There Will Be Blowback, In Mostly Good Ways
An optimistic take
Two months ago, it had been mandatory in my local grocery to use only shopping bags brought from home. Plastic bags were illegal by local ordinance. Then the virus hit. Suddenly the opposite was true. It was illegal to bring bags from home because they could spread disease. Plastic bags were mandatory. As a huge fan of plastic bags, I experienced profound Schadenfreude.
It’s amazing how the prospect of death clarifies priorities.
Before the virus, we indulged in all sorts of luxuries such as dabbling in dirtiness and imagining a world purified by bucolic naturalness. But when the virus hit, we suddenly realized that a healthy life really matters and that natural things can be very wicked. And then when government put everyone under house arrest and criminalized freedom itself, we realized many other things too. And we did it fast.
Lots of people are predicting how life will fundamentally change in light of our collective experience this last month. I agree but I don’t think it will turn out quite as people think. This whole period has been an unconscionable trauma for billions of people, wrecking lives far beyond what even the worst virus could achieve. I’m detecting enormous, unfathomable levels of public fury barely beneath the surface. It won’t stay beneath the surface for long.
Our lives in the coming years will be defined by forms of blowback in the wake of both the disease and the egregious policy response, as a much needed corrective. The thing is that you can’t take away everyone’s rights, put a whole people under house arrest, and abolish the rule of law without generating a response to that in the future.
1. Blowback Against Media
I’m a long-time fan of the New York Times. Jeer if you want but I’ve long admired their reporting, their professionalism, their steady hand, their first draft of history, even if I don’t share the paper’s center-left political bent.
Something about this virus caused the paper to go completely off the rails. In early March, they began to report on it as if it were the Black Death, suggesting not just closing schools and businesses but actually calling for a complete totalitarian policy. It was shocking and utterly preposterous. The guy who wrote that article has a degree in rhetoric from Berkeley and yet he was calling the shots on the paper’s entire response to disease on a national level. They’ve gone so far as to falsify dates in their reporting in order to manipulate the timeline (I called them out on a case in point; the paper made the change but never admitted the error.)
I’m sure that in the coming days and weeks, the paper will dial back all this blather just as they did their certainty that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election. In fact, they have already started with an admission that the virus was already widespread in the months before the lockdown (which suggests that most everything else the paper has written since March has been wrong). But it will be too late. They bear some moral culpability for what has happened to our country.
Anyway, I don’t want to pick on the Times alone; the media has been nearly in lockstep on the need for lockdown forever and on the claim that this virus is universally lethal for everyone. You can read in various spots alternative opinions from experts (here here here here here here here plus a thousand others plus videos with serious voices).
But notice that all these links point to sites that do not enjoy viral traffic. AIER has been a leading voice, obviously.
Once you get up to speed on the real story here, with authoritative voices, you turn on Fox, CNN, NYT, CNBC, and all of the rest (the WSJ has been slightly better), and you hear nothing about any of this. They merely spin tales. People glued to the tube have almost no clue about any basics, such as how long the virus has been here, how gigantic is the denominator that makes up the fatality ratio, how many people have zero symptoms so that it’s not even an annoyance, the true demographic makeup of the victim population, and the unlikelihood that many of these deaths would have been preventable through any policy.
Watching this disgusting parade of media-driven ignorance, genuine experts or even people passingly curious about data, have become demoralized. Surely many people have already stopped listening to the news completely because it is nothing but a distraction from the reality on the ground.
Why and how did this happen? An obvious answer seems almost too simple: the media wants people at home staring at the television. Maybe that’s the whole thing. But it almost seems too cynical to be the full explanation. In any case, I’m not the only one noticing this. I seriously doubt that the credibility of the mainstream media will survive this. There will be blowback. Much needed!
2. Blowback Against Politicians
You do recall, don’t you, that the governors and mayors who imposed the lockdowns never asked their citizens about their views about instantly getting rid of all rights and freedoms. They didn’t consult legislatures. They didn’t consult a range of expert opinion or pay attention to any serious demographic data that showed how utterly preposterous it was to force non-vulnerable populations into house arrest while trapping vulnerable populations in nursing homes that became Covid-soaked killing fields.
They thought nothing of shattering business confidence, violating contractual rights, wrecking tens of millions of lives, prohibiting freedom in association, tanking the stock market, blowing all budgets, shutting down international travel, and even closing the churches. Amazing. Every government executive except a few became a tin-pot dictator.
The first hint of the possible blowback came from Henry Kissinger who warned in the Wall Street Journal on April 8: “Nations cohere and flourish on the belief that their institutions can foresee calamity, arrest its impact and restore stability. When the Covid-19 pandemic is over, many countries’ institutions will be perceived as having failed.”
Yes, that’s quite an understatement.
From testing failures to policy failures to profligate fiscal and monetary policies to straight up brutalism in its shutdown antics, the reputation of government in general will not fare well. When the dust settles on this, a whole generation of leaders could be wiped out, provided we return to democratic forms of government, which surely we will. Left or right, Republican or Democrat, there will be a serious price to pay. Politicians acted rashly for fear of their political futures. They will find that they made the wrong choice.
3. Blowback Against Environmentalism
Wash your hands, they kept telling us. But we turn on the faucet and hardly anything comes out. They ruined them some years ago with flow stoppers. The water isn’t hot because the hot-water heaters don’t work as well due to regulations. Keep your clothing and dishes clean but our washing machines and dishwashers hardly work. And let us not forget that our toilets are also non-functional.
Government has wrecked sanitation by ruining our appliances in the name of conservation. And now we suddenly discover that we care about cleanliness and getting rid of germs: nice discovery! Implementing this is going to require that we upend the restrictions, pull out the flow stoppers, permission new and functioning toilets, turn up our water heaters, fix the detergents and so on. We played fast and loose with germs and now we regret it.
So yes, plastic bags are back, and the disease-carrying reusables are gone, but that’s just the beginning. Recycling mandates will go away. Hand dryers in bathrooms will be rethought. Bring back single-use items and universalize them! We will care again about the quality of life as a first priority. As for nature and nature’s germs, be gone!
4. Blowback Against Social Distance
Staying away from direct contact with sick people is a good idea; we’ve known since the ancient world. Vulnerable populations need to be especially careful, such as elderly people have always known. But government took this sensible idea and went crazy with it, separating everyone from everyone else, all in the name of “flattening the curve” to preserve hospital capacity. But then this principle became a general one, to the point that people were encouraged to believe silly things like that standing too close to anyone will magically cause COVID-19 to appear. Going to the grocery today, it’s pretty clear that people think you can get it by talking or looking at people.
Several friends have pointed out to me that they already detect a blowback against all this. And why? There is a dubious merit to the overly generalized principle, and that will become more than obvious in the coming months. Then the blowback hits.
I expect a widespread social closening movement to develop here pretty quickly. You will see the bars and dance floors packed, and probably a new baby boom will emerge in a post-COVID19 world.
And the handshake will again become what it began as, a sign of mutual trust.
5. Blowback Against Regulation
In the midst of panic, we discovered that many rules that govern our lives don’t make sense. The regulations on disease testing clogged the system and gave us an epistemic crisis that kicked off this insanity in the first place. Fortunately, many politicians did the right thing and repealed many of them. The Americans for Tax Reform has assembled a list of 350 regulations that have been waived. This is hugely encouraging. Let’s keep them waived and never go back.
6. Blowback Against Digital Everything
We keep hearing how this trauma is going to cause everyone to communicate more with video. I don’t believe it. Everyone is experiencing tremendous burnout of these sterile digital environments. Hey, it’s great that they can happen but they are far from ideal.
“Can you hear me?”
“I can’t hear you.”
“Is my picture blurry?”
“Why am I looking up your nose?”
“Change your settings.”
“Silence your mic!”
And so on. At first we thought this was merely a period of adjustment. Now we know that we just don’t like all this nonsense. It’s no way to live.
There is nothing like real people in a real room.
7. Blowback Against Anti-Work
I suppose many workers weren’t entirely unhappy when the boss said work from home. But millions of people have now discovered that this comes at a cost. There is loneliness. The dog. The kids. The spouse. The depressing failure to dress up like a civilized human being. Everyone I know misses the office. They want to be back, be on a schedule, see friends again, experience the joy of collaboration, share jokes, munch on the office donuts.
It was only recently that everyone seemed to be complaining about the workplace. There were endless squabbles about pay, pay equity, race, metoo, executive compensation, family leave policies, and you name it. No one seemed happy.
We didn’t know how good we had it.
8. Blowback Against Experts
The media from the beginning trumpeted some experts over others. We went credential crazy. How many letters you have after your name determines your credibility (unless you have the wrong opinion). But soon we discovered some interesting realities. The experts that everyone wanted to cite were wrong or so loose with their predictions that their predictions were useless in practice. Dr. Fauci himself wrote on February 28 that this would be a normal flu. Merely a week later, everything changed from calm to panic, and with that change came the wild government response, long after people on their own realized that being careful would be a good idea. Under expert guidance, we swung from one end to the other with very little evidence, exactly against the strong and compelling advice of one of the few experts with credibility remaining.
9. Blowback Against Academia
Just like that, we went from enormously expensive campuses and a huge administrative apparatus to a series of Zoom calls between professor and students, leaving many to wonder what the rest is really worth. Surely many colleges and universities will not survive this.
The other problem concerns the marketability of degrees in a world in which whole industries can be shut down in an instant. The college degree was supposed to give us security; the lockdowns took it all away. Also there is the problem of the curriculum itself. Of what value are these soft degrees in social justice in a world in which you are struggling to pay next month’s rent regardless?
As for elementary and secondary education, homeschooling anyone? Its existed under a cloud for decades, before suddenly it became mandatory.
10. Blowback Against Unhealthy Lifestyles
There has been no small effort to suppress the demographics of COVID-19 fatalities but the word is still getting out. This BBC headline sums it up: Nine in 10 dying have existing illness. And here’s another: Obesity is the number one factor in COVID deaths. This should not be lost on people considering improving their overall health and reducing disease vulnerability. Maybe you already feel it and are using your quarantine time to reduce and get fit or at least stop advancing too quickly toward your final demise. There are things we can do, people!
This would be an enormous change in American culture, to say the least.
11. Blowback Against Spending
You are likely saving lots of money from cutting entertainment. Feels good, doesn’t it? Regret not having saved more to prepare for these days? This will change dramatically. Those mattresses are going to get stuffed with cash in the coming year or two. It’s all fine: savings leads to investment, provided people have an ironclad promise that nothing like the monstrous destruction of the last month will ever occur again.