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Culture War Roundup for the week of July 17, 2023

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What happened to the “Covid hawks?”

When was the last time you thought about Covid-19?

Perhaps you or someone you knew had it recently and had to cancel plans or were sick for a while. So perhaps I’ll reword it - when was the last time you thought about Covid-19 in a truly “pandemic” sense? For instance, when did you last wear a mask? Or express a strong opinion about masks or vaccinations (whether for or against?)

Odds are, you probably haven’t done much if any of that for at least 12 months. Though the WHO hasn’t formally declared an end to the pandemic, and a few changes like increased remote work have proved remarkably sticky, “back to normal” has clearly happened for the vast majority of people.

But just six or so months prior to that, Covid was much more of a live issue. Vaccination mandates were highly contentious and stories like the Canada convoy protests and Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia were big news. Lots of people cared about Covid and the reaction to Covid, and at that time it seemed far from inevitable that this would quickly dissipate.

In particular, there used to be a sizeable portion of people, whom I’ll call “Covid hawks”, who were strongly in favour of both formal Covid restrictions as well as being personally Covid cautious, even after vaccines had become widely available. Matthew Yglesias talks about them at length in his January 2022 article “Normal”.

The kinds of people who are mad at David Leonhardt have propounded a worldview in which the truly virtuous are those who do remote work, Zoom with family in other cities, exercise at home on their Peloton, and maybe engage in a little light socializing with friends outdoors during the nice weather. You may be allowed to do other stuff, but the truly correct, conscientious mode of behavior is to abstain or minimize.

Covid hawks were very influential in media, in education, and basically anywhere where left-wing views were predominant (including Reddit and Twitter). I personally spent too much time in 2021 and 2022 arguing against them to a fairly hostile reception - even though my own Covid views were if anything a little more hawkish than Yglesias'.

It seemed quite plausible that Covid hawkishness might persist in the long term. Richard Hanaia wrote an essay in July 2021 called "Are Covid Restrictions the new TSA?", arguing that just as the post-9/11 increases in security remained in place, so too could Covid restrictions. This seemed quite plausible to me at the time, especially as I recall many Covid hawks openly being in favour of this. But though some rules did stick around quite a while longer, they’ve more or less all gone now.

Nowadays, the Covid hawks seem to have mostly just… quietly gone back to normal themselves? Sure, there are a handful of holdouts in places like /r/Coronavirus. But I basically never see Covid discussed anymore - even from people who used to talk about it incessantly. This isn’t just anecdotal - Google trends in the US for example show Coronavirus/Covid search results are currently only about 3% of what they were in January 2022.

What happened?

Did Covid pretty much just “go away”?

There’s some element of this. US Daily Covid deaths are now at a pandemic low (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/) at less than 100 a day (though drops in testing may muddy the waters a bit)

But daily deaths have at various times over the past year exceeded the death count seen at various earlier lulls in the pandemic, without seeing a restoration of anywhere near the same reaction. So it can’t be the whole story.

Did Omicron “break the spell”?

January 2022 was the very peak of the Omicron wave in the US (and most of the world), which also produced the highest recorded daily case count of the whole pandemic. It’s hardly surprising that Covid was a relatively bigger issue then.

But I think Omicron had some important features that helped accelerate the end of “Covid hawks”.

Firstly, because vaccines weren’t very effective at preventing infection, the case for vaccine mandates was much weaker, and most places dropped them fairly promptly in early 2022. This took the wind out of the sails of the anti-vax protest movement, which were major villains/points of contrast for the Covid hawks.

Secondly, because Omicron was so infectious, even many otherwise cautious people still got infected by it. This had a few effects. One, it made the “badge of pride” of being Covid cautious less effective if you still got infected anyway. Secondly, a lot of people would have found the illness to be relatively mild and it may have felt their initial fears feel overblown. Finally, the wave resulted in widespread increased immunity, making people feel more comfortable about going back to normal afterward (partly because of cases going down, and partly because of people who felt immune themselves).

Did Covid caution gradually “go out of fashion”?

If you look again at the Google Trends link above, there was a steep fall as the original Omicron wave receded. By March 2022, with cases in a trough, searches were about a third of what they were at the start of the year. But even as subsequent waves of Omicron subvariants reared their heads, resulting in case numbers sharply increasing (though still remaining well below all-time peaks), it appeared to do little to stem back the gradual decline of search interest. Today, search traffic for coronavirus is about a tenth of what it was in March 2022.

So I think Covid “going out of fashion” has to be considered a major factor. My guess is that an “unraveling” of Covid hawkery as a social movement occurred. A number went “back to normal” after vaccination and others after the first Omicron wave passed, but that still left a sizeable enough group for them to feel solidarity with. But the group faced steady attrition as the rest of the world moved on, probably partly due to pandemic fatigue and partly due to becoming an increasingly isolated minority. Being a vocal Covid hawk was still pretty acceptable in certain “blue tribe” circles in mid-2022, but now in mid-2023 you’d probably get funny looks even from many former Covid hawks if you demanded that mask mandates be brought back.

Conclusion

I think the Omicron wave was a precipitating factor in the demise of “Covid hawks”, but it still took a long time to unravel to the tiny minority it is now.

However, this essay might have given the impression that I think the reactions of “Covid hawks” were always too strong, which isn’t the case at all. I’ve always thought that an individual or society’s response to Covid needed to take a cost-benefit analysis into account, and depending on the circumstances that could justify quite strong reactions (e.g. I generally supported (my home country) New Zealand’s lockdowns and border restrictions, if not necessarily every element of their scope or length). Even today, I think the highly vulnerable should be at least moderately Covid cautious, and even the less vulnerable might want to be selectively Covid cautious leading to an event where it could really suck to get Covid (e.g. if you’re about to climb Mt Everest).

Still, I wouldn’t deny it - I’m still a little sore from being heavily attacked on Reddit and Twitter for daring to suggest that some reactions to Covid may go a little overboard. To see that many of the people who used to insist that masking forever would be no big deal are no longer masking themselves does make a feel more justified in my past positions.

I'm answering twice, but I think the main reason for the rather forced post-Covid amnesia is that the media went all in on lockdownism and that's increasingly embarrassing. It's hard to defend things like closing all schools for a year now that nobody's frightened of Covid any more, so they're whistling nonchalantly and desperately trying to forget it. Nobody influential will try to bring it up again because there's almost certainly public proof that they went all in on it too.

It takes a lot of guts and moral stringency to think back and realise that you panicked and smashed our society to slivers for almost nothing. Very few people, public or private, are capable of that.

forced post-Covid amnesia is that the media went all in on lockdownism and that's increasingly embarrassing

I came here to post "Normies stopped talking about it because the media stopped talking about it", so in that sense I agree entirely. Absent the daily orders of What Current Thing To Support being beamed into their devices 24/7, the Normie does not support it, and so when the media messaging stops, the Covid hawks vanish.

I'll also give a moderate agreement on your reasoning as to why the media stopped. Reminding people about Covid might remind them of a glaring example of how Big Government (and it's Cathedral tentacles in academia, NGOs, media, civil society, experts) fucked up. Which is a line of thought they want to assiduously avoid planting in the proles' heads, so better to just memory-hole the whole experience.

But the Covid hawks are very specifically not the normies. They're the guys who kept the faith long after the normies stopped. The Covid hawks are dissidents, and in some sense have at least considered themselves dissidents for the whole duration of the pandemic (after all, in most Western countries, the measures stopped far short of what the hawks were demanding at various points, and were run down far sooner than the hawks would have preferred.)

I have the same grudging respect for people that all still all-in on Covidism that I do for the farthest fringe religious believers, the guys that take the Koran completely literally. Most people kind of shrugged at Covid policies and halfassedly followed along. They might have been somewhat scared, but still gone along with going out with their friends, or they might have thought the whole thing was silly, but still gone along with masking. Likewise, most people that say they believe a given religion kind-of sort-of follow it, but might fudge a bit around the edges when it comes to literal interpretations or inconveniences like abstinence until marriage. Not the fundamentalists or Covid hawks though! In the year of our Lord 2023, they maintain that if that's the word of Allah, you need to follow it completely and that if Covid justified society-level shutdowns in 2020, the fact that it still exists means that you should at least wear a mask if not avoid all crowds entirely. I think the premises of both of these groups are incredibly incorrect, but I do have to respect the willingness to follow their principles to their logical conclusions.

For the people who are still all-in (at least in the US), it's not really about COVID and it never was. These are the kind of germophobes who wiped everything down with sanitizer and insisted that guests wash their hands when entering their homes long before COVID hit. When certain policies that played into their neuroticism became mainstream for a brief period in response to a specific threat, they latched onto them, and were surprised and appalled that the public abandoned them whenever the threat was over. If COVID were eradicated tomorrow these people wouldn't all of the sudden throw their masks away and stop caring about safety precautions, they'd go back to the germophobes they were in 2019 and argue that there are still plenty of other diseases out there that we should be requiring all these precautions to prevent.

I wouldn't underestimate the commitment of normies. When the messaging was on the side of the true Covid hawks the average person was almost indistinguishable from them.

If the Covid hawks are dissidents they only became dissidents after their support evaporated. Before that they were something else... a dissident is on the outskirts of a tribe, they distinguished themselves by being more fervently tribal than those around them.

Well said, it is truly outrageous how much was justified on such flimsy evidence and outright lies.

I am surprised that right wingers in Florida and Texas haven’t been grandstanding more about being right though.

Florida tried and Texas politics is meaningfully different because local issues- Ken Paxton impeachment, tax issues, and the state-federal showdown over border policy- are sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

But it wasn't for almost nothing. It was the deadliest pandemic in the US in over 100 years. The people who died from it are actually dead. You can argue of course that governments overreacted, but to say that it was for almost nothing is quite a distortion of reality.

Yes, people died. They were already going to die that year or the next anyways. Quite frankly ‘Covid is not actually a major threat unless you’re already dependent on medical intervention to survive or quite close to the end of your natural lifespan’ was obvious from very early on in the pandemic, and even if you assume that Covid deaths would have been ten times higher without mitigation measures(not, I think, a supportable assumption but a reasonable steel man of the face saving lies told by our institutions) the NPI’s did so much damage to the social fabric that it still wouldn’t be worth it.

Yes, lots of old and frail people really did die, but that doesn't actually provide justification for things like shutting down beaches and compulsory masking to walk from the door to the bar. Even if one can imagine measures that would have done something useful, the ones that were implemented weren't it. Whether Covid was worth responding to meaningfully or not, we obviously did not respond meaningfully. I could scarcely come up with a better case study in the field of Something Must Be Done And This Is Something.

The Johns Hopkins meta-analysis estimated that lockdowns and other NPIs likely prevented about 0.2% of Covid deaths i.e. almost nothing. These NPIs were instated in reaction to a real threat, but they accomplished almost nothing.

Fair enough, I assumed that Corvos meant that the pandemic itself was almost nothing but I may have misinterpreted.

Sorry, didn't mean to motte and bailey you. Let me try to be more specific:

  1. Yes, people literally died. But if you compare it to historic death rates, it looks more like a blip than an explosion. I'm having great difficulty finding a graph that puts mortality from pre-2020 and post-2020 on the same graph but from https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/GBR/united-kingdom/death-rate it looks like a return to 2005 era death rates at worst. Rather than not thinking that old people's lives have any value,* I'm saying that for many of them it was just a switch in what gets written on the death certificate. Being the deadliest pandemic for 100 years says more about the lack of danger of pandemics in modern times than it does Covid. Without the media furore, I'm not sure people would have even noticed.

  2. The lockdowns don't seem to have worked. Even staying purely in the realm of preventing deaths, in the UK it seems that more people have died due to lockdown giving the NHS a death blow than due to Covid:

https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2023/june/100000-excess-deaths-cardiovascular-disease https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/highest-uk-weekly-death-toll-nhs-ae-waiting-times-2023-lk769d3cq https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/10/29/disastrous-legacy-left-lockdown-non-covid-excess-deaths-overtake/

TL;DR: the deaths from coronavirus are a mild statistical irregularity that I feel no emotional valence towards, and the lockdown either didn't help or was actively counterproductive. Thus, "for almost nothing".

*I am actually willing to bite the bullet and say that to a certain extent "old and immuno-compromised people losing some years of life is a nothingburger" but I don't think I really have to in this case.

Yes, people literally died. But if you compare it to historic death rates, it looks more like a blip than an explosion. I'm having great difficulty finding a graph that puts mortality from pre-2020 and post-2020 on the same graph but from https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/GBR/united-kingdom/death-rate it looks like a return to 2005 era death rates at worst.

I don't think that's right, from the top of the page:

NOTE: All death rate data after 2019 are United Nations projections and therefore DO NOT include any impacts from COVID-19.

Bugger. Thank you. In all honestly, either it just takes ages to gather this data or something a bit fishy is going on. Can anyone find a merged graph? Or does Covid just blow everything else out of the water?

The age-adjusted death rate in the US in 2020 was about the same as the death rate in 2009. Unadjusted, it was about the same as the death rate in 1946, I believe. Almost nothing.

It was a very deadly pandemic for very old people. It is sad they died, and especially that many died alone due to horrible/cruel hospital policies. But this was not a particularly deadly pandemic for younger adults.

Look at this age stratification https://www.statista.com/statistics/1254488/us-share-of-total-covid-deaths-by-age-group/

COVID really was basically fake. Average loss in life was like 5 years. Only person I knew who died from COVID hadn’t been out of bed in a decade.

If I had to choose between COVID was “real” or “fake” well fake seems far more accurate.

It really depends on what you value. I mean, I understand why some people on this site get more upset by a Confederate general's statue being removed or by some rage-bait that a wokeoid attention seeker with 100 followers writes on Twitter than they get upset by a disease that killed several million people, because I understand that different people value different things over others and have different notions of the possible consequences of events. There are legitimate good arguments in favor of valuing all these things differently in different ways.

But it is exasperating to argue with people who propose the bailey of "Covid is fake, just a cold, and doesn't matter at all" and then retreat the motte of "well it was mostly old people who died". Some people don't think that old and immuno-compromised people losing some years of life is a nothingburger. Some do, I get that. But let's all at least get on the same page and say no, it is not "basically fake". It is not fake at all and saying "fake seems far more accurate" is a rather bad faith use of the words, in the sense that you would not accept a similar use of language to defend a position that you dislike.

I value math. I’m not getting into a what you value thing unless you can make a math argument.

Fair enough, you of course not have to get into a discussion of values if you do not want to, but let me see where you disagree with me here...

  1. Some number of people died from covid. You seem to agree with this.

  2. A smaller number of people would have died from covid if more stringent anti-covid interventions had been pursued. Do you agree with this?

If you agree with both, then we are already basically just discussing values, basically the value of saving some life-years as opposed to the value of other things.

The thing is, we usually think in terms of died / didn’t die, and you’re using those terms We talk about things like “saving lives” when the literal autistic meaning would be “delaying death”. Which is why we talk about life-years. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here but please bear with me.

Problem is, the dichotomy makes sense for a young person. The difference between dying at 20 and at 90 is a big difference, so big that we can think about it in terms of “life or death”. But in the case of someone who’s 90 and bedridden, it becomes increasingly absurd. A big part of the feeling of fakeness came about because authorities used very strong rhetoric about saving lives to describe protecting people who were clearly at death’s door. Nobody was interested in debating the value of saving life-years.

A smaller number of people would have died from covid if more stringent anti-covid interventions had been pursued.

Possibly. Some more stringent anti-Covid measures may have prevented Covid deaths. Some more stringent ones probably fall under security theatre (they never closed the beaches where I live, but there were Western jurisdictions where beaches were closed: I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that closing beaches prevented so much as a single Covid death). And, obviously, some more stringent anti-Covid measures may have succeeded in the narrow goal of preventing Covid deaths but caused more deaths through second-order effects, or otherwise failed to pass a cost-benefit analysis.

(2) seems potentially false to me. We needed to reach herd immunity via infection so there is no evidence that lockdown measures saved any lives.

Add in deaths from lockdowns like deaths of despair and they probably costs lives.

I check in on the branch covidians at places like ZeroCovidCommunity from time to time, but my emotions towards them have softened over time from disgust to pity. Seems a bunch of people have been well and truly broken by all the fearmongering going around during the lockdowns etc. At this point I basically consider them victims of government policy.

Occasionally I still see people masking in public and I always side-eye them. But again, it's more a feeling of pity than anything else.

I guess that now their faction is out of power and not actively trying to degrade my life, I don't really bear any hostility to them... but if they started gaining power again I'd probably revert to hate.

I check in on the branch covidians at places like ZeroCovidCommunity from time to time, but my emotions towards them have softened over time from disgust to pity.

I guess that now their faction is out of power and not actively trying to degrade my life, I don't really bear any hostility to them... but if they started gaining power again I'd probably revert to hate.

The people in those spaces are not the same people you were disgusted with three years ago. Be careful not to succumb to outgroup homogeneity bias. The people who still take Covid seriously in July 2023 are in many ways kindred spirits to those who were done taking Covid seriously in July 2020; they applied their own reasoning to the problem and came to a conclusion that, right or wrong, they'll cleave to whatever society says. Wearing a mask and social distancing is low status, where before it was high status. Covid Hawks of current year are admirable even though imo they're wrong.

By contrast, some of the people occupying the same space in 2020 were (a) parroting high status positions (b) looking for an excuse to hate the outgroup (c) looking for an excuse to exercise petty authority (d) authentically responding in fear to a perceived crisis by looking for a witch to burn or Jewish quarter to loot. Now that those groups have moved on to something else, they've left the principled core of the pro-lockdown movement behind.

I think Covid hawks were a creation of the hype machine. The searches don’t go up and down based on variants, but media coverage. The media basically dropped all COVID coverage around the time of the Russian invasion when the hype machine went from coverage of COVID related stories (new variant, mask/vaccine) to Plucky Ukraine with a guy who looks like Hawkeye. Instead of the signal being masks and telling everyone you never leave the house, it became Ukrainian flags and being obnoxious about the pronunciation of Kiev as Kyiv.

But to my mind, it was always a creation of media. Had the media not covered the story, it wasn’t much. It was, for the vast majority of people, a glorified flu virus. Had it not come with death-tickers and infection-tickers on the nightly news, breathless coverage of new variants, and endless advice about whether given activities were “safe” to do, people would never have cared in the first place. Had this happened in 1983, there wouldn’t have been nearly the hysteria— in large measure because we didn’t have the possibility of sending millions of office workers home, and didn’t have online shopping. The hype pushed billions into to coffers of Amazon, Walmart, Doordash, and instacart simply by virtue of making people afraid to leave the house.

It was, for the vast majority of people, a glorified flu virus.

True, but at the same time, the flu can be nasty itself. Three people in my immediate family got (Omicron, I think) Covid: me - it affected my breathing; one sibling - nothing much apart from flu-like symptoms; another sibling - constant vomiting to the point of fainting and dehydration.

So it had different effects on different people, and while most probably did get away with nothing worse than 'a bad flu', there were also deaths from it. I think the authorities were unsure how to handle it, and veered between too optimistic (it'll burn through like seasonal flu) to too controlling (everyone in your room and no going anywhere for any reason). The latter pissed off people, especially when the authorities were merrily driving around the country and having unmasked parties for their five hundred closest friends while ordinary people couldn't even go visit sick grandma.

Hindsight is easy. If they had gone easy, there would be criticism that they should have instituted lockdowns and that would have stopped it early. If they didn't mandate vaccines, ditto. We have people saying the vaccines killed people, and I'm sure in the opposite case we'd have people saying lack of vaccines killed people. Whatever was done or not done, someone would say "they should have done this/not done this".

It's hard to handle a global pandemic. I think we need a reminder from time to time that Nature, for all our progress and prowess, can still wallop us around.

Had this happened in 1983, there wouldn’t have been nearly the hysteria

Speaking of 1983 - remember AIDS?

A 1981 report by what is now the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes a rare form of pneumonia that is later identified as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. It is the most advanced stage of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

I sorta kinda remember some hysteria around it back then? And it's still a pandemic, but the West has not seen the same continuing effects as the rest of the world due to retrovirals. If we still didn't have what is in effect a HIV vaccine, things might be very different. There were travel restrictions, among other measures, implemented in the USA and we still get political traction out of "it was a genocide" for the gay community around how it was treated or not treated back then:

During the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, LGBTQ+ communities were further stigmatized as they became the focus of mass hysteria, suffered isolation and marginalization, and were targeted with extreme acts of violence in the United States. One of the best known works on the history of HIV/AIDS is the 1987 book And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts, which contends that Ronald Reagan's administration dragged its feet in dealing with the crisis due to homophobia, while the gay community viewed early reports and public health measures with corresponding distrust, thus allowing the disease to spread further and infect hundreds of thousands more. This resulted in the formation of ACT-UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) by Larry Kramer. Galvanized by the U.S. federal government's inactivity, the movement led by AIDS activists to gain funding for AIDS research, which on a per-patient basis out-paced funding for more prevalent diseases such as cancer and heart disease, was used as a model for future lobbying for health research funding.

...Publicity campaigns were started in attempts to counter the incorrect and often vitriolic perception of AIDS as a "gay plague". These included the Ryan White case, red ribbon campaigns, celebrity dinners, the 1993 film version of And the Band Played On, sex education programs in schools, and television advertisements. Announcements by various celebrities that they had contracted HIV (including actor Rock Hudson, basketball star Magic Johnson, tennis player Arthur Ashe and singer Freddie Mercury) were significant in arousing media attention and making the general public aware of the dangers of the disease to people of all sexual orientations.

...AIDS was met with great fear and concern by the nation, much like any other epidemic, and those who were primarily affected were homosexuals, African-Americans, Latinos, and intravenous drug users. The general thought of the population was to create distance and establish boundaries from these people, and some doctors were not immune from such impulses. During the epidemic, doctors began to not treat AIDS patients, not only to create distance from these groups of people, but also because they were afraid to contract the disease themselves.

Because the mechanism of transmission wasn't known, there was fear and panic about getting it merely from physical contact with the infected, or contact with things the infected had had contact with. If masking up had been recommended back in the 80s you bet people would have done it, and been vocal about calling for others to do it, as well as the hand sanitisers etc. approach to everything. Keep 2m distance in public spaces between yourself and another person in case they're infected and neither of you know it? Would have been happily adopted.

AIDS was, up until we had treatments universally fatal, its transmisión mechanism and rate were unknown. If you got AIDS, you were going to die, and until we had a good idea of how it spread, people were afraid of it because they knew you died from it, and they thought casual contact spread it.

Also to point out the government response to the public in the AIDS crisis was to calm people’s fears. They very importantly didn’t hype aids. Fauci was a key player in AIDS. He didn’t go on TV warning people not to go outside because there was a scary virus, the hover was telling people that those with AIDS were not to be shunned and avoided.

This is a completely different situation than a virus with maybe a 1% chance of killing you if you were over 65, or had known serious health issues. For 90% of us, this difference between COVID and the flu was first of all the hype, and secondly the government response. We had the data — by march 2020 we knew enough to get a reasonable grasp of the death rate.

The government’s response to this virus is the opposite. Fear. Telling people that if they went outside they could catch COVID, that refusing to take the vaccination was evil. Forcing masks on people. Forcing every place that might be open to the public to either enforce masks and limit occupancy or close entirely.

which contends that Ronald Reagan's administration dragged its feet in dealing with the crisis due to homophobia, while the gay community viewed early reports and public health measures with corresponding distrust, thus allowing the disease to spread further and infect hundreds of thousands more

This is rather curious if you think about it a bit. I'm not sure exactly what we knew at the time, but knowing what we know now and what we did about Covid, the most effective thing that we could have done at the time to stop AIDS would have been to double-down on homophobia. Aggressively bust up gay clubs and meeting spots where the most promiscuous gay men would go to have sex with multiple strangers on a regular basis, shut down any mailing lists, newsletters, etc that were effectively used for the same, significant prison time for the worst offenders, etc. (Actually, maybe it's not such a great idea to lock up the most promiscuous gay men who might have AIDS in a prison with a bunch of other men... maybe you'd need a AIDS-only prison for them, then who cares if the end up spending all day humping each other, they've all got AIDS already anyways)

Last year I was in a pub bathroom and there was a sign hanging up giving advice for gay men on how to avoid monkeypox, a disease which disproportionately affects gay men. It was full of cheerfully unambitious and undemanding suggestions like "consider using condoms" and "consider only having sex with a small social circle" (as opposed to "every willing participant you come into contact with", presumably). Nowhere did it suggest that gay men should always use condoms, or avoid having casual sex completely for their own protection until a monkeypox vaccine had been rolled out - those demands would be far too onerous to make, apparently.

It's interesting to me that you can shut down every nightclub and bar in the country (including gay bars) for months at a time in hopes of preventing the transmission of a disease (a disease which disproportionately affects people who are so old and sick that they haven't set foot in a bar or nightclub for years, but whatever) - but the idea of temporarily shutting down gay clubs to prevent the transmission of a disease which disproportionately affects gay men (thereby protecting them from serious illness) is absolutely unthinkable. In fact I think it's entirely reasonable to assume that a public official who proposed this exact policy with this exact rationale would be accused of committing a genocide against LGBT people by denying them (even temporarily) a safe space. (How "safe" is a space exactly if going there makes you far more likely to contract an infectious disease than you would otherwise?)

The selection process for which policies sit inside the Overton window seems so fickle and arbitrary.

The selection process for which policies sit inside the Overton window seems so fickle and arbitrary.

If you think so, you probably haven't discovered the actual criteria.

Note that I said "seems".

I mean, locking them up and saying ‘they’re in prison for spreading a deadly disease by having gay sex constantly’ is a great way to get them murdered in prison.

Comments like these are why I come to this website.

in large measure because we didn’t have the possibility of sending millions of office workers home, and didn’t have online shopping.

And because the obesity rates in first world nations were a fraction of what they currently are, and there weren't half as many old people.

But to my mind, it was always a creation of media. Had the media not covered the story, it wasn’t much. It was, for the vast majority of people, a glorified flu virus. Had it not come with death-tickers and infection-tickers on the nightly news, breathless coverage of new variants, and endless advice about whether given activities were “safe” to do, people would never have cared in the first place.

Yes and the same is true for many things. From our local vantage point we have a hard time comparing anything that is rare. Car accidents, serial killers, HIV, liver disease -- how many people do you personally know who died from any of these? Just because I don't know anyone who has died in a car accident (let alone anyone close), that doesn't mean campaigns to get people to buckle their seatbelts were just fearmongering.

No comment on whether Covid in particular was fearmongering, but "people wouldn't have cared without the media/tickers" proves too much.

Well, we have a hard time determining relevance and rare comparisons. And I think the media and governments use that quite often to manipulate public opinion. We have a hard time figuring out what really is important and what isn’t. Is Ukraine important to people? Will your life be affected one way or another by the war? And as such why is it something that people spend a lot of time on? Or the Presidential races — has the president ever actually changed anyone’s life? We are told what to care about by the media spotlight, and the vast majority of it really doesn’t matter— or at least not nearly in proportion to the amount of coverage that those stories get.

And the death-tickers were exactly that, because they told you very little about those who were dying, and since you could die weeks after getting a positive test, it was counting current cases. and deaths of people who got sick weeks ago. The other thing left out was just how over and above the testing went. We tested everybody for COVID and used very sensitive tests. Compare that to flu testing where you only test those with pretty severe symptoms. And that’s the point, it was shoved in everyone’s face every single day to make sure that everyone was thinking about the new plague all the time. That was the entire purpose of the ticker. I have no problem with safety campaigns, I think seatbelt campaigns are good, but again, they don’t have a 24/7 ticker of car accident deaths to get people to wear them.

has the president ever actually changed anyone’s life?

yes

If you claim otherwise: are you limiting this claim to USA? effects of USA presidents in USA? last N years? to personal decisions without considering say effects of nomination to the upper legislature of USA aka constitutional court? effects on large part of population, not just "anyone"?

Will your life be affected one way or another by the war?

yes (and for people in USA it also applies, effects on power market and indirect effect of wheat prices alone ensured this)

Yeah, for the vast majority of people it was a nothingburger but that doesn't mean that it was just the flu. It was 10 times more deadly than the flu.

One of the aspects of the COVID situation I find most disturbing was the way decision makers as a class professed to reject the concept of a cost benefit analysis as a way to weigh potential actions. However, looking at their behavior, it's clear that almost nobody actually eschewed cost benefit analysis. (Almost: there's a famous Seattle bartender who drove his formerly renowned Wallingford bar out of business because he refused to give up COVID mask protocols after everyone else had moved on.) It was illuminating to see mass confabulation of reasoning processes and ret-conning of decision making procedures.

Ever spend time with someone who doesn't have a sense of inter-temporal consistency in analyzing his own behavior? One day, he'll be in favor of X, the next ~X, and then X again, all enthusiastically, and usually in absolute denial of having ever felt differently. If you present them with incontrovertible evidence of their having changed positions, they'll change the subject, talk over you, leave the room, and so literally anything except address the substance of what you've said. These people always have some kind of narrative that justifies (if only to themselves) their current feelings. That their narrative might make no scientific or factual or tactical sense doesn't faze them: they have a narrative, and it's enough to quell the background anxiety they must otherwise feel all the time about the wisdom of their actions.

I don't think these people are lying --- not exactly: their brains are merely censoring anything anything that interferes with weaving a story in which their present situation is consistent with their self image. They literally can't sense contrary data: their neural "operating system" filters it out at a low level and reacts to it with a fight or flight response. Imagine Blanche DuBois from "A Streetcar Named Desire".

Everyone has some element of this duplicity in them. When low IQ people behave this way, it's annoying. When high IQ people behave this way, it's dangerous. What's fascinating about COVID is that the situation elicited this behavior from essentially the entire leadership structure of society. What prompted it was of course fear --- first of the virus, then of ostracism. It makes me wonder whether the people who behave the way I describe above do so because deep down they're deathly afraid of something they can't articulate. It's sad.

I think most people aren’t taught to be consistent or to actually think. In the American public school system, unless you’re getting your critical thinking skills elsewhere, you’ll not really get them.

Part of it is that it’s hard to teach at scale; you need to spend time taking apart a text, time to teach (and practice) logic, and time to grade the essays that result. There are simply no real shortcuts to teaching logical, critical thinking. You have to teach textual analysis, you have to teach logic, you have to teach empirical thinking, and you have to teach data analysis. This is further complicated by poor literacy and numeracy in public schools— kids cannot read or do math well enough to learn logic on top of the critical reading and data analysis that they can’t do either.

The other problem is that logical thinkers are exceptionally hard to manipulate. If you know statistics, then you have a much better grasp of risk and thus become much harder to scare into compliance. If you can critically reason, you’ll look into multiple viewpoints, analyze them, and make a decision about the issue. On the other hand, someone lacking those skills will be forced to go with cruder methods like popularity of media attention, or their perceived risk (based mostly on how scary something feels).

Most American schools like to say they teach logic and critical thinking, but they can’t and don’t. They need to pretend they are, because it’s a big educational buzz phrase that employers say they want (up until the person questions the boss) and the political class say they want (up until the public starts to question the favored doctrines). But nobody really wants to create critical thinkers, and anyway, it’s hard. So, instead they go with stupid worksheets that list the canonical fallacies, tell kids to trust mainstream sources and government sources, and then tell them that passing a multiple choice test on these concepts makes them capable of thinking clearly. People are then stuck using whatever TV tells them the science says, and what the authorities tell them to do.

Imagine Blanche DuBois from "A Streetcar Named Desire".

Haven't read it, could you explain the analogy?

When was the last time you thought about Covid-19?

Yesterday. At a rate of about once every day or so.

I don't think about the virus.

I think about the economic turmoil left behind as a result of our reaction to it. Whenever I see or think of monetary/employment woes that are mine or someone else's, I just can't help but think of the counterfactual world where we did not shut down our economies or parts of it for months on end for a 2-year stretch.

I think of the social decay as well. The fact I had to miss 1.5 years of college, just when I started making friends.

Surely both of these things added up, convoluted over millions of people had a loss greater than what numbers could show? Not even counting opportunity costs.

Post covid it feels like Something is Not Right.

The fact I had to miss 1.5 years of college, just when I started making friends.

COVID was a godsend to many students in interesting ways. There’s more than a few people I’ve met, for whom their institution’s response to the lockdown might have been the only reason they were able to graduate. It’ll be interesting to see the reverberating effects of this, 10-20 years down the road.

It's put me firmly in the upper middle class. Let me hold down a job and go to school at the same time after doing all the night/accelerated shit I could at CC.

On that note, California's guaranteed transfers from certain certified CCs to any 4 year if you have a high GPA is fucking incredible and should be the standard everywhere. Got my degree for about 6k before aid.

Interesting. It’d be curious to know if you got lucky by circumstance or just know the system much better than I do. My experience with the California Higher Education system had been nothing short of a nightmare on all fronts.

It's hard for me to imagine that. My experience at 3 institutions has been arriving at the registrars office and saying "Hey, I know it says that I have to do X but instead of that, what if I didn't have to?" and them saying "Lol sure go for it".

It's been all wins for me; but I was in the sweet spot of making just enough on the books money to qualify for everything, but not so much as to make me have to pay in cash as it were.

Also I am just a charming little sonofabitch who mounted a polite harassment campaign on the offices of everyone involved. Basically, there is no reason to ever not pair an email with a phone call.

I got them to accept 12-16 extra units just by talking to people long enough enough to let them know I wasn't gonna stop while keeping the manners at 100%.

EDIT: I had that soom ah cum loudly GPA though, I don't know if it works without both.

The UK has an ongoing COVID inquiry. It's probably not going to come to much, but the general consensus I sense now was that the lockdowns and the general pandemic strategy were a bit foolish, yet another error of the Tory government.

It's no longer verboten to criticise the lockdowns, as it was for years. I still haven't heard a remotely sane answer for why vaccines had to be agonisingly slowly tested while the bodies piled up, because mumble mumble bioethics consent, but the whole population could be placed under house arrest on a whim, but there you go.

Realistically, there's not going to be a huge revelation. It's just going to quietly fade away, at best they'll be generally seen as a mildly bad response, and we'll forget all about it.

+1 for my general belief that the lockdowns were motivated more by panic, and monkey-see-monkey-do-ing China, than any actually coherent policy.

I disagree. All coverage I see of it, excluding The Telegraph, is framed with the assumption that 200K people died and this is an utterly horrific failure of the government and not an inevitability of a nation state becoming fat and old. I look at all the headline images that journalists choose to run and I Cannot Help But Notice that most of those wearing placards or holding up pictures of the deceased are old people lamenting even older people.

I fear the response to the pandemic has been normalised: when something like this happens again, we will shut down schools and places of free association, we will usher everyone inside their homes to look at screens all day, and we will demonise anyone pointing out the utter disaster of this policy. The operating policy of the country is determined by what is best for the all powerful owner occupier class and the national religion.

I fear the response to the pandemic has been normalised: when something like this happens again, we will shut down schools and places of free association, we will usher everyone inside their homes to look at screens all day, and we will demonise anyone pointing out the utter disaster of this policy.

This is exactly my fear, and why I get so angry when I'm talking about the insanity of lockdowns and the response is "lockdowns are over, you got what you wanted, why are you so mad?" I'll only have "got what I wanted" when the average person and average politician is definitively saying Never Again.

The UK has an ongoing COVID inquiry. It's probably not going to come to much, but the general consensus I sense now was that the lockdowns and the general pandemic strategy were a bit foolish, yet another error of the Tory government.

Really? I had heard that they were pushing heavily for "the lockdowns would have worked, but the selfish Tories delayed for a crucial two weeks because they were more worried about the economy than dying citizens. Next time we have to be ready to lock down immediately".

Definitely the initial phase was lots of crying families and pointed questions about pandemic readiness.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jul/21/covid-inquiry-politicians-matt-hancock-george-osborne https://www.bbc.com/news/health-66223172

FWIW, Germany had a similar analysis done recently, and the results were fairly self-congratulatory for having done a good job, especially with the social distancing it seems, and only a cheeky little addendum suggesting that future measures should consider taking psychological effects into account.

Source: Heard it on the radio.

This is probably a case of Bureaucrats Cannot Be Wrong. That mentality is a troubling thing to be revealed because most prior cases of ten gorillion dead can be traced back to Bureaucrats Cannot Be Wrong.

I wish my arms were so long and flexible that I could pat myself on the back like that.

I still haven't heard a remotely sane answer for why vaccines had to be agonisingly slowly tested while the bodies piled up, because mumble mumble bioethics consent

It sounds like you think the vaccine trials could have gone faster by doing challenge trials? I'm not sure that's true, but even if we could have gotten the vaccines approved faster, I'm not sure that would have sped up the rollout much: for several months after approval, they were hard to get because there just weren't enough doses manufactured (first doses in around December 2020, took until May or June to really get everyone access (so by then the prioritized high-risk groups had gotten access); and that was with throwing money at ramping up manufacturing before approval). Maybe there was some way to throw even more money at manufacturing them faster, but my understanding is that really wasn't the case since there were supply chain issues like suddenly needing a lot of specialized machines for vaccine manufacturing, and ramping all of that up could only happen so fast.

And that's not even accounting for the potential absolute disaster of rolling a vaccine out to everyone that didn't actually work, or worse, actually was dangerous, which, in addition to the first-order effects, could have super-charged the anti-vaccine movement.

I still haven't heard a remotely sane answer for why vaccines had to be agonisingly slowly tested while the bodies piled up

I thought the vaccines were developed and approved really quickly?

They were developed very quickly--I believe the first ones in January of 2020. They were approved "quickly" in the sense that a new medicine getting approved in less than a year would be unheard of in normal situations. They were not approved quickly in the sense that quickly by FDA standards is still glacially slow by any reasonable person standards. Also, the testing process was delayed--they were allowed to do phase 2 and phase 3 trials at the same time, IIRC, but those trials took a lot of time because most people weren't getting covid in the course of a month and you need a lot of people in the control group to get COVID in order to have enough data. This could have been worked around with challenge trials, which people even volunteered for, but we can't have that. People might get hurt!

Edit: Since I'm being sarcastic, I should say that manufacturing might have slowed down the process of getting vaccines out anyway. But even with a small number of doses you could prevent a lot of deaths by vaccinating old people and other at-risk groups, which is what we did, so I would guess challenge trials still end up saving lives on net.

Counter-argument: if you roll out a vaccine to the entire population without waiting long enough to see if there are delayed side effects, you could do a LOT of damage.

Probably not as much damage as, you know, the COVID pandemic. The null action also costs millions of lives and trillions of dollars!

We roll out the vaccine to 95% of the population. Six months later, turns out it makes people infertile. Whoops. Civilisational collapse.

Any attempt to roll out a new type of medicine at a civilisational scale should be done extremely carefully. Coronaviruses are to some extent a known factor and are very unlikely to have that level of effect - the mRNA vaccines were very likely to be safe (and mostly were) but it was an entirely new mechanism for messing with the immune system and in my opinion you shouldn't do that for 95% of the population without being very very sure what happens.

Six months later, turns out it makes people infertile.

That's still a good deal for over-65s! You could have rolled it out to all of them and still nearly eliminated the pandemic death toll. That's my whole point - sure, it wasn't worth rolling out an experimental vaccine to everyone at once, but it was obviously worth it for the most vulnerable.

Oh, I agree completely! I argued the same thing elsewhere on the thread.

Covid might also have delayed unknown side effects, so by the exact same logic delaying them could do a lot of damage.

It could. But when I say “a LOT of damage”, I mean the very small chance of rolling out thalidomide to 95% of the population. Covid was, fundamentally, a really bad influenza virus - in my opinion the space of worst-case side effects was much more constrained than that of bad medicine.

(What I would actually have done is a very accelerated rollout for the very elderly who had most to lose and then a more delayed rollout for everyone else.)

What I would actually have done is a very accelerated rollout for the very elderly who had most to lose and then a more delayed rollout for everyone else.

The thing is, if you don't imagine that anything permissible must be mandatory, then you don't have to worry about making those decisions! Instead, you can put the information out there, including the appropriate statements about risk/uncertainty, then you can make it permissible, and your job here is done! People who have the most to lose, be it because they're elderly or because their livelihood depends on not being locked down, or any number of reasons that you haven't even thought of, can just make their own choice about how worth the risk it is! You don't even have to worry yourself to try to come up with a list of reasons why someone might choose to take it or not take it. They'll come up with that list for you, in a beautiful, distributed fashion!

Will some people make the "wrong" choice? Probably! But in the case where you're the one making the choices for everyone, will you sometimes make the "wrong" choice for some people? Probably! Why should society think that your choices for them are better than their own?

if you don't imagine that anything permissible must be mandatory, then you don't have to worry about making those decisions!

It’s a good point, although you’re attributing opinions to me that I don’t hold. I was never in favour of mandatory vaccination, at least not for the new Covid vaccines. There’s a spectrum of action roughly along the lines of:

  • Putting the information out there
  • Advertising heavily
  • An opt-out vaccination program
  • A mandatory vaccination program

Realistically a lot of old people are pretty out of touch (I had a family member of the appropriate age at the time) and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a doctor come and say, “I would like to give you this vaccine, are you okay with that.” Which is probably what I would have done in this case.

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Again, I don't see why any argument that is fundamentally based on uncertainty would favor delaying the vaccine. Yes, it's a bad flu for many healthy people in the short term, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have long-term effects. Getting the vaccine was, at worst, 1 day of flu symptoms for most people, too, but you don't seem to think that means that covid has some unknown long-term risk. There are viruses (like rabies) which hang out in people for a long time with no apparent symptoms but are extremely dangerous. And the whole point of a vaccine is to be similar to the disease it prevents.

(Also, I feel like I should point out that thalidomide is a very important medicine which is only really bad if you give it to pregnant women, which means that you could give it to well over 95% of the population and not have many big problems).

Really quickly by the criminally murderously slow standards of medicine, yes. But they were developed in January 2020 and took most of a year to be rolled out, while the bodies continued to mount up in the meantime, for "safety". Safety from the illness they prevent just doesn't appear on the balance sheet.

You should have been able to volunteer to take the risk of an untested vaccine in January, after the "well it doesn't kill monkeys" stage - if you're 85 that's a good idea! We could have had mountains of human data fast at very low expected risk, spun up vaccine distribution months earlier (the insanity surrounding that is a whole other rant) and nipped the whole thing in the bud.

Once you have mRNA vaccine synthesis, having a pandemic at all is a fucking embarrassment for the human race.

When was the last time you thought about Covid-19?

Yesterday, but that's only because it's early in the morning and my wife is still asleep. I suppose it's not exactly Covid-19 I'm thinking about, because I don't care about the virus outside of it being somewhat interesting what its origins are. My state legislature has proposed a rule to prevent public health agencies from closing places of worship in the event of an emergency, and my complain about this is that I don't think we need to single out religious institutions - this power needs to be explicitly removed from public health agencies across the board. Before Covid, I would have said that such a power isn't likely to be used outside of a genuine emergency and that the experts are smart enough and competent enough to be judicious; after Covid, I'd say that they've demonstrated that they're incompetent and will abuse this power for inscrutable reasons. They can't be trusted, so the risk-benefit of allowing them vast powers to ban various forms of commerce and gathering can't be trusted.

I also think about what was done from a perspective of the lasting damage that was done to the pricing of goods, services, and housing. I also still see paranoid neurotics walking around with masks on and occasionally even people driving alone with masks on. I despise these people, but I also see them as victims of regime misinformation.

So, yeah, I still think it and I think it's pretty weird that other people were able to just mentally let it go and act like it was pretty scary, but we got through it together and it's all good now.

Not all measures were removed in all countries at the same time. In the UK, the restrictions were 99% gone by February, but many places in the anglosphere or adjacent continued until the late year.

Personally, I think the following things contributed to society's funny amnesia moment:

  • The length of the pandemic. It had gone on for nearly 2 years, and as time went on the average person gradually stopped being as afraid.

  • Non-terrible vaccines had been administered into a majority of 50+ individuals in WEIRD anglospheric nations, which are the only countries that matter. At this point, much of the functional threat of the virus has been eliminated.

  • The increasing number of leaks that lawmakers, particularly those at the very top, were throwing racous lockdown parties while everyone else was being denied freedom of association. In the UK, partygate rendered any further restrictions politically difficult for the government to implement.

  • The timing of the Ukraine war. Socially, it immediately supplanted COVID as the Big Thing Everyone Cares about and governments were no longer rewarded for spending vast amounts of state resource on it. Politically, governments had to rapidly change their priorities to account for the war and its knock on effects.

I’d argue the dying out of Covid fanatics was a mix of quite a few factors:

  • As you discuss, Omnicron and general Covid dispersion
  • Social contagion effects, where being sensitive to Covid became a moral panic due to the easy signaling via mask (the signal lost its value as it became more common)
  • Left wing resentment over Trump’s tenure dying out after Biden won
  • Massive worldwide economic effects being felt after almost two full years of lockdowns
  • Ordinary ‘rank and file’ progressives no longer being able to stomach not seeing their family & friends two years running
  • General fatigue with imposed authoritarian demands like testing, restaurants closing etc (many people knew folks who lost their business due to lockdowns)
  • Lack of trust in the medical establishment as it became clear they lied and/or massively exaggerated the risks posed by Covid and the effectiveness of masking/vaccines

The list can go on, but there was far more depth to the situation since it affected almost the entire world, quite quickly, and let to massive changes.

I’d imagine the history books will have quite a lot to say about the reaction to Covid, and how it shaped trends moving forward through the 21st century.

I honestly feel a lot of the COVID hawks just assume the vaccine was a lot more effective than it actually is, and thus happily just kind of said 'Oh, vaccine's available, back to normal life' whilst simultaneously overrating the impact of COVID & the vaccine by a major factor.

Also I've got friends who are still habitual maskers, but the majority were germophobes & borderline OCD-types even before the pandemic who've now got license to indulge their pre-existing instincts and interests.

I just did a Fri-Sun day boat trip to Sweden with the lads and thought about the remnants of Covid response. The boat transported several thousand people to Stockholm and back to Helsinki, and I don't think I saw any masks whatsoever while on board (though I was also quite drunk enough to pay scarce attention at most times, as is tradition on a Finland-Sweden ferry). While walking around in Stockholm during the 6-hour landing on Saturday, I saw zero masks, either.

The bus I took from my home to city centre and the bus I then took to Helsinki, at least, continued to have prominent "Thank you for wearing a mask!" decals on the door, but the total amount of maskers I saw on both of these buses was one. It's quite interesting how these "Covid reminders" still continue to stick around but pretty much no-one pays any attention to them or, at some level, probably even realizes they still exist - unless something makes them suddenly notice them. They're the fnords of the modern society.

I still see "please mask" decals in many places in California. Nobody does. I've seen maybe one or two persons wearing a mask in the workplace, like in reception, but it could be the case where they had some medical reasons. Haven't seen any maskers on the streets, in the stores or in public transport for a long while. For a Californian, having signs about something everywhere and totally ignoring them is routine, see prop 65.

I've seen maybe one or two persons wearing a mask in the workplace, like in reception, but it could be the case where they had some medical reasons.

I've seen people do that for two reasons: pollen allergy (a friend claims this helps him quite a bit) or if they have a cold but need to visit the office / doctor's / some other similar place.

Yes, I assumed it was more likely to be one of those.

continued to have prominent "Thank you for wearing a mask!" decals on the door

I see a lot of those signs around and very few people wearing masks. At least that wording doesn't imply that you're required to wear a mask, but it's still weird and annoying to have those signs up if they don't mean it. Especially since some spaces actually do require masks, but the signs are everywhere, so they're meaningless.

I did a Scandinavia trip (every capital) this time last year and virtually the only mask I saw were on Americans and Asians. Was going to do the Helsinki to Stockholm boat but did Tallinn to Stockholm instead. Good time.

I have not seen a mask in public in like a year +.

Sometime early in the pandemic I picked up the hobby of reading old Flu pandemic newspaper articles. One of the most interesting common points after the pandemic was that after about 2 years pandemic interest just sort of died out. The papers didn't have much analysis besides noting that people just stopped caring about it. I don't know if the flu strains ceased evolved to be less lethal or people just collectively decided to care more about quality of life over quantity of life but given they did the same thing with little external reason I suspect it's something inherent in humanity.

after about 2 years pandemic interest just sort of died out

Surely that has something to do with the fact that the pandemic itself had died out by then.

One possibility I haven't seen mentioned yet: the longevity of the Chinese response. Covid hawks' utopian ideal is "zero Covid" accomplished via a "short, sharp lockdown" modelled on the Chinese response - lock the entire country down completely for two weeks, no exceptions, and then we can immediately go back to normal. Any (perfectly legitimate) complaints about the ineffectiveness of lockdowns in Western nations could be handily dismissed because Real Western Lockdowns Have Never Been Tried, and if only we'd done a short, sharp lockdown like China did, this would all have been over by now.

Of course, as 2021 turned into 2022 and China was still locking down entire cities at the drop of a hat, it became increasingly hard to take these claims of the effectiveness of the Chinese approach seriously, and "zero Covid" was exposed as the obvious pipe dream it always was, one which could never be accomplished either locally or internationally. And if you recognise that zero Covid is unachievable, how can you still be a Covid hawk? It was their Leon Festinger moment, and the only hawks left are those stubbornly refusing to recognise the impossibility of "zero Covid".

If zero Covid is impossible, what are the implications for humanity if we truly do get a pandemic with a high mortality rate?

I think that a lot of pandemic preparedness scenarios are for that exact situation, so many of the existing plans were way over the top for something weak like Covid. That being said, even a totalitarian state's failure to prevent the spread despite massive measures is quite frightening.

The only NPI which really seemed consistently effective at stopping the spread of Covid was rigidly enforced border controls. It's rather telling that Covid hawks, outside of praising China, routinely touted the effectiveness of the approaches taken by Australia and New Zealand. The restrictions enacted by these countries were not dramatically different from those in blue states or European countries, and what differences they did have were a matter of degree and duration rather than anything game-changingly qualitative. Where they differ is that they enacted strict border controls early on and were able to enforce them by virtue of being geographically isolated islands without land borders. Covid hawks were keen to ignore this crucial last point, as it undermined a key tenet of their faith (that lockdowns are both extremely effective when implemented properly*, and equally effective in every region). It's more comfortable to attribute NZ's success in flattening the curve to Jacinta Ardern's #girlboss energy than to acknowledge the obvious point that border controls exist for a reason.

Lesson 1: if you're scared of future pandemics, marry a Kiwi bird and sharpish.

Lesson 2 is that the only other thing which really put a dent in Covid hospitalisation and fatality rates was mass vaccination. So we have to start rolling out vaccines faster than now. Operation Warp Speed made vaccines available faster than the FDA standard, but in a crisis that still won't be fast enough. The lesson of AIDS may be instructive: in the 80s when AIDS was a death sentence, the desperate young men dying in droves were willing to take a chance on just about any experimental treatment, no matter how much of a long shot, and my understanding is that this risk calculus was tacitly endorsed by the medical establishment. The proposed vaccines for New!Pathogen don't have to prove efficacy: they have to prove they won't kill or maim you, then we can start administering them in clinics to people who are sufficiently scared of New!Pathogen that they'll try treatments explicitly advertised as experimental and unproven. Do regular follow-ups which are tabulated in an internationally accessible database (like VAERS) and whittle away the wheat (the effective vaccine candidates) from the chaff (the ones that do more harm than good or which are harmless but don't stop you contracting it, being hospitalised with it or dying from it).

For what it's worth, the approach actually adopted by most Western governments in combating Covid was quite far removed from those same governments' pandemic preparedness plans, many of which were published a year or two prior to March 2020.


*"when implemented properly" is a moving target usually determined post hoc: whenever lockdowns fail at their stated goal, the public is blamed for selfishly failing to abide by them, regardless of whether any evidence exists that noncompliance was common.

The Black Death killed something like 25% of Europe’s population with no way to prevent it.

There’s still hardcore Covid hawks out there. It’s just that partisan liberals who never particularly cared about the virus qua virus found something else to obsess over.

Let's say 30% of the population are Covid skeptics, 20% are Covid hawks and 50% are Covid cattle. The cattle follow what the authorities tell them. If the authorities are hawkish, then it's 70 vs 30, and the skeptics have to either toe the party line and shut up or risk fines and ostracism.

If the authorities are skeptical about Covid, then it's 80 vs 20, and the hawks have to either toe the party line and shut up or risk... not fines in this case, but ostracism and ridicule. Without the amplifier that is the media their views can no longer reach the public.

I think the protests in China had an effect. Being a Covid hawk went from being “one of the responsible people” to “I think that China was right to weld starving people in their apartments and kill that one guy’s dog.”

Obviously a more nuanced position is possible, but not on Twitter :)

Then China opened up and as far as I’m aware nothing happened. Plus the lockdown spirit has metastasised into the UN, public health and the civil service where it’s harder to see; most of the remaining Covid hawks are focused on minimising discussion of lockdowns at all rather than litigating it in the public eye.

Then China opened up and as far as I’m aware nothing happened.

As far as we all know, which may not be very much given how China probably would sit on any bad news coming out. But for now, things look like they're back on an even keel.

This matches pretty cleanly with the model that it was always feasible to basically ignore Covid. If Western governments had been invested in getting people to not freak out instead of getting people to maximally freak out, the people that were Covid-cautious would likely have always been seen as hypochondriacs.

I've ways had a suspicion that some of the induced hysteria at least in the US was - for some people, on some level - an attempt to hurt Trump.

After Trump got covid, took Remdesevir, ended up fine, and made a public statement to the effect of "Don't be afraid, dont let this take over your life", the unanimous response of 'responsible people' as typified by Andrew Cuomo was "You should be afraid! Covid could kill you!"

I still think about this occasionally; how pathetic it was and out of sync it was with the national character we apparently pretend to extoll. How smart, serious people promoted neurotic, debilitating worry, and the Clown Prince was the one being sensible and imploring some healthy perspective - and then chastised for it despite being ultimately vindicated over time judging by everybody's behavior over the following years after his loss.

I think that’s a part of it, but I think there’s a large contingent of the establishment that are just generally safety-ists and think that it’s always unacceptable to downplay a risk. Some if this comes from working in agencies. The number of things that to the mind of a regulator that are “dangerous” are really crazy. The manufacting process of all kinds of things give of some (usually small) amount of chemicals that in sufficient amounts might cause a problem. And I recall listening to an interview with someone studying people allergic to chemicals in clothing. To hear this woman talk, clothing (at least as manufactured today) are full of toxic chemicals, release micro plastics, and are manufactured using other toxic chemicals. To a person who sees the world in this manner, the entire planet is toxic. Add in the other things that might be dangerous, and these types are constantly ringing alarm bells. Some caution might be warranted on occasion, but the entire regulatory system is full of chicken littles warning that a practice is dangerous or a product if full of toxic chemicals.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that the vast majority of modern Americans go most of their lives in pretty safe conditions risking nothing more serious than paper-cuts and shin splits. So without a healthy perspective on risks in general, they tend to take it to absolutely bonkers levels of risk avoidance. A healthy relationship with risk is that you look at your own levels of risk against other factors. People who work in more risky industries tend to get that. An electrician works with electrical equipment every day. That equipment, if he makes a serious mistake can kill him, and he damn well knows it. He also knows not to make that mistake and to take precautions so he doesn’t make that mistake. You can go down the list of other skilled labor or factory workers or whatever, and they all have risks inherent to their work. They have to get over the fear to function.

Then China opened up and as far as I’m aware nothing happened.

Or perhaps a lot happened.

Perhaps a lot did happen. Still, that quick Economist writeup is so bad that it should mostly just diminish your opinion of The Economist.

Thanks for the link! Certainly, I would be interested to know if those are the true numbers.

At the risk of being callous, though, the data shows that given up on lockdown increased the risk of death for over-65s in a mostly unvaccinated population by 30% over the usual. Bad, obviously, but I remember the Covid hawk position as being a lot stronger than that. I don't think this backs them up.

Does it say it is a mostly unvaccinated population? China claims to have vaccinated the vast majority of the population though with a vaccine that is probably less effective than those used in the West

Much less effective, from what I’d heard. I rounded that down to “mostly unvaccinated” but fair enough, I should have used a weaker statement.

Neither one is at all effective against Omicron -- considering that we are looking at 2023 data here vax status seems irrelevant.

This is false. Needless to say, we don't have studies (at least not ones we trust) on the effectiveness of the vaccines China used. But we do have studies showing the ones the United States used remain highly effective against severe disease and death.

There's actually some weak evidence the Omicron-updated vaccines are worse against Omicron because we made them a half dose of the old vaccine and a half dose of the Omicron-adjusted version, which might be more similar to giving the vaccine at a half dose. (There is evidence the updated vaccine did a better job of protection against infection for Omicron... but it was never very high, never lasted very long, and the study suggested the currently circulating variants have drifted far enough that there's no measurable protection against infection anymore... probably will see a slight bump with the next formula update, but that's mostly a research curiosity.)

This is false. Needless to say, we don't have studies (at least not ones we trust) on the effectiveness of the vaccines China used. But we do have studies showing the ones the United States used remain highly effective against severe disease and death.

Great to see that vaccine hawks are alive and well, at least!

The western vaccine studies are exactly as trustworthy as the Chinese ones, for exactly the same reasons -- nobody has yet been able to suggest to me a convincing mechanism by which a vaccine does ~nothing to prevent infection and yet is significantly protective against severe outcomes. Are you up for that?

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Ultimately, it is very difficult to use what happened in China among a largely vaccinated (with a mediocre vaccine) population to infer what would have happened in a completely unvaccinated population with higher rates of comorbidities such as obesity.

Wasn't there a particularly high rate of vaccine hesitancy among the Chinese elderly or something?

Beyond the vaccination rates that gdanning points toward (though I'm skeptical of those numbers too), the Zhejiang data is three months of official data during a single surge. If you believe China had managed to completely block any and all fatalities before 2023, these numbers kinda work; if you're at all skeptical of the official Chinese COVID numbers, this analysis only provides an increase over the earlier increase beyond base rates.

((There's also some outside risks that historical malnutrition made younger (eg 45-65) Chinese people in the more rural provinces more vulnerable to COVID than those elsewhere, if still not as vulnerable as 65+s, in which case the Economist's napkin math starts to fall apart. But that's reading tea leaves from India, and China isn't India.))

There's plenty of maskers around my area; I assume most of these are Covid-hawks. The Covid hawks simply found themselves completely outnumbered by the Covid-exhausted, to the point where e.g. NJ Governor Phil Murphy found himself in a real contest for re-election. The media tried to maintain the illusion otherwise but uncharacteristically, they were unable; compare the social media reactions to the end of the airline mask rules to much of the legacy media reactions.

In Poland it was extremely noticeable that media jumped on Russo-Ukrainian war as a new hot topic.

See first recording of Russian attacks on cities: people in shelters are often masked. But it quickly went away. And various Covid restrictions were de facto/de iure dropped as part of refugee handling.

Maybe it was noticeable also elsewhere?

As bonus many accounts on FB/Twitter switched from "Covid is fake" to "Russian invasion is fake" or other variants (microchip in vaccines to claims that Ukraine will invade Poland and so on).

As bonus many accounts on FB/Twitter switched from "Covid is fake" to "Russian invasion is fake" or other variants (microchip in vaccines to claims that Ukraine will invade Poland and so on).

And simultaneously or a bit later on to "Climate change is fake", which is also the position from which a fair number of notable Covid/vaccine theorists also originally pivoted to "Covid is fake".

Be on the lookout now for the war’s reintroducing of the plague. Still waiting to see that pop up in the media.

Some reports were mentioned, but nowadays it is not going to spread too far outside combat zone.

If we are going to have a covid posts then we should probably discuss that the “lab leak” is just a conspiracy talk. Supposedly we had breaking news lately of people like Kristen Anderson who was the quoted scientists for definitely not a lab leak had many private messages where he was still very much thinking it might be true when he talked to other scientist.

I don’t even thing lab leak or not lab leak is that interesting. It’s the coverup and censorship that was bigger.

I've been working on a top-level comment trying to branch off of Nate Silver's analysis. It's been pretty depressing, not just on the question of lab-leak or no, or COVID-specific censorship or gain-of-function research, or even of the reliability of scientific researchers, but about broader problems of governance and oversight.

I think you could make the argument that it points to a lot of the broader problems for "COVID hawks" -- as a more libertarian one, the combination of bad acts by and absolute resistance to any review of the highest-profile technical experts favoring the mainstream response to COVID has removed much of the relevant discussion space. There are still policy questions that matter, but they're not actually being discussed when the policy questions that actually get applied are apparently going to include bans on religious meetings or having police hold down people to apply vaccines or going full Korematsu.

I see it brought up a lot in an Irish context as a way of shutting people down by claiming that they're the same type of person who protested Covid restrictions. However much Covid itself has dropped out of the discussion, a portion of the pro and anti lockdown camps have solidified into something more permanent. Right now they're arguing about refugees and 15 minute cities and next year it might be something different, but I expect the tribes themselves to remain motivated and at odds with each other.

In terms of more concrete consequences, business at my job is going very poorly this summer but my boss's accounting software still shows us doing much better than last year.

Covid was well suited to create maximum culture war for a couple of reasons. First, it was legitimately dangerous and killed many people, the most dangerous pandemic in the US in over 100 years, and yet it was nowhere close to apocalyptic Stephen King superflu levels. Second, it appeared right in the middle of the hysteria over Trump and in an election year.

I think this broke the brains of extremists on both sides. You could not rationally deny that the thing was legitimately dangerous and deadly, so full-on Covid skeptics of the "it's just a cold / it's just a hoax" variety were always swimming against the tide of reality. However, you also could not justify a China-level authoritarian response and expect more than a small fraction of the population to go along with it, so people who were either terrified of Covid or wanted to use it to justify their pet political ambitions felt that they were swimming against the tide of public sentiment.

That Covid emerged four years into the whole brouhaha over Trump enhanced the political effects.

I think that probably most Americans just half-assed obeying the Covid regulations and trying to protect themselves from Covid. In some rural towns probably no-one changed anything at all. In some highly Democratic cities a bunch of people followed the regulations quite closely. But the average American just half-assed it, following some laws, breaking others, and certainly not spending hours a day arguing online about the whole thing. This is why most people no longer pay any attention to Covid. It came, it went, and if you did not lose a loved one or at least your business to it it really does not seem to matter that much in retrospect unless you are the kind of politics junkie who is profoundly concerned with the political meaning and consequences of those events.

I myself half-assed my response to Covid and in retrospect, I actually wish that I had done a bit more to try to prevent spread of the disease. It just didn't seem real to me until the first time I heard about someone I knew closely having a relative who had died from it. After I heard of that death, I felt guilty about the times I had gone out to bars that were still open due to loopholes, that sort of thing. And I still feel guilty about it, whether that is rational or not I do not know.

I actually wish that I had done a bit more to try to prevent spread of the disease.

The only thing your increased caution may have accomplished is slightly delaying the date you became infected with covid. You couldn't have prevented covid from spreading.

There was never any chance that this thing would be controlled with quarantines or even far more effective vaccines if we had them - since covid infects non-human animals and now has undoubtably many natural reservoirs, we could never eradicate it like we did with smallpox (only infects humans). It's also insanely contagious - we'd all have needed new, fit-tested n95s for every time we went out and goggles to boot (your eyes are connected to your nose and throat - aerosols that land on them/in them can travel downwards and voila, covid infection).

For adults 18-45 covid was more like a bad influenza strain, if you look at deaths by age group it becomes very apparent that it was really a disease of the old with some obese younger adults thrown in. Look at this age stratification https://www.statista.com/statistics/1254488/us-share-of-total-covid-deaths-by-age-group/

2% (85+) of the US population made up 27% of the deaths!

I have found masking to still be quite prevalent around me...among a certain felonious subset of people. Ballcap, mask, & backpack. Stroll into the liquor aisle, grab a bunch of Patron, stroll out.

I don't know to what extent I count as a covid hawk... but certainly people like me gave covid hawks political strength during the pandemic.

In the early stages when dealing with very limited information, I thought it made all the sense in the world to treat it seriously and do what we could to combat it. Early on I assumed that we wouldn't be able to stop it, but "flatten the curve" made sense to me as a practical way to reduce the negative impact. In countries like yours and mine, those efforts were surprisingly successful and made me see it as plausible that the virus could be heavily suppressed until effective vaccines were developed that would then be able to essentially eliminate the virus.

Obviously that's not the way things turned out. New variants became more transmissible (and thankfully also less lethal). The vaccines were kinda sorta effective, but not in the way that I had hoped they would be. It became clear that there was not going to be a covid-free future and the best we could do was get vaxxed and get on with life. At this point I strongly oppose any sort of restriction - we're done with full measures and there's no point in half measures.

I do think that there's a strain of covid dove - well represented on this forum - that badly misread pandemic politics and got quite radicalised. They didn't really grok that support for covid restrictions was both strong but also temporary and conditional for a critical mass of people. We were willing to make sacrifices when we saw a point and a purpose to them, but they were still sacrifices. We were never going to continue them forever for no reason.

We were never going to continue them forever for no reason.

But a lot of them went as long as they did without any reason whatsoever. There's no way the "mask up in a restaurany, but only when not sitting down" mandate could have possibly prevented transmission. Same for restrictions on going outside.

It's much more plausible that the powers that be made all the hay they were going to make out of COVID, so they moved on. People stopped supporting lockdowns only after they stopped getting their daily dose of reinforcement from the media, not because they decided it no longer makes sense.

I think Australia is a very unusual case, because for us, until Christmas '21, Covid suppression actually worked. This was because we closed the borders fast enough to keep the numbers at a level where test & trace was enough. Although we became lockdown poster-child, we were actually far more open for most of the time because there was simply no Covid around to suppress.

Then came the Delta wave, which we might or might not have got on top of with lockdowns and travel restirctions. But what we definiately did do was ruin Christmas, especially for those of us travelling to Queensland. And at just that time, Omnicron comes along knocking both Delta and Covid suppression sixes-at-will. The whole country just gave up, except for some idiots at the Saturday Paper who thought that politicians overruling public health bureaucrats was "the tail wagging the dog".

In other words, by luck or good management, Australians -- including the decision makers -- supported lockdowns when they worked and gave up on them when they stopped working. In other countries, the lockdowns never worked, but were still enforced (with public support) for at least as long as in Australia.