(Part of an intended ongoing series of reviews-and-responses to books on the Corona-Panic of the early 2020s.)
I liked this book, though it may not suit all audiences. COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic packs rather a lot of value in its 134 pages.
In this “review-and-response” essay I’ll try to touch on all the points of interest. There are many good ones. The added relevance to this is what a surprise major role Canada had in the early-2022 defeat of the Panic. The book was written long before the “Freedom Convoy” movement. The Canadian perspective is useful in that sense at the least, and worth your attention.
The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic was published in late 2020 or early 2021 by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Canada and got some reach in Anti-CoronaPanic circles but because it wasn’t one of the Anti-Panic ‘celebrities’ its reach was rather less. That and the academic tone. I hope this effort, appearing here in spring 2022, helps let this mid-CoronaPanic work not be forgotten or lost.
The first thing to know about The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic is that it’s really two shorter books in one.
Part I: One part deals with the Corona-Panic in Canada, and the politics of the Panic in Canada, Canada’s “regime” reaction, profiling and dealing with some of the main actors on the Canadian stage and what they did with the Panic forces, and more Canada-related material. It covers up to September/October 2020. The manuscript’s finalization and its publication process began in about late September 2020. The actual thinking here reflects mid-2020, which is of course early in the long Corona-Panic cycle of despair (early 2020 to early 2022).
Part II: an intellectual or theoretical approach into how the Panic happened, focused on the concept of moral panic and philosophical traditions that led to this outbreak of mega-scale, catastrophic moral panic. This is the big question and we should not be arrogant enough to think we have the answer. We ought to still today treat it like the big mystery, of great importance. Things like the witchcraft-panic-like Corona/Covid episode are not supposed to happen in rationally led societies. The thing we want to know, or should want to know, or need to know, to prevent future “Corona-Panic-like events,” and as usual it starts at the Big Idea-level.
By now, we do have lots of good ideas on what the Corona-Panic was, on how it happened, and on why it happened, what made it continue so long (and so destructively), what made it so curiously averse to counter-attack in a way I believe those too young to remember it or yet unborn possibly won’t quite believe, and many who did live through it might conveniently forget. Useful additions indeed are new ideas, or connections, or syntheses of existing or older ideas. The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic accomplishes that. It’s not the “final word,” but it does give us useful new perspectives. The usefulness is how much of their writing is rooted in philosophy.
I would praise Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic in that it leaves the reader more satisfied in the search for answers (why the Panic happened) than other books of this kind. Certainly there is more of value in Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic than in comparable material published from the Pro-Panic side. The Pro-Panic material, to the extent there are serious intellectual approaches and not just prolefeed-propaganda that kept the Panic going, Pro-Panic material published during the Panic seems of limited value to our ongoing studies, or is of the losing-the-forest-for-the-trees variety. But this also applies to most books that position themselves as Anti-Panic, including the Alex Berenson Pandemia book. (The Berenson book shined bright but turned out, for me, to be “fool’s gold.”)
The two authors, Canadian academics, take the Anti-Panic position. They are not ashamed to characterize the whole thing as something like a delusion, a bizarre overreaction. Even title-skimmers who read not even one word of one page of the main contents will pick this up: “Corona”/”Covid” as social phenomenon, as a “moral panic.” This “moral panic” talk is the kind sometimes tossed out, off-hand, by people, and by many on the Anti-Panic side during the Corona-controversy, but an idea all too rarely given a full and serious treatment, which we do get here.
The second part of this book (on the “moral panic”) was the book I was originally interested in, and was the book I thought I was getting. I didn’t realize how much material there was about Canada when I originally found this book, in January 2022, which was a pleasant surprise. I should add that I found this book before the Freedom Convoy movement in Canada. (I have some thoughts on the Canadian Freedom Convoy movement’s place in Corona-Panic history in a previous entry on Hail To You, “Scenes from the ‘Defeat the Mandates’ rally,” but this essay you are now reading will have much more.)
While the book’s overall focus is on Canada, its sociological-philosophical-political perspective applies to the wider Corona-Panic phenomenon, applicable all over the world, or at least to Western societies. This combined with the authors’ uncompromising, clear-eyed, unapologetic Anti-Panic perspective was refreshing (“the basic justification for the lockdown,” they say early on, had “very weak medical support”). I got a lot out of the book, for that reason. It is written in a maybe-somewhat-too-academic style for some tastes, but sometimes the best ideas come with that ‘baggage.’
The most important thing about this book is that some of the insights in it are both valuable and novel (at least things I had not encountered before in Corona-discourse), and as long as they are noticed by people as we continue to sort through the rubble for clues to why the Corona-Panic happened, this book is indeed valuable.
The intellectual roots of the Freedom Convoy movement?
Am I alone in thinking the Canadian Freedom Convoy of early 2022 will not be forgotten? Surely I’m not alone in thinking that. If we do think the Freedom Convoy movement of early 2022 is a landmark in Corona-Panic history, there is no choice but to assign special value to this book.
I should stress that this book first appeared in late 2020. It got some decent readership level, it seems, in early 2021, but being published by a Canadian ‘provincial’ think tank, it was never likely to be a mega-seller.
The timing is important because their writing was almost 18 months before the Freedom Convoy movement, the breakthrough social movement in Canada, so radically and uncompromisingly Anti-Panic. The events and protests associated with the Freedom Convoy, and the several-week occupation of capital Ottawa, was a very big deal for Canada, a big deal for the world, and a big deal for the Corona-Panic story.
My reading of the situation is the Freedom Convoy movement directly contributed to the wide-scale dethroning of King-Corona, the fraying of the loyal Corona-regimes still in place, and a steady retreat of the once-formidable Pro-Panic forces. Once such weakness was shown, a cascade of other retreats followed. Canada’s surprising role in early-2022, as a center of Corona Anti-Panic activity and resistance, was one of very many surprises of the long saga within the Corona-Panic, starting in early 2020.
To say the least, Canada deserves our attention in this aspect of out studies of the Corona-Panic social history, and in our more-difficult and harder-road search for answers on why the Panic happened and why it was not defeated early on.
As such, I can be even more enthusiastic about this book by these two Canadian academics. It seems valuable even beyond its (many, good) arguments, as it functions also as a primary-source in tracing the development of the Corona-Panic phenomenon in Canada.
Whence cometh the Anti-Panic coalition, and the manifestation thereof which we saw in early 2022 in Canada? What were the intellectual underpinnings? As is said, “all history is the history of ideas.” This book is full of ideas rooted in philosophy. There is often such density of philosophical discussion that consumption of this book can be like drinking a ‘concentrate’ juice without adding much water. I’ll revisit some of their ideas later in this essay.
The authors and their timing
The authors are Barry Cooper (born 1943) and Marco Navarro-Genie (born circa 1968), both Canadian academics, mid-range public intellectuals affiliated with the Right in Canada. The Canadian Right seems a beleaguered group in recent decades. God help them if the high-water-mark was the diffident Stephen Harper; and in any case all discourse seems Intellectually they will have had to exist almost as dissidents of a sort, in a firmer way that their equivalents in the USA. This is not to say either Cooper or Navarro-Genie are marginal people, as both are long-tenured academics.
The book has a distinct focus on western Canada. The publisher is the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a right-wing research think tank in Winnipeg, which seeks to serve as a research center for policy in the three conservative-most provinces of Canada (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta). (The Frontier Centre doesn’t explicitly advertise itself as “western-Canadian separatist,” but I expect it is, or would be if the movement really got going; then again.)
it is profoundly disturbing that something as irrational as the Corona-Panic could happen at all, and after observing it, I slowly came to realize we have a serious civilizational problem on our hands which we do not understand and for which we have no name. This is why I have focused so much on writing about it. It is a more-than-two-year-long phenomenon, though, and it’s worth pinning down dates this particular book was written for frame of reference, before proceeding:
Context in the book suggests the writing proceeded from about August to September 2020, but was based on observations and thoughts the authors had already beginning as early as January 2020. The manuscript seems to have been finished about early-mid October, underwent revisions, and was finalized some time in November 2020. It was (supposedly) released to the world in late November 2020. Although the printed version has “Copyright 2021,” the listings at GoodReads and Amazon and the Frontier Centre website all claim a publication date of November 27, 2020; the earliest reviews on GoodReads are dated January 2021. There is nothing on the vaccines because the announcement f a miracle vaccine breakthrough came after the writing was entirely finished.
Also of potential interest is that one of the authors, Professor Barry Cooper, has previously been labeled a Climate Change Denier or skeptic. This overlap between Corona-Panic skeptics, critics, or opponents on any grounds from technical or ideological to moral (or Anti-Panickers, as I like to say), on the one hand, and “climate change deniers” is of interest; many have said the converse is also true, that when we look for ideological, cultural, political, or social-phenomena ancestors to the Corona-Panic or influences upon it, over the previous several decades, climate change activism seems inescapably one of them. Another Canadian professor who made a name for himself as an Anti-Panic hardliner is Denis Rancourt, who had also previously been labeled a climate-change denier…
In the rest of this review-essay, I’m going to mention the names and brief backgrounds of some of the people the authors cite. This book is full of footnotes, in good academic style. Many of those they quote are Canadians who positioned themselves firmly and publicly on the strong Anti-Panic side in 2020, which was somewhat harder to do in Canada than in the USA.
Key actors in the Corona-Panic in Canada
In light of events in early 2022, Canada is of special interest, really of global significance. The Freedom Convoy movement and the weeks-long protest activities which shut down capital Ottawa, came shortly before key elements of the global Corona-Panic behemoth-with-feet-of-clay began falling apart, with February 2020 perhaps the decisive month in defeating the Panic. did not come from nowhere, but was broad based and existed in some form from the start.
There are a number of things I’d never seen before. This one is interesting:
“[A] Toronto software company called Blue Dot…used a combination of artificial intelligence plus a capacity to scan thousands of news articles in 65 languages [and] on [January 1, 2020], Blue Dot informed its clients—one of which was the government of Canada—that a new and unidentified illness had appeared in Wuhan. Two weeks later, they published a paper integrating these health data with airline flight data to predict where the virus was likely to show up next.”
I recall the first news stories appeared on December 31, 2019. The authors don’t comment on this, but I will: This shows the major weaknesses in using AI for this kind of purpose, and even looks like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a metaphor for the digital origins of the Panic. Yes, computer networks can be trained to scan news articles and create some synthesis, but they are much less good at understanding something as complex as the Corona-Panic (in the main, a social phenomenon greater than the seeming sum of its parts), much less making the right calls in its formation stage. What was really needed was a stark statement of the major dangers presented by the Panic itself.
The person most mentioned in this 135-page book is Theresa Tam, appearing on 21 pages. She was “Chief Public Health Officer of Canada” during the Corona-Panic (acting in the position since December 2016, official from June 2017). For the purposes of study of the Corona-Panic, she should be understood to be “Canada’s Fauci.”
Theresa Tam would make proclamations and had immense agenda-setting power. From the way the authors characterize her, she was (and is) a doctrinaire Panicker, in effect in favor of the Panic and unwilling or somehow unable to engage with Anti-Panic findings or points or data. She began dropping “Abundance of Caution” bombs earlier than counterparts elsewhere. I wonder how well she was known before the Corona-Panic began? I don’t think I’d ever heard of her, I must confess. It’s
The term for this “Chief Public Health Officer of Canada term is expiring in June 2022, which means it will be interesting to see if she (a Panic-loyalist) will be reappointed, in light of the dramatic successes of the Freedom Convoy movement. Born 1965 in Hong Kong, spent much time in the UK, and winds up by the mid-1990s practicing medicine in Canada.
There were other key actors in Canada the authors reference occasionally but on whom I find it hard to comment because I know too little about Canada’s politics, but the general tenor of it is that none of the premiers (comparable to US governors) had the will to really stand up against the Panic. Quebec seemed to have the worst Panic-regime; Ontario not much better under premier Doug Ford, who was a zealous covert to Covidianism, a crazed Panicker whose histrionics about upcoming “waves” and his multiple snap lockdown-orders make him appear from a distance rather like a buffoon in a comic-opera (he reminds one of the US doomsayer Rachel Walensky except more buffoonish and less brooding).
It doesn’t seem any single high-level political office-holder stood out at all in Canada, which again leads me to think of the Freedom Convoy movement of early 2022, a rare case of a successful social movement with, in effect, zero elite patronage. The Freedom Convoy movement proved so successful that senior leadership in the Conservative Party which had supported the Corona-Panic and its endless rules, restrictions, lockdowns, and mandates, was forced to resign (early February 2022).
Another point they make is that the Trudeau government is a minority government and traditionally this is supposed to limit its power, but it did the opposite, exercised unprecedented power in the name of an emergency, a sign of the Corona-Panic’s power s a social phenomenon but also a sign, the authors say, of Trudeau and company’s lack of “sufficient maturity and humility,” which seems to have been proven in spades by the Soviet-like suppression of the Freedom Convoy movement in mid-late February 2022.
But back already to the early days of the panic, the Trudeau people transferred power from the House of Commons in Ottawa to the Finance Minister, in an emergency act that gave the Finance Minister “nearly unlimited power to tax, spend, borrow, and lend until the end of 2021,” making the Canadian legislature a rather pointless entity if it forfeited the power of the purse (because of a flu virus). The whole thing makes Canada look like a banana republic. But that’s the Corona-Panic for you.
The Corona phenomenon as ‘moral panic’
The authors seem to have written this book with the big question of our time in mind: Why did the Corona-Panic happen? They get around to this in chapter two (chapter one is on the origin of the pandemic in China, perhaps of some interest but of questionable value to this particular book). They quickly put the Corona-Panic phenomenon within the frame of a “moral panic.” They propose the phenomenon proceeded as do other “moral panics,” including with a role by a type of actor called in the literature a “moral entrepreneur.”
But which way the moral panic went might have been unexpected to someone in January 2020: “It is surprising that China’s role in the genesis of the COVID-19 pandemic…played almost no part in the accompanying moral panic.”
Theresa Tam (Canada’s Fauci) is of Greater China origin, similar to two of the highest profile US Panic-pushers, the odious, destructive, and prolific Panic-demagogue Eric Feigl-Ding, and CNN Panic-priestess Leanna Wen, both Feigl-Ding and Wen of recent PRC-Chinese origin. This makes me wonder what effect Canada’s curiously lax immigration system had on its harder-line embrace of the Corona-Panic. By policy, Canada has lets in more elite immigrants including East Asians. I should say that the authors don’t touch anything like this in their book and this is a point I wonder about on my own. (Are Chinese, or East Asians generally, more likely to have embraced the Panic? All observable signs point to ‘yes.’ In a multiracial community, East Asians were generally first to wear masks and last to take them off. If that is good data, it points to an affirmative.)
If the story of a Corona-Panic-like society-wide “moral panic” event were dreamed up by some filmmaker in the 2010s, it likely would have involved White-Christians “scapegoating” Chinese or others, and briefly early in the Panic’s formation phase this script did play out, but viewed as a whole, China’s role was highly minimal.
So if China was not the source of the moral panic, what was? The authors point back to March 2020 and the notorious and criminally negligible Neil Ferguson. We of the Anti-Panic side have all heaped scorn on this dangerous man and his laughably bad “millions of deaths without hard-and-indefinite lockdowns” models. The Corona-Panic has villains at all levels, but this little man ranks with the top-tier, with the worst of them all.
The authors are too academically nice to slam Ferguson in the ways I have just done, but do say how curious it was hat the “Ferguson –Imperial College model[‘s]…assumptions, methods, and data, were still secret” as of mid-May 2020, two months after it release. Smart data analysts by mid-May 2020 could already tell you the entire model was wrong, especially thanks to the natural experiment of Sweden.
But it’s not really enough to pour scorn on Ferguson. Any idiot could come up with crazy models predicting an apocalyptic virus. We have safely ignored them up to now (including Ferguson himself, who, over another flu virus some years before, had likewise predicted doom). We didn’t we ignore Ferguson and other crazed Panic-pushers in 2020? The answer is a key to the Corona-Panic mystery, and I don’t think it has any simple solution.
The authors introduce a few academic terms and concepts, some borrowed from a certain well-known left-wing French intellectual of the mid-20th century. “The concept pouvoir-savoir [power-knowledge] was developed by Michel Foucault to refer to power that is not so much an instrument of coercion as a diffuse reality ’embodied’ in discourses. By Foucault’s argument, power is not possessed or wielded by people or groups through acts of domination, but…is enacted throughout society as a kind of regime.” This “regime of truth” is constantly “negotiated” by mostly major actors and sometimes input from minor actors. This means only a certain subset of all knowledge is “power-knowledge.”
The authors go on this little detour to say the odious Neil Ferguson and his Panic-pushing “millions of deaths without hard lockdowns” paper of mid-March 2020 is a perfect, real-world example of “power-knowledge,” and it “was translated both into a pervasive public policy and into resistance to the consequences of that policy.”
The authors spend more some time discussing the phenomenon of Ferguson being so destructively wrong (his model “was so inaccurate as to be worthless”). They quote Chris von Csefalvay (an Anti-Panic epidemiologist of Hungarian origin and long active in the UK) on the reason they listened to Ferguson. The only reason governments listened to the extreme, sloppy, and suspicious Ferguson model, was “an incumbency effect.” Neil Ferguson was already close to power. It is that, and only that, which “made the Imperial College model authoritative,” the authors say, again quoting epidemiologist Csefalvay.
(The article from Csefalvay appeared in City Journal, under the title “The Unexamined Model is Not Worth Trusting,” published May 15, 2020; City Journal was one of the few large-audience outlets which was consistently Anti-Panic; the article was hard to find in google-search even now, in early 2022, the same tactic Google has used to knock my own visitor-numbers down since about 2018.)
The authors: “After the fact, several commentators wondered why anyone listened to Ferguson in the first place.” Having set up the pins, they seek to knock them down: “In all these instances, and in the examples of their provincial counterparts, the answer is the same: they were the experts. Who would not want to be governed by scientific expertise?”
But this is not a fully satisfying answer to our question. Mainstream epidemiologists would have rejected the Ferguson Pro-Panic position, especially so absent Panic social conditions in the key moment but probably even during peak-Panic a good portion would have been firm Anti-Panickers.
The authors give us a reminder of what the ideological Pro-Panic side was like during its breakthrough period. On March 22, 2020, Donald McNeil published in the New York Times a rousing call to (in effect) suspend elected government and let Experts rule for the duration of the crisis. Viewed from an academic distance, or viewed as a historical, this simply doesn’t make much sense, pointing to one of the paradoxes of the Corona-Panic (that what actually happened seems so ridiculous and far-fetched). As the authors have it, “It is not at all obvious that experts should have the last word.” And of course another big question we could ask when presented with a “suspend democracy, trust experts” proposal is, Which experts? Why weren’t experts who opposed the Panic the ones to trust?
It’s not exactly a novel point to say, “Oh, people went overboard with trusting experts and those experts were wrong; it was a big mess.” I ask again: Why didn’t they go overboard trusting Anti-Panic experts? The authors list a number of Anti-Panic figures active early on, including Ioannidis, John Lee (UK), Peter C. Gotzsche, and Scott Atlas, whose name emerged clearly on the Anti-Panic side by late April. Many more names could be added to this list. There is something more to the story than “trusting experts too much.” The framework they introduced on “moral panics” is clearly needed.
Can we classify Pro-Panic experts as themselves acting not as experts but as “moral entrepreneurs” of their own? The “moral entrepreneur” is lifted from the terminology used in the original 1972 study on “moral panics,” as one of four social actors in the process of moral-panic formation. I have used the term “Panic-pushers” (capital-P) to refer to individuals like this. I believe my profile of Daniel Uhlfelder qualifies as a case study in the type. The Corona-Panic was bigger than just these individual Panic-pushers, for without the Panic social conditions acting as an umbrella, they’d just look like lone-nuts ranting about apocalypse on a street corner.
The authors offer this: “[A]ll political actors, along with the moral entrepreneurs, see the COVID-19 outbreak as a crisis and thus an opportunity to expand and consolidate their power-knowledge.” This is an academic’s way of saying the Corona-Panic as partly a coup d’etat in and of itself.
And this: “The COVID-19 pandemic certainly presented a splendid policy opportunity to segments of the knowledge class…One of the first political byproducts was a massive increase in their power. But clearly visible as well were federal and provincial efforts to increase the power of government.”
There is another inherent dilemma with Rule by Experts. It is not just experts who are close to power end up favored (“power-knowledge”). And it is not just those who decide to wear their expert status as a cloak to act as “moral entrepreneur” in a moral-panic cycle, be it for their own ends or just because they got carried away with it all. A third problem (the authors say) is something predicted in game theory, known as the “cheap talk problem.” Applied to the Corona-Panic, or other Corona-Panic-like events, or even ordinary situations, the tendency in game theory becomes for “a credentialed expert [to] opine on matters outside his or her expertise or on matters that to not admit of expert answers.” This can occur independent of the “moral entrepreneur” phenomenon, and is just a natural tendency in human interpersonal or social interaction, hence the attention to it the game-theory literature.
The authors quote Heather MacDonald on that type of “expert” enthusiastically loyal to the Panic. As of late May 2020, MacDonald wrote: “[T]their newfound power over almost the entirety of human life has been too exhilarating to give up.” (“A Short Guide to Justifying Re-Lockdown,” May 25, 2020, Manhattan Institute). She could not, at time of writing in May 2020, have foreseen that the Panic would hold for two years (and may have lingering influence for years to come), but she did see one part of the Corona-Panic phenomenon clearly, the role of Pro-Panic experts (or is that rule of Pro-Panic experts?). There are tie-ins to power, there were experts.
I find a beautiful exemplification of the relation between power, experts, “power-knowledge,” “moral entrepreneurs,” and more — of the raw social-force that was the Corona-Panic in 2020, and its believers, backers, and enforcers — in an anecdote in Scott Atlas’ book (full review to come at a later date). Scott Atlas was a leading health policy expert in America with three decades in academic medicine at some of the best institutions in America. He was brought onto the White House Task Force in July 2020 and fully integrated into it in August 2020. Atlas’ name was often in the news during the time the book currently under review (The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic) was being prepared, so the following anecdote is illustrative of the times:
Quote from Scott Atlas:
“In response to hearing my clinical opinion that we expected the president to recover from COVID and come back to work soon, Chris Wallace of Fox News blurted out to his Fox colleague, ‘He’s not an epidemiologist!’ As if the opinion of an epidemiologist on a clinical medical question would be more credible than a doctor with decades of experience consulting on thousands of patients with infectious diseases and other illnesses in the US and throughout the world. Wallace further exhorted his viewers: ‘Follow the scientists! Listen to people like Anthony Fauci. Listen to people like Deborah Birx!’ People whose entire careers had been confined to bureaucratic agencies would be the ones to look to for clinical perspective, I guess.”
Within the framework proposed in this book (The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic), I wonder what role the authors would assign to Chris Wallace of Fox News for that outburst. Recalling that Scott Atlas was an expert in his own right, why not trust him? The whole thing is surreal; add it to the pile of bizarre-but-true stories from the Corona-Panic period that seem hard to believe when read in the light of day, after the fact.
Finally, although author give us specific and identifiable problems with the role of experts , clearly there is more to the Corona-Panic phenomenon than just a series of bad calls by experts, a giant misunderstanding. Near the end of the book they offer this:
“[C]onsider the snitch. Within days of locking down and before March  was over, all provinces established ‘snitch lines’ — dedicated phone lines that citizens could use to report on other citizens who, in the informant’s opinion, failed to comply with lockdown rules.”
This and other things going on in February and March clearly indicate mass hysteria. “[F]ear is a terrible guide to public policy and legislation, and a highly toxic element for governments to mix into the private interactions of the members of a community,” but clearly the Panic itself guided events at the time.
A regional Canadian newspaper seemed to endorse the ‘snitch lines,’ publishing a lead article titled “It’s Not Snitching if it Saves Lives: Ways to Report Covid-19 Rule-breakers.” The authors say they tried to determine if this was a joke or not; its publication date of April 1, 2020, “April Fool’s Day,” offers the possibility. But satire and reality had become indistinguishable, and the paper was otherwise a loyal Panic-supporter, and nothing in the article itself had a hint of satire.
A list of examples of the mass-hysteria in action would be too long and the book makes no attempt to do that, but does offer a few other ones of note. The agenda-setting CBC had an April 18 , 2020, an editorial titled “A Covid-19 Smackdown: Why Rules Breakers Need to be Punished.” A few days earlier, a high-profile case of such punishments made the news, when “Dylan Finley, a Toronto jogger, received an $800 ticket for exercising in Toronto’s Centennial Park.” To this, Toronto city councillor Stephen Holyday declared “If I was writing the ticket, I’d write a $5,000 ticket.”
This aggressive embrace of the mass-hysteria by Toronto politico Stephen Holyday might prove an interesting case study in brief. Checking Stephen Holyday’s twitter feed at this time of writing in March 2022, we see he doesn’t tweet often; three of his latest are one commemorating Auschwitz liberation day, another celebrating Black History Month (which apparently Canada copied from the USA in 1995; the USA’s began to emerge as a common feature of the civic calendar in the late 1970s and 1980s), and one informing people libraries would reopen March 1, 2022 (how long had Toronto libraries been closed between March 2020 an February 2021? Surely not all of that two-year period?).
“Police services enforced with apparent gusto the news regime regarding physical distancing”; “[t]he term ‘Covidiots’ applied to those who questioned or rejected the panic and the abuses by the authorities…” Users of the term ‘Covidiots’ “gleefully sham[ed] anybody displaying behaviours that were considered sane and normal only a few weeks [earlier].” This line quotes Jen Gerson, “Don’t let coronavirus turn us into a nation of snitches,” Maclean’s, April 20, 2020).
On protest movements in Canada in 2020: Why was the Anti-Panic side so seemingly weak and ineffective?
The first half of The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic is straightforward. The full phenomenon is complicated and the layers of actors and the swirl of conditions around the Panic can all be studied at great length. A harder question is to explain the dog that didn’t bark, the lack of a major Anti-Panic social movement in 2020, the lack of mass civil disobedience or protest against the Panic regime (direct and head-on, rather than the indirect, letting-off-steam that the racial-political riots of mid-2020 can be seen as). Why no counter-revolution?
Towards the end of the book, the authors revisit this puzzle. During the brutal initial lockdowns, there was no counter-protest against the Corona-Panic beast head on. Steam was let off when many of the same lockdowners, and people so riled up that they called for crushing fines against anyone caught jogging outside, participated in Black Lives Matters protests.
“[Twelve]weeks after the lockdown began, the moral panic induced by Covid-19 policy was temporarily suspended and replaced by a new expression of moral panic, this time dealing with the exaggerated racial tensions following the death of George Floyd in the United States. heat event exposed schizophrenic aspects of Canadian culture and their influence on governments’ behaviour during the Covid-19 lockdown. Upon one unfortunate death in a foreign country, life-saving medical measures no longer mattered to that emotive, virtue-signaling crowds (and at times mobs) could come together and demonstrate their concern. Suddenly, medical authorities did not seem concerned with large gathering and the risks of transmission.”
Given the surreal feeling one gets from recounting or recalling the Black Lives Matter protests, their eerie detachment from reality, the international nature out of nowhere, it is all obvious that “had more to do with people being fed up with the lockdowns and taking time to be outside an” indicating “largely unrelated frustrations” as the cause of the protests.
The “unrelated frustrations” were still there after the Black Lives Matter protests wound down, and it was inevitable that protests directly against the lockdowns and Corona-restrictions regime would come. Among the first organized protests of note was in July 2020 in Montreal. There were more in August, and by September 2020 a kind of critical mass was reached. The agenda-setting CBC ran this headline: “Anti-mask protest in Montreal draws large crowd, propelled by U.S. conspiracy theories” in mid-September.
The way the Canadian media and prestige commentariat treated the anti-lockdown protests suggested the Corona junta and its hangers-on believed they could contain the threat. Especially given that over the summer a lot of notables in Canada had participated in Black Lives Matter protests on extremely thin grounds (far thinner than the visceral way the Corona junta in Canada controlled their day-to-day lives), “the protesters exposed the whimsical and arbitrary nature of the Covid-19 regime and the moral panic that sustained it….In both cases, the Covid-19 lockdown and BLM protests, popular emotions swept governments, eclipsing the rule of law and the institutions designed to protect us against the actions of angry mobs.”
The Corona-Panic was surreal to have lived through, especially for those of us who early on ended up on the Anti-Panic side (i.e., saw reality); we seemed to have been airdropped into an alternate-reality. At the height of the Panic’s destructive power, there were many Anti-Panickers coolly predicting a counter-movement that would induce the key figures in the various Panic juntas and Panic-loyal hardliners to give up and run for the hills, as normal people retook the heights of culture and discourse, a sweeping social movement, of the kind I discuss in “Scenes from the ‘Defeat the Mandates’ rally” It never happened. Why?
I approached this question in early 2021: “Where are the high-profile opinion-leaders for the Corona Anti-Panic side?” Even after one year (by then), the Anti-Panic side was still basically on its back foot, running a successful insurgency but with only a weak army in the field to maneuver against the Panic’s strong and well-supplied legions. The authors, writing several months earlier, faced the same question.
If there was a Corona “moral panic,” why couldn’t there be a “moral counter-panic”?
After all, “imposing mandatory safety precautions on everybody, irrespective of age,” was “being geriatric and cowardly,” the authors say (partly citing Craig S. Lerner in Law and Liberty, July 22, 2020; Lerner is a U.S. law professor) and the Corona-Panic was a shocking display of “generational injustice.” Given that one of them was born in 1943 and remembers the days of the late 1960s and 1970s well, it must be shocking that there was such a sluggish or weak counter-movement by those most affected.
Lots of people saw it. Canada’s decision to aggressively embrace the Corona-Panic was “the most damaging decision in Canadian history,” the authors say, quoting Canadian commentator Gwyn Morgan (“The Lockdown Contrarians Were Right,” C2C Journal, June 10, 2020). Gwyn Morgan (b.1946) is a hail-fellow-well-met type of Albertan who characteristically sounds more like a conservative from certain parts of the USA than a Canadian of the Toronto type; Gwyn Morgan is an energy industry CEO (again a characteristically western-Canada industry) and has ties to a libertarian think tank, the Fraser Institute, one of Canada’s most influential such institutes. The authors of this book do not discuss any of this, but since I
Asked another way, how could a “moral panic” turn into a global-scale behemoth, imposing Great Depression-like conditions on people, with the costs obvious, and just steamroll ahead? The authors don’t have a good answer for this. They suggest one reason is “public health officials [and] medical experts seem oblivious to the problem of mission creep. […] Mission creep is the vocational temptation of all bureaucratic experts, but in the context of the pandemic it is symbiotically linked to what Matthew Crawford has called ‘safetyism,’ a sentiment wherein ‘the safer we become, the more intolerable any remaining risk appears’.” (referencing Matthew Crawford’s influential “Safetyism” article slamming the Corona-Panic appears on May 15, 2020.)
On the subject of “mission creep,” or perhaps also of the influenced that went towards forming the Corona-Panic, the authors quote “Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres,” who in September 2020 “linked ‘recovery’ to ending climate change and the use of fossil fuels; ‘Recovery must be green…Recovery must advance gender equality. And recovery requires effective multilateralism.’ Mission creep is clearly endemic to international bureaucrats at the UN…”
Head-on attacks on pillars of the mighty-seeming Corona-Panic edifice were becoming common in May 2020, as with the May 15 publication of the “Safetyism” essay the authors of Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic cite, and many more. Why, then, did these attempts at a serious pushback all fail, leaving us trapped in up to 21 more months of disruptions under the various Corona regimes?
Why did mask-wearing emerge and then dig itself in? The authors make it clear at least some mask promoters knew they didn’t work, but wanted full masking anyway because “by wearing a mask, you’re sending a powerful message to those around you that we’re all in this together.” The authors quote the New England Journal of Medicine in saying “masks serve symbolic roles.”
“It seems to us that anxiety and fear are the experiences that mask-wearing is intended to evoke. Masks also confer a degree of anonymity compared to a mask-free face” as well as sere quasi-religious roles. The authors never touch on the Covid-as-breakthrough-new-religion hypothesis, but they get close at times, including here with masks.
A little later, the authors quote Patrick Fagan in an August 2020 essay: “What do you think the psychological consequences of wearing a mask will be? Hint: ‘There is a reason masks are worn chiefly by anarchists, criminals, and perverts.’ When the emphasis for mask-wearing is on virtue-signaling that indicates the wearer’s enthusiasm to defeat the ‘invisible enemy’ by indicating one’s own purity, it should be no surprise that maskers become sadistic puritans, ready to censure their fellow citizens. […] Mask wearing, in short, is the behavioural expression of just what the experts always seek: a fearful and docile population that does what it is told by its betters.” (That one is quoting and summarizing Patrick Fagan, “The Lockdown Lobotomy,” The Critic, August 11, 2020. Patrick Fagan is a UK behavioral scientist, also known as a psychologist. He became a consistent opponent of the Panic over two years, including slamming digital health-passes as morally wrong.)
On the origins of Sweden’s strategy and other non-Panic regimes
In the second half of the book, the authors abruptly turn to Canada, which had been mostly a sub-theme throughout. They bring up cases of natural experiments which refused all lockdowns and essentially did not participate in the Corona-Panic, although some individuals might have (influenced by Pro-Panic media from abroad or even domestically), there were never any mandatory measures in a number of countries.
The best examples, they say, may be a handful of governments which were psychologically somewhat outside the main-line of the U.S.-led world order.
These Corona-Panic non-participators included the left-wing government in Nicaragua (which may have been suspicious that the Panic was some kind of American ploy like the whole “Contras” thing in the 1980s, or at least the regime in Nicaragua was anti-American by instinct enough to end up not getting stuck in the muck of the Panic), and Belarus, the Soviet-style state with old-line authoritarian overtones in, which also openly mocked the Panic (the West had fallen into a “Corona-Psychosis,” the president-for-life of Belarus said—on that, he was right).
(I previously wrote about Belarus in a late-2020 post soon after the authors of this book had completed their manuscript and it was in the revision process nearing final-completion; see: “Lessons from no-lockdown Belarus: mortality rise from Wuhan-Corona Flu Wave in line with previous peak flu waves; Wuhan-Corona dwarfed by effects of Soviet breakup” [Oct. 2020].)
But the best natural experiment to compare with was Sweden, a point many of us on the Anti-Panic side made again and again throughout 2020, and which, already by mid-April 2020, we began saying there was enough data to declare “Sweden was right” with an observed-data backing, no models, no predictions, no soothsaying or conjuring, but observed data. This became even firmer in late-April and any fence-sitters following the data were in a hard place…yet the Panic hardly took notice and instead drifted into a non-reality of its own making.
In any case, the authors seem to have been of this camp of Anti-Panicker I describe. They say nothing of themselves, or when they began to question the Panic or turned fully against it, but I suspect from their heavy focus on Sweden in the second half of the book that they, like many of us us including me, saw in Sweden the key to the puzzle and when the Panic-pushers histrionic predictions of mass-death in Sweden never came, there was no rational basis to cling to the Panic anymore (if lots of irrational basis, social pressure, groupthink, and other “moral panic” conditions).
The authors here say nowhere in Canada came close to being like Sweden. The premier of Alberta, Kenney, surrendered to the Panic and showed little willingness to fight the Panic behemoth head-on (a sign of weakness of moral-seriousness, I think) and ordered a general lockdown in line with other Panic regimes across the Western world. Canada therefore, in 2020 at least, lacked any true natural-experiments of its own. So Sweden it is. In one of the few mentions of Trump in the book, they say “Trump…attacked Sweden for not locking down” at key moments in the Panic (a typically stupid move by Trump).
The authors have some interesting ideas about why Sweden ended up outside the Corona-Panic’s riptide, how Sweden was able to reach shore before the Panic ‘s dark vortex swallowed up government after government, sucked in populations by the million, turned reasonable and good people into fanatics who gladly tossed aside centuries of accumulated institutional heritage to embrace medieval-like thinking (the Corona-Religion).
Their idea, one I don’t think I had seen proposed, is that Sweden “activated its long-standing ‘Totalforsvaret’ (Total Defence) strategy” when the dark Corona-Panic clouds began to arrive on the horizon, and this was able to successfully keep them out of it. The strategy “reinforces the individual’s independence from the state’s support in case of crisis: every Swedish citizen should be able to manage without the support of public institutions” for a certain period of time, and this cultural attitude was “fresh in the minds of Swedes” when those dark Corona-Panic clouds did roll in. To me this is simply an ancient tradition of European liberty, finding expression in a country inheriting the Western European tradition.
Early in the Panic’s formation stage, many other countries in northern Europe mounted major defenses, but ultimately all fell into Lockdownism to some degree, except Sweden. If things had gone a little different, there could well have been several “Swedens” in Europe, but the Coroa-Panic brooked no dissent and an international Pro-Panic coalition had emerged.
One of the other countries in Europe closest to the Anti-Panic position was Denmark. The authors quote Lars Lokke Rasmussen, prime minister of Denmark for much of the 2010s. By early April 2020, Rasmussen was definitely on the Anti-Panic side in a way surprising to hear from someone so high-positioned in European politics. He published an essay critical of the lockdown-regime which Denmark had embraced (“I’m Not Sure We’re Pursuing the Right Strategy,” Berlingske, April 7, 2020, a follow-up to his own earlier article attacking the lockdowns).
(Rasmussen is b.1964 and has long been with Denmark’s freemarket Venstre party. He was a government minister for most of the 2000s, mostly Minister of Health (!). He was prime minister or leader of the opposition for the entirety of the period 2009 to 2019; his successor, who led the government when the Corona-Panic clouds swept in and who ended up embracing the Panic–Denmark closed its borders long before Germany, for example–is a female Social Democrat).
There are many other possible examples like this out of Denmark (the authors also note “Denmark initially shunned the use of masks” in spring 2020). The Danes clearly saw the light of the Anti-Panic position and, I think, probably would gone the way of Sweden if not for EU- and NATO-type relationships tying their political culture to the bigger Pro-Panic regimes of their partners and allies. It matters, also which specific individuals are in power at certain key moments. Former prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, if taken at his word, would have done all he could to reject the Panic or quickly maneuver the nation out of it (ala Ron DeSantis), but he was out by 2020 and in was someone who fell for it despite a substantial political and social attitudes on the Anti-Panic side.
If my suppositions about Denmark are right, we might also see reasons why Canada embraced an extreme “variant” of the Corona-Panic, which is besides the possible ideological commitments of key figures like the effeminate Justin Trudeau, they are so deeply embedded in ties to the U.S. and the Transatlantic consensus, that they wanted to show loyalty by embracing the Panic as long as the USA and the moral-superpowers of Europe did. Sweden, meanwhile, has never been in NATO, was a relatively later-comer to the EU (1994), and even rejected the Euro currency and still uses its own currency even in 2022. The important things are that these things signal a self-identity as neutral and independent, an important strand of the European tradition (even if now buried under certain other layers in Sweden, for which it is often criticized).
A little more on Sweden’s “Total Defence” strategy. Quote: “This approach emphasized the primacy of economy to national life, absolved the government from having to formulate emergency measures anew, and removed the temptation to use crises as a means to improve or advance the political fortunes of those in power…The result of this process has been to foster a well-prepared population, a society aware of a plan of action and of the structures set into place to deal with a comprehensive emergency, including threats to public health.” As a result, “the Swedish government never seems to have considered the Chinese lookdown model as a guide.”
The authors add that “Swedish law was limited in the degree to which it could order lockdowns or prohibit citizens from going to the beach” or any other such crazy measures that became the norm in the Panic-aligned regimes over much of the world.
Canada is supposedly an inheritor of the same general Western tradition of individual autonomy, individual rights, a limited state, and general liberty as the social baseline. In the eyes of many the English-speaking nations are the most dedicated to these ancient principles. The authors regret to say that Canada completely failed this “stress test” of that theory (as did, even moreso, Australia and New Zealand–the authors gently mock New Zealand’s aggressively Pro-Panic prime minister: “‘Together, we have got rid of Covid before,’ Jacinda Ardern said, evidently unaware of the irony of her statement…”).
Canada’s leadership class not only failed to understand the situation, but failed to consider the harms they were doing by aggressively embracing the Corona-Panic, of ordering brutal lockdowns (among the longest, cumulatively, in the world), damaging their own social fabric and economy to a degree on par with losing a war.
“[T]here is no evidence,” the authors say, “that health authorities in Canada were aware of the unintended effects of their decisions.” Written perhaps in September 2020, similar could still be said a year later and more, completely baffling. Taking the Pro-Panic party line meant “trapping society in a long and harmful cycle of lockdowns. The level of harm brought to people’s health and the economy by recurring lockdowns would grow increasingly worse with each consecutive wave of restrictions, to say nothing of the potential increase in social and political unrest that later cycles might produce.”
Canada had figures like Ontario premier Doug Ford. His brother, formerly mayor of Toronto, was famous for his crack-cocaine habit. Doug Ford engaged in his own form of drug, embracing the Corona-Panic, and constantly beat war-drums, essentially like Joe Biden’s later “winter of death” rhetoric. This was all reality-detached but unsurprising during the Corona-Panic for a figure like that.
There is some discussion on herd-immunity thresholds, and how far Sweden was towards herd immunity, as evidence of the time suggested 15% of the population had had contact with the virus before May 30, 2020. They quote a lot of experts who give plausible estimates for a functional herd-immunity threshold all over the map. They conclude that, all things considered, the threshold could be 43% at most, likely lower., especially because of the likelihood of “built-in T cell immunity from cross-infections of other coronaviruses such as common colds…[providing] cross-reactive immunity…in up to half the population,” citing an August 2020 paper on the subject.
These were interesting theoretical discussions of the moment; revisited years later, they probably seem unnecessarily technical. The value of the “book as book” is as a snapshot of a moment and these kinds of discussions show what some highly informed Anti-Panickers were thinking. With the Corona-Panic a fast-changing phenomenon, but as of about September 2020, these debates were still majorly important. Sweden finished calendar-year 2020 with a excess in deaths over a highly mild 2019 that put it on par with severe flu years of years past; all adults in Sweden had lived through flu waves of (age-adjusted) equal magnitude multiple times. The final-data was not in by the time The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic was being prepared, but all signs pointed the way towards the Swedish natural experiment showing “Covid” to have been a well-within-historical-range severe flu.
The purpose of the long chapter that deals with Sweden is that “lockdowns are policy choices,” as they were not necessary as shown by Sweden. Panic-pushers “portrayed the lockdowns as ‘conventional,’ which implied that anything short of a full lockdown was illegitimate. In our view, this was just another expression of moral panic….There is nothing conventional about the 2020 lockdown[s].”
Furthermore, “in some situations the lockdowns have contributed to more deaths than has the virus, even in circumstances where the virus was particularly lethal.” I would amend that from “some” to “all,” and the difference is measurable in the orders-of-magnitude range when comparing life-years lost.
The authors discuss Canada regularly throughout but return directly to it in a penultimate chapter, “Political Fallout in Canada,” which, again in reference to the Freedom Convoy movement, seems vaguely prophetic, but there is far more of interest than just that.
“The corrupting effect of subsidy” was clearly being felt in Canada, they warned, as some go accustomed to inactivity and payments to do nothing but stay home to heroically fight a flu virus. By mid-2020, many began to push “for the lockdown to continue, either because they live in fear of being infected by the virus or because the subsidies have made it more desirable to remain home than to work. As Felix Leclerc wrote in the 1950s: ‘The best way to kill a man is to pay him to do nothing’.” Flash-forward to early 2022, and Canada’s big-spending spree has led to inflation levels unseen since the 1980s, at 6% as of this writing.
Canada, as with other Panic-embracers, imposed a brutal, Great Depression-level economic contraction on itself and incalculable social and cultural costs.
The book’s discussion on the politics of the Corona-Panic in Canada are of a rather predictable type for conservative-libertarians in Canada. They quote favorably writings critical of the corona-Panic from Rex Murphy, a former radio personality and columnist who became a strong critic of the Corona-Panic and then was a leading voice supporting the Freedom Convoy in early 2022. By mid-2020 already he was slamming the Trudeau government for its turn towards rule by fiat.
Likewise with right-wing media figure Conrad Black. But Conrad Black, like many in late March 2020, was too willing to excuse the recently emerged Panic regime, saying moves to rule by fiat were “more an act of panic than usurpation,” suggesting it would fade within weeks or months at most, instead of digging in and wagging a kind of war on the people for at least two years.
The authors of this book — recall they are writing in about September 2020, plus or minus — briefly discuss the Emergencies Act, which the Pro-Panic effeminate authoritarian prime minister Justin Trudeau rolled out in February 2022 to crush the Freedom Convoy. They comment: “What the Trudeau government wanted to do is not contemplated by the Emergencies Act because it was so obviously unconstitutional.” In other words, the Panic backers in Canada were urging the use of this special law that would officially suspend democracy government already in spring 2020, but it never worked out. The matter returned in early 2022 as a way to crush the Anti-Panic breakthrough Freedom Convoy movement.
We are left to realize that the key pieces of the Corona-Panic were in place by March 2020; no one in any previous severe flu wave had proposed using the Emergencies Act, but the Trudeau people were proposing it by early April 2020. Despite never formally using the Emergencies Act in 2020, in effect the broad Panic junta in Canada took its powers anyway.
By mid-April 2020, the Panic junta sought to safeguard its gains over the previous weeks with new laws that criminalized Covid misinformation, a move the authors attribute to a Trudeau loyalist and government minister named Dominic LeBlanc. The authors say this was ironic given how often the government itself had changed its position. These are easy shots to take at Panic-pushers, and this close look at Canada’s domestic Panic dynamics show much the same as in the USA except more so.
As I mentioned previously in this review, there was little pushback among elected leaders in Canada, which in itself guaranteed a hardening of opposition. The lack of anyone with courage among elected leadership in Canada — simply a leadership failure — at once delayed the rise of an Anti-Panic movement and guaranteed that when the pushback did come, it would be something unprecedented in Canada’s history, namely something like the Freedom Convoy, a much more considerable protest movement than anything going on in eastern Europe in 1989. We can almost understand why the loyal Pro-Panickers would and the Panic junta itself saw the need to crush the movement.
The Trudeau government’s ham-fisted embrace of the Panic led to perfectly predictable old-style corruption, a big case of which became the “WE Charity scandal” in the middle months of 2020,which nearly brought down the government but given that the Corona-Panic social conditions and tactual power being wielded by Canada’s Panic junta, of course the whole thing was resoled with jus ta cabinet reshuffle in August 2020.
The authors spend two pages on the WE Charity scandal, a complicated case of graft which flew through wearing the Corona-Panic as a cloak. “The WE Charity scandal presents yet another government attempt at circumventing laws, policies and regulations, bypassing civil service under the guise of addressing a fabricated need” during the Corona-Panic, “in order to prioritize Trudeau’s desire to pay back those who rewarded members of his family or those close to him and and his party. The SNC-Lavalin scandal of a year earlier bears the identical government modus operandi…”
The authors are not very positive about Canada’s ruling class and its civic culture; a subtext of the whole book is that Canada is a kind of Sick Man of North America. It remains one of the big surprises of 202 that “[t]he government and its officials trusted the Swedish people instead of trying to manage them,” whereas countries with a supposedly stellar historical tradition of individual liberty like Canada (from the British tradition plus the North American frontier tradition) went the opposite direction.
The experts in Canada in 2020 “nearly to a person filled the role of…moral entrepreneurs” in moral-panic theory. It is fairly easily demonstrable, and even was in spring 2020 itself, that “independent sources outsides the corridors of orthodox power-knowledge” were simply right on the facts, a point I tried hard to make in spring 2020 to any who would listen, not yet appreciating exactly the situation we were in, i.e., the Corona-Panic phenomenon. We were no longer in a reality as I understood it, but had slipped into something else, or at least very many had, and importantly the agenda-setting and discourse-shaping institutions had almost entirely gone that way.
The people correct on the facts “were pilloried and denounced, not argued with, both by the authorized knowers and by the largely ignorant, megaphone-wielding media.”
The lines I quote directly above are from the “Closing Remarks” section. Written initially in September 2020 and perhaps revised in October, the authors stood at month nine of a phenomenon that would last around twenty-six months (if counting January 2020 to February 2022). Maybe elements of the Corona-Panic will survive even in a third year and beyond. As to the moment-in-time value of a book, I sense the authors felt the Corona-Panic had strengthened in September 2020 above what it had been in July 2020. This is a puzzle, but perhaps indicates recency bias at time of writing. Why would something as reality-detached as the Corona-Panic of 2020 dig in with time?
Theresa Tam (“Canada’s Fauci”) issued an ominous warning on September 23, 2020, warning that unless all Canadians tightly held fast to the Panic, there would be a winter of death ahead (to borrow Joe Biden’s later term, a health disaster. These people had learned nothing; Theresa Tam conceded only one single point to the Anti-Panickers, that not all people were at equal risk, but then qualified that with a long sting of mush that was confusing at the time and likely signaled to the Panic-loyal population “do not fall for the deceptions of the other side, even when they seem to be right.”
Of course, there is no way to analyze Canada in isolation from the influence coming from the south, and the USA’s agenda-setters, expertocracy, elite institutions almost to a man (so to speak), Big Media, and Big Tech all signaled ongoing loyalty to the Corona-Panic, all had feet planted on the Pro-Panic side of the divide at this time (September 2020)meant it would take an unusually confrontational Canadian government, only possible in the western provinces, to be seen to be rejecting the Panic outright, equivalent to a state in Europe unilaterally leaving them Warsaw Pact or NATO during the Cold War. In other words, there were all kinds of reasons it was unlikely and difficult.
The authors had covered a lot of ground, and I got a lot from the book. In closing they take a step into the world of philosophy. They offer a parting thought on why the Corona-Panic happened in Canada in such an extreme way as it did (recalling that they were writing in about months eight and nine of a two-year phenomenon). Immanuel Kant , they say, “argued persuasively in favour of universalism in the applications of public policies to otherwise quiet populations.” The relevance to the Corona-Panic is that the (wrong) policy, once adopted, was inevitably universalized, and the logic of medical interventions inevitably slid down to full-societal lockdowns.
The authors borrow this idea, of a Kantian philosophical influence on the Pro-Panic coalition in 2020 and beyond, from Arpad Szakolczai. He is a Hungarian-born professor of sociology in the UK. Szakolczai had a series of articles in April and May 2020 in the Voegelin View under the title “The End of Kantian Universalism” discussing this idea. From the title of the series it may be a surprise that the articles are all about the Corona-Panic phenomenon then gripping the Western world, the inheritors of the great tradition of Wester civilization. Arpad Szakolczai described the lockdowns as “madness” in articles in the Voegelin View; Jeffrey Tucker likes to say that over the course of mere weeks in 2020, we abandoned centuries of our intellectual and moral traditions and retreated into kinds of medieval thinking basically marginal in the West for centuries.
I doubt Kant himself, for what it’s worth, would have approved of the Corona-Panic itself, on all kinds of grounds. But the strand of Canadian thought that embraced universalism, the authors offer, was part of the groundwork for how the disastrous Corona-Panic could happen and then dig in so deeply and fight its opponents so tenaciously. “All were to be treated alike. “For a time, the universalist aspirations of bureaucrats [were] sated,” the authors say, somewhat unfairly (many good bureaucrats were caught in the Corona-Panic). The other major thing to understand about the Corona-Panic, including as it played out in Canada, is how outside-the-system critics were sidelined.
Finally the authors leave us with Hobbes. “For the cowering sentimentalists, particularly the medical bureaucrats, it was not enough to wash your hands and wander about masked. One has to show an elevated sense of anxiety as well — this was obvious when the docs started opining on the symbolic aspects of masking. The great teacher of a such a person — even if they never had heard of him — was Hobbes….At the centre of Hobbes’s political philosophy is fear.”
Implied in Hobbes’ philosophy is that there is a public enemy among us, “the kind of person who was not afraid of death, who was moved by feelings and experiences stronger than fear, has to be dealt with” the authors say, summarizing Hobbes, “before liberalism — including the Kantian version just discussed — can triumph.” So it was with the systematic suppression of the Anti-Panic side, especially those Anti-Panickers who argued from a fully moral position. This is valuable insight because it proves how wrong I was (among many others) in spring 2020, when we were sure the Pro-Panic coalition was based on the soft and shifting sands of giant misunderstanding, and a proper understand of the data would pop the Panic bubble. That, of course, did not happen at all.
The Corona-Panic phenomenon existed independently of the facts of the matter, and had all along, from its earliest birth-phase in January 2020 to its breakthrough phase in March 2020, and points since, including the strange total-dropping of the matter on the US agenda-setting media in February 2022, by the last week of which coverage was down to <1% of a typical news hour, despite the virus assuredly continuing to circulate.
“In part, we have written this report to provide its readers with non-Hobbesian and non-Kantian intellectual sources of resistance.”
I liked this book and find a lot of what the authors say to be of value for our ongoing studies into the Corona-Panic phenomenon.
I believe thisis the most important issue we face today. The danger of Corona-Panic-like events overtaking us and doing real damage on the scale that the Corona-Panic of 2020-to-2022 did and more, seems real, and if we do not understand what’s going on, we will ontinue to be at civilizational risk.
I think there are a lot of things the authors do not mention on why the Corona-Panic happened in 2020 instead of, say, 2009-10 when another breakout flu virus was briefly pushed as a cause for concern. The philosophical underpinnings were all much the same, but there was no Flu Panic in 2009-10, and most who lived through it likely hardly noticed at the time and soon forgot all about it. Alas, not all books can be all things to all people, and their choice to focus on the sociological and philosophical underpinnings of the Corona-Panic is a welcome contribution even if we are left, perhaps, with some missing puzzle pieces.
The Corona-Panic phenomenon in Canada is worth a full study. This effort, from still relatively early on in the long saga, is not the final word, of course. It is useful source material for a future such study. I assume there are people writing such books right now, given the dramatic breakthrough of the Freedom Convoy movement in early 2022.