Rules of the game: How to debate Covid
Avoid garbage in, avoid garbage out.
First, the burden of proof is on he who alleges. The status quo is not to demand we wear masks, not to lock us in our homes and not to fire us if we don’t take any medical treatment.
Lockdown opponents need to prove nothing.
Further, the burden is ongoing. A moment of a right delayed is a right denied. Lockdowners must dispatch this onus again and again and again.
And the burden is a high one. Many Covid responses have dramatically infringed on human rights for a long time. That demands dramatic justification for just as long.
Second, to borrow from Thomas Sowell’s work, “Compared to what?” The burden includes the need to show that the least intrusive measures to target a legitimate goal are being used.
My chief example here is vaccine mandates versus vaccine availability alongside quality information.
Third, everything has a cost. As I’ve argued elsewhere, not one of us alive is an expert on the full Covid issue. Even the smartest virologist cannot hope to be up to date on the latest thinking around early childhood education, mental health, politics, ethics and the myriad other areas that Covid responses impact.
In short, the cost-benefit analysis of locking down entire countries is vast. The costs are essentially incalculable. But we know the costs of Covid. As several studies have found - I suggest necessarily so - the costs of lockdown massively outweigh the benefits.
Here I think the phenomena of “zero” and “everything” are handy. Zero has been variously revered and feared at times in history. It has been banned and hailed. Not dissimilarly, us humans have problems with the notion of everything. Our mammalian brains can’t cope with “infinity”. Still, it is not hyperbolic to suggest that lockdowns impact nearly everything.
We can’t stop at education, healthcare regarding every ailment other than Covid, mental health and the economy. It extends to the likes of delayed maintenance of bridges, youngsters not meeting romantic partners, and failure to deliver non-Covid vaccines in Somalia.
For each of these, we would need to calculate the knock-on effects. Forever.
It is worth noting that not one government has produced a quality cost-benefit analysis. That should terrify us.
Finally, I fear nuance has been jettisoned with Covid debate. A case is not a case is not a case. This might mean you’ve got some spent virus in you. It might also mean you are critically ill and at risk of death and long-term complications. We must be specific.
Depending on your age, Covid ranges from trivial to worrying. That people are systematically getting this wrong indicates how badly we have communicated risk by age.