The Left’s suspension of critical thought.
In this three-part blog, I explore the absence of critical thought and debate by the Left on the global response to Covid, using two commentators I am familiar with as examples. In part 1, I discuss the Left’s failure to critically assess whether lockdowns were the right response in light of emerging information and, in particular, Media Lens’ abandonment of their principles when lockdowns began, in a reflexive shouting down of reasonable observations by centre-right commentators.
In describing the Covid crisis, the mainstream media prefer to attribute our woes unambiguously to ‘the pandemic’, using sleight-of-hand to mask the chief source of societal and economic damage — the government’s response to Covid. Not only is the lockdown pill worse than the ill, but the government has made the colossal error of prioritising the optics of its response over sound crisis resolution. Industrial-scale propaganda has been the inevitable consequence of this cynical choice.
By vastly exaggerating the public health threat posed by Covid, the government, in concert with most of the mainstream media, has exploited the power of public fear to usher in a police state. Damaging restrictions on liberty, grossly disproportionate to the overall health risk to the population, have been imposed and we cannot rule out the possibility that these and new restrictions will be permanently embedded under the cover of combatting this or future public health threats.
The problems with the government’s Covid response have been exposed by eminently qualified experts across all fields of science and by principled independent commentators and journalists prepared to air their views. But they have had to do this largely outside the mainstream media, with the exception of a few centre-right conservative tabloids like the Daily Mail. A mountain of lies has been constructed to convince the public to acquiesce to an ongoing campaign of fear launched jointly by the government, its public service broadcaster the BBC and large sections of the mainstream media such as Channel 4, Sky and ITV.
I understand perfectly well that proselytising to lockdown fanatics is an exercise in futility. The cult of lockdown remains unassailable, with two thirds of Britain holding the contradictory position of backing the government’s cancellation of Christmas but expressing dissatisfaction with the management of the Covid crisis. Surely logic dictates that if the crisis is being mismanaged, then the measures employed are questionable? Sadly, logic is not a characteristic of cultism.
But what about progressive Left commentators? Are they members of a cult or are they rational actors? On the assumption that they are a rational body, I am more interested in the Left’s silence in the face of the catastrophic response to Covid and what that silence really tells us about its interpretation of the crisis and ultimately its values.
In referring to the Left’s ‘silence’ I am obviously not talking about the maniacal glee with which it called for and greeted lockdowns (and continues to), but rather its pre-lockdown absence of scepticism about lockdown’s harms and its subsequent refusal to debate the issue of whether the pill has been worse than the ill. The pre and post stances are obviously connected since a failure to critically examine lockdown’s savage consequences might contribute to a post-lockdown silence — cognitive dissonance at play.
I have selected two ‘progressive’ Left commentators — Media Lens and Caitlin Johnstone — as exemplars of Left silence because they have positioned themselves as propaganda busters and yet have had little or nothing to say in the face of a government and media propaganda blitz, arguably unrivalled in peace time, promoting societal and economic measures that have caused greater harm than good and which will potentially have far-reaching consequences for our democracy and liberty. What little they have said is illuminating when compared with stated or implied values.
I have chosen Media Lens and Caitlin Johnstone for the simple reason that I am most familiar with their posts and had, over the years, come to respect and value their analysis. Media Lens in particular were instrumental in helping to remove the scales from my eyes on the subject of media bias. I am not some right-leaning blogger eager to upend Lefties with cheap shots. On the contrary, I used to identify as ‘left-wing’ before this crisis. I have replaced that form of childishness with a new one — vainly hoping to prick the conscience of commentators like Media Lens who regard media and government propaganda busting as their raison d’etre.
Credulous acceptance replaces healthy scepticism
“check the media’s version of events against credible facts and opinion provided by journalists, academics and specialist researchers. We then publish both versions, together with our commentary”.
None of this was applied to the avalanche of lies which can be split into two main areas: the scale of the threat and the measures to address it. Any critical observer should first start by questioning the threat. Then move to an examination of the measures. Are they commensurate with the threat? Is there evidence that they actually work? Might they cause more harm than good? Media Lens, razor sharp on deconstructing the hatchet job on Jeremy Corbyn or the woeful inadequacy of climate change media coverage, didn’t seem to believe this critical line of thinking was necessary.
Government apologists will claim that we did not know in March that this disease was not an existential threat. We had to lock down, they claim. But the government’s own pronouncement on 19 March 2020 stated that Covid was “no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) in the UK”. Having reviewed the most up to date information, the UK’s public health bodies declared in the new guidance issued on 19 March:
“As of 19 March 2020, COVID-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) in the UK… the public health bodies in the UK have reviewed the most up to date information about COVID-19 against the UK HCID criteria. They have determined that several features have now changed; in particular, more information is available about mortality rates (low overall), and there is now greater clinical awareness and a specific and sensitive laboratory test, the availability of which continues to increase.” [bold emphasis added]
They were, of course, spot on about the low mortality rate but dead wrong about the “specific and sensitive laboratory test”, more on which later. And what is the infection fatality rate (IFR) that has driven governments to take a wrecking ball to lives, whole societies and economies? The latest updated global IFR published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation is 0.15‐0.20%. That’s a 99.8% chance of survival. In those under 70 years of age the IFR is 0.03‐0.04%. That’s a 99.97% chance of survival. In the UK, there have been just 275 deaths (only 0.7 per cent of the total) in people under 40. Of those 275 deaths, only 42 did not have a pre-existing serious medical condition. Sebastian Rushworth, an A&E doctor in Sweden and health science blogger, puts it like this:
“The average person who dies from Covid is over 80 years old and has multiple underlying health conditions. In other words, their life expectancy is very short. The average person who died in the 1918 pandemic was in their late 20’s. So each death in the 1918 pandemic actually meant around 50 years more of life lost per person than each death in the Covid pandemic. Multiply that by the fact that it had a 19 times higher death rate, and the 1918 flu was in fact 950 times more deadly than Covid, in terms its capacity to shorten people’s lives.” [Bold emphasis added]
Excess mortality would also be a pretty good indicator of the seriousness of a disease that has warranted pressing the pause button on civilisation. Mortality in the UK in 2020 to date, adjusted for population, lies in 8th place out of the last 27 years — statistically far from exceptional. Sweden, which didn’t lock down and acts as the placebo control for the hideous lockdown experiments conducted worldwide, has no excess mortality and has achieved better Covid outcomes than the UK. Think back to the announcement of public health bodies on 19 March 2020 about the lethality of the disease.
A discussion of the lethality of Covid would not be complete without a discussion of the lethality of its supposed cure. According to a paper published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, “the excess deaths from the measures taken is likely to be much larger than the COVID‐19 deaths”.
That the cure had the vast potential to be far worse than the disease was patently obvious to many before the lunacy of lockdowns became reality. When Peter Hitchens questioned this fundamental principle on 22 March in his Mail on Sunday column, this is how Media Lens responded:
They agreed wholeheartedly, however, with Paul Mason’s authoritarian advocacy of caging a population that could not be trusted to make sensible decisions based on facts which ought to have been calmly provided by the government.
This confirms a strain in the modern Left that I had previously presumed was a relic of early to mid-twentieth century communism — authoritarian control. The science always was and still is clear that caging the entire population to address this particular threat is ineffective. Sweden, where the virus followed an almost identical trajectory in its timeline of infections and deaths, did not lock down and yet achieved better outcomes. Its death rate, like everyone else’s, related largely to poor management of the virus in care homes. Why the Left was so unified in its reflexive treatment of the populace as mindless morons requiring ‘crowd control barriers’ — the application of Mason’s analogy to controlling illness caused by a respiratory virus is idiotic in itself — should be the subject of a wider psychological analysis as it is utterly repulsive.
The public health bodies’ significant downgrading of the threat on 19 March, together with many eminent experts cautioning against lockdowns, is crucial to understanding that responses like those of Media Lens and Paul Mason cannot be easily characterised as an error of judgement based on lack of knowledge about the threat. I no longer believe the Left sincerely believes in individual freedom given the speed and aggression with which it uncritically embraced wholesale imprisonment, the efficacy of which was plainly questionable and the harms all too apparent.
In part 2, I will discuss the Left’s silence on the disproportionate collateral damage from lockdown. While the government has ratcheted up its propaganda campaign, propaganda busters Media Lens have remained strangely silent.