Exactly like at the time of the first lockdown, I am dismayed about how eminent experts on epidemics and viruses are shouted down and subject to ad hominem attacks, especially with political overtones. I already wrote a couple of articles, which you can read again: Scepticism and Freedom of Thought and Science or Ideology?.
My attention has been drawn to Dr Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University who has become noted for a controversial position in the Great Barrington Declaration. I don’t have the scientific knowledge to judge whether these people are right, but I do wonder if the science is being discussed rather than the authors being attacked on political lines. Dr John Campbell discusses it quite fairly in this video:
Are our governments right in putting us back into lockdown, or is there a way of isolating and protecting vulnerable people (I might be one myself) and letting the disease burn itself out through the rest of the population that is less at risk of serious illness or death? I have noticed that lasting immunity has been questioned by Imperial College, which would cast a doubt on “herd immunity” and even the viability of vaccines. Dr Campbell asks where the references and evidence are in favour of the Barrington position. Dr Gupta gets a chance to respond about lasting immunity and also talks about the papers with scientific references that have been published.
There is a certain amount of scientifixc discussion going on, which is reassuring. I do believe that both Dr Gupta and Dr Campbell are both intellectually honest.
The problem is that this intellectual honesty is not shared by all, whether by way of vested interests or political ideology. A lot will be decided today or tomorrow by the American Presidential Election. Will the deadlock break or are we going to the wall because of ideological inertia and groupthink?
When the powers that be lack coherence and transparency, we are tempted to see a conspiracy, for example the creation of an “Orwellian” world dystopia where everyone comes under totalitarian control. Where are the infection figures coming from against which we can measure the number of seriously ill people in hospital, those in intensive care and those who have died specifically from the consequences of this virus? Are the cases counted in reality or projected by a computer programme with an algorithm?
I am also very sceptical about the so-called collapsology theory corresponding with the alarmist of extreme environmentalists of the Extinction Rebellion tendency. I have tried to read explanations of this way of thinking, but I find too much langue de bois or arrogant verbosity. That said, western civilisation that has been strongly influenced by Hellenism and Christianity seems to repose on very little. All civilisations come and go, and I am certainly influenced by some of the Romantics and one book in particular by Nicholas Beryaev, The End of our Time, London 1933.
We as a species have to make progress with returning to the laws of reasoned debate and intellectual honesty. Words no longer have the same meaning for different people in discussion or debate. We are increasingly immersed in a kind of bullshit thinking that destroys reason. This has become extremely apparent in American politics but over this side of the Atlantic too. Even when we lack the scientific qualifications of those we think we can trust, at least to an extent, we feel that we are in a morass of cognitive dissonance and lies all around us. There have always been con-men in history, but their art seems to have become mainstream. They have the power to control and topple governments in the name of reason and science, but without the most elementary notions of knowledge at a philosophical level.
Are we going to put our vulnerable people under a bell jar and let the virus rip until it burns itself out? Are we going to have “stop & go” rolling lockdowns indefinitely and only then think about how to deal with the economy? Are we going to be told in a year’s time that all attempts to produce a vaccine have failed? This experience tells me that if we get something like Ebola or a form of AIDS that can be transmitted through the air like flu and colds, it would be the final curtain on the western world.
Would the “great reset” or hard ecologist people have a response? For 8 billion people in this world? Personally I think of the idea of retreating even further into the country. But doing what to live? Using a computer and internet? Still depending on the modern world for food and medical care when needed? Do I not care what happens to the others, most of whom I imagine would have to be put on trains to gas chambers? The answer seems to be that pandemics happen to cull the human population without anyone being morally responsible for their deaths or choosing who would die and who would live. We do our best to escape, but we can do precious little about organisms that replace humans at the top of the food chain!
What I will say now is not “politically correct” in today’s rejection of the Ars Moriendi. Alle Menschen müßen sterben. We are all called to die. It is a fact that even in the ideal conditions, we die alone and face the afterlife independently from any priest who has given us the last Sacraments and family members who have prayed. Obviously, in this pandemic, we are going to take it seriously and take precautions. In any other situation, we have to take care and preserve our lives and those of others, whether driving a car or just walking through a town where we might get robbed and murdered. There is always an element of risk, an idea that seems to be absent in the sayings of the medical and technocratic establishment. I write this knowing that I will pass on one day – and my treasure will be other people’s trash.
Our time is one of apocalyptic anxiety, probably something like the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the days of Fra Dolcino and Joachim de Flore. Those were ages profoundly marked by the Bubonic Plague and the decadence of the feudal system. Oddly, in the nineteenth century, there was an apocalyptic trend as churchmen in the days of Pius IX feared the influence of Freemasonry and other conspiracies, often blamed on the Jewish community.
I have seen this same kind of thought in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world and in some right-wing political tendencies. The enemy is named great reset and new world order. Those who denounce this “conspiracy” are marked by a dualistic mentality between the “goodies” and the “baddies”. The big problem is that the spiritual combat is not “other people” but ourselves, our own souls. I have just been reading a conference given by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò very recently, and it could have been one given at the end of the nineteenth century in the face of French and Italian anti-clericals.
I mention this conference as being fairly typical of the reaction against our incompetent and mendacious politicians and the equivalent in the Church. There is certainly a deeply evil tendency like the thugs Hitler recruited to run his empire. I have mixed feelings about the present Pope, between his talking in public about pastoral issues that are best dealt with by parish priests in the intimacy of the confessional. At the same time, my intellectual parameters are not those who would conclude a conviction similar to that of the sedevacantists.
Our time seems to be one that concerns more than simply the institutional Church, but civilisation as a whole. This civilisation was built on Hellenism and Christianity, something profoundly humanist in the most noble meaning of this word. Take away what remains of this civilisation and what remains? Iran after the downfall of the Shah? Chinese cruelty and Communism? Post-humanists who would revive a modern version of Nazism or connect our brains to computers.
One thing I notice too frequently with the medical profession is the rejection of spirit, the treatment of the human body and mind in materialistic terms. It considers death as an ultimate evil to be avoid at all costs. What Viganò seems to denounce is the very same thing as Alan Watts in the same quote I have given on this blog:
The present low ebb of Church religion consists in the fact that rarely, even for Church people, does it give the soul any knowledge of union with the reality that underlies the universe. To put it in another way, modern Church religion is little concerned with giving any consciousness of union with God. It is not mystical religion, and for that reason it is not fully and essentially religion.
That text was written in 1947, long before Vatican II or Pope Francis. That is important to remember, especially among those who are Catholics but not subjects of the Roman communion. We are often told to wake up and become political activists and militants, but our awakening has to be within.
I return to that wonderful little book I have by Rob Riemen, the Dutch thinker, To Fight Against This Age. He calls the ideologies of our time a form of Fascism, and I sympathise with his thought. Fascism is a form of Socialism, collectivism over the individual person. It incites resentment, anger and fear, a need for scapegoats and hatred of personal thought and spiritual life. Other than Christian authors, we need to learn from philosophers like Thomas Mann and Albert Camus with their experience of totalitarianism in the 1930’s and 40’s. The solution to the virus, our quacks and lying politicians, our lockdowns and “new normals” is a return to Christ and to European humanism with its universal values of truth, beauty, justice, and love for life―values underpinning any democratic civilization.
For the time being, we are obliged to go along with the lockdown and dutifully wear our masks – just in case there is someone with the disease we might get too close to. We are blind. We don’t know which scientists have the best or truest ideas. In these days of opposing ideologies and truths, we have to learn scepticism and a healthy enquiring mind. We can learn a bit about the science with work and curiosity. A little introduction:
On each of these pages, we will find references and related subjects. For us ordinary people not aspiring to the medical profession, we can at least learn an elementary form of the science. This knowledge will help us to be critical of some of the bullshit we are encountering today, especially the media and their scaremongering. Let us replace our anxiety with knowledge and critical thinking, keeping our minds open to learning from people like Dr Gupta and Dr John Campbell.
The more we learn and keep an open mind, the less we will be seduced by violent ideology and groupthink.