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BLINDSIGHT IS 2020
Perspectives on Covid policies from dissident scientists, philosophers, artists, and more
The following is a guest post by Gabrielle Bauer, author of the new book BLINDSIGHT IS 2020: Perspectives on Covid policies from dissident scientists, philosophers, artists, and more. Bauer and I crossed paths as fellow Brownstone contributors, and I think readers will enjoy her expansive and grounded take on the Covid era thus far.
Bauer is a Toronto health and medical writer who has won six national awards for her magazine journalism. Her books include Tokyo, My Everest, co-winner of the Canada Japan Book Prize, and Waltzing The Tango, a finalist for the Edna Staebler Creative Nonfiction Award.
An introduction to the book by the author
Follow the science. If there’s one phrase we all remember from the peak Covid years, that would be it. Follow the science and stay home. Follow the science and mask up. Follow the science and shut up.
Skeptics were quick to retort that science isn’t a church where we gather to worship, but a constantly evolving body of knowledge. This is true, of course. But “follow the science” misfires on a more fundamental level. Even assuming a perfect pandemic science, a science that can predict with 100% accuracy which mitigation measures work and which ones don’t, the slogan makes no sense. Like, literally—in a two-plus-two-is-five kind of way.
Don’t take it from me. Take it from Vinay Prasad, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California in San Francisco. “Science does not determine policy,” he wrote in a Medpage Today editorial. “Policy is a human endeavor that combines science with values and priorities.” Science can observe and predict, but it cannot decide. It cannot be followed. When people say “follow the science,” what they really mean is “follow my values.”
Finding my footing
From the earliest days of the pandemic, something deep inside me—in my soul, if you will—recoiled from the political and public response to the virus. Nothing about it felt right or strong or true. This was not just a scientific problem, but a societal crisis, so why were we listening exclusively to scientists? Where were the mental health experts? The child development specialists? The historians? The economists? Why were our political leaders encouraging fear rather than calm? And why were all my friends insisting that we had to keep our masks on and stay six feet apart until… nobody actually had an answer.
And then, slowly, I found my tribe: scientists and philosophy professors and novelists and lay people with a shared conviction that the world had lost its way. Thousands and thousands of them, all over the planet. Giorgio Agamben, the famous Italian philosopher, spoke my language when he lamented the separation of “bare life” from meaningful living. Lionel Schriver, the spirited UK novelist of We Need to Talk About Kevin fame, zeroed in on the meaning of freedom and the steep cost of throwing it away. As I continued to discover such bright lights, it occurred to me that it might be valuable to gather their insights in one place.
A peek inside the book
As a medical writer I knew that writing critically about Covid could jeopardize my career, but when the opportunity to write such a book came along, I couldn’t say no. Called Blindsight Is 2020, the book was recently published in English by the Brownstone Institute and in Spanish by Mandala Ediciones.
A blend of reported journalism, polemic, and personal storytelling, the book showcases 46 scientists, ethicists, writers, and other thinkers who reflect on the societal harms of the Covid-19 lockdowns and mandates. There’s Jennifer Sey, whose principles cost her a CEO position and a million dollars, calls out the mistreatment of children in the name of Covid. Zuby, my personal candidate for world’s most eloquent rapper, calls out the hubris and harms of zero-risk culture in his pithy tweets. Rupa Subramanya, who interviewed Canadian truckers who participated in the 2022 convoy, argues that the grass-roots movement sprang from something deeper and wider than vaccine mandates.
These and the other luminaries featured in the book help us understand the forces that shaped the dominant Covid narrative and the places where it lost the plot. Through their voices, the book addresses the questions that troubled me most during the pandemic, which have less to with epidemiology than with ethics. Questions such as these: Is it fair to require the greatest sacrifice from the youngest members of society, who stand to suffer the most from pandemic restrictions? Do mandates and coercive measures help or hinder pandemic management? Should civil liberties simply disappear during a pandemic, or do we need to balance public safety with human rights?
The thought leaders featured in the book address these tensions head-on. While they come from all points along the political spectrum, they all have a passion for freedom. They also share a fierce commitment to do right by all the children who were harmed by the Covid policies. None of them “deny” the virus; they simply understand that mitigation strategies will not succeed unless they respect biological realities, civil rights, and human nature. They resist the imposition of a “new normal” that reduces humans to disease vectors.
Old normal vs. new normal
For three years, the pro-restriction pundits insisted that the old normal was never coming back.
(You could almost see them rubbing their hands with glee.) In 2020, National Geographic speculated that the pandemic would reshape our sense of fear and disgust, leading us to eschew crowds for years. In 2021, Bloomberg predicted that the pandemic would permanently change the fitness industry, with virtual workouts outmuscling the sweaty-bodies format.
Travel would also change forever. Reader’s Digest told us to expect socially distanced airport lineups and airplane seating for the foreseeable future, along with pre-boarding temperature checks. In-flight magazines would disappear (who knows what virions lurk on that photo of a Thai beach) and meal services would be “modified to reduce contact.”
Experts also predicted that masks would outlive the pandemic. As early as October 2020, Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, proclaimed that “masks are in and handshakes out for the indefinite future.” A Vox article marvelled at the oddity of watching maskless gatherings in movies and on TV, as though this behavior belonged to some quaint prehistoric era. We clearly knew better now. Shaking hands? Gone forever, we were told. And nobody would ever blow out candles again.
I am happy to report that the prognosticators were dead wrong. The year 2023 is marching to a new drumbeat—an infectiously catchy beat that sounds remarkably like the old normal. All over the world, even in the most “progressive” regions, people have resumed doing all the things the doomsayers said would never come back. In the second-to-last chapter of my book, which features Bari Weiss and Bill Maher, I explore and celebrate the triumph of good old-fashioned human nature over the remaining Covid zealots on Twitter, who equate a maskless restaurant meal to genocide.
As an essayist and memoirist, I also enjoy weaving some personal anecdotes into the mix. From therapy with a Zoom shrink and attendance at a freedom protest to a trip to lockdown-free Sweden and an LSD trip on a lake, I recount several personal experiences that sprang from my despair about the Covid policies.
I wrote Blindsight Is 2020 to help those who shared my despair feel less alone. There’s nothing more validating than learning that some rather brilliant people share your misgivings. But I also wrote the book to help people who supported the Covid measures understand why some of us chafed at the policies they cheered on. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the book will introduce you to a cast of free-spirited and courageous characters. If nothing else, they’ll leave you with some food for thought.
Author Gabrielle Bauer discusses her book, BLINDSIGHT IS 2020, with Jeffrey Tucker, founder of the Brownstone Institute.
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