Won’t Get Fooled Again

Won’t Get Fooled Again. By John Tierney.

More than a century ago, Mark Twain identified two fundamental problems that would prove relevant to the Covid pandemic. “How easy it is to make people believe a lie,” he wrote, “and how hard it is to undo that work again!” …

No convincing evidence existed at the start of the pandemic that lockdowns, school closures, and mask mandates would protect people against the virus, but it was remarkably easy to make the public believe that these policies were “the science.” Today, thanks to two years of actual scientific evidence, it’s clearer than ever that these were terrible mistakes; yet most people still believe that the measures were worthwhile — and many are eager to maintain some mandates even longer. …

The problem is that so many people want to keep believing the falsehood — and it’s not just the politicians, bureaucrats, researchers, and journalists who don’t want to admit that they promoted disastrous policies. Ordinary citizens have an incentive, too. Adults meekly surrendered their most basic liberties, cheered on leaders who devastated the economy, and imposed two years of cruel and unnecessary deprivations on their children. They don’t want to admit that these sacrifices were in vain.

People justify sunk costs by pretending:

They’re engaging in “effort justification,” a phenomenon famously demonstrated in 1959 with an experiment involving a tame version of a hazing ritual. Social psychologists Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills offered female undergraduate students a chance to join a discussion group on the psychology of sex, but first some of them had to pass an “embarrassment test.” In the mild version of the test, some students read aloud words like “prostitute” and “petting.” Others had to pass a more severe version by reading aloud from novels with explicit sex scenes and lots of anatomical obscenities (much more embarrassing for a young woman in the 1950s than for students today). Afterward, all the students, including some who hadn’t been required to pass any test, listened in on a session of the discussion group, which the researchers had staged to be a “dull and banal” conversation about the secondary sexual behavior of lower-order animals. The participants spoke haltingly, hemmed and hawed, didn’t finish their sentences, mumbled non sequiturs, and “in general conducted one of the most worthless and uninteresting discussions imaginable.”

But it didn’t seem that way to the women who’d undergone the severe embarrassment test. They were far more likely than the other students to give the discussion and the participants high ratings for being interesting and intelligent. The experiment confirmed the then-novel theory of cognitive dissonance: the young women didn’t like thinking that they’d gone through an ordeal for the sake of a worthless reward, so they avoided this mental discomfort (cognitive dissonance) by rewriting reality to justify their effort. Other studies showed the same effect in people who had undergone real-life initiation rituals to join fraternities and other groups. The more effort involved in the initiation ritual, the more valuable seemed the reward of membership.

About a third of people taken in by a con never admit it was a con, even when shown the evidence and how it was done.

Smacks of political shenanigans:

[The CDC’s] pre-Covid planning scenarios had rejected business and school closures even for a pandemic as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918, but when the Covid-19 pandemic came, they imposed lockdowns without even pretending to weigh the hypothetical benefits against the tangible economic, medical, and social costs — not to mention the intangible costs in emotional hardship and lost liberty.

Randomized clinical trials conducted before the pandemic had repeatedly shown that masks did little or no good at preventing viral spread, but the CDC proclaimed them effective against Covid and promoted mask mandates nationwide.

As the pandemic wore on, federal health officials looked for excuses to justify the lockdowns and mandates, hyping flawed studies and cherry-picked data, while failing to sponsor rigorous research testing their strategies. …

The Biden administration insisted on vaccinating everyone — and firing workers who refused, including hospital staff and other essential workers whose prior Covid infections gave them stronger immunity than their vaccinated colleagues. Instead of uniting Americans against the virus, public-health officials chose painful policies that divided the faithful from the disobedient.

The bad guys “won” and will never admit the truth:

The public needs to learn what went wrong during the pandemic, but they’re not going to hear it from the Biden administration. It rewarded Fauci for his failures by giving him a new title, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, and would surely resist any serious investigation of its Covid strategies. Republicans could start the process if they win control of Congress in November and establish a Covid commission, but they’d be taking on the federal bureaucracy as well as the public-health establishment. …

The activists kept pretending that those strategies worked, but their narrative became harder to sustain. Surveys by the Pew Research Center showed that the public’s trust in scientists rose at the start of the pandemic and then began falling. The earliest and steepest declines occurred among Republicans, so that today only 15 percent of Republicans have “a great deal of confidence” in scientists — while more than a third have “not too much” or “none at all.” Democrats remain far more trusting, but even their confidence in scientists is now lower than at the start of the pandemic. …

California vs Florida:

Pandemic strategies could become a major issue in the 2024 presidential race, especially if Ron DeSantis runs on his success as Florida’s governor. That prospect has already inspired hit pieces in the media and attacks from Democrats like Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, which suffered one of the nation’s worst surges in unemployment during its strict lockdowns. Newsom recently defended his state’s draconian mandates by claiming that an additional 40,000 Californians would have died if he had followed Florida’s policies. But that misleading figure, repeated uncritically by journalists, was based on a crude comparison of the states’ Covid mortality rates without accounting for the larger percentage of elderly people in Florida. When properly adjusted for the age of the population, the cumulative Covid mortality rate in Florida has been below the national average. …

The rate of excess mortality among young adults has been consistently lower in Florida than in California, where the strict lockdowns presumably contributed to deaths from other causes. If California’s cumulative rate of excess mortality equaled Florida’s, about 5,000 fewer Californians would have died during the pandemic. And if California’s unemployment rate equaled Florida’s last year, 500,000 fewer Californians would have been out of work.

Hard truths:

Those are the hard truths that Americans need to hear after two years of Covid hazing

Even more amazingly, no US article discusses the obvious: why didn’t the US close its borders, or even discuss it? Lockdowns are mostly pointless unless borders are closed to prevent continual reinfection, but the US went for two years of varying degrees of lockdown while constantly being re-infected, and scored the world’s largest covid death toll as a result.

Florida versus California is just tweedle-dee versus tweedle-dum. The countries that closed their borders and went to zero covid (including Vietnam, which has a long land border) had hugely fewer casualties and far fewer weeks of lockdowns and restrictions, but I have yet to see any US sources acknowledge that. Hard truths indeed.

Is the US narrative so strong and so in favor of open borders that closing the borders cannot, even now, be discussed? What if there is a world wide outbreak of something more deadly, like Ebola? Do you think the US could close its borders then?