The number one obligation of any intellectual or concerned citizen today is to make sense of the last year and a half of catastrophe for the cause of freedom. By freedom, I include within that idea the notions of individual rights, public health, prosperity for all, and limits on state violence. They have all suffered tremendous blows. They have not been random but precise, justified on grounds of public health, as incredible as that is to believe given the record.
I say “make sense” but that doesn’t mean that any of this makes sense. Indeed, what has happened to us is utterly senseless. Any virus is enough of a challenge in normal times. This time, however, the violence of the bureaucratic and police state – backed too often by mob passion – has been unleashed in most parts of the world in the name of virus control, with tax-funded goons beating people merely for daring to associate and live peacefully.
In this whole period, we reverted to premodern thinking and practices. Intelligent, charming, wonderful societies like Australia and New Zealand have become prison states. Countries that hung in the balance have become full dictatorships. Countries that gave birth to civilization itself have dabbled in the barbarism we associate with the ancient world. There’s a lot of talk about science these days but what has happened to us belongs to a pre-scientific age – and that is precisely what the New York Times urged on February 27, 2020, when its leading virus reporters demanded that we “go full Medieval” to address Covid-19.
Americans too have tolerated impositions on their freedoms the likes of which most of us never could have imagined in the past. The litany is grim but bears a quick recounting. Our rights to travel have been circumscribed: family members living abroad still cannot freely travel to the US. Children have been kept out of school for one year going on two. Churches and other houses of worship have been forcibly closed by the state. Many parts of the country still live with an identifiable caste system in which those serving us in hospitality remain masked up as if they are diseased peasants.
The stay-at-home orders issued in the Spring of 2020 should be politically unforgivable, no matter what happened after. Never, never in a free society! Sadly that was just the start of it. Right now, people with natural immunities from exposure – which the CDC barely even admits to existing! – are being denied medical treatment as an act of shaming for their refusal to get the jab.
Many people have just gotten used to the whole thing, barely remembering what normal life was like before New York City and New Orleans banned people who refuse the vaccine from eating at restaurants or going to the movies.
The trauma is overwhelming for the population, so much so that many people I encountered are still unable to think coherently about what’s happened to them. Nor is the media even remotely trustworthy. It long ago stopped reporting on science that contradicts the prevailing Covid story on masks, distancing, and vaccines. Not only that: the most compelling voices against the statism of our times have been silenced, the whole of their social media wiped out of the history books.
There should be some other word beside Orwellian to describe this. If anyone should belittle this, dismiss it, think it doesn’t matter, or are otherwise tired of the topic, he or she does not see the full picture here. Everything hangs in the balance.
No part of civic life as we know it has been untouched. If this is remotely tolerable, what isn’t? If someone manages to excuse any of this – based on career, friendship networks, professional affiliation, a police pension, or whatever – what is inexcusable?
If you are looking to make some sense of the chaos of 2020 and following, the book to get, to study, to pass around is The Great Covid Panic, by Paul Frijters, Gigi Foster, and Michael Baker. It is a spectacular guide. With a well-organized structure and readable prose, documented in every way it matters, this book somehow manages to make sense of the senseless world born mid-March 2020.
The carnage is unspeakable in its depth and global in its scope. And for what? It’s not entirely clear whether and to what extent lockdowns have achieved anything long-term for the cause of public health, while clearly harming it in multifarious ways. Indeed the data are overwhelming against the entire panoply of interventions, from distancing to masking to plexiglass to vaccine mandates to travel restrictions to crowd control to capacity restrictions. It’s all nonsense, and history will surely judge harshly the statecraft that imposed it all.
The strength of this book narrative is that it includes not only economics, not only a wonderful primer in virology, not only a critical look at the policy responses and available data, but also the psychology of fear and mass panic, which clearly had a role in fueling the political response.
There is another element here too. The authors see the necessity of telling stories through the eyes of ordinary citizens. They invent three fictional characters who represent various responses to lockdowns and mandates. Jane is a fearful citizen who wants the government to protect her from the virus; indeed she begged politicians to intervene and cheered as the media censored contrary opinions. James is an opportunist who is both in government and industry and saw the panic with cynicism: more power and profit. Jasmine is the skeptic who sees things as they are.
I have almost no sympathy with the Janes of the world but I know many of them. It behooves all of us to understand their point of view, and I include myself in this need. This book presents Jane’s point of view fairly. As for the James’s of the world, there are too many who operate below the radar; this book reveals the underlying motivation. Jasmine is my character of course and she is given plenty of space to speak her mind.
That’s the fictional portion, and it is extremely interesting to read. The academic/scholarly portion provides the robust part of the narrative that will have the lasting influence. The two lines intertwine to create what amounts to a near-encyclopedic account, a seemingly impossible achievement. In fact, I marvel at the discipline that it took to write this book.
It will likely be many years before this book finds its equal. Let me add, too, that this is a brave book. It dares fundamentally to take on a universal fiction pushed by big media the world over, and countless experts who have found themselves in the impossible position of defending lockdowns despite all evidence. We needed some serious scholars to provide a dispassionate analysis if only to shock people out of their denial and delusions concerning the Coronavirus.
When the manuscript first arrived in my inbox, I opened the file and started reading. I knew in a matter of minutes that I would lose an entire night’s sleep. I did but I finished by the morning with enough energy remaining to write the authors and tell them that they have a publisher. Five weeks later, it is available on Amazon and selling copies all over the world.
I would be personally amazed if any reader wasn’t shaken by its contents.
The question we should all be asking is how to end this hell and make sure that it does not revisit the world in our lifetime. The answer is that there must be a massive cultural movement that transcends ideology, age, class, religion, language, and geography. That is the prediction to the political movement everyone desires. It can only come about through enlightenment – true understanding of the range of factors here and the detailed history of what actually happened and why. We also need a new understanding of how society can function in the presence of crisis without relying on the violence of the state to manage it for us. Only a thorough understanding will prepare the way for the reforms – or revolution – that we so desperately need.
To me, this book – a monumental achievement – is the best means by which we achieve that goal. This is no longer about parlor debates, factions, political parties, rhetorical points, or ideological debates. The future of civilization truly hangs in the balance in this crisis, which is nothing like we’ve ever faced. No one is safe until we rethink everything that led to it.
I hope you enjoy this interview with one of the three authors:
Interviewer: Right into it. So you recently co-authored that book. What happened? Why and what to do next? The great COVID pandemic. It’s currently the number one bestseller in education research on Amazon. Could you tell us a little bit about your new book and why you think it’s become so popular?
Gigi Foster: Sure. All right. First I’ll say that Amazon’s categorizations are a mystery to me. This is not a book about education research, although it was also number one in neurology for a while, and it really is a broad-based social scientific treatise. So in the grade COVID panic, my coauthor was Paul Frijters and Michael Baker. And I attempted to make sense of what has happened during the past 18 months or so, not just in Australia, but around the world, how we have gotten into this policy nightmare that we are in, and basically how much we’ve lost, that we haven’t recognized and built into our policymaking and how importantly we can reconcile with what’s happened, including within families, within professions and in our countries and move forward together. So it was really a very cathartic effort to, um, to produce this book. I think the reason it’s popular: it is really multifaceted.
First, I mean, I have been talking about it a bit and I have probably been one of the lightning rods in this country [Australia] in terms of people who are prepared to go out in public and say that lockdowns were a bad response to COVID. And so if you hate me or you love me, you might be interested in the book. So that might help.
The Brownstone Institute, our publisher in the United States, has been pushing it very hard, and it very much aligns with their mission, which is to try to understand how to install institutions and safeguard and nurture institutions in societies that preserve people’s freedoms. And, uh, and don’t feature authoritarian overreach by governments. Although I should also add, although this is a Liberal Party event, I am not a member of the Liberal Party, nor of any political party. As a professor, I very much make a point of not belonging to, or giving money to, or support to any particular political party. Um, my aims are very much about human welfare and are not motivated by ideology. And that comes through very strongly in this book. It’s also, uh, an orientation that is shared by both of my co-authors. So, uh, you know, we’ll see how it runs, but so at the moment, as you say, signals seem to be good, and I’m getting a lot of invitations to speak on radio and television about the book as well for us. Sure. So we have a two-pronged approach. Uh, on the one hand we tell stories of what has happened during this period through the eyes of three main protagonists, the big players at an individual level of this period, Jane, James, and Jasmine, we call them. Jane is the fearful citizen who wants to be protected and scares easily, and essentially has kept the madness going first by pressuring her politicians to protect her in ways that were extreme and disproportionate to the actual threats, because she was so afraid she was paralyzed by her fear.
And then even in the later period. So even in 2021, continuing not only to demand that protection, but indeed to punish others who said, we didn’t need that protection. So she has been part of the enforcement brigade, basically of these disastrous wealth and health destroying policies that we’ve seen inflicted here in Australia and elsewhere.
James is an opportunist. He is a person who sees advantage and opportunity whenever they arrive. And they certainly arrived in spades to him when most of the world got so scared of COVID and he could be seen as the provider of protection. James is both in government and in industry, there are James types in both of those places, and often they will coordinate with each other. Governments will order huge masses of face masks or hand sanitizer. And the companies that are headed by James are more than happy to provide those or vaccines and our most recent, uh, sort of a wave of James’s. Jasmine, then is basically myself and my co-authors plus a good contingent of people around the world who have seen what is happening, initially expected things, perhaps not to go so badly.
I was certainly expecting the fear would, would wear off within the first couple of months, but then were surprised and horrified to see what happened. And I’ve been seeking first of all, confirmation that they were not the ones going insane, but the world was going insane. And so they’ve sanity checked with each other and then some notion of why this has happened. So we tell those stories through personal experiences penned by indeed, not just us, but other people who have been Jasmines and Janes and in this period, but also we then have a much more rigorous scholarly component of the book as the second prong. And in that component, we look at the political economy aspects of why, what has happened has happened, including that sort of James dynamic I spoke of. Also the social scientific aspect. There’s a whole chapter devoted to crowds, for example, crowd herd behavior, which is something we really had not seen in social science for my generation.
And so I think that’s why a lot of us were not expecting it. So we dissect what a crowd dynamic really is and how we’ve gotten into this and how we might get out of it. And we speak about many other kinds of historical analogies. So the Prohibition period in the United States, for example and, and the Middle Ages as an example of the kind of feudalistic behavior that we now see in big businesses, which are what we call neo-feudalist. We talk about what we call the bullshit industry, which is a whole layer of people who are not productive and essentially damaging the growth of their societies and how all of these different factors play in to, to make us vulnerable to the overreaction that we’ve seen. And then we conclude the book by providing some suggestions for how we might be able to improve our institutions moving forward to hopefully protect us better against the possibility of falling into such a disaster in the future.