June 3, 2021 Reading Time: 8 minutes

The deification of Anthony Fauci is unraveling; it is time to learn a meta lesson. The issue isn’t Anthony Fauci’s failings. The problem is Faucism, the fantastical belief that wise and beneficent experts should rule.

Fauci will fall because of the one blunder that the public will never accept: Evidence is mounting that gain of function research in China, possibly funded by Fauci as head of NIAID, may have led to the pandemic. Worse for Fauci, he is on record as arguing the “benefits of such [gain of function] experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks” including the risk of pandemics. 

In coming months few will continue to deify Fauci. Fauci’s veneer of charm and brilliance will chip away and the political flip-flopper will be revealed. Increasingly the public will become aware that Fauci and his apostle politicians used the shield of false science to lie about such issues as herd immunity, the dire need for school closings, and other destructive policies. 

Michael Brendan Dougherty, writing in the National Review, offers two explanations for Fauci’s role.  Either he “purposely manipulated viral narratives and circumstances in order to assert his own authority” or Fauci is “just a big-mouth wannabe out over his skis.”  

Blame and rejection may come Fauci’s way, but few will learn the real lesson of why it is wrong to give one person so much power.

If Faucism is to die, the beliefs that give life to Faucism must be exposed and rejected.

We need to understand why a concentration of power creates errors. All “experts” given the power to control others are over-their-head big-mouth wannabes. 

The Nature of Knowledge, Risk, and Science

Most Faucists have never read Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” They do not know why the idea of allowing one man to determine policy is absurd: 

“The knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”

“Our ignorance is sobering and boundless,” observed philosopher Karl Popper. Faucists don’t believe that about their beloved leader. Who else should decide, they proclaim, but our most learned expert? 

Popper continued with what could be a credo for individuals willing to humbly explore their beliefs and admit the limits of individual knowledge: “With each step forward, with each problem which we solve, we not only discover new and unsolved problems, but we also discover that where we believed that we were standing on firm and safe ground, all things are, in truth, insecure and in a state of flux.” 

If the world is full of challenging problems and individuals with boundless ignorance, it is not surprising that Popper believed, “There are no ultimate sources of knowledge.” We can only “hope to detect and eliminate error” by allowing criticism of the theories of others and our own. 

To put it more succinctly, physicist Richard Feynman wrote, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

Of course, in today’s world Faucists are busy censoring views that dissent from their beloved leader and his apostles

University of Pennsylvania professor Philip Tetlock has been a skeptic of the ability of expert forecasters, who are “often mistaken but never in doubt.” Despite the poor track record of forecasters, they never lack followers. Tetlock writes, “We need to believe we live in a predictable, controllable world, so we turn to authoritative-sounding people who promise to satisfy that need.” 

Psychologist Paul Slovic is a leading authority on risk. He explains, “[T]here is no such thing as ‘real risk’ or ‘objective risk.’” Like the rest of us, experts suffer cognitive biases. Thus, Slovic concludes that the public’s view of risk should not be trumped by experts with greater political power. 

Dougherty observed that, “The public-health consensus around COVID-19 and the proper or necessary interventions to take against it shifts all the time.” Once we understand the nature of knowledge and the subjective nature of risk, how can it be any other way? The problem is that this consensus is filtered and defined by few people, such as Fauci, and then translated into rigid rules. Alternative views are then suppressed. Dougherty continues,

“This consensus shapes public policy and leaks out into respectable mainstream news outlets; most insidiously, it becomes encoded as a quasi-official public line that every individual on social media is obliged to repeat and share or else be subject to demonetization, warnings, censorship, and accusations of spreading disinformation. The polarization of our politics and of public-health elites has left us with two categories of thought on COVID: the Science, and dangerous (sometimes racist) conspiracy theories. Half the time, the conspiracy theories become the Science. Belief in the efficacy of masks or in the lab-leak theory made these transitions. But these shifts don’t happen upon the publication of credible new scientific studies. There is almost no public jousting and argument among scientists and researchers. There is just a sliding from one position to another when it becomes safe. Long after these shifts take place, CDC guidance often comes to incorporate them.”

Dougherty illuminated what was paramount in Fauci’s mind in the early days of the crisis. In March 2020, during a briefing by economic advisors to President Trump, Vice President Pence, and the coronavirus task force, the severity of the impact of lockdowns on the economy “stunned everyone into silence” except for Fauci. Fauci “immediately turned to Vice President Pence and asked… ‘I’m still in charge, right?’”

In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, journalist James Surowiecki, echoing Hayek on knowledge, explains “[T]here’s no real evidence that one can become expert in something as broad as ‘decision making’ or ‘policy.’”

For those who believe in decision making by elite experts, Surowiecki has counterintuitive conclusions: “If you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight, you’re better off entrusting it with major decisions rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people, no matter how smart these people are.”

Medical Hierarchies

Dr. Peter Pronovost is a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. In his book Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals, Pronovost reveals a common mindset among physicians and medical professionals and explores why this mindset increases medical errors and compromises patient safety.

Pronovost relates, “[Doctors] are taught to ignore the crowd and trust their own training and education.” Referring to Surowiecki’s book, Pronovost explains that doctors have no use for the wisdom of crowds—nurses, physicians from other specialties, and others. As you read, notice how Pronovost’s mindset is Hayekian:

“Each of the members of a patient’s team, including a parent if the patient is a child, sees problems through a different set of lenses that is shaped by personal experiences and training. Each of those lenses provides valuable information, information that helps us make wise decisions. Nurses see things differently than doctors, junior doctors see things differently than senior doctors; patients see things differently than clinicians; and family members have their own lenses.” 

Understanding that knowledge is dispersed leads to humility, not a desire to make your view supreme. Pronovost continues,

“No lens is more accurate than the other; they are just different. Each has a partially incomplete view of a complex puzzle. The fewer the lenses the more distorted the view, the worse the decision, and the greater the risk for preventable harm. A team approach does not detract from the physician’s talent, authority, or power. It only enhances them by ensuring that he or she makes the best possible decisions.”

Contrast the team approach Pronovost describes with the tenet of Faucism whereby the authority of the leader makes the leader’s view supreme. Pronovost relates many tales of white-coat supremacy resulting in harm, but who could have imagined a doctor with the power to harm millions?

Tacit knowledge is knowledge gained from experience and wisdom that can be difficult to express. Pronovost explains how guidelines from central authorities, such as the CDC, suppress tacit knowledge. He writes, “One of the greatest sources of knowledge in medicine comes from what physicians and nurses learn on the job. This tacit knowledge develops and spreads into a ‘tribal knowledge’ of techniques at work and these techniques are soon practiced by a number of physicians and nurses.”

Pronovost explains that much of “this [tacit] wisdom is not from the published literature, and some of it may not be very effective, but it is one of the ways physicians learn.” Pronovost adds “there is no existing system for capturing this knowledge and sharing it with the medical world.” Today, notice how tacit knowledge is stamped out as physicians developing effective treatments for Covid are ridiculed and censored.

Pronovost’s work has helped to flatten medical hierarchies and deflate the egos of doctors resulting in improved medical practices, notably reducing central line infections in intensive care units resulting in many saved lives.

Live Not by Lies

Pronovost has faced challenges as he exposed white-coat supremacy, but he never had to contend with vested interests trying to defame him.

During the pandemic, brave doctors such Scott Atlas, Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta, and Jay Bhattacharya have been vilified. These doctors have not been willing to, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would say, live by lies. 

In 1974 when Solzhenitsyn was arrested, and exiled to the West, the text of his short essay “Live Not by Lies” was released. Solzhenitsyn railed against those who complained about the destructive policies of the ruling “they” while pretending they themselves were “helpless:” 

“We are approaching the brink; already a universal spiritual demise is upon us; a physical one is about to flare up and engulf us and our children, while we continue to smile sheepishly and babble: ‘But what can we do to stop it? We haven’t the strength.’”

Solzhenitsyn describes the mindset of helplessness, “We have internalized well the lessons drummed into us by the state; we are forever content and comfortable with its premise: we cannot escape the environment, the social conditions; they shape us, ‘being determines consciousness.’ What have we to do with this? We can do nothing.”

Helplessness is a common state of mind today. One may say, If vaccine passports become mandatory, what can I do? I must keep my job. Another may say, I am a family physician with reservations about administering the experimental vaccine to those at low risk for Covid. Yet, I must keep my mouth shut or risk censure by the administration of my hospital-owned practice.  

Solzhenitsyn writes, “But we can do—everything!—even if we comfort and lie to ourselves that this is not so. It is not ‘they’ who are guilty of everything, but we ourselves, only we!”

Solzhenitsyn shows us the way; he provides a list of ways we can stop passively lying. Even if we are unwilling to risk our jobs, we can understand that authoritarians and totalitarians rule by lies. Through that understanding, we find “the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!

Solzhenitsyn adds, 

“For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person.

We are not called upon to step out onto the square and shout out the truth, to say out loud what we think—this is scary, we are not ready. But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think!”

Our job is infinitely easier than was Solzhenitsyn’s. The big lie of Faucism is that rule by benign experts is possible when it is never possible. We must admit the limits of individual knowledge. Authoritarians and totalitarians rule by lies; their ignorance is as sobering and boundless as ours. Is it too much to ask of Americans that they learn why Faucism is a bankrupt philosophy? Is it too much to ask that they refuse to cooperate anymore in the censorship and canceling of others?

In place of helplessness, we can choose not to participate in lies. “Let their rule hold not through me!” is the key to our liberation. We can be open and eager for public jousting and arguments from diverse points of view. If this is too much to ask, we will lose our remaining freedoms. 

Barry Brownstein

Barry Brownstein

Barry Brownstein is professor emeritus of economics and leadership at the University of Baltimore.

He is the author of The Inner-Work of Leadership, and his essays have appeared in publications such as the Foundation for Economic Education and Intellectual Takeout.

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