Lockdown Kills, and Covid Kills
When one takes time to ponder our present situation, and look beyond the heavily virus centred spin of the news-cycle, we must accept the tragic reality that lockdown kills and covid kills.
What surprises me, though, is the number of people who, when presented with this fact, process this information only in collective terms. The fact that lockdown kills and covid kills becomes almost instantly a simple numerical problem – whichever kills the least number of people is the one ‘we’ should do. As if ‘we’ are not individuals, as if the ones who will be inevitably be harmed have no lives, loves or feelings, and may simply be weighed as one lost among many beans and discarded – the individuals be damned. As if, it doesn’t also impact on those having these thoughts – such is the narcotic of collectivism they lose even how it applies, absorbs and nullifies even themselves.
Those who find comfort in collectivism conflate the actions and powers of government with all of us, ‘we’, or ‘society’. As if everything the state ever does, did or will do, was done in some way by each of us. This is nonsense. Surely they must have noticed the huge gulf that separates government from themselves. Can they really not tell the difference between themselves and their actions, and those of the state? It is a most persistent hook in the mind, but it is simply false equivalence. It’s hard to imagine what fuddling of the mind could cause one to believe they and everyone else is responsible for government action as a group, but once believed the individual is lost and gets swept along in whatever it imagines the collective pronoun wraps it up in. Government is not me, you or them, nor does it do our bidding. The acts of government are not my acts, nor yours. Vision, and thinking, get much clearer once that is accepted. There is no ‘we’, there are individuals, with lives, loves and needs.
When individuals can get beyond collectivism the Covid-19 problem and the array of responses on offer take on a new appearance. From that vantage point many of the harms of covid and harms of lockdown may be foreseen. They also cease to be merely arithmetic, and the real lives of real people can be considered. It’s from this position that I favour much reduced state intervention. We don’t need lockdown, stasi neighbours, and 1984 fear and regulations. We need reliable and trustworthy information. We need to know how to protect ourselves and the vulnerable. And then we need to be free to do it, while taking into account our own individual and family circumstances. One size doesn’t fit all, but a collectivist approach ignore this, and causes great harm as a result. There is and was no justification for the coercive authoritarian lockdowns which have caused untold damage of their own, to many whom covid would not have harmed at all.
Many no doubt imagine they are being good citizens by swallowing blindly every mandate handed down from the state. But it is not virtue to remain ignorant of the harm done by the very strategy they blindly embrace, it’s just plain old ignorance in the end. It’s precisely because covid kills and lockdown kills that it’s not for you, me, or the government, to pick the winners and losers and thereby force harm on others. Those who feel virtuous for only caring about the people covid kills may be free to do so, but they don’t have the right to inflict their one-sided myopic view on everyone else by force. If people are going to risk harm to themselves and loved ones in either case – and they are – the more moral approach is to provide true information and let individuals and families govern themselves to meet their own individual and very specific situations.
Apart from the narcotic of collectivism, there are other barriers to accepting that lockdown kills. It’s tough to face up to the fact that one might have been advocate, or accomplice (even unwittingly), to the harm of others. Further barriers are created when individuals feel they got ‘a good deal’ from present strategy – maybe they enjoyed a few months on Furlough, maybe they didn’t lose anyone or anything because of lockdown and are not at risk to, maybe all their eggs are in the covid-kills basket not the lockdown-kills one. It’s all perfectly natural – but it’s also not fully informed. After all, who among us wonders how many were killed over the last few months, or will be killed in the coming months, by the very policy that we may perceive as having been good? It can require quite the epiphany to accept lockdown has its own harms attached. The emotional jolt of this realisation can be buffered by rejecting the false equivalence that government is ‘society’ is ‘you’. They did this. You might have been sleepwalking, you may have gone along with it, even in good faith, but you didn’t make the laws.
I wonder who among us really grasps the truth of what being between this rock and hard place of covid really means. It needs to be examined to be understood.
Let’s say it was all down to you. Would you be ok with exchanging a ‘lockdown life’ for a ‘covid life’, with you being the one to decide which person should be harmed as a consequence of lockdown to save which person from catching covid? And if not you, who does get to decide? When someone decides is it purely a numbers game? Should we pretend none of those affected by our decision are people, so long as we save numerically at least one more life than we would have lost then we choose that path? Should it be that so long as the hive (and you) survives, the other individuals be damned? Or, should it matter who is saved versus who is killed? Is one person’s life worth more than another’s? Or, what if lockdown kills, before their time, more young people and more middle aged, but covid kills more eighty-two year olds… is it fair to trade one for the other? And who would you trade for who? And if you knew the middle aged person would have had another thirty odd years to go, cut short now, and the eighty-two year you old saved now would die of something else in just six months… would that change your decision? And who gets to decide?
My observation is that no one is clever enough to decide. Not you. Not me. Not government. No one. And no one has the right to coerce harm against some in to avoid harm to others. Not you. Not me. Not the government. No one.
The bitter reality is that there isn’t an everyone lives option.
So what is to be done? Treat it as a numbers game, and decide a policy which will have the effect of skewing the rules against some in favour of others, with deadly consequences for those harmed by your intervention? Pick the side that helps you, or those you happen to see or know about, to the detriment of those you’re ignorant about? There are ways to justify almost any approach. But, sadly, ‘I tried my best’ doesn’t bring the dead made by a policy back to life. The very act of intervening at all means those intervening can no longer just blame the disease either – they steered the boat – they crashed the boat – their actions played an active part in who was lost.
But these are real people and not numbers. And the interventions of those ‘in charge’ do have direct and deadly consequences for individuals.
It’s perhaps best explored in terms of the Trolley Problem. A train is coming down a track. Along the track is a set of points at which the track forks into two tracks. Beyond the points on one track there is a person. On the other track there are ten people. Meanwhile you are standing by the lever which controls the points. From where you stand you can see the train, and the one person on one track and the ten people on the other track. You have the power to pull the lever and choose which track the train goes down. What will you do? Direct the train to the one to save the ten? But what if that one was going to cure cancer later in life? What if the ten are ex-convicts who have just finished serving their time and just been released? Would that alter your decision? What if the ten are all old and frail? What if the one is just a toddler? Would that alter your decision? In this scenario you don’t know any of this, you’re just next to the lever, dumbly ignorant of most of the details. But you do know this – that if you pull the lever what ever happens next is because of you, and whether you act or not someone will get hurt.
Applying this scenario to the covid situation, one track represents lockdown consequences, and one represents covid consequences. But you’re even more blind than the person in the scenario. Because with the covid situation you don’t even know how many people are on each track. And if you pull the lever at the wrong time its likely to derail and harm people on both tracks.
In such a situation how could one even decide what to do with the lever? And how would one decide to pull it?
This is the rock and the hard place. No one is offering immortality here. But isn’t it morally wrong to take an action that imposes harm on others without their consent? In medical care there is a first principle of ethics – first do no harm. But the covid response imposed on us all did and does harm – lots of it.
As I said before, there isn’t an everyone wins option. Because there is no everyone wins option the decisions about that, morally, must be taken by each individual. So I believe it does come down to individuals being fully informed. Getting themselves and their families off the train track so to speak. Families working to protect their vulnerable members and free to make the right decisions for their family needs, about work, business, travel, health.
Our present government is possibly the least trusted to make such decisions on behalf of others. Yet many fear that the individuals around them cannot be trusted to act correctly without government coercion. But I have long found that puzzling. If individuals can’t be trusted, why on earth would you trust the individuals in government far removed from the consequences? That fear ought to be more real when government decides on behalf of us all – given its poor reputation. At least I can trust most other people to at least be interested in the survival and wellbeing of those they love. I can say no such thing about the machinery of the state. As Dr. Thomas Sowell put it “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
Frederick Bastiat back in the 1800s spotted the tendency of government policy to be blindly damaging in his essay “That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen” (it’s worth a read: http://bastiat.org/en/twisatwins.html). This blindness in policy is caused by focusing primarily on instant gratification and short term highly visible consequences, but ignoring longer term effects which are often negative.
In his FEE article, Jon Miltimore explains why politicians continue to use harmful lockdowns and draconian restrictions even if they are ineffective: “While passing harmful restrictions that achieve no public good might seem irrational, they are rational if one assumes that politicians are operating out of their own self-interest like anyone else—not for “the common good”.”
And what short term self interested consequences might motivate politicians most? Over to Dr. Thomas Sowell again to give us a clue: “No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems—of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.”
Government covid policy was never really about ‘following the science’ in my opinon. Arguably fear of public opinion and the Twitterati played the biggest role in the government’s incompetent, illogical, inconsistent and deeply damaging response to covid. As I see it, the response was political all along. Consequently political self-interest can become a huge factor in determining political action, to the detriment of what is actually best, and harming many people in the process.
That’s why I favour giving reliable information about how to protect oneself and shield the vulnerable, and then letting individuals and families make the decisions that meet their specific needs. Coercing harmful policy on some in the pretense of avoiding harm is unethical. Given the correct information and without their freedom to act being restricted, the vulnerable and their families will protect themselves. They will lock themselves down according to need, while others with different needs will not. Imagine a world in which people take responsibility.
Many will no doubt point to the differential in death rates between different nations with different approaches and claim that proves lockdowns work. But that is a response that is itself short term. It focusses only on the relatively quickly visible effect of the covid impact (while questioning not a bit the veracity of what is being reported – a different issue). But it takes no account whatever of the longer term consequences that aren’t so rapidly visible, but are also harmful – those of lockdown. Those who say Sweden messed it up are simply only looking at the damage on one of the train tracks, they’re not looking at the other one at all. They’re simply more blind to the consequences of lockdown, and lacking half the stats, and only seeng covid information they draw a conclusion for which they have only partial evidence. But those lockdown consequences will be tallied and only then will any of us truly know.
That’s the point. Both lockdown and covid harm and kill. Professionals all focused on only one of those don’t tend to have much to say on the other. But being unaware or ignoring the other doesn’t make it go away. Human nature is that we want to know what we’re taking part in is saving not harming. But we don’t have that luxury with this. I don’t blame people for pulling away from the news that what we think is helping some is actually harming others. We didn’t sign up for that, but that is what we have. I’m not a covid denier, but nor am I a harms-of-lockdown denier. All of that is only valid anyway if we only care about the numbers (rather than people), and we don’t even have numbers that aren’t challenged.
When we see the individuals and the consequences for real people we accept the bitter reality that in the present covid responses we’re trading lives and harms, and forcing harm on some in our attempt to save others, perhaps without their consent, perhaps even fatally. We wouldn’t steal someone’s organs to save someone else, but to trade harms falls into that category.
I’m staring the reality of both sides in the face, I don’t have the luxury of imagining that one isn’t occurring, or that only numbers matter, or that the harm of the strategy may not be worse than the harm of the disease – and certainly will be for many, if not in total in the end when the final toll is counted (if those in power even dare admit it).
It may be human nature for people in government to feel they should ‘do something’ (‘anything’), and for people to demand they do. But that does not excuse, and should not lead to, the harm of doing the wrong thing.
The wrong thing is anyone pretending they know what’s best for others, and in pretending to know, to then imagine they should impose their views by force. The wrong thing is coercing a policy that harms others who would not be harmed except for the policy. It’s time to stop talking and thinking in collective terms. We are individuals with lives and loves and feelings. We all have unique situations that cannot be centrally planned for. Because it’s individuals who get harmed, so it is individuals who should choose how they manage their own situation, having been given reliable information.