Category Archives: Chinese flu

The pub epidemiologists

Instant expertise

The world, writes Dalrymple,

now has hundreds of millions, if not several billions, of virologists and clinicians.

All of them know best how to deal with the Chinese flu. It sometimes seems, he says, as if

the certainty with which views are held is inversely proportional to the solidity of the factual basis on which they are founded.

People on the internet

often take a religious attitude towards their doctrine and condemn as heretics all those who express doubts. Stridency of views is often indicative of unacknowledged uncertainties. Zinc supplementarians and others of the type cling to their beliefs with a fervour that evidence does not merit.

The incalculable economic cost of virus curbs

Dalrymple writes that after the government lifted restrictions for a period, adolescents and young adults in Britain

behaved as if nothing had happened. They congregated in crowds, they drank to excess, they partied. In short, they continued their normal life of tasteless and vulgar debauchery which makes them, in my estimation, among the least attractive of demographic groups anywhere in the world.

Nevertheless, their perception of the risk to themselves of the Wuhan virus

was quite accurate.

The economic cost of the drastic steps taken by the State

has been incalculable, and might last for generations. The borrowing they resulted in was equal to that necessitated by the prosecution of a world war. How much economic damage are we prepared to sustain to save the lives of ill 80-year-olds?

With luck,

these disturbing questions will be taken out of our hands. The Spanish flu disappeared, albeit having killed 50m people first (the equivalent of 150m today), and has never came back.

It could be, Dalrymple says, that

the indiscipline of the population is a reaction to the constant badgering by regulation that it experiences, often by authorities that are stupid and incompetent. As Dostoyevsky reminds us, even were government to be wholly benevolent and all its provisions entirely for our benefit, we shouldn’t abide by them — merely to assert our status as free and self-directed beings.

Epidemic puts Dalrymple back on GMC register

As it attempts to tackle the problem of the Chinese flu, the British State has recalled Dalrymple (along with many other retired medics) to the extent that it has placed him back on the General Medical Council’s register of those with a licence to practise medicine.

Our élites man the rudder of state like drunken sailors

In Paris, writes Dalrymple,

the population was at first informed that wearing masks was not necessary because doing so served no useful purpose.

It turned out that this advice was given

not because it was believed to be true but because there were not enough masks. Now the wearing of masks is compulsory on public transport.

Dalrymple remarks:

Children are acutely aware of injustice; adolescents and young adults, susceptible already to rebellion, are acutely aware of the hypocrisies and contradictions of authority. Why, then, should they obey those who have lied to them and to everyone else?

China flu and the persistence of illusion

The Wuhan virus is of relatively minor consequence for the mortality of the world population

Follow the science.

On this view, writes Dalrymple, science

speaks with one voice, ex cathedra. It lays down doctrine that humanity, most of which is not scientifically minded, must humbly accept. Neither the world nor science is like this.

Epidemiology, he points out,

is not only an inexact science but can be a powerful tool for the regulative bullying of the population by ­bureaucracies.

The Wuhan flu is

not the Black Death, which killed between a third and a half of the population of Europe. The 1957 Asian flu was said to have killed up to 2m people and the 1968 Hong Kong flu 1m, yet they have passed from collective memory, perhaps without having entered it.

The illusion that the risk of epidemic default on mortgage obligations had been eliminated

There is an increasing unfamiliarity with death as the natural end of life, and

assuming that this is an epidemic of relatively minor consequence for the mortality of the world population, the panic must be in part because of the apocalyptic nature of death from the disease.

The China pandemic

will no doubt be mastered in time; there will be a vaccine, perhaps a treatment. But it will have dented mankind’s illusion that it has everything under control — give or take a blip — on the upward ascent to a life without suffering, the unpleasantly untoward, or the unforeseen.

Dalrymple reminds us of the time before the collapse of Lehman Brothers,

when mathematicians claimed to have developed a model that eliminated the risk of epidemic default on mortgage obligations. This proved illusory and was always foolish; but it suggests that the illusion of control will return soon enough, once the epidemic is over.

What is it, this ‘coronavirus’ they keep talking about?

Le coronavirus c’est quoi?

So asked a young Frenchman, who has lived for the past three years in Australia, during a chat on the phone with Dalrymple’s wife in March. There was, writes Dalrymple,

a delightful freshness to the question. Talk about the lucky country, I thought to myself: or talk about a lucky young man, not to have heard of coronavirus.

O lucky man!

It had, he says,

a heroic quality — or indicated a sure sense of navigation through the world without taking any notice of the dispiriting flux of news and daily events. You need finely-tuned antennæ to be able to avoid the temporary obsessions of the news media, so ubiquitous are they, and an ability to slide away mentally.

Ce pays chanceux

A salutary effect of the Chinese flu

Dalrymple notes happily that the Wuhan virus crisis

has shut Greta Thunberg up for a time and saved us from her adolescent scolding.

 

Kung Fu flu kick-starts a thousand PhD theses

Bonking boffin: the discredited and disgraced epidemiologist Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London. He touted his alleged expertise on the Wuhan flu but his real interest lay in the legover arena

The theses about the epidemic will settle nothing once and for all, Dalrymple observes. There will always be a need for further research. Science, he points out,

is not a body of doctrine, an orthodoxy from which dissent is heresy. Its truths are multiform, contradictory, and provisional.

If politicians merely followed the science,

they would zigzag or careen like a drunken sailor; they would be at the mercy of the last qualified person to whom they spoke.

Politicians,

despised as they are (they are lower in public esteem even than journalists), are expected to deliver us from death, and if death supervenes it is they who are to blame. We hate them, but we run to them.

It is hard to feel sorry for politicians, says Dalrymple, for

they have chosen their career and (especially in modern conditions) have generally pursued power to the exclusion of all other possible goals, which is not admirable. As often as not, they have not much cultural or psychological hinterland, for they have no time or energy for it, which is why they are mostly not very interesting people. The trouble is that they are important (though perhaps not as important as they think they are), and for the rest of us to have to think about people who are important but not interesting is a kind of torture.

He notes that the problem for politicians in the time of the Chinese virus is that

they are faced with a population of experts. In only a few weeks, millions have become epidemiologists of the first rank, even those who in December would have been hard put to define what epidemiology was — if they had heard of it.

Bruce Lee

The NHS teddy-bear

Health service agitprop

No good crisis should go to waste, writes Dalrymple, and

the priests of Britain’s secular religion, its highly centralised National Health Service, have not been sitting on their hands.

There has been so much NHS propaganda during the Chinese flu crisis that one might have believed that the propaganda

was under central direction.

The NHS evangelicals deliberately confound the health service bureaucracy with the devotion and skill of doctors and nurses, but of course

they are not the same thing — very far from it.

Emotional kitsch

Our NHS

Dalrymple points out that the propaganda in favour of Britain’s sovietised health service

has been more or less continuous since its foundation in 1948, though it has become shriller as it departs further from reality. The purpose of propaganda is to forestall any examination of reality in favour of simplistic slogans convenient to power.

There is a striking willingness in many of the people who are the objects of the propaganda

to repeat and believe a slogan without any compulsion to do so, and without the slightest inclination to examine its truth — indeed, without any awareness of the need for such an examination.

There was no oppressive force to deter these people from inquiry,

but they preferred the comfort the slogan offered to the effort and possible discomfort of finding the truth. The idea of the NHS played the role of teddy-bear to a population with many anxieties.

People will have experienced deficiencies in the failing service — long waiting times, offhand or disagreeable interactions with the bureaucracy, etc. But

like Russian peasants who believed that the Czar knew nothing of the oppression which they suffered, and would have put an end to it if he had known, the British continued to believe that the NHS had been born with original virtue and that the defects they experienced were exceptions. Repeated scandals of gross neglect or sub-standard treatment were shrugged off.

Dog in the manger

The British, Dalrymple notes,

were inclined to believe that if the NHS was unpleasant to negotiate, at least (being more or less a monopoly) it was equally unpleasant for everyone. Fairness and justice were equated with equal misery.

He explains that

the uncritical national admiration, approaching worship, of the NHS has required the subliminal acceptance of a certain historiography: before the NHS, nothing; after it, everything. Before 1948, the poor received no treatment but were left to fend for themselves when they were sick, and more or less, to die. After 1948, the ever-solicitous state system looked tenderly after the health of the population from cradle to grave.

The NHS has had no egalitarian outcome, rather the opposite,

yet the belief in its levelling effect persists.

The NHS propaganda

has been so successful that it now accords with the sentiments of the population, a triumph that no communist regime achieved despite Herculean efforts at indoctrination. The triumph has been achieved without compulsion or violence, and ought to be an interesting case for political scientists who study the successful inculcation of political mythology.

Wuhan flu and the public health Moloch

Cult of the (failing) state health service

Dalrymple writes that the Chinese virus crisis has in the West reinforced a tendency to authoritarianism and emboldened bureaucrats with totalitarian leanings. He has been surprised by

how meekly the population has accepted, on the say-so of technocrats, regulations so drastic that they might have made Stalin envious. There has been no demand for the evidence that supposedly justifies severe limitations on freedom.

One view is that the authorities

are trusted by the population to do the right thing. Much as we lament the intellectual and moral level of our political class, there are limits to how much we despise it. We believe that our institutions still work, even when guided or controlled by nullities.

A less optimistic interpretation, says Dalrymple, is that the population

is so used to being administered, supposedly for its good, under a régime of bread and circuses that it is no longer capable of independent thought or action. We have become what Tocqueville thought the Americans would become under their democratic régime, a herd of docile animals. Only at the margins — for example, the drug-dealers of the banlieues — do the refractory rebel against the regulations.

Creepy weekly state-sponsored ceremony of compulsory applause

The Wuhan flu has revealed that,

whatever our traditions, we are less proof against authoritarianism than we like to suppose.

Authority, says Dalrymple,

is rarely content to stay within the limits set down for it, but is like an imperial power always seeking the means of its expansion.

He warns:

There is no human activity that has no consequences for health, either individually or in the aggregate; and what is the public but an aggregate? Public health, we have learnt, is the highest good, the precondition of all other goods. A solicitous government has the right — no, the duty — to interfere in our lives to make sure that we stay healthy. And authority once taken rarely retreats of its own accord.