred by lockdown are no doubt a heady draught to some elites, they are likely not worth the trouble for most of them, for the simple reason that great headway was already being made in obtaining vast Chinese-style surveillance/police powers and demolition of civil liberties, even without the virus or the lockdowns.
The compensation of making such headway at a bit faster clip, at the expense of then ruling more totally over a ruined nation, is likely to seem an unconvincing exchange for the average rapacious, Machiavellian elite. The spying and repressive powers were coming along nicely enough as it was, thank you very much. In short, locking down for very long periods ends up costing the elite far more in national power, private treasure, and safety from mobbing than it gains them in civic power.
In contrast, by reopening their nation-states as soon as it is the least bit safe—or even quite a bit sooner—elites enjoy the prospect not only of moving national businesses back towards something resembling profitability, but also of cementing a new international preeminence on many fronts at once—by beating their geopolitical rivals to the prestige punchbowl, so to speak. They also, by beginning to reactivate the economic systems on which many of their constituents depend, have some chance of heading off a revolution by furious millions of unemployed.
It is not even a matter of either-or: an elite can very well decide to reopen a country prematurely, while still continuing and expanding its surveillance and policing techniques. This seems, in fact, to be what almost every “advanced” nation is now doing.
We see this for instance with China, which is endeavoring to present itself to the world as having skillfully and decisively squelched its outbreak, restored business-as-usual, and quickly weathered the ensuing economic shocks, all while maintaining social stability. China thus would appear not only as a model of successful pandemic-management but, as the only fully reopened industrial economy in the world, arguably the only game in town for the world’s buyers and businesses.
True, last we heard 108 million of China’s citizens are currently locked down again, while in Wuhan, 11 million are being subjected to mandatory re-testing, all because of Covid. Being first is not without its drawbacks. Yet China still can claim to be “back on its feet”, while now also routinely exercising police powers at a scale that even its previous, thoroughly totalitarian framework could not have considered “normal”. And that is worth more than anything to rulers, for that is power. We should not assume our own “enlightened” or “democratic” rulers think any differently.
Therefore it is very probably a naïve misconception to believe that the contest, in the mentality of the grubby, sociopathic ruling elites, is to be the last nation to lift Covid-related restrictions. Surely the race is instead to be the first—and to deal with whatever setbacks that perhaps-premature reopening produces as just another pretext for further expanding control. The cost of doing business, it turns out, is not costly at all.
In order to achieve such a first-out-of-the-gate reopening as fast as possible however, in the interests of national prestige and security (not to mention profit), there will surely be a need of convincing the population that all of this is perfectly safe and well-advised, and that consequences will be minimal—that only a hypochondriac kook, a lover of the Deep State with a Fauci shrine in his bedroom, could be seriously worried. If there are such consequences anyway, they will have to be suppressed, or at the very least, de-emphasized.
A few extra deaths can be suppressed, misreported, relabeled. It is striking how many people fully recognize this somewhat cynical fact now, but no less striking is how many of them only recognize it one way. Many are the voices now declaring that influenza and other deaths are being mislabeled as Covid deaths, perhaps deliberately. Quite a few are even willing to aver that doctors are being bribed to report Covid deaths (though alas, this seems not to be true).
But curiously few are the voices considering the opposite possibility: that many Covid deaths could be getting mislabeled, perhaps deliberately, as other causes. Yet there is already at least as much substantive evidence for this Covid-death “undercount” scenario as there is for an overcount.
My point is not to argue that the risk from the Covid is fading, or growing, or that it never existed, or anything else; the point is that, given the incentives at play, we should expect similar policies of reassurance and re-normalization whether it is really fading or not. Whether there is true recovery from the virus, or not, whether it is really spreading, or not, it becomes a matter of supreme national interest not that everyone be healthy, but that we appear healthy.
And so that interest will generally carry the day. As long as the advantages—in terms of restored profits, reduced social disorder, and increased national standing or “face”—are thought likely to outweigh the deaths and other damage from a premature re-opening, re-opening will likely go ahead relentlessly. Indeed, it will be praised as the daring, smart, and righteous thing to do. We will be encouraged, in ways big and small, to think the same way.
To summarize, there is a risk that nations will end up deluding ourselves and their populations about the virus in ways increasingly similar to what the CCP is thought to have done—not by overplaying it, but by downplaying it.