Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Time to be Implacable

One of the themes covered amply in the first fifth of The Plague by Camus is whether politicians and their associated medical advisors have a duty to act ‘implacably’ even before they have the fullest understanding of the extent of the dangers a particular epidemic could present.

It would seem there is a potential for disconnect between reality and the worst case scenario that has to be managed politically. Trump, for example, ultimately 'managed' the summer’s emerging disconnect by claiming credit for lives saved, in effect the arithmetical result of subtracting actual excess mortality from the dire predictions of early models. 

More broadly the Right tends to use the disconnect to somewhat stealthily scorn the models themselves and the scientists behind them, blaming them for an overreaction that they attempt to quantify both economically and also in terms of a more hidden mortality. 

Yet it is clear that politicians that responded according to Dr Rieux’s calculations in the novel, have had superior outcomes over the course of 2020. 

Wait and see and then speak and act in the appropriate measure, might sound reasonable, but it is a recipe for an unholy mess. Right now an American is dying every 40 seconds. Before the festive season i.e. after Thanksgiving, it may soon be like 9-11 on daily repeat.

That same debate in front of Oran’s Prefect in The Plague, features another fairly important notion. Opinions ought to be valued according to how much they make us reflect, not by how much they concord with our preexisting ones.

It may be especially important to remember this on a day staff members at Random House had a collective hissy fit about their employer's plans to publish the latest tome from Jordan Peterson, darling of anti-progressives in the English-speaking world. 

If this were just a story about the employees of a publisher objecting to the contents of a book, it would be disturbing enough (at what stage did we teach the next generation that it is OK to try to suppress all opinion that one disagrees with?), but no, they have no idea what the book actually says, it is just that its author is an 'icon of white supremacy'. 

There may come a day when the Left rather deeply regrets taking this principled stance on stuff it doesn't like, as fanatical censorship is notoriously versatile. 

There is real intellectual jeopardy here. There is a danger that anglophonic reflection will become largely unworthy of the name as it becomes barricaded into two distinct and righteous redoubts with a barren no man's land in between.

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