Lessons From the Pandemic

by Dr. Simon M. Fox

With any luck we are now coming towards the end of the worst of the draconian restrictions that have formed the basis of most Western governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus itself appears to be doing what most viruses of this type do when introduced to a susceptible population. It appears to be becoming more transmissible but less virulent. At the same time, the collective resistance to infection and disease within the population, known as herd immunity has become ever greater with time.

What have we learned about ourselves during this pandemic? It would be easy to write many words about the importance of family, the importance of human contact and the little things in life that we take for granted. But important as those are, I would argue there is something just as important we need to learn. This is not the last emergency we will face, of that we can be sure. Unfortunately this probably isn’t even the last coronavirus pandemic that we will face.

As Warren Buffet once said: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you discover who’s been swimming naked.” And over the last two years, the tide went well and truly out. We have to pay attention to the ways in which we, as a society and as individuals, were swimming naked and why.

By some measures we were very lucky with this pandemic. There have been many tragedies that we should rightly mourn, but mortality was not in any way as high as predicted. Perhaps most mercifully, our children were left almost entirely unscathed by the virus itself.

It is now, while the traumas of the pandemic are still fresh in our minds, that we need to process what has happened and try to learn its lessons.

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction

Fear is contagious, and far more so than any infectious disease. While fear is a great motivator and can focus the mind, it frequently produces irrational behaviour. Unfortunately, fear can also allow people to justify and accept things they would not normally tolerate. The promulgation of fear as a central plank of public policy has no place in a modern democracy. It is not justified as a mechanism to engender obedience, however high-minded and well-meaning the motives are. But we must accept this is what occurred in much of the Western world: deliberate and orchestrated fear as government policy, ably abetted by the media. Voices of dissent, reason and concern were crushed in a manner not seen for generations in the West. In a collective process of self reflection, we must acknowledge as citizens that we allowed our governments to claim for themselves fundamental liberties in an exchange for a false promise of security. It is a matter of great urgency that we claim each and every one of them back.

Just as important, we need to re-state the case, particularly to the young, for the importance of basic rights; among them freedom of conscience, liberty and bodily autonomy. If they are to mean anything at all, they must be able to withstand moments of crisis and peril. If these principles cannot weather these, then they are meaningless. Given the state of open thought and debate in our schools and educational institutions, this will be no easy task.

Reality matters: a population with an aversion to uncomfortable truths

Why did we fail to defend our freedoms and why were we willing hand to the state such minute control over our daily lives? Why were we so easily manipulated by fear?

When the pandemic struck we needed clear thinking and rationality, not just in our leaders, but in the population, and there was little to be found. What little was present was drowned by howling emotionality.  

The biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky stated that: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” I would venture that increasingly, “Nothing in the modern world makes sense except in the light of ideology.”

It is my belief that one of the key ‘premorbid conditions’ that placed Britain and much of the West at such great risk of severe damage by the pandemic is to be found in the cultural decline of our societies. There are many ways to name it, ‘postmodernism’ or ‘wokeism’ among them. The result has been creeping lack of concern for objective truth or reality. The key issue is that these doctrines and their variants prioritise ideology over reality, and emotion over fact. Degrading the authority of facts and evidence inevitably leaves emotion to fill the resulting void.

The idea that there are no perfect solutions, only a series of compromises and trade-offs, is no longer acceptable. Unfortunately, because this is actually the nature of reality, it is necessary to act in a highly pathological manner to maintain the cognitive charade. There is no way to resolve the internal contradictions of ‘wokeism’ without dispensing with objective truth. This affliction has altered the perception of several generations in our society, to a greater or lesser degree. People taught to feel rather than think are very susceptible to fear. The result is that the public forum is now governed by a philosophy without foundation in reality.

But in the final analysis it is reality, not narrative that matters. The shrill cries for Zero Covid were always impossible once the virus was in the population. Yet the call for this unattainable ideal maintained significant traction well into the pandemic, degrading the possibility of a proportionate response. Those who were willing to point out uncomfortable truths had to be silenced, for they risked presenting a reality that was unpalatable.

A discussion about the effectiveness of lockdowns wasn’t possible for it would have required a clear-headed discussion of risk versus benefit. It would have required nuance, shades of grey, an acknowledgement that there was no perfect solution. At the time, however, it seemed so much more important to many to be seen to do something regardless of effect.

In a predictable manner, commitment to masks, lockdowns, restrictions, mandates etc. became a political and symbolic issue – almost tribal. Covid absurdity was accepted as the price to pay for being on the side of the angels. There was no appetite for a discussion of consequences. Soon, none of this had much to do with a virus from China.

Take for example the policy of mandating masks in restaurants when stood up, but not once seated. I would hazard that anyone who has not been in some way pre-conditioned would say this is absurd. But in the new way of thinking it really doesn’t matter. Because it isn’t really thinking at all. One is simply required to take as a matter of faith that this is the morally correct thing to do.

Have we been left with large numbers of citizens incapable of independent thought derived from a critical appraisal of objective facts? It certainly seems that way. It is as if the alphabet for thought has been so severely damaged that it is simply impossible to form the words, let alone the sentences of thought.

Much of the Covid theatre is analogous to superstitions designed to ward of an unseen evil. Most of it is of equivalent efficacy to throwing salt over your left shoulder. But it looks good, and that makes many feel better. Sensible precautions that individuals could take to maintain distance from potentially infectious people morphed into an almost religious devotion to the sanctity of stickers on the floor of shops, one way routes around buildings and taped-up park benches. Common sense was positively discouraged in favour of what amounted to the devotions of fearful people to the capricious gods.

Ultimately, as citizens, the most demoralising aspect must be that absurd rules make fools or criminals of us all. Which one of us can honestly say we did not break the law over the last two years with regards to Covid? Certainly not me, and while I took the necessary precautions to protect others, I did my best to contravene all the foolish and petty rules purposefully and frequently. It is the only sane response to absurd law.

Our institutions have fallen

Perhaps one thing that we can be grateful for in this pandemic is that the hollow nature of our once vibrant institutions has been further exposed. That our schools and universities are, in many ways, not fit for purpose has been clear for some time now to anyone watching. But the pandemic pushed over the rest of our once venerable institutions one by one.

Parliament sang with one voice, Conservative, Labour and the also-rans. Precious few voices questioned the narrative. Perhaps most dangerously, the media was craven in its daily standing ovation and baying for encore or worse, demanding stricter constraints. Homage to the mythical R number and the ghoulish daily death toll became a sacrament – proof against all argument and blasphemy to question. The few lone voices of individuality and independent thought were crushed in the stampede to applaud the dear leaders. The Hall of Shame for once respected media figures that ceased any pretence at scrutiny is now a long one. Most disgracefully some journalists even called for punishment and persecution of those who questioned or refused to comply. You will forever be held in contempt by those who recognise your dereliction of duty. On the whole, the legacy media institutions were an abject failure.

Police forces adopted their new role as arm of the authoritarian government with far too much relish. Harassment of non-threatening and easily subdued members of the public attempting to go about their daily lives was money for old rope. At the same time, they were all too eager to sink to one knee when faced with a baying mob and criminal damage. All the politically correct training designed by activists came to fruition and prevented the police realising that they are citizens in uniform and not an instrument of repression. The judiciary had little to say on civil liberties; all was justified by the pandemic.

Disturbingly, the medical profession for the most part demonstrated quite how willing it was to nod along with the dominant narrative. Our public health leaders, perhaps in exchange for a sense of importance for the first time ever, were willing to say things they could not know while denying things they knew to be the case. They continued to sell doomsday projections from defunct models without making the case that there were alternative opinions.

While there was some excellent scientific work carried out in haste, we catastrophically failed as a profession to uphold the principles of scientific scrutiny of the products of that work. Those that tried, like Sunetra Gupta and the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, were vilified. In a tunnel vision focus on the wretched R number, SAGE members sought above all to avoid any damage to their own professional reputations. They are beginning to discover that in doing so they have written their names in infamy for posterity. The failure to acknowledge the gathering evidence on the futility of mask mandates, lockdowns and other restrictions will weigh heavy in the final examination.

Committees and decision-making bodies filled with pole-climbers can pass unnoticed in normal times. But when the tide went out…

Our society depends on functioning and healthy institutions. We are going to have to walk back each and every step of the ideological long march through our institutions. That road will be long and hard, but few endeavours could be more important.

A crisis of leadership

It turns out that leading the country in a crisis isn’t a party. In normal times, the civil service can bail fast enough to keep the ship of state afloat. But when there is a real crisis, it calls for real leadership. I do not doubt that the Prime Minister did his best, but it was clearly a task beyond him. The ability to integrate information from various experts and the character to decide and steer a course with the horizon in mind rather than each wave crest, was well beyond him.

A more insidious problem is that it isn’t clear that any of his colleagues were made of the right stuff either. There may be members of the Tory backbench that would have had the backbone for this sort of leadership, but the opinion poll and media-led politician appears to be much more attractive to the electorate.

If the Prime Minister was dismal then the Leader of the Opposition was lamentable. By acting as the Government’s cheerleader-in-policy, the nation was deprived of actual opposition. Despite wide ranging and petty criticisms, the Labour Party appeared to have drunk even more of the Kool-Aid than the Conservative Party and simply acted as an accelerant to increasingly restrictive and damaging policies.

The point here is that it actually matters who we elect as our leaders. The Peppa Pig episode of Mr Johnson is instructive. In the past this would have  been considered endearing, but in a crisis nobody was laughing.

There must be a way, as a society, to re-learn and re-teach the limits of government and the merits of taking responsibility for our own lives. Despite the seductive nature of the implicit deal to ‘give up your rights and liberties and the Government will give you security’, it is always an illusion.

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world…

How much did each of us fail as individuals in this pandemic? It is worth asking some uncomfortable questions. Why did I not speak earlier? Why did I comply when the evidence was plain to see? How did I fail as a citizen? Do I want to live in a society where the right to free speech, liberty and bodily autonomy are not respected? What did I do to defend them?

Very few can have a clear conscience on these topics and I do not count myself as one of them. But now is the time to remedy the state of affairs and demand each and every one of our freedoms back. Unconditionally.

It is time we realise the culture wars are no longer an idiotic fringe of the universities and the Left. These doctrines are a clear and present mortal danger to anyone who values freedom. How do we turn back that tide? The answer is in some ways simple but it will be painful. It starts with truth. The solution is not to acquiesce, not to say things that are not true, not to speak the ‘newspeak’ and not to participate in activities born of these ideologies. And to do this knowing that, in the beginning, this course is highly likely to be personally damaging. As Solzhenitsyn said: “Let the lie come into the world. Let it even triumph. But not through me. The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie.”

If the mainstream media have failed us, so we each must turn to new alternatives that are willing to uphold the true values of a profession that is based at its core on the pursuit of truth.

Most of all we need to educate a new generation of citizens who have an understanding of our history, good and bad, and who understand what it was that made us, perhaps only for a fleeting period, some of the the freest, most productive and most attractive societies to have ever been – citizens who love freedom and know that each generation will have to fight to protect it.

Dr. Simon M. Fox is a Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine in an NHS Hospital.

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September 2023
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