When I was a child, every history textbook started off with a narrative about where humanity originated. They still do, actually. Superficially, it makes sense to start off a discussion of history with a discussion of the first human beings, right? And so every school child was taught that humanity originated in Africa, that “civilization” started in the Fertile Crescent, and that human beings migrated according to their primitive whims in various directions around the world.
If you challenged this narrative to any school teacher – Why are you so confident that humans made it to North America by walking across a frozen Bering Strait? Why are you so confident that the Pacific Islanders are not incredibly ancient and could travel the globe on boats fashioned with stone-age technology? – they would tell you to get with the program, it’s in the textbook, credentialed authorities said it and so that makes it “fact.” I know this, because I challenged that particular narrative a lot as a kid for giggles. Does your impression that “humanity” started in the Fertile Crescent mostly have to do with the fact that you come from a Judeo-Christian background and that makes that region your first “scientific” observation of humanity, as it was the one that primarily interested you? Why didn’t you start off looking for humanity on the other side of the world? In a weird way, science imitates imperialism.
When I was an adult, someone had the novel idea to look at the Amazon rain forest with satellites. You will remember that various special interest groups describe the Amazon rain forest as “pristine” territory, touched only by a few natives across millennia, until western civilization decided to mow it down in the service of avocado toast. But the Amazon rain forest was hardly pristine; in fact, there are the remnants of a civilization with a population upwards of a million people, probably older than Europe, under there. My grade-school teachers were not familiar with such technology, however, when they were lecturing me about how little empirical data there was to support my criticism that the spread of humanity across the globe and its timing were “settled science.”
This is actually true for a lot of what an overly confident class of academics globally thinks about pretty much anything. But since most of humanity gets along just fine without caring about the publish-or-perish crowd’s latest obsession, literally no one outside their department or coterie cares to fisk them or their assumptions about the universe.
Here, with the coronavirus, we have the collision of governments, professional economists, and academics with their narratives about how some phenomenon has occurred. Now something major is at stake, and that something is the fate of sophisticated western democracies, which – make no mistake – depends entirely on its own will to prosper to survive in any form approximating its current existence. Six-trillion-dollar bailouts are not something you can repeat ad nauseam.
And you have a narrative, crafted by some individual western academics, that describes how the spread of a particular illness has occurred across the globe. Some smart observers – not among the chattering class, but among trained medical professionals and engineers – are skeptical of that model. That alone should be sufficient to call into question any public policy that uses that model as its foundation, let alone one so destructive to our economic survival.
The Imperial model, the CDC worldview, and that of the World Health Organization are like the people who are 100% confident that civilization started in the Fertile Crescent. They believe the coronavirus started in China because – as the saying goes – some Chinese dude just had to eat a bat for dinner. China has countered that claim, suggesting that the virus had been bouncing around the globe for months. They are supported by any US mother who ever took their child to a playdate in the last few months – myself included – in this theory. This theory that is now being regarded as a “conspiracy theory” by the corporate media for literally no other reason than it is supported by another culture with a highly problematic regime.
The corporate media are relying on their political impressions, not real empirical data to make that claim. Until there is widespread testing of antibodies and a sense of whether herd immunity is already well-developed, they have no reason to believe with such confidence that the illness was dispersed around the globe in the order and time frame they currently, passionately, loudly argue is true. Not because blah blah blah propaganda, but because they can’t make a positive argument about anything right now. All they can do is call people with competing theories names.
A lot depends on that time frame. If the US has been living with this illness for a while – only hospitals have been calling it pneumonia or bronchitis or whatever they’ve been calling it on a case-by-case basis because it only now has become epidemiologically interesting and worthy of structured testing – then those bureaucrats at the CDC and WHO have advocated nuking the global economy over nothing. They took a high-stakes public opinion with relatively little credible information, and they will have to be dragged away from that by naysayers with significant, compelling information. And time is of the essence, because every week they spend entrenched in their theories is another multi-trillion dollar bailout, which can only carry on until the dollar loses all meaning whatsoever. And on that scale, it will happen sooner than you think.
All of this has unfolded because said academics and bureaucrats built a narrative that relied entirely on their confidence that their first observations of illness were, in fact, the first instances of illness on the planet, and that the ripples across the globe are about chronology and not the differences in demographics across countries (i.e. that some countries have more people in a vulnerable demographic than others, therefore they have more hospital events that call attention to the illness than others).
It’s a spectacularly expensive lesson in intellectual humility, all-around.