Reader Paul Topping called my attention to Scott Aaronson‘s latest blog post (yes, he calls it a “blog”), which is deeply depressing. In fact, there are two big reasons why you could find it depressing, but I adhere only to the first. Click on the screenshot to read the short post.
The first, which has given me angst for a while, is that we’re all deceived, either by ourselves or the Administration, into thinking this pandemic is going to be short-lived: perhaps over by July or August. I don’t think that timespan is realistic, and, as my doctor said, we need to think of the fight as a marathon rather than a sprint. It could be a year or more; after all, we’re not going to have a vaccine for about a year and a half, and other palliatives and treatments are over the horizon. “Flattening the curve” seems to be regarded by many as “the end of the pandemic”, but of course it’s not. It’s just the elimination of an exponential trend of ever-increasing infection. The virus will still be with us.
So the thought that we may be locked down for a year is intolerable to me. But Scott goes farther than that with his musings:
If you suspect that all those earnest, well-intentioned plans and slogans about “flattening the curve” are wonderful and essential, but still, “flattening” is only a desperate gambit to buy some time and nothing more; still, flattening or no flattening, the fundamentals of the situation are that either
(1) a vaccine or cure gets discovered and deployed, or else
(2) we continue in quasi-lockdown mode for the rest of our lives, or else
(3) the virus spreads to the point where it definitely kills some people you know,
—if you suspect this, then at least in my book you’re not crazy. I suspect the same.
If you still don’t understand, no matter how patiently it’s explained to you, why ~18 months is the absolute bare minimum needed to get a vaccine out; if all the talk of Phase 1, 2, and 3 trials and the need to learn more about rare side effects and so forth seems hard to square with the desperate world war that this is; if you wonder whether the Allied commanders and Allied medical authorities in WWII, transported to the present, would agree that 18 months is the bare minimum, or whether they’d already be distributing vaccines a month ago that probably work well enough and do bounded damage if they don’t—I hereby confess that I don’t understand it either.
If you wonder how the US will possibly hold an election in November that the world won’t rightly consider a sham—given that the only safe way will be universal vote-by-mail, but Trump and his five Vichy justices will never allow it—know that I wonder this too.
Well, all three of these possibilities imply either a long period of social distancing and lockdown, or a lot of deaths. That’s horrible to contemplate, but my own fear is that December will still see us in lockdown mode as the virus rages in other parts of the world. Matthew, on the other hand, thinks it will be sporadic, as it might in Wuhan. We’ll be released, business will start up, the virus will begin spreading again, and bingo—another lockdown. Either way, it’s grim.
The second reason why Scott thinks we should be depressed is one I don’t agree with—at least as far as I understand his words. He seems to see the Trump administration’s mishandling of the crisis as deliberate: an attempt to destroy the republic and promulgate Trumpian dictatorial powers. At least I read these words that way:
If you see any US state that wants to avoid >2% deaths, being pushed to the brink of openly defying the FDA, smuggling in medical supplies to escape federal confiscation, using illegal tests and illegal masks and illegal ventilators and illegal everything else, and you also see military commanders getting fired for going outside the chain of command to protect their soldiers’ lives, and you wonder whether this is the start of some broader dissolution of the Union—well, I don’t intend to repeat the mistake of underestimating this crisis.
If you think that the feds who literally confiscate medical supplies before they can reach the hospitals, might as well just shoot the patients as they’re wheeled into the ICU and say “we’re sorry, but this action was obligatory under directive 48c(7)”—I won’t judge you for feeling that way.
If you feel like, while there are still pockets of brilliance and kindness and inspiration and even heroism all over US territory, still, as a federal entity the United States effectively no longer exists or functions, at least not if you treat “try to stop the mass death of the population” as a nonnegotiable component of the “life, liberty, and happiness” foundation for the nation’s existence—if you think this, I won’t call you crazy. I feel more like a citizen of nowhere every day.
If you’d jump, should the opportunity arise (as it won’t), to appoint Bill Gates as temporary sovereign for as long as this crisis lasts, and thereafter hold a new Constitutional Convention to design a stronger democracy, attempting the first-ever Version 2.0 (as opposed to 1.3, 1.4, etc.) of the American founders’ vision, this time with even more safeguards against destruction by know-nothings and demagogues—if you’re in for that, I don’t think you’re crazy. I’m wondering where to sign up.
I am not fearful that Trump’s trying deliberately to destroy the Republic. He’s not that smart, nor is it in his interest. The Republic may be eroded by his actions, but that’s a side effect of his stupidity or narcissism.
Maybe I’m reading Scott the wrong way here, but though I’m scared of a long lockdown, I don’t think Trump’s actions are deliberately taken to engineer a “broader dissolution of the union.”
As the conservatives who man tables at universities say, “Change my mind.”