On Stating the Obvious (Part One)

Michael Levitt is a Nobel Prize-winning professor at Stanford University. Ann Coulter is a cerebral hemorrhage masquerading as a political commentator. Both spoke the truth over the weekend — or rather, both stated the obvious, while conveniently avoiding or overlooking the deepest implications of their respective truths.

First, today, the rational side of the equation. (Coulter can wait until I find a more restrained tone for dealing with her kind of idiocy.)

Levitt has been a rare prominent voice of sanity on the coronavirus pandemic, consistently rejecting the invalid logic of lockdowns on common sense grounds. 

“I think lockdown saved no lives,” said the scientist, who added that the Government should have encouraged Britons to wear masks and adhere to other forms of social distancing.

“I think it may have cost lives. It will have saved a few road accident lives – things like that – but social damage – domestic abuse, divorces, alcoholism – has been extreme. And then you have those who were not treated for other conditions.”

The healthy bit of obviousness implied in Levitt’s view is that the argument for shutting down whole societies as a means of combatting a virus that is manifestly far too mild to shut anything down on its own requires that everyone tacitly accept a monumentally false (and carefully hidden) premise, namely that death from COVID-19 is the only possible cause of serious damage to human life during this pandemic, such that lockdowns which prevent the spread of the virus are an unqualified good.

Levitt mentions just a few of the other causes of damage that one must completely deny or ignore in order to accept the lockdown logic at face value. One could add many more. And among those further causes which Levitt does not mention is one that I suspect he himself would likely never notice, because even his own commonsensical view of the situation suffers from its own hidden assumption.

To see what is missing, and why Levitt’s argument, refreshingly rational as it is, nevertheless falls short of really saying what needs to be said, consider the following revealing statement:

“I think that the real virus was the panic virus,” Prof Levitt told the Telegraph. “For reasons that were not clear to me, I think the leaders panicked and the people panicked and I think there was a huge lack of discussion.”

The “panic virus” is a real thing, of course. But the key phrase in the above observation, to my mind, is this: “For reasons that were not clear to me.” 

But those reasons that were unclear to Levitt, or at least the most basic ones, were well within the range of obvious truths that ought to have been very clear to a Stanford scientist and Nobel laureate. The leaders in Britain, the United States, and most other Western nations, who rushed to impose lockdowns over this pandemic, did so when it was already patently obvious that this virus was not nearly as deadly as first feared, that its victims were mostly the very old and unhealthy, and that it was having very little real effect on the largest demographic groups in any population. 

Furthermore, even after weeks of lockdowns and “stay-at-home orders,” as the evidence of the non-catastrophic nature of this pandemic continued to mount, those leaders stuck to their guns (literally), refusing to relent on their newly-assumed police state powers, disregarding all the societal and personal damage they could see they were causing, marginalizing and dismissing the growing public outcries (especially in the U.S.) against the excessive assertion of state coercion, and using moral intimidation and public shaming to beat down their critics. These lockdown-imposing governments would agree to ease the social controls only on their own initiative, and only when and as they saw fit; and they would firmly assert their right to re-impose those restrictions at any time they deemed appropriate.

Levitt, for all his good common sense on this issue, has missed, or is at least choosing to pussyfoot around, the central matter of interest in this discussion: Progressive authoritarians have knowingly exploited this non-crisis to establish new powers, and to inure their populations to the practice of accepting the yoke peacefully, even eagerly, when ordered by their leaders and their “experts” to do so, in the name of “public safety” and “protecting the weak.” To evade or overlook this issue is like quibbling over whether Mussolini really made the trains run on time, as though transportation policy were the decisive question about Mussolini’s method of governance.

Normalcy bias, as its very name suggests, is the most common thing in the world. When a fact is simply too disturbing of one’s daily comfort to accept at face value, the natural human instinct — especially among those living in the greatest practical comfort and ease — is to deny or ignore it. Tyranny ruins a good lunch, so we pretend we cannot see, let alone state, what is truly obvious, and carry on with the salad. 

But refusing to put one’s lunch above one’s civilization — accepting the inevitable indigestion and spoiled appetite that hard truths bring — is an important step toward wisdom.

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