Thursday, April 16, 2020

The lockdown’s loyal opposition

At First Things, Fr. Thomas Joseph White has defended the Covid-19 lockdown, whereas Rusty Reno has criticized it.  As I said last week, I agree with Fr. Thomas Joseph but I also believe that reason, charity, and the common good require serious engagement with skeptics like Rusty – and that this is more true, rather than less, the longer the lockdown goes on.  Meanwhile, at The Bulwark, conservative lockdown defender Jonathan V. Last tells us that he won’t link even to Fr. Thomas Joseph’s article, let alone Rusty’s.  The reason is that Fr. Thomas Joseph’s article “made matters worse, not better” by granting “legitimacy” to the idea that “there are really two sides to the issue, and that reasonable and intelligent people can disagree.”  He compares Rusty’s skepticism to that of flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers.

This is outrageous.  Does it not occur to Last that the surest way to reinforce skepticism is precisely to demonize it, even when it is expressed by a serious writer and thinker like Rusty?  When you don’t bother to respond to an argument with a counterargument, people will naturally suspect that the reason is that you can’t.  And when people think their sincere concerns are not being given a fair hearing, they are only going to be hardened in their position, not shamed out of it.

By no means is this merely a matter of good public relations strategy.  For one thing, the lockdown, however temporarily necessary, is an extreme and dangerous remedy and one that has imposed massive inconveniences on people, not to mention threatened their livelihoods.  It is unreasonable not to cut the skeptics some slack even when they make intemperate remarks.  Defenders of the lockdown also need to keep in mind that intemperate things have been said and done by people on our side too. 

For another thing, refusing even to engage with the arguments of one’s opponents is a recipe for confirmation bias, circular reasoning, and other forms of dogmatism.  If an argument is wrong, then you should be able to explain how it is, rather than simply dismissing it.  Otherwise you are stuck on an intellectual merry-go-round: “People who believe X aren’t even worthy of a reasoned response, because their arguments are so awful; and I know their arguments must be awful because no one who believes something like X could possibly be worthy of a reasoned response.” 

Such question-begging condescension is bad enough in the best of times.  It is potentially catastrophic in our current circumstances.  Given how damaging the lockdown is the longer it goes on, it would be insane not to welcome constructive criticism, and regularly to revisit the issue of how long the lockdown ought to continue, given constantly changing circumstances.

To be sure, the fact that the estimated death toll has now been revised downward by no means shows that the lockdown to this point was not necessary.  It is, however, reasonable for people to ask how soon it can end, consistent with avoiding a resurgence of the virus.  I have no opinion to offer, other than the conventional one that widespread testing is essential.  To that I would add only that two extremes need to be avoided. 

The first extreme is dogmatically to parrot lurid journalistic accounts of every nightmare scenario that “the science” is purportedly revealing to us, as if they were holy writ.  As the Covid-19 lockdown started to ramp up in the U.S. a month ago, one of the skeptical voices I took most seriously was that of Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis, with whose work I was familiar from his famous paper Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.”  Anyone familiar with the points made in that paper would be wary of too quickly accepting any bold claim made on the basis of current research, especially when it is filtered through the keyboard of a journalist.  Pathologist John Lee has more recently offered a reminder of how important it is to keep the methodological problems in mind when assessing claims about Covid-19.

Naturally, though, there is another extreme, which is to make of the fallibility of research findings an excuse glibly to dismiss them.  To observe that Sherlock Holmes is not infallible is hardly grounds to think him incompetent, or to judge yourself to be a better detective than he is.  It no less ridiculous for radio hosts and Twitter warriors to decide that they know more than the epidemiologists, on the grounds that the latter have revised their opinions.  Moreover, in a crisis situation, fallible research is better than none at all, and all we have to go on.  As others pointed out a month ago, Ioannidis’s own reasonable reservations did not entail that the scientific evidence was then too weak to act on. 

As I have said before, the lesson of all this is not that we might as well throw up our hands and cannot arrive at a right answer.  The lesson is to calm down and realize that things might be more complicated than whatever it was you read today in your Twitter feed or at your favorite political website.  But that’s true for the lockdown’s defenders too, and not just its critics.

Here’s a good debate at Catholic Herald between Helen Andrews and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.


  1. I think you should probably link to that blog a while back on the daughters of wrath. The fact that this is so politicized makes me feel as if people are more concerned with virtue signaling than the common good. There are good points on both sides. Not everything a Democrat or liberal says is evil (even if they have many destructive ideologies). It is okay to agree with a political opponent on a critical issue that is tangential to the main differences between liberals and conservatives.

    Similarly, it is okay to disagree with a political ally or a fellow Catholic on this kind of issue. Charitable and detailed debate is going to be the best way to find the correct response to this issue.

  2. During the financial meltdown in 2007, some wiseguy insider said "we are rich enough to be stupid".
    We have taken that to heart and are apparently willing to court "black swan" events with abandon. I guess we will find out just how much abuse the econommy can take before buckling.
    And part of the reason many regular people are skeptical is that everything seems to have become a crisis for the well healed managerial class that runs the country.

  3. Is being antivax really like believing in a flat earth?

    1. Hmm, respectfully, but pretty much

    2. Surely that depends on what counts as "antivax." If Bill Barr is considered antivax for opposing Bill Gates's plans for a universal digital vaccine, of if those who oppose the drastic increases in mandatory vaccines such that some children were having multiple vaccines in a day and then dying, then the "antivax" charge is being used too broadly. On the other hand, arguing that anybody who has any type of vaccine is immoral is genuinely extreme. Unlike "flat earth", "antivax" can include a range, not all of whom can be pretty much be equated to flat earthers.

    3. I agree with Tim, and I did not myself intend to lump just any old thing that might be called "antivax" together with "flat earth" thinking. I was merely citing what Last said.

    4. The notion of a "digital vaccine" makes as much sense as a "brick-laid raincloud" or "biological Fermium".

      When vaccines are given to tens of millions of people each year, of course some few will die that day just chance. These deaths are not connected to the vaccines.

      So yes, if you are opposed to "digital vaccine" or you blame vaccines for unconnected deaths, you are anti-vax.

      I do agree that you can be anti-vax and not as delusional as beig a flat-earther.

  4. I think the lockdown can be charitably defended insofar as it emerged as an apparently very serious disease, causing local catastrophes in Europe, and about which we knew very little, especially since the Chinese concealed information about it. On the other hand, the length of the current lockown can be challenged based on the apparent unwillingness or inability of the medical elites to pursue data or analytical techniques that appeared the more promising as the projections from the favored models proved inaccurate. The initial lockdown can be justified plainly. Extending the lockdown in the face of well-supported analysis in light of constantly increasing information is less and less justifiable.

    1. It is readily possible to agree that some sort of lockdown was needed, without arguing that the lockdown(s) (because it is different in different states) as actually implemented are needed, or not fully justifiable, or are too this or that. Yes, we want public officials to take action for public welfare, but not to do so one-dimensionally, as if preventing COVID cases is the sole measure of public welfare.

  5. We might want to think about lockdown like a toxicologist would: the dose makes the poison.

    Nice explication of the need for discussion and dissent. Only a philospher could call "bullshit" on the suppression of opinions. Oh, it was a philosopher who wrote On Bullshit, wasn't it?

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  7. Last's comments are indeed outrageous, for wholly general reasons. And more particularly, what about Sweden? It looks to me like they have already very nearly proven the "gotta-lock-it-down" alarmists wrong, even the polite, reasonable ones.

  8. "Refusing even to engage with the arguments of one’s opponents is a recipe for confirmation bias, circular reasoning, and other forms of dogmatism. If an argument is wrong, then you should be able to explain how it is, rather than simply dismissing it."

    Of course this is true. However, perhaps some conservatives have by now noticed how well this strategy works at molding a society. See, for example, same-sex marriage, the normalizing of transgenderism, and so on. It is much easier to line up a series of actors, musicians, and other media stars to make dismissive comments about the unfashionable side on issues, than to line up a series of rational arguments.

    (By the way, even though I do believe the above, in this particular dust-up, I began with Bro. Reno and ended up with Fr. White.)

    1. Hi Craig, your point is well taken. There is an important difference here, though. Disputes over the issues you are talking about reflect deep differences in moral, metaphysical, and theological principle that have been hashed out literally for centuries, and deeply permeate the entire respective worldviews of the parties to the dispute. So they are relatively well understood. And the effects have taken a long time to manifest in gradual shifts in public opinion, changes in law, etc.

      By contrast, the dispute over the lockdown has to do with matters more about immediate practice than with differences over principle, where not all the factors (such as the precise nature of the illness, infection rates, etc.) are well understood, and where the measures taken have been taken very abruptly and have known massive immediate bad effects, etc.

      So, dialing things up to 11 on the outrage and partisanship dials seems far less understandable, reasonable, and helpful in the latter sort of case than in the former.

    2. Oddly enough, I've been moving in the opposite direction. I was rather supportive of the lockdowns. Now, not so much.

      Now, for people who are in the prime target zone (which includes my wife and myself) obviously a lot of the current measures should be observed. But then, most like us are retired, so it's not that much of a change, really.

      What I do lose patience with are those who seem to think that emergency powers are per se tyrannical, in any and all cases.

  9. I thought it was the people who employ the managers who run the country.

    1. You thought wrong.

    2. Wake up, Sunshine. The professional/managerial classes are servants.

    3. Is that why when they tell us to jump you ask " How High?"
      There isn't a conspiracy, only a hive.

    4. Sunshine, your reply doesn't connect to anything I said. Who are "they"?

      If you are an American citizen, I think you would well be urged to consider whether the people now running the Executive branch (I do not speak of professionals and managers now) are truly anything other than a gang. I mean this seriously.

      This is long but extremely compelling, by Christ Hedges:

  10. For one thing, the lockdown, however temporarily necessary, is an extreme and dangerous remedy and one that has imposed massive inconveniences on people, not to mention threatened their livelihoods.

    Ed, I know you didn't mean to dismiss the effects of the lockdown as primarily that of "inconveniences", but it could look like that. Let me offer a clarification.

    Like the disease itself with its spread, you don't notice the effects right the minute you do a lockdown. One day you say "quarantine", but for 2 weeks thereafter you keep coming up with LOTS more new cases - and we knew that was going to happen, even if we could not predict exactly how much or who would be the new cases. The same is true of the effects of the lockdown on (a) the economy, (b) social welfare, and (c) health.

    For every extra 1M of people not working (even on vacation, but more so on furlough, unemployed, or the various in-between states), there will be downstream effects on the economy that are not merely "inconvenient". For the person who WAS going to go out and rent a new apartment, the delay may be inconvenient, but for the person who had JUST got kicked out of his old apartment (because he could not afford it) thinking he would find a new one at a lower rent, he may now be homeless. The same applies to all sorts of business activity: for the restaurant that was barely making ends meet, now it may fold and NEVER have a chance to come back. In general: for economic situations on a cusp of make-or-break, the lockdown will cause catastrophic, irrecoverable results. From the view at 30,000 feet, it's not that some people's economic livelihood is "threatened", it's that we can predict with certainty that a _percentage_ will definitely fail due to the lockdown, and more for each day it continues.

    In terms of health: for every additional 1 million not working, there will be W more people suffering severe depression, X more people who will suffer malnutrition, Y more people who fail to get health care for ANY SORT of illness (back injury, infection, etc), and Z more people who will die from W, X, Y, and other causes not directly related to COVID-19.

    And, like the invisible effects of a lockdown on the spread of the disease that take 2 weeks to show up, the effects don't stop the moment you reverse course: of the economic impact, some of the displaced economic activity will continue to run negatively for weeks or even months after a re-opening.

    The reality is that there is an important kind of balancing between competing goods needed, and at least from appearances an awful lot of public officials either aren't aware of it or aren't interested in considering it, opting instead for the easy, low-swinging fruit of "well, at least fewer people got COVID by my decisions."

    It's a lack of prudence, and since prudence is a moral virtue, the concern is a moral issue as well as a public welfare issue.

    1. Ed, I know you didn't mean to dismiss the effects of the lockdown as primarily that of "inconveniences", but it could look like that.

      Right, that's not at all what I meant. What I meant is that since what I referred to as "massive inconvenience" is the least of the effects -- and I also mentioned loss of livelihood as among the more serious effects -- supporters of the lockdown like Last need to cool it with the overheated rhetoric and understand that people's nerves are naturally frayed, tempers are bound to flare up, people will say intemperate things, etc.

      I would add that there is something unseemly about people who write for a living -- who during the lockdown are pretty much doing what they would be doing anyway and face no loss of livelihood -- smugly telling other people to suck it up while they face potential economic ruin. I can see where someone who runs a small business and can't work would read a guy like Last and just think "What a smug @$$hole." And I think Rusty in part has had people like that in mind when he's written what he has. Of course, Last would say that some of what Rusty has said is too smug, but the point is that that's a knife that cuts both ways.

    2. Dr. Feser,
      "I would add that there is something unseemly about people who write for a living -- who during the lockdown are pretty much doing what they would be doing anyway and face no loss of livelihood -- smugly telling other people to suck it up while they face potential economic ruin."
      Indeed, and I would apply the same criticism to government officials who do not act to ease the shut downs as quickly as practical, since those government officials will continue to draw their taxpayer funded salaries and continue to to maintain their taxpayer funded health insurance, the shut downs they order having no direct negative impact on their own finances or healthcare accessibility.

      While our government officials remain personally unaffected by their own orders, people in the gig economy, small business owners who have poured their lives into their livelihoods, hourly wage earners, and others are facing loss of their jobs at a time when nobody will hire them, default on loans, default on rent, loss of health coverage, and an inability to earn even a subsistence income.

      Many businesses, designated as essential under federal guidelines, continue to operate and have adapted such that their workforces are at very low risk. In cities like Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Irvine by law those employers must purchase and provide masks for their employees.

      Other mitigation techniques are being employed:
      Increased sanitation, meaning making wipes and sanitizing spray available in large quantities and hiring extra people to continually wipe down surfaces.

      Work at home. Many office workers spend nearly the whole day at their desk working on the computer and the phone. That can be done at home using VPN, which Provides a remote desktop.

      Substitution of physical meetings with Webex, Microsoft teams, etc. Instead of holding physical meetings each person calls in to the on line meeting.

      Social distancing in general. Open up multiple areas for lunch rooms with one person per table. Split shifts. Stretch out the work week with people coming into work at different times.

      It is not acceptable for people who are not personally hurt by the shut downs, our government officials, to smugly force others to suffer severe impact to their lives if other means are reasonably available.

      I think we should begin a phased reopening now. By law, all companies that wish to reopen operations should be required to implement at least all of the above measures, especially the purchase and distribution of the most effective masks available, preferably N95 or similarly rated masks.

      With such mitigation measures required by law I think we can open up businesses that are not public, in the sense that they do not generally operate to serve the general public, rather, operate in offices and commercial facilities that are not open to the general public.

      Governor Newsom has shown great leadership in rejecting the mentality of the zero sum game and instead contracting to purchase 200 million masks per month for California. In my opinion he should follow up with state law requiring the above measures for all companies, and in conjunction lift the shut down in stages beginning with businesses with the least contact with the general public, starting now.

    3. As a small business owner who can't work, admittedly, I think Last is a smug @$$hole. (And my opinion is more in line With White's than Reno's.)

      Additionally, his claim that Reno's piece furnishes material to be "thrown in the faces of pro-lifers" further indicates he operates in the province of rhetoric, not logic.

  11. Speaking to Jonathan Last's concern: there is a way to sort of engage opponents who are wrong, and whose position is or ought to be held as "beyond the pale" WITHOUT implicitly saying "their arguments are, though wrong, understandable and worthy of debate." You can deal with such opponents without bringing their theories "inside the pale". Specifically, you DECLARE their thinking to be beyond the pale, and WHY their position is beyond the pale, and offer those positions up for ridicule as being the ridiculous, shameful thinking they are...and then keep on going by showing why and exacltly how they are wrong, and unreasonable, and so on, by substantive argument that allows the reader to grasp not only the conclusion that "those positions are ridiculous" but also why, and why it is GOOD to name them to be ridiculous. That way the reader becomes both well-informed, and insulated against further attempts to foist such ridiculous ideas on them in the future with unworthy practices.

    Yes, it is harder and takes more writing. A truth may need only a page to demonstrate it, whereas a false theory about that truth may take a 30-page essay to defeat it.

    1. Right, but criticizing even someone who agrees with you (in this case, Fr. Thomas Joseph) on the grounds that that person is insufficiently contemptuous of the other side, really takes the cake.

      If Last would get off his high horse, he might see that Fr. Thomas Joseph has probably actually convinced people to adopt the view that he and Last share, precisely because he wrote it in the calm way he did, rather than with the guns-blazing condescension Last apparently prefers. But maybe, for Last, it is more important to signal your contempt for the other side than to change their minds.

    2. That's correct (Tony and Ed). Does Last reject those who work on serious refutations of Marx, for instance? Surely Marxism is further beyond the pale than merely disagreeing about this policy. (I'd ask about same sex marriage, but frankly, I doubt that Last would actually reject it. "Personally opposed" is what I'd expect.)

  12. I think Last is right that there is a pale and sometimes it is right to ignore people beyond it. I think he's wrong that Fr. Thomas Joseph White should not have responded to Reno. At the very least, there are people who read First Things in good faith who would be helped by Fr. White's reply.

    I don't myself find Reno's skepticism very helpful. It is true that we have to ask how soon we can begin to return to normal. That's an extremely complex empirical question that has to be informed by good practical sense. But as far as I can tell empirical matters play no role in Reno's argument. He seems to be taken aback by the very idea that in a time of pandemic prudence could dictate suspending the sacraments.

    Viruses can be more or less deadly and more or less contagious; I just find incredible the view that quarantine would be inappropriate in any situation. I would think that when it is put that way it is manifestly incredible, and I would hope no one would accept it, but it seems to be latent in commentary which bridles at any idea of fearing a mere virus, as though courage and rashness were the same.

    1. I'd have to go back and read Rusty's articles again to comment in any detail, but I do think people are wrong to say that empirical matters play no role in his position. I think that if people all across the country had been dropping dead in the streets from (say) smallpox or Ebola, he would never have written what he did. I think he was operating on the assumption that for most people Covid-19 is like a bad flu, and then going on from there to make the arguments he did. In which case certain empirical assumptions about the gravity of the illness functioned as the precondition of his taking the view he did, even if they were not what he emphasized.

      Obviously, I don't agree with those empirical assumptions. I think even just the fact that the Chinese government -- not known for its sentimentality or respect for human life -- went into panic mode in a way that they never would have for a bad flu, should have been a major signal that there was something extremely dangerous going on with the coronavirus.

      But to be making erroneous empirical assumptions is not the same thing as arguing purely on the basis of some airy theoretical vision of what courage would call for, as he has been accused of doing.

    2. I don't doubt that if the pandemic were more visibly disastrous, he might have adopted a different view. I just don't think the argument he actually made is in fact sensitive to empirical matters; paragraphs like these certainly don't begin to indicate what the empirical conditions would have to be to warrant canceling Boy Scout meetings:

      Other institutions are at risk. State-encouraged “self-isolation” and restrictions on public gatherings have paused institutional life. There are no Boy Scout meetings, no Little League practices, no Rotary Club or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Most book clubs are suspending their evening discussions, even though these small gatherings are permitted. Closed restaurants dissolve informal coffee klatches. Some institutions, organizations, and fellowships will rebound when the draconian limits on social life are lifted. But some will not. And the longer those limits last, the more will wither and fade away.
      Earlier generations understood that institutions anchor our lives. That’s why German children went to school throughout World War II, even when their cities were being reduced to rubble. That’s why Boy Scouts conducted activities during the Spanish flu pandemic and churches were open. We’ve lost this wisdom. In this time of crisis, when our need for these anchors is all the greater, our leaders have deliberately atomized millions of people.

      I'm reminded of people who argue effectively that the minimum wage must increase, even though nothing in their argument could help us decide whether it should be $8.25, $15, or $22.

    3. I believe Reno's argument (particularly what you quoted) is about who we are, not about public policy.
      For crying out loud, 150 years ago people got into wagons and went west into the great American desert and lived by subsistence farming. Today people are afraid to go to a grocery store without sanitary wipes and a mask.
      It's perhaps a non sequiter, but some of us (pathetic worms that we are ourselves) admire the former more than the latter.

    4. It is about public policy, as well as "who we are." He explicitly objects to what "our leaders" have done.

      In any case, this is a perfect illustration of what I object to:

      Today people are afraid to go to a grocery store without sanitary wipes and a mask.

      Many of us also wash our hands after going to the restroom!

    5. Most of us washed our hands before the hysteria.

  13. One thing that puzzles me about debates about the empirical evidence, when pushed to the degree that Last seems to, is the implicit assumption that we actually know enough to clearly define which views are plausible, and which are nuts.

    Face it, we are in the position of ignorant armies clashing by night here. Best guesses are the most we really have. And that will probably be largely true a few years from now.

    One of the reasons we need the virtue of prudence is that in life, such situations are fairly common. And the prudent are more likely to make reasonable choices. Some people are better at that than others, but that doesn't mean they actually can see all that clearly.

    I do not understand, at all, those who have absolute positions on matters like this.

  14. I agree with your conclusions from the prior OP and Father White's (lockdown necessary and prudent in the short run). My concern is the same that there is a bit of hysteria on both sides. For those who are pro-lockdown "as long as the health science tells us it takes" and characterize all questions/concerns about the length of the lockdown beyond, say,April - as 'not listening to the science but playing politics" - my concern is that aren't listening to that "other science" called economics with its own scientists we know as economists. There are two subject matter experts we need to listen to : the health experts and the economics experts (neither infallible). Because there are two potential catastrophes we have to balance. And the longer the lockdown goes on, the economic one grows in potential magnitude and duration. Of course mitigated by massive stimulus/safety net actions, but that can only go on so long and also isn't a perfect cure as is.

  15. In the interest of sharing relevant information that doesn't seem to be getting around:

  16. One of the underlying issues shows up when Fr. White talks about governments' being "wounded by sin" instead of "radically depraved." If Saint Thomas Aquinas, sitting next to the Saint-King Louis, were to say "our government is not radically depraved, it is merely wounded by sin," I would agree. But on that spectrum between radical depravity and woundedness-by-sin, I am not sure where the current regime falls. Fr. White's statement was "Civic governments are wounded by sin, but not radically depraved." I don't think that can be said of all civic governments; and I am not sure that it can be said of the American government. But one's thoughts on that question will determine how that person interprets much of what is happening. This is where I found your position, Dr. Feser, to be more reasonable (or perhaps more charitable) than Fr. White's. Even if, as many do, we want to pathologize the distrust of one's government, and chalk it up to some sort of clinical paranoia, a time such as ours should cause us to be more sympathetic with the paranoia-induced protests of mentally-ill people who, while in forced confinement in their homes, fear that their government is abusing its power. The obvious issue at hand is how much trust people have or don’t have in their government, and whether that trust or lack of trust is reasonable. In your previous article, Dr. Feser, you said, “It also seems to me unreasonable to attribute suspect motives (as opposed to an error in judgment) to those who made these decisions.” I will set aside the “suspect motives” that you refer to, because only God knows the motives, and try to focus on questions of behavior: is the government being honest? And is the government abusing its power? Personally, I think it is likely that many of the people in the government are being honest, but that it is patent that they are abusing their authority. How anyone else is inclined to answer those questions has to do with their assessment of where the government is on Fr. White’s spectrum going from radical depravity to woundedness-by-sin. Judging by my answers, it should be clear that I am sympathetic with people who lean toward the (problematically-labeled) “radical depravity” assessment. Perhaps my assessment is unreasonable (or even pathological), but I don’t think it is; if a woman were married to known a serial-adulterer, I don’t think it would be unreasonable of her be suspicious if her husband called and said “Honey, I need to stay at the office until 3 a.m. to get some extra work done.” Perhaps such a husband could be telling the truth, but I don’t think that such a wife would be uncharitable, unreasonable, or pathologically paranoid to suspect otherwise. Fr. White seems to be bothered by people like me who suspect that our government may be like that serially-adulterous husband (call it “radically depraved” if you want). I hope people like him are less bothered by the fact that I think their position is radically naive.

  17. Your counsel is appreciated, Dr Feser. It's intriguing, that greater emotional, moral, "spiritual," and the full range of both interpersonal and "intrapersonal" spaces and vistas open up when all those potentialities are given form. R R Reno alludes to that in a recent comment when he refers to reading Richard Weaver's final published work or at least his final book.

  18. It would also seem there's something to be said about our penchant for immediacy (all the more handicapped by our digital conditioning) that discourages thinking in broader, longer temporal strokes sufficient to keep myopic impulses in perspective. Not that this factor, given proper consideration, inevitably lends itself to prioritizing an ongoing lockdown or otherwise. I rather think it could still be in support of either. But some matters, and emotions, that presently get better share of attention could be better tabled in favor of those of a nobler sort, were everything placed into appropriate context.

  19. Should the public continue to be treated as children? We keep getting the stats about those testing positive as an indication of how the virus is going and its fatality rate when anyone who knows how many beans make five knows that's rubbish.
    As it is mainly those who feel sick that get tested, apart from those super-immune VIPs, (poor Boris must be the only one who actually got sick)that testing is worthless as an indication of general prevalence, and as a measure of how deadly the virus is.

    Science has had almost no place in public discussion. This is ironic because in the lock down religion (very similar in attitude and proponents to the climate change cult)science is constantly mentioned as a justification, a kind of unquestioned revelation. But as false prophets have demonstrated, it is not enough to cry Lord Lord (science, science). Like provokes like. I think after this it's likely that conspiracy theories will thrive.

    This is not the first serious study but anything like it is ignored by most governments:

    People who believe in truth and science had their chance weeks ago when these basic facts were already known. Instead, they drifted along, starting with the Catholic Church. If a supermarket can hold a hundred people safely, so can a church. Being worldly, they shut down.

    They had options, outdoor Masses, spacing within churches and lots more. In Italy the Vatican allowed the government to close down churches without complaint and without being consulted, when such matters by law (the Concordat) must be agreed by both sides. Weak, just weak. They have failed again almost everywhere.

  20. "...supporters of the lockdown like Last need to cool it with the overheated rhetoric..."

    He can't, Ed. The Bulwark appears to be the last, or at least temporary, redoubt of former Weekly Standard writers afflicted with a familiar Derangement Syndrome. I first visited The Bulwark because I once valued Last's contributions to the demographic debate. But his hatred of Trump runs so deep that I wouldn't be surprised to find that he sees the lockdown as the path to the Orange Man's destruction. I know I shouldn't attribute malign motives to a mind I can't read, but that's how his writing struck me last time I looked.

  21. You don't really take the Hedges video seriously, do you? It's a textbook illustration of how not to understand history: deeply rhetorical, lumping unlike events, claiming to see patterns which are really just patterns in the clouds. In general, a kind of historicism which is actually based on extreme special pleading.

    Of course, many of the statements are true. In such efforts that is always the case. But really, trying to tie Athens at Syracuse with Britain at Suez should set off alarms. It recalls Orwell's description of thinking in slogans.

    It also (though this is incidental, and IMO unimportant) actually tends to support what Sunshine is saying.

    1. I responded to Sunshine's assertion that the US is run by the managerial class. That is simply absurd. Management is employed by ownership and is at ownership's mercy in many cases.

    2. I am wondering if we are using words rhe same way. When you say "owner" what do you mean?
      A) The CEO of General Electric?
      B) The director of Goldman Sachs?
      C) The guy with a pizza joint down the street?
      D) A plummer with 100 people in his shop?
      E) The motorhead who loves cars and invented an air intake who now manufactures and sells it?
      F) The head of the Susan Comen Foundation?
      G) The Secretary of State?
      For those of the above who are "managers" who directs/owns them?
      And do any of the "owners" above have less say in running the country than some of the "managers" above?

    3. Sunshine here is essentially correct. The claim that, because "management is employed by ownership and is at ownership's mercy in many cases" is pretty simplistic. As he says, there are many kinds of management, and many types of "ownership". That last term is especially problematic in the case of government. It can be very difficult to get rid of the managers.

      Note, this is hardly a radical new idea, that there is a "new class" of managers who have unprecedented influence. Goes at least back to Burnham.

      Now, I'm not one to say that is wholly a bad thing. Institutions do need a measure of consistency and stability. But of course it carries its own dangers.

  22. That last comment of mine was a reply to
    ficino4mlApril 18, 2020 at 6:52 PM

    This is a new PC.

  23. The Lonely ProfessorApril 20, 2020 at 5:59 AM

    There are two opinions expressed by Reno: one which merits serious discussion, and the other which does not.

    Whether the actual social distancing measures put in place go too far, and especially with regard to religious services, is a valid point. It isn't necessary to close Churches completely in order to maintain prudent social distancing. Obviously, it posits a logistical problem, but that is for the Churches themselves to solve. This point of view is perfectly legitimate, and one I happen to agree with.

    However, the other point of view expressed by Reno: namely, that society shouldn't really be taking this pandemic seriously and the fact that it does (to the point of taking serious measures) shows something seriously wrong with it, is beyond the pale and frankly outrageous. He demonstrates not even a basic familiarity with the scientific background knowledge necessary to have an informed opinion on the matter, and just contemptuously dismisses the scientific consensus with a wave of the hand. The pushback he got from commentators on this was well-deserved.

  24. @ Sunshine: "And do any of the "owners" above have less say in running the country than some of the "managers" above?"

    So you are conceding that some owners have more say in running the country than some managers?

    We can discuss many details and shades of difference, and distinctions in law - e.g. between stockholders and directors on the Board and executives of the corporation and middle managers etc etc. But if you are now allowing that some owners control some managers, then great, perhaps we're in principle in agreement or not far from agreement.

    Jeff Bezos's decisions determine the policies that his managers carry out.

    And maybe we are agreed that the line employees are the first ones to get the shaft. I don't know how to fix all this, and I am not a socialist. But it seems misplaced to suggest that the managers and not the owners are in general the ones responsible for the symptoms of decline in the US that we probably both deplore. If politicians are in anyone's pocket, it's in that of the big donors, and they are corporations and those with major investment in them. I see this in my own city, where my neighbors and I find ourselves fighting city agencies run by bureaucrats appointed by the Mayor - who favors real estate developers. The latter are owners, and they call many shots.

  25. Dr. Feser,
    So you say Rusty Reno is a "serious writer?" If he had done a simple Google search he would have found numerous links to prove that, contrary to his claim, churches DID CLOSE during the Great Influenza of 1918.

  26. And now Reno doubles down!

    He is an effin' idiot. He has absolutely NO CLUE what he is talking about, but he has all the confidence of the high school student who thinks "Who caused God?" refuted the cosmological argument.