The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Normalizing Hysteria

Throughout 2020, catastrophists ruled the day. Their hysterical 'we're all gonna die!!!' warnings about COVID-19 led to government mandated lockdowns, mandatory business closures, and the shuttering of schools. Cities became ghost towns, businesses closed never to reopen, citizens looked on other citizens with suspicion, travel stopped. The catastrophists insisted that those actions would "stop the spread" but that did NOT happen. A recent major study out of Stanford University assesses the efficacy of more restrictive non‐pharmaceutical interventions (mrNPIs) and least restrictive non‐pharmaceutical interventions (lrNPIs):

Implementing any NPIs was associated with significant reductions in case growth in 9 out of 10 study countries, including South Korea and Sweden that implemented only lrNPIs (Spain had a non‐significant effect). After subtracting the epidemic and lrNPI effects, we find no clear, significant beneficial effect of mrNPIs on case growth in any country. In France, e.g., the effect of mrNPIs was +7% (95CI ‐5%‐19%) when compared with Sweden, and +13% (‐12%‐38%) when compared with South Korea (positive means pro‐contagion). The 95% confidence intervals excluded 30% declines in all 16 comparisons and 15% declines in 11/16 comparisons.


While small benefits cannot be excluded, we do not find significant benefits on case growth of more restrictive NPIs. Similar reductions in case growth may be achievable with less restrictive interventions.

Yet for 11 long months, the Democrats and now their incoming president kept telling us that mrNPIs were not only necessary but backed by "science." They implemented draconian restrictions (mostly in blue states) that ruined lives and livelihoods and ironically, did NOT stop the spread of the virus. Even some lrNPIs (e.g., masks everywhere for every reason) have been proven to provide only "small benefits" (i.e., in the 2 - 3 percent range), yet are viewed as a powerful amulet that somehow wards off the virus. They've also become a mechanism for virtue signaling among the Left.

But something else happened. The catastrophist narrative normalized the hysterical reactions that drove near authoritarian rule by some state governors. And that resulted in the selective assessment of reality based on a preferred narrative, and worst of all, the death of common sense. So we closed schools when children are basically immune from serious illness due to the virus and transmit it at very low percentage levels; we shuttered cities and destroyed economies, even when early data indicated those actions would not work, and mostly Democrats demanded isolation, even as the health affects of that demand forced people into their homes where 70+ percent of case transmission has been found to occur.

And sadly, the normalization of catastrophist thinking has now seeped into other areas. The propagandists in the main stream media have learned that a catastrophist patina sells any narrative that they alone deem worthy, so they promote catastrophist thinking, regardless of the truth. Politicians have learned to use the catastrophist narrative as a bludgeon. Government officials have noted the same thing, learning that a catastrophist narrative can encourage citizens to accept an assault on their most fundamental rights—all to avoid a "catastrophe."

Let's spend a moment exploring that.

The events of January 6th were a travesty and should never happen again. Donald Trump has been justifiably disgraced because he set the stage for them. But characterizing those events in catastrophist language—an "insurrection," a "coup," "sedition"—gives those events the power to drive bad decisions, just as catastrophist language regarding COVID-19 drove really, really bad decisions that will haunt us for years. 

By the way, the COVID decisions led to actions that made things worse, not better. I suspect that political decisions associated with January 6th debacle at the Capitol may also lead to actions that make our politics worse (if that's even possible). At some level, I'm beginning to believe that is the intent.