Friday, April 10, 2020

Some thoughts on the COVID-19 crisis

I commend to you Fr. Thomas Joseph White’s First Things essay on the COVID-19 situation and the bishops’ response to it.  It exhibits his characteristic good sense and charity.  First Things editor Rusty Reno, with whom Fr. Thomas Joseph disagrees, exhibits his characteristic magnanimity and intellectual honesty in running it.  My sympathies are with Fr. Thomas Joseph’s views rather than Rusty’s, but I have been appalled by the nastiness of others who have responded to Rusty (who is a good man and a serious thinker and writer who deserves to be engaged with seriously).  Our situation calls for patience with one another and the calm exchange of opposing views, for the sake of the common good.  Too many have instead treated the debate over COVID-19 as an extension of hostilities that pre-existed the crisis.  This is gravely contrary to reason and charity.

The situation is as complicated as it is dire.  The consequences of either underreacting or overreacting could be catastrophic.  However, in dealing with a pandemic, time is of the essence, and one has to act before it is too late, on the basis of a fallible judgment call.  For this reason, authorities who decided on a lockdown opted to risk erring on the side of possible overreaction, and to me this seems reasonable.  It also seems to me unreasonable to attribute suspect motives (as opposed to an error in judgment) to those who made these decisions, since they hardly benefit from economic catastrophe.

It is also unreasonable to condemn their actions on the grounds that the models they used in making their decisions are fallible, and indeed have since been modified.  Models are all anyone has to go on in situations like this, and the skeptics have to make their own judgments on the basis of their own equally fallible models.  Moreover, if infection and death rates turn out to be lower than was initially feared, then this might, of course, be attributed precisely to the efficacy of the measures taken in light of the models. 

Skeptics will rightly point out that there is a danger here of making claims that are unfalsifiable.  But they need to keep in mind that that is a point that cuts both ways.  In the abstract, “Things would have worked out anyway, without the lockdown!” is no less unfalsifiable than “See, the lockdown worked!”  What you have to do in order to test such claims is to compare cases where lockdowns were used to cases where they were not.  But that is trickier than it seems because there are so many variables.  What works in smaller countries may not work in larger ones.  Some lockdowns might be more draconian than others, and if things work out well in the less draconian cases it will be hard to know whether to attribute that to the fact that the lockdown was less draconian or to the fact that there was a lockdown.  And so on.

That is not to say that there is no right answer here.  It is just to emphasize that the situation is one where complicated issues with momentous implications have to be hashed out under time constraints.  Skeptics need to be heard, because any rational person will want to consider opposing views before deciding to take some drastic action.  However, the skeptics ought to cut a lot of slack to those with responsibility for making those decisions. 

In the short run, then, my sympathies are more with those who defend the lockdown than with those who are skeptical of it.  However, in the long run those who defend the lockdown need to be more open, rather than less, to the considerations raised by the skeptics.  To be sure, no one denies that the lockdown must be ended as soon as is reasonably possible, even if people disagree about what “reasonably” entails.  But as time goes on, harder evidence about the nature of the virus will accumulate and we will have had more time carefully to weigh different options for dealing with it.  The risk of overreaction will be harder to justify on the grounds of having to act under time constraints. 

Moreover, the longer the lockdown goes on, the more the economic damage increases even as the danger posed by the virus decreases.  It would be absurd and irresponsible to attribute concern about this to Wall Street greed.  The potential damage includes mass unemployment, the destruction of ordinary people’s retirement plans, the depletion of their savings, social instability, and indeed the instability of the health care system itself.  Authorities have to keep one eye always locked on this problem even as the other is directed at the virus.

This is why, as I say, both charity and sober debate are necessary.  But there has been too little of either.  Those who warned about the grave danger of COVID-19 were right.  But too many of them – not all, by any means, but a disturbing number – have been prone to self-righteous grandstanding and a naked desire to politicize the crisis.  Too many of the skeptics, meanwhile, have overreacted to this obnoxiousness and succumbed to the temptation to politicize the crisis in the opposite direction.  In short, too many people are reacting to each other rather than to the situation.  And they too often seem more concerned with petty point-scoring rather than with trying rationally to convince each other or with seeking each other’s well-being.

In the final paragraph of his article, Fr. Thomas Joseph offers some thoughts about what true Christian charity calls for in this situation.  But it is in his penultimate paragraph that he addresses what, in my opinion, is the main lesson of this crisis, as of every crisis.  It is a reminder that everyday pleasures, economic well-being, political order, health, and indeed life itself, are fleeting.  It is a memento moriIt is a call to get serious about more serious things.  As Fr. Thomas Joseph writes, “if we simply seek to pass through all this in hasty expectation of a return to normal, perhaps we are missing the fundamental point of the exercise.” 


  1. “authorities who decided on a lockdown opted to risk erring on the side of possible overreaction, and to me this seems reasonable.”; perhaps. Statistician Briggs calls imagining the worst case scenario and mitigating for that risk the precautionary principle. Is it always prudent? In the case of possible damnation, yes; but potential plague? He argues no, here Thoughts?

    1. Especially given that the shutdown for the epidemic is certainly killing people, which is what it is implemented to prevent.

  2. Addendum to prior: Minimax decision principle says minimise the maximum risk. This seems to be the background to "The consequences of either underreacting could be catastrophic". Is minimax prudent? For everlasting consequences, like hell, sure: Minimax with Pascal. For mortal concerns? It usually sins against courage, argues statistician Briggs . Thoughts?

  3. The greater danger facing the United States is not COVID-19 but a reemergence of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which is the worst of all prion diseases.

    * 100.00% fatality rate. All prion duseases share this feature, but it's worth restating.

    * Only method of diagnosis are either tonsil biopsy or postmortem examination of the brain. Screening is far from feasible at this state of medical technology due to how small the virion is.

    * The FDA, for some reason, thought it was a good idea to stop requiring slaughterhouses to inspect for downer cows back in 2002.

    * Protracted course 1+ year from onset to death. Cases of 2 years are not unheard of. And it also can be asymptomatic for many years... or infect and kill quickly. It's basically a mystery.

    * Almost purely psychiatric issues at the start, not even cognitive. This disease is a great mimicker of generic anxiety and depression, which will overload psychiatrists. And it tends for some reason to infect and kill teenagers and young adults over the geriatric population that normal Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease afflicts.

    * But it ends in akinetic mutism, which is when you want to move, but a counterwill energes preventing you from moving, and you want to speak, but a counterwill prevents you from speaking. Locked-in syndrome. Lovely.

    * It has the potential for extreme infectivity via consumption of prion-infested waste products or the leeching of prions into the sewerage. We got lucky the first outbreak only killed ~200 people.

  4. I think the lock downs are probably a good idea in general, at this stage, although I think it is a case-by-case basis for localities, not one size fits all. I thought it was silly that the state government of NSW was increasing restrictions at the same time the amount of new cases were falling. The Victorian and the New Zealand governments went into full lock down with few recorded cases, largely skipping less radical methods.

    More concerning to me is that the purpose of the lock downs has not been communicated very well. Surely they can't last more than a few weeks or months more at most? The economy will fall off a cliff if we are in lock down until a vaccine is developed, not to mention that people probably just won't put up with it. A few weeks is one thing, but months is quite another, especially if you are on your own or with small children. Surely the goal must be to increase the capacity of the health system so that it is not overwhelmed should their be a surge in cases, and then we need to slowly and cautiously open things back up? What's the realistic alternative? In Australia, though, and in Britain, the governments haven't been very good at communicating what is going on.

    1. Australia are doing pretty well, better than NZ, Canada, US, UK, Ireland, and more.

      I'd give them props for their response. No one has been perfect, but the Aussies have been the closest it seems out of western countries.

    2. I'm not so sure I agree. They don't tell us much about any increased health capacity. And otherwise, what's the point of the lock down? This virus isn't just going away, so can the purpose be to stay in until it does or until there's a vaccine? I have my doubts that is realistic. And I still can't understand why the NSW government increased restrictions when things seemed to be going in the right direction. It looks knee-jerk. Surely you would wait at least until it looked like the improvements had stopped? The only thing that Australian governments seem to be doing differently from the governments you mention is more testing. Otherwise, there's not much difference.

    3. The only western countries with less cases per capita are ones that have done vastly less testing. Greenland being the only exception. Aussie went from 3-400 new cases daily just 2 weeks ago to less than 100, yet this is not being hidden by a lack of testing. A log graph of cases is pretty much at the point of being almost flat. Literally every western nation is floating around a 3rd of cases having recovered, more or less, yet Aussie has over half recovered, which no other western nation can say. That's pretty good, I would think.

      NZ is doing better with deaths, but only by 1 person per capita.

      As I said, no country is perfect, there will be actions that are poorly thought out and can be criticised, but Aussie has few in comparison. Are you guys just lucky, maybe?

      I guess the economic and social reaction after all this may change the story. NZ is expecting a 3rd of businesses to not reopen, yet the govt went ahead with a min. wage hike anyway, even though we already have the highest min wage in comparison to average wage among all developed nations. I haven't heard anything close to that from Oz.

    4. It might just be luck, and also the weather. It's still mid-autumn here in Sydney, which means temperatures are in the mid to late twenties. I'm not sure what we have done that others haven't. It might also be the fact that, although Australia has a very high degree of urbanisation (nearly half the country lives in Sydney or Melbourne alone), yet these cities are, I think, relatively lacking in density: more like LA than New York.

      I think Australia has a relatively good health system, comparatively even to many Western nations. It's a good blend of the public and private, but I wouldn't have thought it was any more prepared prior to this than the US or NZ.

      Are you a Kiwi?

    5. Jeremy,
      "And otherwise, what's the point of the lock down? "
      1.Prevent healthcare from being overwhelmed and thus unable to handle covid-19 cases that require oxygen and ventilators and ICU treatment, as well as all the other healthcare needs that keep on coming at the same time. New York City waited too long and their healthcare system is beyond capacity as a result. Caregivers are working double shifts, lack equipment, and are contracting covid-19 themselves.

      2.Time to ramp up production of masks, ventilators, oxygen, gowns, and other medical equipment needed to treat covid-19 and keep the caregivers safe in the process. The CDC is guilty of lying about masks. You should wear an engineered mask such as an N95 mask continuously in public, but we need time to ramp up that production, so use a home made mask of dense material continuously in public if you cannot obtain an engineered and rated mask.

      3.Time to ramp up production of tests. Tests, as South Korea has found, are critical to prevention because of the long asymptomatic or mild symptomatic yet contagious stage. With aggressive widespread testing those who test positive can self isolate for some 14 days to prevent spreading the virus.

      4.Time to communicate how to use the tools and techniques we have, masks, testing, social distancing, remote working and learning and entertainment, and enhanced sanitation.

      After we get past the peak flattened by the shut downs we can begin to open up places of business that use all the mitigation techniques so people can get back to work. Public beaches, parks, and large gatherings will have to stay closed longer even as we open up businesses so people can earn a living.

      We will have to maintain use of the whole range of mitigation techniques until a vaccine and/or antiviral drugs are developed and deployed.

      Long term, we can look forward to covid-19 going the way of measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and chickenpox, eradicated or nearly so, and incorporated into ordinary childhood vaccinations.

    6. That's literally what I said....

    7. Jeremy,

      Yea, Im a kiwi, living in Canada atm.

      I guess we will see. There are a lot of unknowns, so I guess its tough to make any definitive judgement on it.

    8. Jeremy,

      Definitely worth a read:

  5. Thank you, Dr. Feser, for you typical thorough considerations and charitable analysis. I'm sympathetic to lock downs of large metropolitan areas, but less so in rural areas, particularly as I've watched the virus develop in my home of Iowa.

    Since I have some limited competency in modeling, there is some means of falsifying models without relying on other fallible models. These models are making predictions (in spite of some groups' cognitive dissonance to the contrary) which can be judged against how the situation really evolves. Relying on models that consistently fail to match how the situation actually evolves becomes increasingly irrational with time.

    Those with authority have to rely on some model for sure, but some models are not just fallible but falsified.

  6. I wonder how much of the economy can be shut down without ill effect to the whole. I understand that people will not receive income. But what I am thinking about is all the things people are paid for now, that used to happen in other ways. 50 years ago there were many fewer restaurants and takeaways, and everybody prepared their own food. I joined a bureaucracy where directors and managers determined policy and procedures, recruited staff, disciplined them if necessary, and picked a clerk to write memoranda for the Minister's office if required. Human Resources was just a payroll team. Today every branch has a policy team, an ethics unit, a Human Resources team that makes rules about hiring, a communications unit, perhaps an equity team, and so on. Nearly all these roles were once done by the same directors and managers. How much of the economy is comprised of things that could be done more simply, or don't have to be done at all?

  7. The evidence seems to be that governments are taking mistaken advice. Proof that mortality rates are grossly overstated is coming out all over the place. Yet, those who point this out are lumped in with "deniers" of climate change. No wonder people react suspiciously.

    Western governments gave up science the moment they believed the Chinese statistics. No doubt sense will triumph and we'll be let out of the nursery soon. It'll be awful to see those degenerate Swedes still have an economy and we don't.

  8. Let's call it the Wuhan Virus or the CCP Virus. Calling it COVID-19 or Coronavirus is just what the Chinese Communist Party wants us to do. Check out Patrick Coffins recent interview with the retired general on China's influence on the world stage and here at home. Pretty scary stuff.

  9. Dr. Feser, I think this is a very soundly reasoned post, and very well balanced among competing factors in a critical problem we all share in some way.

    "“Things would have worked out anyway, without the lockdown!” is no less unfalsifiable".
    I can suggest a means to falsify such a claim. Compare the situation in locations that were slow to implement mitigation techniques, with those areas that responded sooner with more decisive action. New York City comes to mind, where a widespread disregard for warnings has led to a critical situation of the health care system being overwhelmed, large numbers of fatalities, and large numbers of healthcare workers who do not have the equipment they need and are contracting the virus themselves.

    "To be sure, no one denies that the lockdown must be ended as soon as is reasonably possible,"
    I suggest neither continuing nor ending the lockdown, rather, incrementally and selectively rolling back the lockdown as organizations demonstrate a strong commitment to mitigation practices.

    In incrementally rolling back the lockdown I think emphasis should be placed on places of employment, particularly for people who have lost their jobs and their health insurance and are facing the real prospect of destitution.

    We have available technology in the form of masks engineered to block the virus, with the governor of California showing great leadership in securing 200 million per month. Social distancing, enhanced sanitation, and self isolation in addition to continuously wearing an engineered mask can enable people to get back to work. For companies who get serious about implementing and maintaining long term all such mitigation techniques I think we can let those people go back to work some time after we peak on the curve, while keeping public beaches and parks and large gatherings closed for the foreseeable future.

    "And they too often seem more concerned with petty point-scoring rather than with trying rationally to convince each other or with seeking each other’s well-being."
    Indeed, this is no time to be attacking each other personally, rather, this crisis calls for the utmost in rational analysis of complex trade offs guided by humanistic concern for each other.

    1. Talking of hell and viruses...

  10. Fr White's analysis strikes me as rather over-wrought. My 77-year-old father runs a business and continues to go to work, day in day out, as he has his whole life. He has an at least ordinary measure of courage, sure; and a more than ordinary sense of responsibility; but he's not a hero. He's just an ordinary, decent human being, who knows he will die some day, prepared to accept it when it comes, who goes to work regardless, because the world needs to keep running. It seems to me that Fr White begs all sorts of questions in his prudential analysis, and that method of proceeding can only reflect badly on his concrete grasp of prudence. (It's easy to talk about prudence, rather harder to be prudent.) One example: It seems disingenuous to compare COVID-19 to the bubonic plague. I wonder if COVID-19 isn't a "first-world-problem" iteration of the plague, and meanwhile, outside the "first world," human lives will be lost due to starvation, malnutrition, disease, etc., because of repercussions from the first world economic shut-down. Isn't that at least possible too? So where does that figure into the "prudential" analysis?

  11. The falsification issue seems important for the "damnation-denialism" analogy too. Suppose someday we find out the truth: all have been saved (except for poor Judas, son of Simon Iscariot)! At that point do we discover corollary truth A: it turns out we were wrong to think that in this life we and those around us were in real danger of going to hell; or corollary truth B: the hell-alarmists have not been falsified, they were still right all along, somehow... perhaps everybody was saved somehow only in virtue of hell-alarmism (or hell-alarmists), and in spite of the prevalence of damnation-denialism (or "damnation-deniers")?

  12. Well, with Ezekiel Immanuel and others indicating we should be prepared for an eighteen (18!!!) month lockdown,I don't believe we can attribute simple and benign motives to "these people".

  13. I guess I am hopelessly dense, but for the life of me I cannot understand why a forcible lockdown is even remotely necessary, even if this pandemic were literally orders of magnitude more deadly than it's been so far. Doesn't anyone think he's capable of assessing and balancing the risks for himself and his own family?

    The problem with claiming "The state has a fundamental obligation to protect human life, especially when it is gravely threatened," is not that the claim is false, but that it's unhelpfully abstract. I also have a fundamental obligation to protect the human lives of my wife and children, especially when they are gravely threatened. So do my local officials. The real question is more along the lines of subsidiarity.

    Fr. White writes, "Civic governments are wounded by sin, but not radically depraved." Fair enough. And yet some individuals who seek and attain power ARE radically depraved (IMO through the habitual development of their characters by choices made of their own free will). Orwell and Tolkien demonstrate well why some men seek to deprive others of their natural responsibilities - which as a matter of fact are also a "basic given of natural law".

    Civil governments might have issued strong recommendations and guidelines rather than totalitarian orders. Which is to say, they might have appealed to their rightful authority under the natural law instead of naked power.

  14. Many lament the lack of freedom due to the lockdowns, I think they are missing the point that freedom consists of being able to do what one ought to do. At present, it seems reasonable to ascertain that one ought to be staying at home as much as is humanly possible.

    1. This is simply not true. As Dr. Briggs has pointed out - link above - that's a gross overreaction. And the economoc consequences are ALREADY being felt.

    2. It seems that even in your own definition of freedom, (which I agree with) you defeat your own point. I don't begrudge any particular action I am being asked to take (at least for the sake of argument) but I DO begrudge being forced to do so by guys with guns (government.) In other words, freedom, as you yourself defined it, is the capacity to CHOOSE the good, not to have "the good" forced upon you. If "the good" is forced upon you, it, by definition ceases to be virtue.

    3. @Erik

      You reminded me of this old post from Feser:

  15. China was tested with no notice yet passed with flying colours. The west was tested with months notice and the result should shame us all
    Nothing demonstrates our shallowness more than our ability to acknowledge this simple fact.

  16. As sensible as Fr. White tends to be, he made a few blunders here. For example: The state, then, has a moral obligation to seek to halt or slow the spread of the disease. In requesting a thoroughgoing but temporary quarantine,

    Well, no, in most places the state isn't "requesting" a quarantine, they are demanding it. The distinction is important to my main point.

    As valuable as limiting public interaction is and will be in diminishing the impact of the disease, (and, not incidentally, the economic impact of the disease), it is also clear that the economic impact of such limiting, especially in the ways the states have implemented it, will also be significant or severe...or even economy shattering. The underlying problem is - or at least, seems to be - that few if anyone in governor's mansions and their associated ministers of this and that have ever undertaken a thoroughgoing analysis of the downstream effects of this or that individual limiting provision, much less of the whole complex of limiting provisions that have been implemented. Without such an analysis, they can have AT BEST only a WAG (wild-ass guess) at whether their in-the-heat-of-the-moment actions to stem the course of COVID are going to cause less or more damage down the road than any of 30 other pathways might have done. Just to take one small sliver of an issue that nobody seems to be mentioning in the media: however much money is being sent out to those who are out of work because of the shutdowns (mainly through the income tax rolls), that money is unlikely to help out the illegal aliens who are on no income tax rolls and don't pay income tax because they work under the table, and such people, because they have no cash if they don't work, will continue to work (under the table) because they have to. This is but one of a hundred (or thousand) effects not planned for.

    Without having put in really serious earlier efforts at (what effectively amounts to) war-gaming this or that possible course of action, with not only health officials, but also law-enforcement officials, economic officials, industry leaders, and then real scientists of social action (of which only a few sociologists would qualify) to evaluate, any course of action they take now is likely to be prudent only with respect to the next 3 or 4 weeks or so. It is UNlikely to be well-formed as to effects 8 weeks away, much less 6 months. I's not a lot better than trying to run a submarine 200 meters down with a periscope but no sonar system, and no navigation maps.

    In that context: the bishops are of course trying to be good citizens as well as trying to minister to their people. But there are a LOT of blunders still occurring. There are a lot of bishops giving way to mandates that they should be standing up to and saying "we won't". For example, there nothing the least bit dangerous about having mass at an outdoor parking lot where everyone stays in their cars. There are absolutely ways to set up confession so that both the priest and penitent stay safe, and so you know they stay safe.

  17. Perhaps one of the most egregious: so far as I have heard, people are sometimes denied the last sacraments before death because "only doctors and nurses can go into the room" - such rules are an outrage to Catholic principles both because (a) a priest can be made as safe (or more) than the doctor or nurse, with protective gear, and (b) the dying person's spiritual salvation (if they are in the state of mortal sin) is more urgent and more grave a need than the priest's safety (even granting that we need the priest for OTHER people as well). (Think priests at battlefields ministering to the dying.)
    The bishop(s) should be screaming bloody murder (figuratively) at blocking out priests from such situations, and be seen to be upset about it. And, like in KY, raising legal objections to civil orders that DON'T need to be made for safety of the people, and infringe on spiritual needs without due reason. Perhaps if bishops were seen to be doing this, maybe more ordinary folk would accept the standard, usual quarantine stuff that OUGHT to be imposed, and that clergy should support, as being reasonable.

    In toto, one of the reasons that states are demanding all sorts of limitations, some of which are clearly needed and others of which are clearly not so needed, is that many of them have never really thought through questions like "what should we leave to local discretion, what should we give "urgent warnings about", and what must we make mandatory?" in a crisis of this nature. Because they have not thought through social consequences, including backlash and non-compliance due to poorly FRAMED orders, they are making a hash out of even good measures that need to be issued. Not surprisingly, then, they are also running roughshod over things like how to determine what constitutes "necessary" or "essential" in the economy and in the public welfare. They are running over subsidiarity as if it were a problem to be flattened and plowed to the side of the road, rather than an essential element of social order. Maybe society will survive COVID-19, but it is less clear that subsidiarity will.

  18. Yeah sure. The same governments that call for wide spread abortion, contraception, secularism, marxism, etc, are surely not "radically depraved". Some philosophers live in a parallel universe it seems. Both Aristotle and Aquinas praised common sense, but it seems modernism has blinded many theologians and philosophers to the current state of the catholic church. I always find a similarity among all these intellectuals who are willing to bow down to secularists and ideologically-informed "scientific" reports: they all go to the novus ordo mass and accept the VCII.

  19. I find myself torn between Reno's view and Fr. White's, but I take issue with the "no sacraments" crowd's use of St Charles Borromeo to defend their prohibition of Masses. I read his biographer's (contemporary) account of the plague and St Charles's actions and if you compared the sum of his actions with the debate today, he is much closer to, let's just say, the Reno Camp than the Fr White camp. Fr White mentions that he shut the churches but according to his biography, he shut them for activities other than Mass (Milanese used to walk through them if it was faster than walking through the crowded street). Quarantine was very different in his day: you didn't quarantine at home, you were removed from your house (if you were infected) and you were put in quarantine villages outside the city limits, were you would probably die. This was the city's doing, not St Charles's, though he respected it. He sent priests from all over Italy to those villages to hear confessions, give the last rights, and, yes say Mass and distribute Communion. St Charles went there and did these things PERSONALLY. He did not limit the sacraments, HE MADE THEM MUCH MORE AVAILABLE, including COMMUNION. He encouraged processions, against the wishes of the civil authorities, which went all around the city and ended elbow-to-elbow in the Cathedral. He removed the restrictions for Confirmation so everyone in the city could get it without delay. Like Fr White says, he had had outdoor Masses all throughout the city (so the sick could attend without leaving their homes and get sent to quarantine). Above all, and this is where our bishops unfortunately fall short, IMO, he constantly preached that plagues are chastisements and called his people to repent. He wore sack cloth and ashes and begged everyone else do the same. He even castigated a woman for dressing up in her finest and prophesied her death the next morning. He accurately prophesied the end of the plague, if the people did penance. Yes he took all of the natural precautions recommended at his time - distance and hygiene, etc., but for him it was 99% spiritual and 1% natural. And to think, he's the patron saint of Bishops.

  20. I commend you on your very reasonable position. This is a complicated issue and needs cool seriousness on both sides.

  21. My sympathies are much closer to Reno's than to White's. Another 5 million unemployed in the U.S. this week, taking the total to more than 22 million so far. A policy that quarantined the infected and the at risk rather than the healthy (which is what the Old Testament laws indicate) would have been far less damaging.

  22. Very interesting, Paul, and not surprising. But if most clergy view the sacraments as "salvation theatre" (as Thomas Pink has described it), then when something serious like a scary pandemic comes along, of course you stop going to the theatre and focus on the real stuff: preserving your mortal skin for as long as possible!

  23. Yes, there's a legitimate argument that it wasn't necessary to close Churches entirely; some Masses, etc., could continue with proper social distancing in place.

    But Reno was frankly being an ass and was rightly called out on it by the commentators. At one point he even bragged about spitting on the sidewalk and bemoaned how awful it was that someone gave him a nasty look. His entire series was suffused with a smug confidence that he was right and the scientific experts were wrong, and read like a childish temper tantrum that the scientific experts and not he were directing the show.

    1. The Impoverished LastsApril 16, 2020 at 1:36 PM

      What about scientists who agreed with Reno's stance? Or, Reno's stance that was inline with what other scientists were saying?

      This sounds like much global warming discussion or overpopulation discussion.
      Sure, you can find scientist who agree mankind is a bane to the planet and that we're well overpopulate to what the earth can sustain...
      But you can just as easily find those who disagree.

    2. TheLonelyProfessorApril 16, 2020 at 5:18 PM

      Reno's attitude wasn't a considered adoption of a contrarian point of view, due to scientific reasons he found convincing. It was just a contemptuous dismissal of scientific expertise altogether, combined with a inference of nefarious motives.

  24. The Impoverished LastsApril 16, 2020 at 1:34 PM

    Why not just close the Church and stop Mass during every flu season?
    You'll definitely be able to save lives, Dr. Feser.
    Wouldn't it be wise to maybe just close the Church doors end of October and open them up end of May?

    That would help save thousands of lives.

    1. TheLonelyProfessorApril 16, 2020 at 5:19 PM


      Did comparison of the contagiousness of the ordinary flu vs. the coronavirus enter anywhere into this calculation?

    2. Impoverished,
      "Why not just close the Church and stop Mass during every flu season?"
      Because we have flu vaccines available in your local pharmacy or clinic easily accessible by all.

      Because there are multiple examples of what happens when not enough action is taken against Covid-19, the hospitals get overwhelmed and run out of equipment so the death rate starts to spiral out of control. That doesn't happen during flu season. When the POTUS likened Covid-19 to the flu he lied.

      How did they keep Boris Johnson alive, and so many others? By treating the symptoms until the patient recovers. Oxygen, ventilators, hydration, anti-fever medicine and techniques. Once the hospital is overwhelmed people start to die from asphyxiation, dehydration, and extreme fever...people who otherwise would not have died will die when the hospital gets overwhelmed.

      It is ironic in a lamentable and sad way that people go to religious gatherings in part to pray for protection from the virus, only to contract the virus in the process.

  25. Twenty-two million jobs lost, heading toward 20% unemployment. Trillions of dollars of added debt. And we're nowhere close to H1N1 and other, comparable morbidity and mortality figures.

  26. Dr. Feser, I love your stuff, but I think you're giving politians an awful lot of benefit of the doubt here, even given the paucity of information available at the time.

    If we look at the initial decision to shut down the economy, I think we can look at it as a decision based on three interracing variables:

    (Danger of virus) x (Effectiveness of lockdowns) / (Cost of lockdowns)

    In this equation, the dangerousness of the virus was assumed to be worst-case-scenario. The effectiveness of the locktowns was totally unknown, sheer guesswork, utterly unscientific (especially so when compared to the possible softer alternatives such as masks, hand-washing, surface sanitizing, etc.). The cost of the lockdowns was so massively underestimated, it was essentially ignored altogether, although any reasonably educated person would know that it was obviously going to be a catastrophic. I say without hesitation that our political leaders were at best culpably ignorant of this, and not suprisingly, because they show regularly by their insane policies that they have no knowledge of economics or human behavior (or if they do, they use it malevolently).

    The costs of the lockdowns are not merely "economic" in the sense of people losing money. They are causing disruption to every aspect of human life as we know it. The ability to earn a living or run a business. The ability to socialize and recreate. The disruption of supply chains for even the most basic goods and services, including food, medicine, and medical care. The very social fabric is rupturing with citizens turning on each other for the silliest "violations" of draconian orders. The people who imagined you could just "pause" all human activity and restart it in two weeks, or six months, or whatever, are as ignorant as someone who thinks you can pause an airplane mid-flight and then have it resume after ten minutes.

    But what is far worse than the initial destructive decision is the ongoing decisions being made now that more information is in. The feared overrunning of hospitals didn't occur. More statistics keep coming in day after day showing that the virus is more widespread and less lethal than originally feared, and that the economic devastation continues in ever-widening ripples that nobody even thought of six weeks ago. At this point the decision to lift the lockdowns should be made as decisively and instantly as the initial decision to impose them, but instead the politicians are holding people hostage with vague talk about "phased" re-openings at unspecified times in the future. At this point, it has gone from culpable negligence to deliberate destruction on an unimaginable scale.

    Nothing I say here is to minimize the death toll and suffering caused by the virus itself. It has been a great scurge on humanity, no doubt a message from God. However, the obsessive focus on this virus is unhealthy and destructive. In the bigger picture, we are all mortals walking around this planet full of dangers. There are things all around us that can kill us any day. Now we have one more. Shutting down civilization because of this is not a rational response.

  27. I'm going to go ahead and acknowledge that there is a strong counter-argument to the points I just made, and that is this: some amount of economic disruption was going to happen regardless of government mandated response. I.e., people were going to avoid restaurants, air travel, and crowded events out of fear of the virus, and these changes would have ripple effects through supply chains leading to cascading bankruptcies, etc. This is true, and we can't know how bad that would have been.

    The point I'm making is that government lockdowns took that problem and magnified it, without any meaningful thought or discussion of the consequences.