This post has the appearance of trying to persuade you, but this is actually not so. I certainly hope you are persuaded by the links and my comments on them, but I have a deeper purpose, which I will get to below (or the next post - don't know.) There are then deeper levels beyond that, which I may or not reveal, depending on how things go. But the people who argue online are not fully representative of...well, of anything, really. So the following links are for demonstration purposes.
I have been waiting this post for bsking to put up her most recent on excess mortality, as she promised. Breaking down national data by race and age and age-adjusting the state data because there are large differences turns out to be interesting. Florida looks better than you would think from looking at the data - not surprising as it is an old state - and the safest states in the northeast and northwest look even better. Texas looks worse, and Mississippi and DC look terrible in excess deaths. She discusses some of the possible variations in assignment and counting. She is clearly not trying to make any side look better or worse - except perhaps noting defensively that while Massachusetts is often listed among the worst states for covid deaths, this is not so when one makes some reasonable adjustments. She makes the point to me that we should all be looking at data by states anyway, as we will have a much better sense if anything is fishy in the case of places we live, or have lived, or border on. It's easy to get into discussions about whether the upper reaches of the CDC are reliable, when none of us have much access. But I have great deal of confidence in what NH is reporting, because I have some familiarity with the people, and the local media, and local knowledge.
I have been following the more recent trends. You can browse the state data and look at the graphs here. Of note, some states with notoriously bad overall totals, such as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, show that they are all front-loaded for the beginning of the pandemic. Not much blip in cases or deaths since then. Texas has as many new cases and almost as many deaths as any time in the last 18 months, and Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas actually have more. As there is some vaccination even in the lowest-level states, it becomes a question of whether this is because they reopened too soon, the delta variant is worse enough to override even a partial vaccination rate, or some other reasons. South Dakota is interesting. It was trumpeted last year that Sturgis was/was not a superspreader event as predicted/denied, then watched as new cases quadrupled that month, held steady for another month, and then exploded. However, that was the time lots of other places were exploding as well, so maybe the festival wasn't the cause. The same thing is happening this year, with a spike in cases just after the gathering - but a lot of other places are seeing a spike right now as well. I think we will have to depend on honest, knowledgeable reporters in SD to figure that out. Hope they've got some.
Masks work. This means they have worked throughout, though Stone notes why this is hard to measure. I had an argument with one guy on another site who insisted that because masks do not absolutely prevent covid, they cannot be said to "work." We say that seat belts work even though some accidents are so bad that people die anyway. We say that condoms work, even though by their very nature people use them wrongly (impatience, usually) or skip them altogether, and relying on them has a higher pregnancy rate than other methods. We say that calorie restriction works for losing weight because it works some for everyone, at least for a short while, and keeps on working for a smaller percentage. I digress. Perhaps none of you were going to offer the same argument. There are huge caveats about masks, which I am certain I have stated repeatedly, as have most mask advocates. There are only secondarily a filter, they are mostly a barrier protection, very effective for coughs, sneezes, singing, yelling. They don't work if you are siting in an unventilated space with someone for extended periods, because all the air in the room eventually passes through the infected people. They don't work if they aren't worn properly. Just because they are mandated does not mean they are worn or worn properly, because people rebel and shave the edges. Just as with gun control (and, I think we may soon see, vaccines), people who don't like a law will find ways around it, and you don't get the result you expected. However, that doesn't mean that gun safety (or vaccination) doesn't work. It just mean the mandate didn't work. So too with masks. The masks-don't-work studies I have seen consistently make this error, that mandates don't work. The places where masking is enforced, as in hospitals and clinics. have found that everything else contagious has gone down so far that they will likely never go back to maskless. From that, they conclude that masks likely provide a similar benefit for covid, even though they have no baselines from 2015-2019 to compare it to. Because no covid then.
But the people with skin in the game think they work enough to keep going. That is always a big deal to me. Not "authority," which I will deal with later, but skin in the game.
Astral Codex Ten has a very thorough post on what we know about Long Covid. He always has lots of comments, some of which are also lengthy. I don't think one needs to read even any of them, let alone all of them, but I hope they at least dissuade people from jumping to the conclusion that "he has overlooked this
really important point unsupported cliche I need to tell the world." I have seen a couple of links on other conservative sites that "long covid isn't as bad as we feared." As I never saw them express any fear at all, only the carefully curated news that supports the conclusion they had reached before the studies were even begun, that can't possibly be true. They had no fear at all and have ignored or denied it consistently. You can't get less than zero fear. I feel I have been mentioning this to an empty auditorium for months. They are holding scraps aloft. "Look, it's not as bad for children as the "experts" told us it would be!" What experts said that? Who made predictions? So let's start from the simpler premise of "long covid is real," and let's see how big a deal it is rather than ignoring it whenever we calculate what the tradeoffs have been. We conservatives (except me, of course) have an absolute failing grade here.
Nurses are resigning, especially in the states hardest hit recently. Yes, CNN plays the violin here, but 2000 fewer nurses in a state the size of Mississippi is a big deal. Medical care will be worsened for everyone. There have been claims that postponed care was already killing people, though that did not seem to show up in 2020's numbers. But there is a limit to how long you can postpone things. It may have started to happen this year. Even if true they only dent the definite covid numbers a little, but it's certainly not good. By the way, the anti-vaccination groups are trying to claim that the nurses are resigning over the vaccine mandates. Some are, especially among minority populations. I don't see evidence it's a lot. However, resignations may be occurring for both reasons and both sides trying to take credit for the aggregate number, similar to those poll questions of "Do you think this country is headed in the right direction?" Pretty useless question, with no predictive value of anything.
But that's not what I came to talk to you about. I want to go over some history about how opinions are formed on this matter. Way back in early 2020 I thought we might have much less problem on this side of the Atlantic. Trump had closed down flights despite opponents calling him racist for it - I now shudder to think how quickly it would have spread otherwise, back when hospitals didn't quite know how to treat it and we thought mechanical breathing was going to be key. Plenty of people - I have mentioned that Sarah Hoyt was prominent among them - assured us that we weren't going to have Italy's and France's problem because our hygiene was better. Others noted that we didn't have so many grannies living with families here, and our hospitals are better, etc.
Well, things spiked quickly, as you well know. Large gathering places started shutting down, particularly indoors. There was still the attitude that if we strangled this in its cradle we'd be okay. The idea of two weeks to bend the curve was only part of that, not some outlier. People now get enraged that the CDC and other experts said that and then it wasn't true, but we pretty much all subscribed to that general idea. One big slam. don't let it get a foothold. Then we could deal with a smaller, more manageable crisis after that. Churches thought they were going to be back open for Easter. There were some voices who were already telling us that novel contagion doesn't always work that way, and even announcing there would be a spike in summer. I was considered one of the pessimistic ones because I didn't think that the sharp increase in cases was going to be just as sharp going down. I thought we would have a more gradual decline.
The deaths kept mounting, and already people were trying on their new denials: there wasn't really an increase; the deaths weren't really covid, they were just sorta covidish, if they existed at all; masks don't work and there's probably nothing we can do to make things worse or better anyway; letting everyone get sick would probably be better. There were, and are, more. Some were darker, part of the motivated reasoning I will discuss later. "Everyone is acting scared (means: I'm brave and they aren't)." "It's only old people and people with other health conditions (the classic defense mechanism against danger, that you are somehow not vulnerable because you are smarter than that. He only got robbed because he wasn't being alert, etc.) and the self fulfilling "Americans aren't going to put up with this." Sure, it's patriotic to refuse to take health measures
Even in early August I nearly wrote in to one of the podcasts I had been listening to that had predicted a spike late July and early August - see? It didn't happen, did it? I don't hear you admitting you got that wrong. I am glad I held back, because then came September. A half a million deaths later, and people's excuses and opinions haven't changed. I have to wonder what would have changed them. I remember that summer the fury that some people had that some "experts" had dared predict we might have as many as 2.2 million deaths. What a maroon! That's why you can't listen to experts! I recall being apologetic for them that summer, trying not to call them alarmist and extreme, and cautioning others not to do so either. Well, that's the worst-case scenario...if you look at what's happening in Europe you might leap to that conclusion...don't assume they are just trying to scare you... So, coming up on 800,000 excess mortality now...estimates the vaccines have saved about another 200,000. Let's run the mental experiment of not shutting down the international airports, and of not closing down to prevent the spread, of not masking, not distancing. Could that have doubled the death total? I don't know. That seems possible. Gee, all the skeptics and critics - including me, to some extent - turned out to be even more wrong.
Remember that hospitals were overfull, with units being turned into covid-only, ERs overflowing - so let's take our imagination experience and double the number of cases. How's that playing out? Health-care workers doubling their exposure, and so more of them sent home. Whether lack of prompt care drove much excess mortality in 2020 is not clear - I think only a little, but may turn out to be wrong, and 2021 might be worse - but it absolutely would have been happening under that scenario. No hospital beds, huge numbers of doctors and nurses unable to come in because of quarantine. And some dying, by the way. That gets conveniently overlooked in the "only old and fat people" telling. As with Kipling's "Tommy" and soldiers, societies can devalue sacrificial people who just don't happen to be on their radar at the moment.
So the data changed, and changed dramatically, but people didn't change their opinions. When that happens, it is fair to ask whether they are engaging in motivated reasoning. Even when I strongly suspect it, I usually refrain from accusing others of poor motives unless I have very good evidence, and even then, only if they are accusing others of poor motives. I take the view that we are a mix of good and bad motives in all our decisions and we try to inspire others to do the best they can. I have questioned people's motives many times over the last sixteen years, because I think confirmation bias and motivated reasoning is enormous. But it is double-edged. As with CS Lewis and Bulverism, if you use that door, it swings both ways. So the data has changed, but the accusation of bad motives has not budged, or has even intensified. Suspicion of the accusers' motives is entirely justified now.
Persuasion isn't supposed to work like this. Elizabeth Breunig has a nice article on not shaming the unvaccinated, but listening to them, because many of them are not as unreasonable as advertised. She is a nice person, I think, and it is true. But I am not trying to be persuasive here. It will surprise you that I am not even talking about covid, ultimately. When discussing reasoning and motivation dispassionately, it is best to take non-emotional examples. Sam says that Julie is taller than she was last year. His wife says, no, she has stopped growing. But I am intentionally keeping this discussion in hot and even angry places. Because most of you know about logical fallacies in the abstract. Some of you know them better than I do. That's not what is happening here, and I want the examples bubbling. I am also not convinced that gentle persuasion is the best route. Greg Cochrane has been very ungentle, including to me directly, but he is one of the people who has most changed my thinking over the last five years. I am usually immune to shaming, but it is not mere shaming that is persuasive. It is finding I am wrong that is shaming, and in those instances the lash does not seem unfair. I get over it pretty quickly.
I keep thinking you have read what I have written to date and are slowly absorbing it over the week while I finish. That won't be the way it works, of course, it will come as a fire hose, and each of you will identify a particular bit you want to comment on, which might be something of less interest to others and which I have long moved on from. As there is some slight danger that this is my last post except for odd bits I might put in every week or so going forward, I will likely let things collect before I rejoin, if at all.
For review, one of my most-visited posts, Types of Liberty. See if you can anticipate as I develop this what this means for vaccination, lockdowns, masking, voluntary shutdown, etc in the various American regions.My hypothesis is that the regional variation in vaccination especially still has some founder effect values behind it. Following David Hackett Fischer, it shows the cultural differences in the various American colonies about the idea of liberty and how that still flows into our cultures now, though in attenuated form. I will not go into detail, except to notice that personal independence and civil disobedience are different in the New England, Coastal Southern, and Appalachian cultures. (I don't have a handle on the Quaker mid-Atlantic on the subject, and so won't try to force some interpretation in.) The Coastal South was deeply hierarchical, with initial forced obedience to the FFV or other cultural rulers of Wessex mentality. But this gradually created a shamefulness about being one of the people who had to take orders rather than give them. That former group was larger and may have had more cultural influence. The Appalachian Scots-Irish were mixed independent, often isolated most of the time but still connected to a web of relatives, a clan, which could take on the deeply obedient attitudes of tanistry, thanes of Cawdor, or of Buckland. This was hidden and less formal in America, but still real. It bled over into church authority among the Baptists and the many sects. I am getting far afield here, but these country churches kept splitting off from each other to form small churches a few miles down the road, but within those narrow walls, there was obedience unknown among New England Congregationalists. It's complicated, probably worth more than a few PhD theses (which I wouldn't encourage, because those knuckleheads would miss every elephant in every room throughout South Carolina, frankly). But I would put big money on the idea that there are congregations in the South where no one is vaccinated and others where everyone is, and where there is division among them, predict a church split in the next few years. So they may be deeply dug in along the lines of "You can't tell me what to do" to the government, yet willingly obedient elsewhere.
This is completely incomprehensible in Northern New England, past and present. The town and church were originally synonymous, but that's clearly not going to hold up, and quickly the town won out. Like before 1700. A New Englander - a default libertarian until about 1900 - used to be deeply suspicious of Concord/Montpelier/Augusta and very especially Boston. Washington DC was beyond even uttering out loud. The town won out over both the county and the Congregational Church. But the town actually did have the authority to tell you what to do. Without that, no schools, no hospitals, no roads would happen. And deep Yankees would accurately point out in the late 1800s that those things did not happen throughout the south. If you don't like what the bastards are doing, you vote them out next time. (This has clearly attenuated in the last four decades. We blame it on the rest of you moving up here. Especially New York.) But when people dig in and say they aren't going to do what Concord says, it is on the basis of "They're wrong," not "You can't tell me what to do."
Tangent: The Free Staters from around the country who chose New Hampshire and moved in and thought they could influence the politics of a small state and make us a City on a Hill for libertarianism never got this distinction. Still don't. They try that "sovereign citizen" nonsense on us and we just look at them blankly. When they tried to install a " fully libertarian" government in little Grantham, NH it was just anarchy.
Back in line. So when my friend Grim accused me of wanting to defer to medical professionals I was amazed that he would insult me at that depth. I spent my career fighting with arrogant doctors who actually didn't know better than me, and I could prove it, dammit. I am deferring to no one. The experts, while flawed, are making a better case than the skeptics and I am going along, thanking them for the time they have put in so I don't have to. But if they are wrong, we don't go to no experts, where we all just make up our own guess, but to new experts. Throw the bastards out. (I wish this were still deeply true about northern New England, but fully admit we actually don't throw the bastards out anywhere near as much as we used to anymore. The system may have broken beyond repair.)
So it took me a bit to figure out that in Grim's cultures of origin (which seems to be only a percentage of his current culture), that's how it must look. His word choice was suggestive, bleeding out from that base. And if Grimmy, who can step back into considerable objectivity, leaks out he thinks that about me, who he knows more about...the penny dropped for me. In other mouths, that idea is much more dominant. All this accusation from others - and boy do I know about those others at this point - that the people who put on masks are nervous and cowardly, and the people getting vaccinations are somehow believing authority like sheeple rather than following evidence, made sense in cultural terms. In their culture, that would be more likely, at least at some long-inherited level.
But that's more than a little ugly, and I'm going to not only push back, but shove back against it. Eighteen months of accusing that those other people just want power and to tell you want to do and grind you down, and don't actually have any good reasons I now think says more about the accusers than the accused. Because we have received new data month after month, and they haven't budged. So does that mean that this level of authoritarianism is what you would do if you held the whip hand, or does it mean that you just don't like being told what to do and reject all reasoning on that basis. Because at this point, I submit that this has to be at least part of your motivation, based on a dozen comment threads on a dozen sites. If I were wrong, it would have eventually shown up in the comments that you made, and I have been on this a long time now.
That you are annoyed at Karens wearing masks in what you perceive to be a showy, prim manner is irrelevant.
That high-ranking officials are traveling in ways denied others, or going maskless, or otherwise being hypocrites is irrelevant. It may be relevant as to whether you vote for them again, sure, but that fact that celebrities come to believe they are invulnerable and can do what they want isn't news, and it tells us nothing one way or the other about safety.
That it offends you that most parents are okay with their kids being masked (though they want them back in the classroom), and the kids are bothered by other requirements much more than masks is irrelevant. You want them to be furious. They aren't. This is taking place in your head. You have some need, whether social or personal, for some things to be true and others not. But that has nothing to do with actual truth, and frankly, it's not my problem.
That you want these new vaccines to be dangerous is motivated reasoning. There's no evidence for it. None. Zero. I tried to be polite for the sake of persuasion rather than confrontation about these bizarre idea that reproductive danger was possible - the absolute go-to for paranoiacs about anything they suspect - but this is just over. There will be something that shows up about the vaccines that isn't good, according to the law of averages. That's normal. We already know that premature births are occurring with covid, but not among the pregnant and vaccinated. I lean against making even complete fools do stuff unless the danger is clear, not because I think it's a bad idea this time to increase public safety (it will) but because I shudder at what such government overreach means next year or the year after.
Go back up to the original links. While I have referenced a few of the topics over the last months, I intentionally chose things that were new information. Did you treat this as new information to be absorbed into your views? Likely, you did not. The folks who thought masking was good thought Yes! Masks! I always said so! And the people who thought masks useless immediately went to There must be something wrong with this. I say this not to play the percentages - which would be valid - but because I have personally watched you do this. You either have the self-observation to see this, or you don't. I put up those links, then the subsequent harsh meta-discussion about how things have been going, not to persuade you, but simply to illustrate how this is done. I'm intentionally not persuading. You are on your own.
There are variations on this motivated reasoning. To move to a more neutral example, Sally says to Cindy that "Catholics don't let their people read the Bible." Then a few others chime in and they discuss this for half an hour, about no private interpretation, Vatican II, whether the practical results bear out Catholic theory, etc. Then Molly comes in and says "But you are missing the real issue. Catholics don't let their people read the Bible." And I wonder why I am bothering to discuss these things at all. Person after person, known to display some sort of intelligence on other topics, has proven unable to do anything other than burst in, recite their cliche from forty minutes or forty years ago, and expect others to just agree. Do I seem unfair? This just happened here, and I can pull up forty example over the last year from a very narrow band of sites. And this from people I actually like. It is a subset of motivated reasoning. It wastes everyone's time. It's just birds chirping out their current location.
But the central motivated reasoning is complicated and varied. You see yourself as brave, ignoring the poor bastard of a cashier at the supermarket quick line who is exposed to a thousand people a day at about 4' distance. Because you estimate, accurately, that you are not in much danger when you shop and don't need a mask. You are suspicious of the conventional wisdom - I really understand that one, since childhood - and think yourself wise thereby, better than those fools. You don't actually know anyone working in the ICUs but you think things are probably okay there, because...you want that answer. The danger is exaggerated. All your favorite conservative sites tell you so, and you don't trust the others.
As a CS Lewis-obsessed person, I feel confident I can lay claim to having looked at layer after layer of possible bad motivations I might have for anything I believe. As a psychiatrist friend once laughed, "I'm not absolutely sure of my own name. And my mother is a very honest person." Yet even within that context I might well have been only playing a complicated chess game against myself, letting black win this time because it would seem fair. It's unrealistic to expect any of you - except maybe James - to see things that thoroughly. But this year things went bad. I tried to stay with my peeps as long as I could, but i just can't.
If I seem unfair to the conservatives about this, and you want to point out how much worse liberals are. I will say I have done that for sixteen years. Yes I am being one-sided. Suck it up, Jasper. My belief is that we all have personal and social reasons for wanting some things to be true, and that's normal. We should try to correct for those, but we might miss a trick. We might miss many tricks. But I expect you to do that homework before you comment. We have some tradition of that here, which has increasingly slipped away in 2021. Some have. I would name you, but I would miss some and imply insult to the innocent.
Why do I rant? It's not about covid, covid is just an example, expressly chosen to burn and chafe. Because without the ability of a large percentage of us to beat ourselves up over possible suspect motives, there will be no cooperative governance, no understanding...
...no western civilisation, and ultimately people will be unable to consider the claims of Christ. I have that Quest for Saint Aquin view, a similar oversimplification of Aquinas to Francis Schaeffer's, that logic must ultimately lead to God, and removing logical obstacles in one sect will lead to lightning coming down on an altar elsewhere. Weeding is a humble but desperately needed act.
It is not our part to master all the tides of the
world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we
are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those
who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall
have is not ours to rule. JRR Tolkien