(2500 words) (Revised/Expanded: Feb. 20, edited Feb. 21)
(TL;DR Summary, 125 words: Question: Why has Anti-Panic leadership during the ongoing Coronavirus Panic been so lacking, so apparently weak? Discussion: We can first ask, What is ‘Leadership’? There are Original-Ideas leaders and Cheerleader-leaders. Given the constant defeats-on-evidence for the Corona Pro-Panic side, why haven’t more thought-leaders of the influential ‘Cheerleader’ type spoken out, consistently and strongly, against the Corona-Panic? Answer. I don’t know, but there are several families of explanations related to social pressures. Importance of this Inquiry: I believe following this question where it leads allows us to peek into how “discourse control” works in our time, with implications beyond the “Corona-Crisis.” Hypothesis: The obvious answers to the weakness of Anti-Panic/Anti-Lockdown leadership come with censorship and social-opprobrium. I propose another, what I call herein The Cognitive Dissonance of the Corona-Cult-Defector, a condition I hypothesize is suffered from by those who “snap out of” any cult or discover deception related thereto; defectors become disoriented and ineffective.)
Much writing on these pages in 2020 was on the Corona Question. I came to see the Anti-Panic (Anti-Lockdown) side as correct on all the main points, correct on the data, yet even so treated like Flat-Earth-ism when dealt with at all. It was strangely hard to find basic Anti-Panic positions in the news and wider discourse, but eventually much of it seeped through (usually many months after the findings, months after the ideas began to be discussed on the Anti-Panic side). We can postulate some reasons why this may have been so in the initial Panic (I mean, it was a classic mass-hysteria period with all the telltale signs). That might cover Month 1. But I wonder to ask about Month 4, Month 8, and now even reaching Month 12. Where are the major promoters of Anti-Panic material?
The Anti-Panic general position was the better “bet” all along. Of course there was uncertainty. After more data came in, it became a surer bet, and eventually it became as sure as we know anything on questions like this (it was a flu wave at the upper-end of the normal historical range for flu waves, that’s all). In other words, the Anti-Panic side won on the data. I think it had won by May 1st. After May 1st, anyone still on the Pro-Panic side was either willfully ignoring the data, or ignorant of the data and/or what it meant (in fact many were something else, they were in an emotionalized, politicized, religious mega-scale Virus-Cult).
May 1st was something like two or three months into the Panic-cycle (depending on when you choose to start the Panic). Now we are at something like the One Year mark. It’s been a strange ride…
I stopped posting on the matter. I was convinced the argument was over, the Anti-Panic side was right both factually and morally. I am still sure that will be the judgement of history.
There is so much puzzling about the whole thing. How do we account for the comfortable victory of the Anti-Panic side on the facts/data but at the same time a disastrous defeat for the Anti-Panic side in public policy? To appearances, it would seem an at-first-somewhat-shabby coalition of often-shrill Pro-Panic forces, and second-rate demagogues, was able to seize control of an entire civilization and inflict enormous damage. And not just for a few weeks or months but now one year and counting, with many of the Pro-Panic regimes signaling they are going to stay loyal to the Virus-Cult for a long time to come, a Forever War against what is now a moderate flu virus (which is of course delusional). This global fiasco is sure to provoke commentary for years to come. (The best I’ve seen recently is Edward Hadas’ “The War Against Covid-19.“)
Yes, we need answers. The whole thing seems so bizarre, really, in big-picture terms that it is guaranteed to get a large portion of the Anti-Panic side to drift into thinking the entire thing was part of a deliberate coup d’etat, or series of coups d’etat. But we don’t necessarily need such explanations.
We should ask questions like this: Who were the leaders on the Pro-Panic side? Not specific individuals per se, but types of person. When and why did they attach themselves to the Pro-Panic side? Why are there so few major-platform leaders who speak n behalf of the Anti-Panic side?
Actually, I think it would help to back up and ask some really basic questions:
What is a leader?
Let’s say a leader is one who influences others or seeks to influence others (some would-be leaders have very limited success) with some kind of agenda or plan. When speaking at the full-society level of a complex society, these are necessarily thought-leaders. And they come in many forms. There are different varieties of people who come up with their own thoughts, or who boost somebody else’s thoughts, or both.
Someone once wisely said that a true leader is not one who observes where the pack is going and rushes to the front and declares himself the “leader.” The true leader is the one out in front, getting others to follow him.
In the comments section of the Peak Stupidity blog, recently, two categories of thought-leader were proposed: “Original Ideas” thought-leaders and “Cheerleaders.” (Both “Cheerleader Leaders” and “Original-Ideas Leaders” are important and can exist in symbiosis or in opposition. Some of us have clear biases towards one type over the other and would do well to recognize the importance of the other type.)
There are plenty of Original-Ideas Leaders who areAnti-Panic. But Commenter GAnderson asks, at Peak Stupidity, the question that inspires this post: Why do there seem to be so few Corona-Anti-Panic ‘Cheerleader’ thought-leaders?
Getting ideas out (cheerleading, if you will) is important.
Look at the current Corona-mess. If one reads Mr. Hail, Kevin Roche, Briggs (apologies to anyone I’ve left out) listen to the guy from Catholic U whose name escapes me right now, Howie Carr, etc., well, I think it’s obvious that the corona panic couldn’t be anything other than a scam- but who’s saying that nationally, with the kind of megaphone Rush had. […]
Is anyone? Carlson? To my observation none of our representatives in Congress are, yet after a year, and the evidence pointing directly to the notion that this panic is a scam, we are, at least where I live more committed to panicking than ever.
I had written:
The “Original-Ideas Genius” is out in front of the pack, trying to move the pack in a new direction.
The “Cheerleader Genius” is firmly in the middle of the pack, or symbolically near the front when need be, but in any case is carried on a sedan chair, armed with a bullhorn, shouting encouragements to the rest of the pack.
The pack moves in ever-shifting directions, as time flows on, moving in some direction or other following people who are out front, Original Ideas men.
(I’ll go against my better judgement and expand on the idea here: The conceptual-categories “Cheerleader” and “Original-Ideas” are not somehow immutable characteristics of a person, pegged to an individual for life. The same person can fill either role. Or, for the majority of people (the pack) the majority of the time, neither role. Shifting between roles is natural according to circumstances. The same person can be your drinking buddy on the weekend and someone’s boss during the workweek, and an anonymous spectator at the sport stadium — same man, very different roles.)
Since Hail To You has turned into an Anti-Panic Corona-Blog (for now), I want to highlight GAnderson’s question and solicit answers for it: Why do we see so few “Cheerleaders” for the Anti-Panic side?
It’s long been that the Anti-Panic side has won, fairly decisively, on the actual data, at least in a non-goalpost-shifted world. The Anti-Panic side is a coalition and any coalition is always in flux, but among the independent Original-Ideas-type people and people inclined to independent thinking, the Anti-Panic side is far more common. This is a good position for the Anti-Panic side to be in, as far as it being an intellectual movement goes. But of course it would seem to have lost, and lost bad, among the Cheerleader-type thought-leaders, and the real-world results are terrible in many places, just an embarrassing civilizational own-goal.
This question (Where are the Anti-Panic ‘Cheerleader’-type thought-leaders?) is simple to ask but no simple matter. I think it really strikes to the heart of the Corona-Dilemma, the Corona-Panic Trap. It points to the fact that “COVID” is (and always has been) primarily a social-phenomenon and not a medical one.
I don’t claim to have a definite answer here, though some tempting answers present themselves which I’ll quote and add to below. This humble blog is blessed with high-quality comments, so more wisdom will surely come in the comments-section discussion below.
It’s’ tempting to think that the “Corona-Crisis” (as a social phenomenon, which is the only way to understand what’s happened the past year — i.e., as a social phenomenon), is the product of Cheerleader-type thought-leaders, chanting their way into a crisis. That framing still passes the buck, of course, because Cheerleaders do not generate new ideas, so where did the Panic idea come from? Yes, identifying these Pro-Panic Cheerleaders as the culprits is mistaking the lay of the land today to the lay of the land before the deluge.
In the decisive early stages, the Panic was really driven by something else, something removed from the normal dance of Cheerleaders vs. Original-Ideas-ers: Simple mass hysteria.
To return to the metaphor of society, or public-opinion, as a pack of animals slowing moving around the plain, their course slowly and tentatively shifting as some move to follow this or that thought-leader. When a mass hysteria occurs, the pack panics, stampedes, no longer follows any leaders and only the momentum of the stampede, at until the energy of the stampede wears out. Both types of leaders (Original-Ideas and Cheerleaders), positioned somewhere either inside or at the margins of the pack, were confused about what to do. All leadership and previous diving lines broke down to some extent.
(To exit the metaphor,) After a while a new set of Cheerleaders emerged to cheer on the Corona-Panic itself, which had triumphed and turned itself into a religion. The new regime set up a secret police force to keep any Original-Ideas dissidents in line. Some of the same Cheerleader-Thought-Leaders who had mocked Covid early on tin the cycle were now fanatics on its behalf.
The Anti-Panic side has been marginalized and the madness has continued. despite the Anti-Panic side’s considerable (theoretical) asset of being, well, right (at least in spirit) on almost every point all along the way.
Is our marginalization because the Anti-Panic side lacks credible Cheerleaders, people with large platforms willing to consistently take as hard an Anti-Panic line as the Pro-Panic side has pushed its own line?
Where are the Anti-Panic Cheerleaders?
Commenter Adam Smith at Peak Stupidity replied to GAnderson’s implied question:
People who tried to be calm and anti-panic have been flushed down the memoryhole as deniers and potential grandma-killers. Anyone with a decent sized audience who is not a panicker gets canceled. Many people know this and disseminate the party line, weather they believe it or not. Most people on the electronic synagogue have no integrity.
Panicfest is obviously a scam, but common sense abandoned these lands long ago.
This is well said.
Few megaphone-holders are willing to hit hard, or at least consistently hard, on Anti-Panic talking points because of the strong policing of the discourse by the Pro-Panic regime which emerged beginning in April 2020. This includes corporate media, which employs the potential hardliner Anti-Panic ‘Cheerleaders.’ It certainly includes “Big Tech.” Youtube, for one, is willing to brazenly hand out life-bans to credentialed, world-leading, double-PhD’ed, thirty-year experts (like Dr. Wittkowski) for “contradicting CDC guidelines”! Twitter has banned lots of several big name Corona-Skeptics.
Every “Regime Media” article that mentions the Anti-Panic side (“Covid-Deniers” or similar messaging) inevitably asserts, by brute force, that the Anti-Panic side is wrong or evil or deranged or dangerous, or all the above. This unanimity, the bizarre refusal to engage with actual data and expertise and rational thinking, the biased and war-like coverage, the chutzpah of the brutal partly-line shoved at everyone, it’s all something out of Pravda.
The psychology of detaching from entanglement with a ‘cult’ and “Corona Cognitive Dissonance”
I think this “censorship and media pressure campaign” explanation, though, is just too easy. Something is missing. What is it?
I propose a second, more controversial reason for the lack of Anti-Panic-side opinion-leaders (especially of “Cheerleader” type) in high places.
Most people initially believed in “Covid.” Most people were sucked into the narrative at some point in the first three months of 2020, as the emerging pro-Panic coalition ran with its killer-virus horror-movie script.
There always were three sides: Pro-Panic, Neutrals, and Anti-Panic. The size and exact membership of each camp was always fluctuating. The ‘Neutrals’ largely ended up by default on the Pro-Panic side when lines were drawn because of seeming consensus of every expert and leader and the irrefutable evidence of all those anecdotes on TV and the scary pictures of people in hazmat suits.
Anyway, some of these people, whether they ended up on the dismal side of the “line” from an initial Neutral position or fell into the Pro-Panic side more full-on and became activists of the Corona-Gospel, when they finally “snap out of it,” when they finally realize they were deceived, they become disoriented. They become unable, in a real sense, to fight back. I know I am not coining a new term when I call this “Corona Cognitive Dissonance,” but maybe I am using it in a new way. It is the Cognitive Dissonance of the Corona-Cult-Defector.
Let me explain this with an analogy:
You’re young, in a new place, naive by disposition, vulnerable, lonely. One day, in your new place, you meet someone and you hit it off, just seem to click marvelously. Finally, a new friend! Then you meet another person, similar story. It turns out he knows the first! Nice. They invite you to a social gathering of some of their friends, and they have a lot, including some nice-looking single girls your age. Great! You get more invitations out. Before you know it, you’ve got this great group of friends you do things with, among whom there are a few pretty girls and one especially seems to seek out ways to spend time with you.
In due time, you discover proof-positive that these great instant-friends you’ve made, they’re all in a cult and they have been systematically targeting you, to rope you in and get you in the cult. When you find out what’s going on, at first you don’t want to believe it. But the proof seems irrefutable. Okay, maybe it IS a “new religion” group targeting you, but maybe these particular people “like you for you,” you rationalize. Eventually you move away from rationalization and you get angry and your mind becomes clouded, almost dizzy, when you think about it. You are unable to fully enunciate arguments which make sense, and you’re worried if you tell anyone else that a cult is “targeting you,” you’ll sound crazy. You’re more than a little scared. You become timid about confronting your new pseudo-friends about it all.
It’s a tough spot to be in, psychologically. Whatever you’re thinking, you’re not at your best. Your confidence is down. You prefer to focus on the familiar, on things you know better, and you find yourself staying later at work and hoping the cult passes without you having to risk too much on your own.
Here ends the analogy. The Cult is “Covid,” of course. The clandestine cult members ‘targeting’ you are Pro-Panic fanatics (and those who want to push Pro-Panic line for any one or set of their own reasons, a long tangent there). The analogy is not meant to be about the mechanics by which the Virus-Panic-Cult spread from person to person, it is meant to be about what a person emerging from the cult is feeling and thinking.
I think a lot of the people who would otherwise be vocal Anti-Panic hardliners are intimidated not (just) by censorship, but by a real psychological mental-block, Corona Cognitive Dissonance, after they realize they’ve been deceived.
See also: Is Corona a Religious Cult?