Tag Archives: Corona

Some Context

Information without context is not merely useless, it can be dangerous. Context is the landscape that yields the perspective by which we can make an informed judgment. For example, if you are told your cholesterol is 150 without also telling you what the normal range is, what the known error of the test is, and what your previous values were then it is impossible to know whether this news is of concern or not. Without context we humans are predisposed evolutionarily to assume the worst; those with a heightened predilection for caution in the bush tend to pass on their genes. However in the modern era this instinct can be a counterproductive. Making a decision without relevant information is as bad as making a decision with completely wrong information. If you just learned that you have a tumor in your foot and your first instinct is to amputate your entire leg “just to be safe” you might argue this is the prudent thing to do. But if you later learn such tumors are easily treatable and rarely fatal then that would seriously call into question the rationality of an amputation. As a country we have similarly overreacted amidst an ocean of information lacking any sort of context: we have burned our house down to rid ourselves of termites. The response has been disproportionate to the risk precisely because the media has failed to provide the proper context to evaluate the risk relative to the costs. This lack of context has caused people’s imaginations to run rampant to the point where normal healthy people literally believe their life is in imminent danger if they step outside maskless. 

            How did we get here? The rise of the Internet has fostered an environment where news media competition has become cutthroat. The Internet has removed the normal barriers needed to produce and distribute news content thereby opening the floodgates of competition for a fixed pot of ad revenue. This has altered the reporting incentives in a way where engagement and sensationalism are valued over dispassionate objective reporting. To build a more loyal audience many news organizations have opted to narrow rather than broaden their appeal (a plant with few but deep roots will endure drought over one with many but shallow). They have found by focusing on content with a particular political bent they can maintain a stronger audience connection. In short the news has become extremely biased and sensationalized. This shift has created a fertile soil in which those with a personal political agenda may flourish. This shift in in the news landscape has given rise to a style of reporting known as “factual… but not truthful” otherwise known as “fake news.” It’s not fake because it’s a flat out lie, rather it is “fake” because while being factually true it omits certain other crucial facts – facts that give the story the proper context needed to get the whole picture. Not volunteering information is not “lying” so if caught in their subterfuge they can plausibly hand wave it away as a simple “mistake” or “oversight”. 

            A fanciful example would be “Local shop owner refuses to sell food to the hungry!” – this would be factually true, however the story would omit the additional pertinent detail that the store went out of business due to bankruptcy. So the reader is left with the belief that the storeowner is a heartless jerk. If the narrative of the story reinforces the reader’s preconceptions about the storeowner then it would never even occur to them to question the story. This is a common tactic to impugn a political opponent; report words out of context, often omitting a follow up sentence that completely contradicts what the report is trying to imply from the quote. 

            This same level of “factual but not truthful” reporting has infected nearly all of the corporate media’s reporting on the Covid pandemic.  As a result Americans are dramatically overestimating their risk of death. A recent survey revealed that people believe those aged 44 and younger account for 30% of deaths; the actual figure is 2.7%. Further, Americans overestimated the risk of death for those under 24 by 50-fold. As of August 15 a scant 320 people aged 24 and below have died from Covid-19 in the US. The cumulative risk for that group is 1 death per 322,000 which is on par with the one-year odds of dying from drowning. “Oh but they could spread it to the teachers!” Ok. Some more context. Those aged 25-64 have a 1 in 5,000 chance of dying from Covid – this is on par with the risk of dying in your vehicle on the way to work (1 in 8,303 per year).  Perhaps a more useful exercise would be the following: imagine there are 5,000 doors lined up and you have one chance to open the correct door to reveal the grand prize. When considered in terms of something desired (the prize) this seems almost hopeless, right? But curiously if we merely flip from prize to punishment (death) we suddenly feel like it’s almost certain we will pick the wrong door on the first try. This sort of irrational thinking yields these absurd egocentric displays of “die ins” by teachers at various schools and universities. Their risk of dying from Covid is no greater than their risk of dying while driving to and from work. And since masks “work” I can’t imagine what they are concerned about.             

Even though the young face almost no risk from Covid there is a much deadlier threat wending their way if we do not stay committed to returning to normal as quickly as possible. One would think if there were a looming threat that might kill hundreds of thousands of young people this would be headline making news. Instead we get crickets. To what do I refer? The CDC recently reported that in the past 1 month an astounding 25% of respondents aged 18-24 reported seriously considering suicide. To put that in context, the normal range is 7-11% — considered over the past 12 months. For those aged 45-64 the number was only 3.8%. Clearly those who are making policy are hardly bothered by it as they blithely ignore their own children who are powerless to reverse this insane course. Even if 1% followed through on their thoughts it would be over one hundred thousand of our youth dead. When compared to fewer than 300 deaths to date for that same cohort the choice becomes clear: resume normal lives for our youth without delay. No more threats of shutting down school. No more social distancing. No more masks. No more online classes. Childhood years are a precious resource that the adults are looting from the children and squandering in a futile attempt to eradicate this virus. For shame. 

We have nothing to fear…

Amidst the current global pandemic of COVID-19 there is another more sinister and stealthy infection moving through society: BBD-20, Binary Brain Disease. It renders the victim incapable of analyzing any topic, in particular the COVID response, in anything other than a good/bad false choice mode. For years this disease festered amongst the political class but for the most part was confined to that realm. It has now broken through those ranks and spread to the general populace. It sickens the soul of this country, as its victims willingly disown the Constitution while all but begging for martial law. And people wonder how the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan so easily subdued their populace into compliance.  They did so through fear; fear of the “other”. Today that other is not some corporeal enemy but instead the invisible specter of a potential harm. 

Currently the most common symptom of BBD-20 is the belief that any discussion regarding the immense social, economic, and mental devastation resulting from bankrupting tens of millions of people equates to an obvious desire to kill grandma and millions like her. Furthermore the infected commonly engage in very public virtue signaling via sanctimonious pronouncements about how obviously basic morality compels us to lock ourselves in our basement for an indeterminate period in order to protect the “vulnerable”. Newsflash: those that are immune compromised face that risk from all diseases, not just COVID. Anyone else at risk with COVID should protect himself or herself and not expect the rest of the planet to bankrupt themselves trying to protect them. There are reasonable precautions and there are unreasonable. Right now we are in the unreasonable zone, but even the mere thought of a conversation about dialing it back to the reasonable zone sends BBD-20 victims into apoplexy.

I suppose this is to be expected. Our society is largely the product of a public school system that propagandizes its citizenry into the false narrative that the state is our savior. A savior is of course omniscient (after all a less wise being cannot save us). It is imprudent to question our betters, so unsurprisingly those of us that do so are chastised to no end: “How dare you question such and such, don’t you know he’s an EXPERT!?” This mistaken belief in state level omniscience compels many to suspend their critical faculties and blindly follow the state anointed “experts.” Never mind that these very same “experts” told us in January that,

“this is not something that the citizens…should be worried about right now.” (Fauci, Jan 2020)

First we are told we don’t need masks, now we are told we do. Ok, well which is it? Were they wrong then and right now, or right then and wrong now? Were there weapons of mass destruction or were there not? When exactly is the state lying to us or when are they merely incompetent? I suspect it is a bit of both, after all, the political class (elected and appointed) are largely made up of the C-students that couldn’t cut it in the real world and so have carved out a cushy sinecure in the hierarchy of state mediocrity.

Again this ignorance is to be expected. The state school systems do not teach economics. They barely teach history. Nobody learns about tradeoffs, marginal benefits, or the division of labor. If they did they would understand one does not simply “stop” the marketplace and restart it later with little to no harm. If these concepts were taught, then the political class would understand one can’t repair the damage that they are causing throughout society by merely printing money. Most people genuinely have no idea how the goods they order on Amazon end up on their front porch. Even the most mundane of products is the result of the truly invisible hand of the market that coordinates millions of individuals across hundreds of sectors. To truly grasp the depth of that statement I encourage the reader to take a look at “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read.

In any event, in a non-political society where “the people” lack the power to meddle with things they don’t understand their lack of understanding would be irrelevant, insofar as they could not derail that which they cannot grasp. The current state of affairs is comparable to people banning electricity but expecting their smart phones to continue working.

It is telling that the more vocal proponents of these “shut it down” measures are those that work either directly or indirectly for the state or a state (tax) supported sector of the economy. Those other people, who have been deemed “non-essential,” they should lose everything. It’s for the “greater good” after all. Those in the non-essential camp see it differently. How grotesque a society have we become when someone can turn to their neighbor and tell them that they are “not essential” to society while they collect their “essential services” paycheck from their state connected employer? Were the hospitality and other “non-essential” sectors of the economy allowed to operate again would they not see a steep decline in revenues? Yes, of course – but it wouldn’t be zero revenue as it is now. At this point anything is better than zero.

            Maybe, just maybe, the solution to this problem is not to go running to the very entity (the state) that is the proximate cause for the dilemma we see ourselves in. The state has only one solution for every problem it encounters: pass a law and then back that law up with the threat of violence – the state is literally a hammer that sees every problem as a nail. There are a million instances of state created distortions in society that have hampered our ability to cope with this pandemic, but let’s just look at the top three:

(a) Certificate of Need laws severely restrict the number of hospitals and hospital beds in Georgia (and in 34 other states in the US) – there would be far more beds right now had these laws never existed, this one is not even debatable,

(b) Regulatory bodies like the FDA have for years thrown up a wide assortment of regulatory barriers that have kept safe, cheap, and effective treatments and tests for a myriad of diseases and ailments from being available to the public or needlessly delayed them for years; to wit, the CDC delayed testing in this country for weeks as it bungled about trying to make its own kit while existing kits were already available

(c) the sclerotic monetary and financial system propped up by the inflationary monetary policies of the Federal Reserve ensured and promoted wide ranging financial moral hazards that rendered most companies unable to cope with unpredictable downturns such as this pandemic – a pandemic that would never have become a pandemic in the US had (a) and (b) not been an issue.

            To turn to the state now as our savior is like asking your dentist to remove all your teeth, both cavity infected and not, when it was that same dentist that advised you your whole life to eat sugary foods and brush your teeth with cake frosting. Yes, perhaps now you have few options, but at least get a second opinion and make a note to ignore or critically evaluate all future advice.