It was the West’s bad luck that Covid policy was largely driven by the much too powerful Fauci, who has been at the helm of US public health policy for some forty years. He sits atop a multi-billion national grant machine, so woe betide those who cross him. He’s exactly the kind of powerful, empire-building official who can – and did –protect a narrative from any number of real-world challenges. And the narrative is still being protected; it came out this week that the CDC was hiding nearly a year’s worth of Covid data, partly, a spokesman said, for fear of the vaccines being seen as ineffective.
Anyone familiar with bureaucracies will get the groupthink imperative and the careerist tendency of most to choose discretion over integrity. Those who must keep a job to raise children and pay mortgages are not in a position to be what Sir Humphrey would call ‘courageous’. This is also why the loudest critics of bandwagons like climate change, Covid lockdowns and vaccine safety are post-career or older, or insulated with wealth, or no longer vulnerable — they have nothing to lose.
A bigger issue is now arising, with the digital disrupters exposing the static and poor quality of official narratives, by comparison with the dynamic and constantly evolving ‘hive mind’ of the internet, where one day’s conspiracy theory becomes next week’s simple truth — or is discarded as nutty. Twitter cancelled ex-New York Times reporter Alex Berenson for saying of Covid vaccines: ‘It doesn’t stop infection. Or transmission. Don’t think of it as a vaccine. Think of it — at best — as a therapeutic…’. Few would now dispute this conclusion, yet at the time it was heresy and he was dumped.
Our elites remain chained to an unwieldy bureaucratic information network that cannot keep up with the speed and agility of a digitally connected society. Politicians and bureaucrats sit atop a system of data processing that is slow, cumbersome, report- and committee-driven, subject to political considerations, cliques and credentialism, and porous to outside agendas, including industry, lobbyists and ideologies. Knowledge is edited, curated and massaged; what emerges may not be right, but it is agreed upon by the powers that be and becomes the narrative. Raw truths, levels of doubt and nuances are lost along the way, but officials and bureaucrats gain both authority and deniability. If finally proven wrong, as looms probable on lockdowns, they will merely say they followed the best advice at the time. Not their fault.
Increasingly, we find ourselves informed by more dynamic and arresting voices from the web. The anonymous Substack author Eugyppius argues that official discourse in his field ‘suffers from a pervasive, unoriginal banality’ while his Twitter world has proven both more correct and more interesting. Why? ‘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.’ Officialdom is hopelessly outclassed, he says, hobbled by ‘gate-keeping mechanisms like peer review and credentialism’.
There is nothing new about the dark arts of fudging information, ‘twas ever thus. What’s new is the speed and spread of digital challenge, which is also what’s driving cancel culture.
The danger is that our misinformed elites, who live in a bubble of misinformation, then make decisions based on that misinformation.
The covid response is one example. Another is the Russian elite, who seem to have made the classic mistake of believing the Ukrainians would welcome their invasion as liberators — like the US in Iraq, ha ha. This is the danger of excluding voices that say what you don’t want to hear.
Cancel culture and lack of free speech make a society so stupid it is prone to near-fatal mistakes.