Many years ago I used to post political musings here. This stopped (well, oops, I guess it happened again with Yellowstone) when I decided:
- I didn’t want to waste my own time clarifying thinking that anyone not in agreement would increasingly and incorrectly ascribe to blind faith in a particular party (or “tribe” as dad likes to say).
- Anything you put online can come back to haunt you when someone with enough financial power (hire and fire) over your life doesn’t agree with you.
- Social norms change, which I didn’t think about when I was 22 and hadn’t personally observed yet.
- The only people reading this (hi Mom!) are people that don’t want to hear my politics, they tuned to this channel to see what I’m doing not what I’m thinking.
Now that I’ve been “blogging” for over two decades I’ve seen the dangers of free expression (#2 in the above list) sneak up. I’ve regretted things I’ve said and the ensuing arguments I’ve had. If you want a particular example: more than a decade ago I called out an artist that met with the President and I didn’t believe deserved that acclaim. He had a google alert for his name, saw my post, and proceeded to argue with me in my comment section. I still feel confident in my (unqualified amateur) assessment of his work, but in my 40s I would rather avoid the whole thing and just keep my mouth shut. There is a lot of bad art in the world, what does calling out one artist do? It certainly didn’t improve my own creative endeavors. Flash forward more than a decade and neither of us have “our name in lights,” so why did two nobodies expend the energy back then? Youth and pride. I’m not afflicted by much of either any longer.
Blind luck saw my past prideful faux pas play out on a personal blog that isn’t exhaustively crawled like medium, facebook, youtube, twitter etc. It’s unclear if the Wayback Machine could find any politically incorrect statements I wrote here in 2001 since nobody else was looking.
This is partially why I barely update this blog. Another reason is that the effort vs reward calculation puts blogging (and writing anymore novels) in the negative. I have better things to do, both alone and with others. So why this long treatise on why I’m writing now? Because I’m well aware that some of the facts and opinions I’ll expand upon shortly may be viewed in a very negative light by others both now and in the future. Depending on how the next election goes facts today might be punishable offenses down the line, and digital evidence of those can be hard to erase. It may be a big mistake. However, that time “with others” a few sentences ago is getting exponentially more complicated due to COVID, which leads me now to blog about that subject, because I’m not sure there’s anyone (other than my wife) that I can speak plainly about this with anymore or anyone other than her and the “zerocovid” reddit community that feels the same way. So I suppose I’m leaving a note here for my future self fully hoping I’m proven wrong! Also to communicate to others in my orbit without being forceful or (and this is the larger issue) trying to do too much convincing in too little time. Covid is complex, both literally and figuratively, and squeezing what are now controversial decisions into polite conversation has proven very difficult.
“It’s endemic, why are you wearing a mask?” an old friend said at our doorstep, visiting for an outdoor rooftop catchup. I was not prepared for this. The act of writing this post may also be a significant practice step for better handling future well-intentioned (though in my humble opinion misinformed) questioning of this kind.
But many others aren’t so well-intentioned. Others may react to my mask the same way they react to the letters B, L, and M next to each other or a the colors of the rainbow next to each other, etc. As a white male I’ve had the lifelong privilege of flying under the radar with those people. My mask is now my flag, and it’s no longer a simple left/right divide that will accurately predict a reaction to it.
As such, perhaps it’s madness to write anything about COVID now, having become as political and divisive as Bud Light. This is true, but also an example of how ridiculous the United States has become. Yet for every liberal scoffing at Kid Rock for shooting at beer cans there is another liberal (or perhaps the same person!) that goes clubbing/partying/churching since COVID is “over.” At least Kid Rock’s stupidity only hurt an aluminum can.
Especially, “why write” about this topic?
Maybe I’m not alone. There are under-the-radar communities (“zero covid” reddit, people’s CDC, and more) that are commiserate in their despair about the current state of covid normalization. But who are they? They’re not my SJW social media friends that used to give a thumbs up when I posted exhaustive links to peer reviewed studies about how covid is real and masking helps in 2020 when family members reposted advice from the esteemed Laskar Award Winner Dr. Theodore Anthony Nugent M.D. to “just go outside and get some sun” to avoid covid.
Those folks in my corner during those trying times? Those folks trashed their masks too.
Unfortunately this proved one of the 2020 conservative talking points (that a younger me furiously debated) right: The liberal social media pro-masking crowd really was, apparently, only doing what they were told like the lemmings memes accused them of being. As soon as that authority figure (which I’m going to say is Biden on 60 minutes since the CDC still urges folks to mask) told them the pandemic was “over” and masks weren’t required – poof, right off the metaphorical cliff they marched into repeated infections.
I continue to be wrong about how Americans will act on a large scale. On election day in 2016 I had a private conversation with a coworker predicting the outcome. My theory was that women would privately vote differently than they’d told their husbands, congregation, pollsters, etc. and elect a woman, not a womanizer. Instead, they voted exactly how they said and it was the liberals who misrepresented themselves to the world by simply not bothering to vote at all.
Similarly, I expected those adopting scientifically proven protections against a scientifically proven health threat would en masse continue caution for the duration of said threat. To paraphrase a bad movie “I was so wrong.”
Even doctor’s offices, save for a very small minority, in the liberal stronghold of Los Angeles have abandoned all COVID protective measures. Just last week a dental hygienist told me over the phone “thankfully, we don’t have to mask anymore.”
Thankfully?! You’re in a job where people breathe mouths agape into a small room all day. You should want to wear a mask regardless of covid just to not get a regular cold or flu every five minutes. In fact, you used to! The same dental assistants wearing masks in my visits in 2019 refuse to now so I had to switch dentists. Have people forgotten that masks even existed before COVID and there was a reason for that?
It’s gotten to the point where I am preparing to have (very minor, don’t worry about it) surgery in a few weeks and I’ll have to plead with the doctor to make sure everyone in the room is wearing a mask. This would be unheard of five years ago, but I know if I don’t ask for this many in that room won’t bother. Should I ask if they’re still sterilizing the instruments or washing their hands? Are we abandoning all precautions? If not, what stays? Who decides? Several medical offices have made it clear it’s foolish for me to decide, and my decision is deemed foolish.
I am blind to easily predictable large scale outcomes
This anti-masking, even for the medical profession, is predictable human behavior. Unfortunately I’m only intelligent enough to recognize this in hindsight. In simpler times, arguing with my father about the merits of the Bush presidency, led me to believe that conservatives are trained (almost said groomed) to approach political decision-making with a rationalization process similar to religious thinking. What I mean by that is anything the church (in this case Fox News, The Blaze, now Twitter, etc.) deems to be “against” the interests of itself is by definition “evil.” Policies and moral judgement receive a binary qualification. And not on their own merits. If “the other side” is already for something, then you’ve gotta be against it. And the other side, anything to the left, is predetermined to be evil by nature after decades of deliberate demonizing their people and policies (for political or financial profit). It’s hard to campaign for policies that people were raised or conditioned to believe are “evil.” At least for religious people that believe in the supernatural properties of good and evil.
Over decades this surfaced in down-ballot voting so common that a few “red states” such as Oklahoma instituted “straight-ticket” ballots allowing people to tick one box to vote for the Republican candidate for every position without looking at what those candidates are proposing or even what their names are. Any reasonable person can easily see how this practice could be abused to slide in policy-makers supporting agendas less favorable to their constituents than their campaign donors. But to vote for a “demoncrat” for anything would evil, right? So why bother even looking at their policies?
This is the thinking that leads folks like my father to refer to political parties as “tribes,” because one must pledge allegiance and have unwavering support for a tribe. A tribe is a natural extension of a family, a group sewn with thread of similar cultural ideology as well as shared genes. You don’t “pick” that, you can only participate or run away (as many a political migrant originally from a red state has). For some, like LGBTQ children of religious parents this is a literal running away followed by an ostracization and a unlinking of that child from the family tree, often at the behest of the tribal masters.
I suspect the only reason my father does not go the full mile and call them “religions” instead is because of his own cognitive dissonance in belonging to the republican tribe while not being as overtly Christian as his tribal peers pretend to be. This is to his credit, by the way, because in the 90s letting a skinny artistic kid listen to Marilyn Manson would have been anathema to a right and proper dogmatic Appalachian Christian dad. As a popular moron once said: “Try that in a small town!” I still remember other children taunting my brother and I with “satan worshiper!” in elementary school when word got out that we didn’t go to church on Sundays. Until then I thought satan was just something in scary movies late at night. I wasn’t afraid of satan; I was afraid of the other kids that apparently thought he was real. Did they believe everything they saw on tv?! (Thirty years later their adoption and approval of The Big Lie proved the answer is a resounding YES!)
Friends with truly religious parents had televisions thrown against walls when secret goth rock paraphernalia (not to mention pornography) was unearthed from between hanging ceiling tiles, closets, or bed frames. (this was before cell phones, and in those days your sins [and mine!] were easily physically discoverable if a parent was nosy enough) Although to conserve is to repress progress by definition, my dad thankfully threw out most of the social norming requirements for his family instead of throwing out evidence of our independence from them. The only time we went to church as a family was at someone else’s request (weddings and funerals) and at age 15 when Marilyn Manson’s tour bus stopped in Wheeling West Virginia, my mother volunteered to drive those 96 miles, wait, and drive back through the night on the empty Appalachian interstate.
As you can see (I hope) bringing in my dad is not intended to be a dig, it’s an attempt to understand since he’s my closest and longest live sample to pull anecdotal data from about traditional Republican values. (he’ll correct me and say he’s a Libertarian, but defining the salient differences is basically the political science version of the three body problem so I’m not going there) And it leads to an admission of failure on my part. My response to his theory had always (although maybe not articulated directly to him adequately enough) been that Republicans (and Libertarians that choose to vote that way, because what’s the difference if we’re discussing outcome effects?) view politics through tribal association and assume democrats do too only because of projection, because they themselves act that way. My dad loves to pull on his logical fallacy armamentarium when defining a stance so in his honor I’ll note here that I believe what I’m describing is an observation that conservatives often fall prey to the false consensus effect AKA consensus bias. A perfect example of this is the still parroted narrative that “nobody went to rallies for Biden so obviously nobody voted for him, therefore the election was stolen” Actually this combines consensus bias AND confusing correlation and causation. Rally attendance is not a corollary for votes in general, but it was for Republicans because their candidate assumed the role of a brand to cheer for. They assumed in-group popularity being an index for votes is true for all political parties because it was for them. As a registered independent I assumed liberals did not, at least as overwhelmingly, view political decisions through this tribal sports fandom lens. Rather, liberals would “view the facts” and act rationally, not dogmatically. But I made the same mistake. I fell for consensus bias and thought my peers acted rationally because I acted that way. Or try my best anyway, and if my peers are, well they ain’t tryin’ too hard these days. Yeah, I’m talking about Covid. This is where the post pivots and don’t just lose half the readers, I lose (apparently) them all.
As the public health emergency very publicly ended, so did (what I consider to be) any “fact viewing” on the left and everyone fell into what (from my outside view) sure looks like religious thinking. To believe the danger is suddenly and magically over is no different than to believe in 2020 it was a hoax and never existed. To twist a popular idiom: You can’t have your covid and not believe in it too. Thanks to asymptomatic infections, though, you can be infected with COVID and also believe it does not exist, so it seems I’m wrong again!
To unpack that: the same people that feared the virus in 2020 and many became knowingly and provably infected with in 2021 (and took pride in not understanding how vaccines actually work – looking at you, Bill Maher!), had no trouble adopting an opinion that the virus vanished into thin air in the spring of 2023.
But it didn’t. It lingered in the air, and can for hours. We’ll get to why that matters a little later.
Humans evolved to react to trauma emotionally
Was all this simply a reaction to shared trauma? After trauma people go overboard in the opposite direction, they don’t just settle back into normalcy. People actively avoid symbols that remind them of a traumatic event. There is no more recognizable symbol of COVID-19 than facemasks. So this avoidance is especially strong with those that resented having to wear a mask or perhaps thought that the mask wearing was the traumatic event itself.
It’s never a good idea to belittle the trauma of others. Psychologists claim anything unconventionally experienced as trauma to a person feels just as real to that person as any traditionally trauma (car crashes, violence, deaths, etc.) feel to everybody else. This observation is what sparked the concept of “shell shock” in observing the re-experienced trauma endured by WWI veterans. Having become depressed over a dumb breakup much younger in life I know that’s true. The brain can make a mountain out of a molehill, after all we wouldn’t have that saying unless we could observe people doing it, including me in my younger days. And yet I can’t help but think it’s laughable to consider forced mask wearing at Costco a “trauma” on par (conservative political equivalency, not mine!) with the holocaust. Similar PTSD-inducing traumas for special snowflakes include drag queens reading books out loud, children learning gay people exist, the phrase “happy holidays”, and going grocery shopping without your dog.
For many, even if they voluntarily wore a mask in 2019, they’ll never wear it again because to do so now would bring back the trauma of the thumb of authority, especially folks with a completely fabricated persecution fetish (Christofoxists). However, folks “on both sides” are willing to sacrifice safety in the name of pride and politics. I don’t believe the moral superiority of unmasked BLM protests saved their bodies from infection either. There was way too much grasping at straws in the intellectual community to keep from admitting unmasked protesting at the height of the pandemic was aiding in the spread. Martin Luther King cheated on his wife, guys; nobody is right all the time. We’d be better off admitting and normalizing that. Maybe the liberal elites with good intentions should have purchased BLM branded masks and passed them out to those folks instead of desperately imagining up studies that showed the spread was only less than the spread at Sturgis and wasn’t as much to blame for ensuing surges as the former event. Yikes. If Black Lives really Mattered to the elites they’d have done more to keep them from getting COVID, not excuse away their voluntary exposure somehow.
It depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.
Or rather, the the word “over” in public statements. Biden may be knowingly getting away with creative use of language here. It is technically true that a pandemic is over when the virus becomes endemic, as it now has in the same way someone doesn’t “have cancer” anymore after they die of cancer. However, when Trump said stupid, but technically true, things like “if we stop testing (for covid) right now, we’d have very few cases” I did not attribute this to him playing 3D Chess, so I will not give Biden that benefit either. He was saying what (apparently) everyone wanted to hear and giving himself a fabricated political win in the process. If Trump can claim responsibility for the vaccine then Biden can claim he “ended” covid, because he did. He ended the federal emergency. By ignoring the problem.
However, his administration is well aware this nuance is lost on voters who will believe “over” is analogous to “defeated” or “gone.” Neither of which are true and the reason every public health organization castigated him for saying it. But nobody reads op-eds from the Harvard School of Public Health, they flick past a 3 second sound byte of Biden on TV saying “it’s over” accompanied by a confetti filter and the Supa Hot Fire celebration clip on their way to more cute cat TikTok’s and asking everybody in the group chat if they want to hit up the local bar on Friday and buy tickets to Avatar 2. Not an idle joke, by the way; by the numbers, should we not be blaming the winter 2022 surge on Jim Cameron? Tens of millions of Americans huddled together in groups for 4 hours at a time in a single weekend, but Sturgis barely cracked a tenth of that attendance number, and largely they were outside. From anecdotal evidence I am left to assume the movie-goers were not made up solely of anti-vaccine Qanon soldiers. Everyone else in our liberal orbit had already seen it by the time it hit our TV in June. And that was directly after Biden’s statement, not the accompanying lifting of the health emergency more than six months later.
Future faux historians (the kind on the “History Channel”) might interpret this moment as James Cameron being such a force that he convinced the entire planet to choose seeing his movie over avoiding illness! Absolute legend, as the kids say!
Okay, but you said you understand conservatives now, so when’s that paragraph going to start?
With 3.5 years of COVID evolution (both literal and figurative) I now understand election deniers. I don’t condone, approve, or agree. But I understand. Dum-dums believing Trump’s covid hoax and stolen election claims in 2020 are not so dissimilar to a well-padded leftist egos in 2023 taking Biden’s word for it that the pandemic is “over” and you don’t have to feel guilty anymore for posting pics of partying in Ibiza on The Gram.
From what the MAGA crowd knew of the world, they believed there was a conspiracy against their interests in December 2020. Well, they have a persecution fetish so they always think that, but this time they had cheerleaders in the White House. As evidence (and indictments) continues to mount (Giuliani has admitted in court filings that he knowingly lied about GA election worker claims) we will see who clings to their version of truth and why. A slow trickle of consequential facts is weaning these folks away from hyperbole. Or so I’d like to believe, but as you know, I’ve been wrong before.
So by 2022 both sides had their reasons to throw covid caution to the wind. And a smaller group have reasons to believe they’ll be proven wrong over time. Unfortunately, turning folks from COVID denial won’t come as easily as The Big Lie. COVID isn’t a person you can question under oath or subpoena their emails and texts to see if they really were created in a lab, etc. There’s no smoking gun texts entering the public record to contradict what a president said on 60 minutes about COVID. At least not yet. While morons are considering a futile push to impeach Biden for handling (checks notes) … border policy, there’s red meat right in front of them for causing a new COVID surge now impacting Americans (COVID hospitalizations quietly went up 10% when I started writing this in July, but you won’t see that on the nightly news).
But COVID isn’t a person with thoughts and feelings and peculiar designs on the world. It’s just a microbe. And politics likes to paint people as villains. People identify with parties. Microbes are identified by taxonomy. Most Americans probably don’t even know what the word taxonomy means, but microbes are common enemies and American politics no longer accepts common enemies as it’s not immediately beneficial to one tribe, party, or religion and (perhaps more importantly) not detrimental only to the other.
However, that’s not to say they can’t try. They gave maligning the term, “woke,” a spin for a bit (after “antifa” lost its luster). But you can’t accuse a democrat of being a microbe. Not yet.
There’s debate in the scientific community whether viruses should even be thought of as alive. It’s more like a self-replicating biological machine, not thinking, planning, or even reacting. Evolution in its purest elementary state profiting from man’s most elementary state: greed!
Wait, what? Is this a political thing or a financial thing?
Just like having a budget at all, you know it can be both a financial issue and a political football! I believe there’s not a conspiracy, but a public disinformation push to support commerce at the expense of personal health. Both political parties are united and all we had to do was expose every American to lifelong disability and/or death?
I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I only see evidence to the contrary.
A few weeks ago Canadian wildfire reporting was all rage; bad air in New York City!
(I have photographic evidence of Manhattan smog seen with my own two eyes looking downtown from the Empire State Building years ago on a regular afternoon, but it’s anathema to admit any American city other than Los Angeles has smog, so we’ll not go there!)
Folks in what seemed like the entire northeastern quadrant of the United States were in a tizzy about health repercussions of breathing in wildfire particulates. I only found out about the fires long reach when my mother asked why I hadn’t inquired about her health since the smoke was drifting through the mid-Ohio Valley.
The same valley that didn’t have to throw their masks away at the end of the federal emergency period, because nobody was wearing them in the first place.
(again, verified with my own two lying eyes in person October 2021)
For folks that don’t care about invisible intentionally leaked bioweapon pathogens (their theories, not mine) from China entering their body they suddenly seemed deeply concerned about naturally produced visible particulates from Canada. Add public officials feigning concern for a toxic airborne event from an overturned chemical train weeks earlier and you’ve got a formula developing:
I only care about my health if I can A) see the harm coming and B) know that it’s localized – thus an “attack” on me personally.
On base instincts alone this is a perfectly fine human rationalizing response to danger that’s worked for tens of thousands of years. Of course, it didn’t really “work” perfectly since we now know how viral outbreaks have decimated societies in ancient history repeatedly until we only recently learned that it wasn’t simply “god’s will” doing the killing. To persist in literal medieval thinking while demonstrably, provably wrong is to deliver a great and willing injustice to your society. You visit harm on others on the basis of magical thinking.
People threw around “magical thinking” a lot during the Trump administration. A more appropriate use would be labeling anti-vaxxers and urgent normalizers as such. Believing you are 100% now and forever safe from COVID because you have been vaccinated or it being endemic is just as magical as thinking a vaccine is poison, mind control, microchipped, (insert any Q-anon vaccine argument here) or “alternative medicine” (horse dewormer, massive vitamin C doses, drinking bleach, etc.) will keep COVID away.
Any solution without peer-reviewed scientific studies to back it up is, by definition, magical thinking.
Yes, I’m aware the common usage of that phrase in the age of things like The Secret is specifically focused on internal intentionality creating objective reality, so just shorten the phrase to “magic” if my usage is throwing you off. I am using it in the sense that using nonscientific reasoning to make decisions about how to operate in an ongoing health crisis is both relying on supernatural (“I’m young and special, so my vaccine will save me from an asymptomatic infection) and illusory (“the number of [reported] cases is way down, so it’s over!).
The case count is way down because the CDC doesn’t even report weekly cases anymore. And when they do report cases, it’s positive tests entering the system at hospitals in a phase of the pandemic when testing is no longer required or largely practiced. We all scoffed when Trump stupidly suggested this as a solution for the pandemic. And now we’re (involuntarily in my case) living it. This is a bit like thinking the common cold doesn’t exist either because we don’t have large verified numbers of folks infected with it being reported by the CDC. When was the last time you reported to the CDC you had a common cold? Have you ever? When did you report your COVID at-home test results to the CDC? Have you ever?
Unfortunately this magical thinking isn’t new. It’s an old trick employed time immemorial by human beings to avoid cognitive dissonance. It’s best employed against what are perceived as existential threats since those aren’t likely to confront you with new indisputable evidence of your own bad decisions any time soon. But Covid will, eventually. And then it’s too late, your risk for Long-Covid just jumped irreversibly (as far as we know at present).
So this slow moving infectious disease disaster is starting to look a lot like climate change, except things are starting to heat up (pun intended) for climate change, while an obvious reckoning for Long Covid suffering is years or decades away.
Is this hyperbole to equate the two?
Both have followed a clear set of societal steps distancing public policy from scientific fact, enabled by making individuals, not government, the bearers of responsibility. CDC says the pandemic is “over” but quietly still recommends masking indoors. James Inhofe brings a snowball to congress to disprove global warming after privately cashing a big check from BP. These things are the same, we have not learned from history and we are doomed.
(Gen X and older please insert mental image of frog in pot with flames underneath here)
(Millennials and younger please insert mental image of “this is fine” meme here)
This can probably be applied to a LOT of societal issues, but specifically I ask you to think about these steps from a climate perspective and then I will walk you through how they also apply to COVID:
Step 1: science identifies significant risk
In 1938 Guy Callendar warns carbon dioxide increases are leading to global warming, hundreds of studies over the ensuing century verify and validate these changes are not just happening, but increasing and are caused, at least in part, by human activity.
Step 2: industry privately recognizes risk (often with their own hidden studies confirming risk) and publicly counters with denial or disinformation campaign.
Exxon conducted their own studies about fossil fuel contributions to climate change in 1977, formed a committee with other fossil fuel companies to privately study the issue. Exxon cut funding to their research in 1983 and in 1989 formed a coalition to oppose government restrictions on carbon emissions output by fossil fuels industry.
Step 3: media and politics ingest industry capital and public opinion (swayed by same capital) and deny science applies “now,” “yet,” or that there’s anything “we can do about it.”
Former Vice President Al Gore releases climate alarmist documentary in 2006, during his former opponent’s presidential period. Rising partisan mass media outlets turn the issue into a divisive wedge that persists to this day in order to avoid talking about the validity of the content in the presentation. If you can’t refute the facts then disparage the messenger until nobody believes them. “But she wore a skirt and had several boyfriends your honor, we can’t believe a word she says about this rape confirmed by the DNA kit!”
Step 4: The US Military makes changes to policy based on facts congress won’t agree on, public stays largely unaware the org responsible for their security is treating the science that media and politics often label “opinion” as hard actionable fact.
US Department of Defense began risk planning for climate policy in early 21st century, first through papers (identifying it as a “national security threat” in 2003), and then gradually through policy changes until it was a recognizable and reportable part of the annual federal budgeting process by the Obama administration. Did you know that, or did you think global warming was still “a theory?”
Step 5: real world effects of risk take root in undeniable ways which were preventable if action had been taken between steps 1 and 4, but weren’t and so now massive damage is experienced by a minority of lives (individual homes lost due to weather events are small % of total homes in country).
Hurricanes and floods become larger and more frequent. In 2017 there were three major storms at once requiring an undermanned FEMA to respond. FEMA gets blamed for not being prepared for multiple hurricanes hitting at once, instead of congress getting blamed for propping up the fossil fuel industry with subsidies and obstruction against tougher federal fuel efficiency standards acknowledging the role that fossil fuel consumption contributed to the warming weather which produced more and larger storms over the Atlantic. Instead it’s mocking (from liberals too) the “Brownie, you’re doing a heckova job!” and suggesting Ray Nagin was no Rudy Giuliani. Turns out America’s most infamous mayors of the 21st century are more alike than we thought; Rudy going into federal prison might make eye contact with Ray coming out next year…
As you can see, for climate change, we are somewhere between step 5 and 6 currently.
Step 6: media and politicians begrudgingly accept risk is real as % of affected individuals rise and a majority begins to be affected in gradually worsening ways (more hot days in the summer, higher AC costs, disruption of summer activities, stronger winds affect plane routes, etc.).
But it’s still not their responsibility so long term action is not taken, only short term symptoms addressed (emergency funds released to states with hurricane and fire damage). A 2023 study of sequential storms between 1948 and 2018 confirmed a climate increased effect. Another study of the record breaking global summer heatwave in 2023 confirmed it would not be possible in so many places, at such temperatures, for so long, without climate change. Last week I personally experienced an earthquake and a hurricane at my home in southern California. We haven’t had a hurricane reach the west coast of America in a hundred years, and this arrived on the heals of a “historic” rainy season. We didn’t even used to have “rainy seasons.” The boomers even have a song about it. As coastal cities enact multi-billion dollar sea rise mitigation plans the Republican presidential candidates fell all over each other in their first televised debate to prove how poorly they’ll manage (ignore) the problem if you only give them the chance.
Step 7: Mass exposure to risk must be mitigated at federal level to prevent collapse of society, but it’s too late for prevention, so public funds and programs enacted to “Cover” affected losses.
Deniers now pivot to arguing about how much to spend, who should get it, and where the funds will come from, highlight fraud immediately after as just cause for ending programs or denying they should have been created.
Before you say “wait, covid is different because we had the pandemic for two years and clearly climate change is multi-generational!” – no, it isn’t. We had the ozone hole fixed in years, not generations. This was immediate damage to our planet’s atmosphere, and we vaccinated it by banning CFCs. NASA demonstrated the hole based on their own instruments in 1986 (after spurred to investigate by earlier findings in the 1970s) and only a year later an international treaty was signed to cut CFC use en route to outright banning them country by country over time.
Just like with Covid we then patted ourselves on the back, rolled out the “mission accomplished” banners and pretended that was it and largely told everyone to get back to normal. How we created aerosol cans changed, but they worked the same so the public didn’t care and eventually (talk to anyone under 30) forgot the ozone ever had a hole in it.
We have the capacity to act quickly and responsibly, but as problems grow in size and complexity we often fail to. Which is why it’s doubly sad that we’re failing the world from catching Long Covid right now.
And here is where I take you through the steps again, but this time with COVID in mind.
Step 1: science identifies significant risk
In January of 2020 China reports death from new virus. News outlets in the west pick up the story initially as an oddity similar to Ebola or SARS reporting while China enforces quarantines and contact tracing. No travel restrictions are enacted in the US despite multiple cases developing in multiple states.
Step 2: industry privately recognizes risk (often with their own hidden studies confirming risk) and counters with public denial or disinformation campaign.
The NBA canceled all games after first player tests positive, but later institutes “bubble” playoff series even though virus is surging and no vaccines are yet available. By February the FAA forces enhanced screenings for travelers entering the US from China, but conservative media decides to use the Trump administration’s approach to the virus (and the NYT’s reaction) as joke fodder and minimize any concern.
Step 3: media and politics ingest industry capital and public opinion (swayed by same capital) and deny science applies “now,” “yet,” or that there’s anything “we can do about it.”
Republican politicians at local and federal levels oppose stay at home orders and mask regulations, declaring on television that the economy is more important than individual lives. President Trump continues in person unmasked meetings, testing positive and requiring hospitalization and at-the-time new treatments in December 2020. Conservative media touts Ivermectin, a horse dewormer, as a potential treatment for COVID while urging Americans not to get vaccinated. Conspiracy theories about vaccines contributing to covid spread, causing deaths, and more run rampant on social media in early 2021, dissuading many from receiving the vaccine as deaths from the virus continue to mount. Later analysis would show this science denial would prove fatal, with excess deaths in Republican counties outnumbering their blue neighbors.
Step 4: The US Military makes changes to policy based on facts congress won’t agree on, public stays largely unaware the org responsible for their security is treating the science media and politics label as “opinion” as hard fact.
US Military requires soldiers to be vaccinated in 2021. Edge cases make news stories when dismissed for their refusal. To conservative news they are martyrs, to many others (who know the military makes soldiers get many vaccines) they are dismissed as gullible fools taken in by conservative myth making. Private businesses follow suit and enact vaccine policies sparking “religious rights” lawsuits. Note that in this case “religious rights” counts as magical thinking since vaccines do not exist in any religious text. There’s not a “no jabs for thee” sermon on any mount, stop it. Most of the cases were dismissed as employers were found to have no duty to accommodate religious preference. Otherwise I’d force my own employer to pay me for not working (I don’t believe in working, do you?)!
Step 5: real world effects of risk take root in undeniable ways which were preventable if action had been taken between steps 1 and 4, but weren’t and so now massive damage is experienced by a minority of lives.
And now we’ve reached the present, with cases of long covid quietly piling up after repeated infections from multiple variants after all precaution mandates were lifted. Some employers, In n’ Out being the most famous, are actually banning employees from wearing masks, taking pride in scientific ignorance. However, since the majority of Americans are currently not suffering from Long Covid, like the majority have not lost their homes in a Hurricane, they convince themselves that any current covid suffering is not pertinent to them. They’re special snowflakes who have better immune systems, surely.
Step 6: media and politicians begrudgingly accept risk is real as % of affected individuals rise and a majority begins to be affected in gradually worsening ways.
Without a return to masking and other precautions repeated infections will, well, repeat. More people will slowly succumb to Long Covid. More of them getting worse. More of them will have long covid exacerbate existing underlying conditions, some of which they may not have even know about.
Amazingly, in the month since I started writing this post in July and then went to Wyoming for a bit and came back to finish it by late August, three people I know that have never had COVID before have succumbed to and suffered in the same week. At the same time several institutions (Colleges, Lionsgate, etc.) have quietly brought back mask and vaccine mandates. Wonder why….
Step 7: Mass exposure to risk must be mitigated at federal level to prevent collapse of society, but it’s too late for prevention, so public funds and programs enacted to “Cover” affected losses.
Like the very long timeline for 911 first responder relief or gulf war syndrome, we are going to enter into decades of fighting to acknowledge the existence of and need to fund treatment for long covid. Unlike the first two examples, if we don’t create better vaccines or put prevention in place permanently this will be a perpetual crisis with murky goalposts. 9/11 isn’t still happening and evolving new disability symptoms. Imagine if we found out asbestos created lung disabilities for EVERYONE in society and then we just …. Kept using it forever because that’s what “normal” was before we found out it was bad.
It’s not that hard, people. We banned indoor smoking years ago for the same reasons we should wear masks now. There were morons that got all upset about that at the time too. Just like there were anti-seatbelt protestors (and even anti-drunk driving law opinions, if you can believe that) that we look back on as idiotic today. However, public polling at the time showed as much as 65% of drivers in America opposed mandating seat belts in the 1980s. Hindsight makes everything look obvious. We forget it was a fight to abolish slavery, a struggle to pass civil rights, and now over a million Americans have died of a virus that just a year or so later we’re all ignoring doesn’t exist. Their deaths meant nothing. Ignoring the very real effects of the virus now simultaneously retroactively blames those victims and produces more of them in the future. We appear ignorant of history made only two years ago and so will be doomed to repeat this cycle.
But smoking banning, seat-belt wearing, airbag equipping…We didn’t convince the folks in charge to do it, we made them do it. Saving lives trumped individual opinions, when actions in the public sphere influence the health and safety of others. And yet the headline of “PANDEMIC OVER” dwarfs the tiny whisper of “mask wearing indoors still recommended.”
Good god, Ralph Nader wasn’t quietly “recommending” seat belts on the back page of a local newspaper in an op-ed. He wrote a bestseller concluding that the government should force the auto industry to enact safety standards. He testified the same to congress personally and publicly and then… the government created the Dept. of Transportation!
And we could do it again with covid and public safety. But we haven’t. Yet. I suspect more anecdotal long-covid evidence will start to change this picture, but it may be too late. It may already be too late as the virus has already evolved to produce infection with a bare minimum of exposure and without the host even knowing.
If everyone had a deadly food allergy it might be easier to convince them to wear masks.
Hear me out. Because I’ve had a lifelong food allergy I treat food as a go or no-go situation. If I don’t know what’s in the food I don’t eat it. Because I may die. I have ended up in urgent care before when I was simply wrong about what I thought was in something (alcoholic drinks aren’t required to list ingredients…for some reason). Because of this approach I am already sensitized to the idea of prevention being a better remedy to stay alive than medicating after getting ill. Masks are the easiest way to avoid an airborne virus. So I mask in any situation where exposure is a reasonable risk.
Of course, if everyone had bad asthma they also might wear masks. I’ve been in an oxygen tent at the hospital more than once. I know what it feels like to not be able to breathe. And I don’t mean “got the wind knocked out of me” like that time you got blasted in a high school football game or how you get “winded” after running at the gym. I mean every breath is a struggle for hours and, worse, you don’t know why it’s happening so you feel helpless to improve it. Because I have intimate familiarity with the inability to breathe I have absolutely zero desire to experience that again. In the early days of Covid, when seemingly healthy people, people I knew, were hospitalized and “struggling to breathe” I noped out of that situation and wore a mask everywhere. And I see no reason now to stop.
But it’s endemic and we have paxlovid.
You won’t have paxlovid forever. Newer variants are already proving ineffective against monoclonal antibodies and paxlovid may follow the same path. In fact, this is similar to the silent alarm in the medical community for a decade or more around the failure of antibiotics. As Earth’s population grows and antibiotics are increasingly prescribed for everyone from mild flu to bovine milk production they are becoming ineffective. If new antibiotics aren’t continuously found we will head back to an 18th century battlefield scenario of giving someone a shot of whiskey, asking them to bite a belt, and hacking off a limb to stave off infection.
Note I said “continuously” back there, just finding one more won’t do, and I said “found” since we have to discover new chemical compounds or synthesize them not just improve on what we already know – antibiotics are not iPhones, there won’t be a new “great” replacement every year. It’s more like trying to create a new wifi standard every year and not knowing what the real strength will be, if it will interfere with other electronics and frequencies, and by the time you’ve finally got all the towers up the phone manufacturers have abandoned it for some other newer radio frequency. You’re constantly lagging behind. This is not the operating model we want to pin our hopes of destroying COVID on!
Of course, AI could change that and speed up the chemical formulation and testing process exponentially, but right now the only thing AI seems good for is writing awful internet articles and this.
We are running through that process of covid immunity desensitization not annually now, but by months and weeks. Unlike antibiotic treatable infections, we are encouraging everyone on the planet to expose themselves to covid multiple times a day, every day, in the name of “forgetting” or “moving on,” which is really in service of propping up economies still based on unnecessary in person interactions. New variants are now popping up in parallel and competing; infectious disease reporting visuals are starting to look more like playoff brackets. “Which one of these variants will make YOU sick next week when you go back to work?!”
Enter MY pet conspiracy theory (I want to party too, guys!)
Did you think it was a coincidence that all those articles about “returning to work is great!” in Forbes came out at the same time as the federal and state mask mandates were lifted?
You do know that if the State health department says in person gatherings without masks are known to lead to potentially deadly or disabling infections it could be used by employees to sue their employer if forced to go back to work, right? The only thing keeping us at home in 2020 was the fear of a lawsuit costing more than commercial real estate losses.
For some perspective – commercial real estate lobbying has more than 200 registered different lobbying organizations representing a spend of nearly $140 million a year. That number jumped dramatically in 2020 (to get handouts for lost rent for the owners) and 2022 (to ask for the end of “emergency” status so folks would be forced back to work). You may start doing the math and say that’s not a huge amount per congressman (even though it’s enough to buy a Ferrari) or you may think it pales in comparison to other lobbying interests. It doesn’t. Halfway through 2023 The National Association of Realtors has come in second only to the US Chamber of Commerce in lobbying spend. However, this is a bit of a misnomer as, since it’s technically true, it’s not an actual representation of the lobbying power of Real Estate since Real Estate is an interest REPRESENTED by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In fact, they frequently announce partnerships (and to-be-fair not always bad, the NAR sought to standardize bias training in business in 2020). In 2022 the National Association of Realtors was the largest lobbying group in America. In 2021 they were the second, again behind the Chamber of Commerce. In 2020 NAR was the largest lobbying group in America. In 2019 they were third, 2018 second, 2017 second, 2016 second; you don’t need a PhD in statistics to see the trend here. Commercial real estate has a larger lobbying pull in congress than anyone with a medical degree. In 2022 NAR spent more lobbying money than Pharma, AMA, and Blue Cross COMBINED. What about “big pharma” forcing all these vaccines on us? Pfizer was 12th on the lobbying list behind AARP, Facebook, Amazon, and others. Moderna and other vaccine manufacturers didn’t crack the top 20.
So we know who pushed to “open it all up again” – and it wasn’t your doctor.
But it’s endemic anyway.
So is HIV. Do you swap blood with everyone in a restaurant every time you want to eat? Do you swap blood with your family at Thanksgiving? Other than it being gross, you’d probably say no because you’re worried about blood borne diseases. Yet airborne diseases are cute and cuddly and no match for our big bad immune systems, right? In fact, many seem to think that repeated infection makes us stronger, like a “workout” for our immunity.
While that sounds great in theory, kind of like how Greek much philosophy explaining biology sounded great for eons until contradicted by modern science, it doesn’t work that way. Not at all. Repeated damage leads to long term consequences. Ask anyone who’s had a “career ending injury” how repeated systemic damage to the body works. You really think Bo Jackson just didn’t have the right doctor or didn’t get enough vitamin D or something? For Bo the damage happened all at once, on a tackle. For you, the damage is doled out via spike proteins every time you get infected, including the times you didn’t know about because you didn’t have any symptoms.
What absolutely nobody on TV is going to tell you are facts like:
- Asymptomatic infections exist and are in fact common, not rare
- Asymptomatic infections have been grossly undercounted due to high false negative rates of at-home tests – that is, when people still tested
- Asymptomatic infections target the same systems and organs that symptomatic infections do
- Asymptomatic infections can still occur in fully vaccinated “otherwise healthy” people
Put those facts together and realize that an infection you didn’t see or feel could happen repeatedly and every time it does it increases the likelihood you’ll suffer later (unclear yet whether long covid is LIFElong) from previously undiagnosed maladies in various organs and systems. This may or may not exacerbate pre existing conditions you didn’t even know you had until COVID made them bad enough for you to seek treatment for the symptoms. And what those comorbidities, exacerbations, and symptoms are keep changing as the virus evolves new variants.
It’s normal to say “I don’t want to scare you” but in this case – I really do want to scare you, because nobody seems to care about this!
So after hitting you with facts that should terrify you, I’ll take it a step further with speculative fiction. I would not be surprised if current and future covid variants targeted the heart and brain MORE than symptomatic infections because they’re less likely to be felt and addressed while the virus is actively replicating, thus making it more likely to be passed on to others. Remember a virus only exists because it was able to be replicated by a previous host and passed to a new one. It doesn’t care whether that’s from sneezing, coughing, blood transfusions, sex, or just breathing. We have set a societal “dark pattern” now trending towards COVID variants that are asymptomatic because even now if someone is sneezing they WILL wear a mask and/or stay home. So what does that mean? More asymptomatic variants will find new hosts and reproduce than variants that produce obvious symptoms. The common cold spread so easily before because people don’t stay home. America actually has a huge “sick day” problem of those benefits not being enshrined in law, making the folks at the bottom of the economy, the folks preparing our food for example forced to work through illness. Passing it on to the rest of us. Those people I know that got covid last week? They all took multiple days off work. Because they could. The making your burger at In N’ Out won’t stay home, and now he’s not even ALLOWED to wear a mask. The virus will likely optimize to be mildly symptomatic, highly infectious, and cumulatively disabling if we keep this up. This is pretty simple elementary school science class stuff, but either nobody understands it and/or they’re being mislead to believe or ignore the facts about asymptomatic spread and the associated consequences.
What will the consequences of that be?
- We may find evidence in a few years that asymptomatic cases were the primary driver for as-yet-unconnected-to-covid disabilities.
- That heart attack your friend had in 2020? Could have been covid related.
- That RSV your friend’s kid had to be hospitalized for in 2023? Could have been covid related.
- That inability for you to remember stuff now? Could be covid.
Of course, there are a few ways (incomplete list below) this could be made a moot point.
Variant-proof vaccines – these are currently in development, however being “variant proof” in the same way we synced the original vaccines to variants won’t be enough since we now know the vaccines only lessen the symptoms and consequences of infection they don’t always wholly prevent it
Long-covid gene therapy – not sure if this is even possible and may be slower to develop than the anti-aging therapies in development that would simply repair ALL cells in the body.
Conclusive long-covid studies (this would take years or decades) showing the malady is temporary. This is probably the most realistic thing to hope for, but will take too long for most (who can’t limit exposure without legal mandates) to matter.
A permanent switch in the viruses preferred human replication sites, staying in the throat, however, it would be hard to prove the virus couldn’t evolve back into attacking other systems (though the common cold doesn’t – so there is ample room for genetic study there… if anyone would endeavor to do it!)
Rapid and reliable breath testing. Surprisingly this one is in development. However, with our current societal approach of pretending covid doesn’t exist I don’t expect anyone to use these devices even if they’re free. However, if they DID use them this would be an immediate relief. Restaurants could be “proven covid free” by testing everyone at the door. Airports and flights could be transmission free by testing at the door. Entire workplaces (unfortunately for people like me who don’t want to) could be returned to and be covid free. But they won’t, because they’d have to turn positive tests away. Today business owners serve everyone and rake in maximum profit. Greed will win again, and we’ll all lose.
Identification of “covid immunity” genes. This one is happening too. Would be of great benefit to anyone who could prove they had that gene, but doesn’t help the rest of us much. May even make things worse, as the provably immune folks would care less than before about spread and risky behaviour.
Science proved there is no such thing as free will. We are merely controlled by competing cognitive biases.
Survivor bias is getting interesting. Usually it’s easy to see: rich man thinks his riches came from intelligence, not luck and/or inheritance; driver without history of accidents think they’re a better driver; famous creatives believe success comes to anyone who just works at their skill enough (Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours misunderstanding); successful businesses survive because of the business sense of the owner, etc.
In almost every example the success part is verifiable. With COVID it’s not. If all the studies on covid are accurate thus far then we know it’s a fact that there are millions who have had asymptomatic infections and never known. Most of these (myself included) openly wonder if they’re “immune” to covid (as some studies have shown certain genes seem to preclude infection). The irony is that some, maybe many, of the folks happy to abandon protective measures due to “never getting it” may have become asymptomatically infected multiple times. Yet the bias would logically lead them to believe that covid is over, since they and most of the people they know have not become symptomatically infected lately. As Biden said on 60 minutes “if you notice, no one is wearing masks and everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”
SEEMS TO BE
Seems, meaning visually looks healthy. A visual inspection is not the best rubric for assessing risk for most communicable diseases. A quick glance is not sufficient to diagnose HIV or herpes, for example, and anyone doing so would be castigated later for their extreme carelessness if they ended up contracting those illnesses.
Why do we treat COVID so differently?
We want an end
Humans process information in story format. A beginning, a struggle, a resolution, a moral. We went through the beginning and the struggle, a resolution with vaccines. So we skipped right to the end and forgot the moral. The moral of the story is that they don’t always have a nice wrapped-up-with-a-nice-bow ending. It’s extremely hard to end a viral story. Even Polio persists in hidden corners of the world in 2023. Though this post has to, our covid story hasn’t ended despite what the President says, it may not even have really begun yet as variants pile and long covid emerges. Please do what you need to do to stay safe. I will be.