At this point in the endless pandemic — at least in the blue states — most of you that have a questioning mind must be asking, “where do all the various mandates come from?” and “who’s actually advising the Biden administration?”
The answer will likely surprise you. Sure, it’s our own evil elf, Tony Fauci, and to a far lesser extent, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky (who with every appearance on television reminds me of a bad date that wouldn’t go home after the party was over) that create policy. But those are just the visible people.
As Politico reported a couple of weeks ago, there’s also a not-so-small group of Twitter docs who have used this tragedy to establish themselves as opinion leaders on social media, which then parlays itself into television appearances and feed for their fundamentally narcissistic personalities. If you’re not on Twitter, and you arbitrarily see these people pop up on CNN, you’ve got to ask, “Where did these people come from? Why should a reproductive doctor from Baltimore be telling us that our children need N95 masks in order to not die on their playground?” Scrutiny is weak from the pajama class, well represented locally in the op-eds in this newspaper.
I write about the dynamics of social media for my research. Apps like Twitter are fear centrifuges for hysterical opinions — especially from the ruling class. Donald Trump realized this, and used this for his successful bid for the presidency in 2016.
But social physics, like gravity, are nonpolitical. Fear sells and drives follower counts. Complexity and reality take quite a bit longer. And social media does something that has really never happened before in the world of human communication. It kills geography as an organizing force. It’s a global version of “birds of a feather.” No matter where you are, you can find your flock.
For the Twitter docs that informally advise the President, there’s vanishingly little thought diversity between any of them. They uniformly have the psychopathology of “laundry listing.” It doesn’t matter if a given nonpharmaceutical intervention works or not, or what the cost might be. If one of them thinks of something (the current bunch has figured out cloth masks don’t work — as Leana Wen said, they are a “medical decoration” — and are now mass-migrating to putting us all in N95s) it goes on the list. They use this idiocy as part of virtue signaling to the Kool Kids Club.
More nuanced voices, like Great Barrington Declaration, or GBD author Jay Bhattacharya, get lost. Just the mention of his name sends the laundry listers into a lather. He’s asking the hard questions that actually matter — like how will this affect the poor? What will happen long-term to child development?
In the last two weeks, the Biden administration has vacillated between pivoting toward sanity, or doubling down on the crazy. Walensky herself started talking about the fact that the COVID death numbers, termed “with” and “from” have vastly over-inflated the “from” category. And she herself mentioned the core element from the GBD — “focused protection.”
Meanwhile, back out of the bubble, folks in red states move through the world much as before. Their kids aren’t dying. Their hospitals aren’t overrun. The shriekers in the blue states shove their heads deeper in the ground, refusing to accept that all the misery they’ve caused with lockdowns and nonpharmaceutical interventions have done nothing. A recent study from Harvard and Yale estimates 75% of Americans already have had COVID-19. The pandemic is ending, like it or not.
The end result of all this is a phenomenon I call elite risk minimization. Laundry listers serve at the intrinsic behest of the elites. They don’t care if wearing a mask at work impairs your ability to do your job or causes depression. They’re safe at home. That marginal increment serves their egocentric need.
And the rest of us need to remember this come November. Or the pandemic that has ended in reality will never end.
Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materialsengineering at Washington State University.