Ignorant and Afraid: Politicians and bureaucrats really are as ill-informed as they seem

Ignorant and Afraid: Politicians and bureaucrats really are as ill-informed as they seem. By Eugyppius.

Those in [the] “laptop class,” that is to say well-off urban professionals, … have spent most of the last 21 months at home, hiding from a virus that many of them believe is approximately as dangerous as SARS. Mass infections among these people are only starting to happen right now.

As members of this privileged, sheltered class, politicians and bureaucrats have absorbed the virus hysteria that they helped seed in their social milieu.

Case in point, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany:

In the beginning, Merkel did not especially fear the possibility of mass infections in Germany. Six months of press hysteria later, in October 2020, she had grown accustomed to carrying two plastic envelopes in her bag. One was for the careful, hygienic disposal of used surgical masks. The other carried precious new ones, whenever she judged her current mask had reached a dangerous state of virus saturation. …

Merkel’s remarkable virus paranoia, quietly acknowledged by the press now for months, explains her fixation on social isolation, closures and curfews as the only acceptable pandemic policies.

She is a 67 year-old sedentary woman who likely suffers from one or more undisclosed health problems. And she is surrounded by other older, unfit government officials, like 73 year-old interior minister Horst Seehofer, who nearly died of a B19 virus infection in 2002, and so has a reason to fear viral infection.

For months and months, all of these people have been taking every possible personal precaution — including house-arresting the entire domestic populations of the countries they govern — in the vain hope of escaping Corona. …

To the profound disappointment of Merkel and everybody like her, the vaccines have not eradicated Corona. Every day, the prospect of personal infection looms for these people as a new, uncomfortable certainty. Every day, they and the rest of the work-from-home bureaucracy become ever more terrified. …

Contrast:

You know who isn’t terrified right now? Everyone outside these circles. I and many of the people I know have had Corona, and we’re not terrified. Blue-collar workers have mostly been infected, and they’re not terrified. Grocery clerks, nurses, police officers and bus drivers aren’t terrified. All of the terror is at the top, blaring down at us all of the time. All these people know they are going to get sick in the next few months, and they are railing against this reality.

The way society works now:

While I don’t agree with James Lindsay, that we are on the verge of a Second Enlightenment, I think his distinction between official, curated, peer-reviewed information and analysis; and counter-cultural internet hive-mind information and analysis, is instructive.

All in all, it is the hive-mind that has been vastly more successful at understanding what is going on — not only as far as Corona, but everywhere. This has been obvious now for years. It is even true in my own field, where the official discourse suffers from a pervasive, unoriginal banality, while alternative theories pondered by intelligent outsiders and anonymous Twitter accounts become every day vastly more interesting.

The reasons are simple: There are more people involved; the barriers to publishing are lower; nodes that provide bad analysis are easily removed; the thinkers are more thoroughly networked to each other; they gather audiences solely on the basis of their ability; they consider everything, not just the official line.

Meanwhile, it is only official, curated information that is allowed to inform bureaucratic decisions. Products of the hive-mind are deliberately excluded, via gate-keeping mechanisms like peer review and credentialism. All of the terrified Angela Merkels of the world act within an environment of outdated, poor-quality information, all the time.

Again, this is not unique to Corona. In an interview I will never find again, someone asked Noam Chomsky about the failures surrounding the American debacle in Afghanistan. He responded that it was above all a reflection of the distorted and inaccurate intelligence assessments that pollute the thought of American foreign policy planners and military strategists. Random people on the internet, he said, had a better view of the situation from the start.

Exactly the same phenomenon plagues official responses to Corona. The problem with curated information isn’t just that it is slow, subject to inertia, and produced by insular out-of-touch functionaries. Because the information has political importance, there are incentives everywhere to manipulate and degrade its quality. Bureaucratic actors will lie about what is going on to curry favour, save face or evade blame.

What is more, many advisers, analysts and modellers are only in the position of providing analysis in the first place, because we need more women in STEM, or because they tell the Faucis of the world what they want to hear, or because they have the right combination of sociopathy and narrow-mindedness necessary to ascend complex bureaucratic hierarchies.

The wisdom of the crowd and bright outsiders versus the dumb conformists earning the big bucks who stay in the bureaucracy or in receipt of official money.

In field after field this is the situation now, brought about by the growing power of bureaucracy, government, and the administrative state. A meritocratic hive mind versus the politically driven bureaucracy.