This is the introduction to the Brazilian edition of Liberty or Lockdown.
As I write, and much to my astonishment and sadness, the world is still in chains. These chains have been created by governments. They bind their citizens’ choices and actions in the name of virus control. I had expected the folly of lockdowns to end within weeks after their imposition, once the data were in on the demographics of severe outcomes. But through a terrible combination of factors – government and public ignorance and fear, media frenzy, big tech censorship, the outsized voice of fake lockdown science, and an unwillingness on the part of the lockdown industry to admit error – they continued for a full year and continue today.
On the day I’m writing, Paris and Berlin are once again under lockdown, Sao Paulo is being brutalized, and ever larger parts of Eastern and Western Europe are experimenting with a third round of failure. Anthony Fauci in the US is all over the media essentially denying that human immunity exists in any meaningful sense, kids are still being kept out of school, businesses are being forced to engage in preposterous rituals just to survive, most members of the ruling class parade in masks in a theatrical affectation that they are following the science, and a weary people are massively divided between those who want to believe the authorities and those who have lost all credulity in public health.
Our communities are shattered, our houses of worship in diaspora, our spirits crushed, and our expectations for the good life in tatters.
Also pouring in are the devastating data on the consequences of lockdown. The economic costs are stupefying, beyond anything we imagined we would ever see. The cultural costs are too, with arts and music devastated, along with the industries that support them. The most interesting and possibly counterintuitive costs are related to public health itself: the missed cancer screenings, the missed appointments, the prevalence of suicide ideation, the record drug overdoses, the alcoholism, the mental and emotional despair. As for settled matters of human rights – the freedom to speak, travel, worship, learn, trade – they are suddenly all in question.
It’s true that parts of the world are entirely open, and thank goodness for them. These places are experiencing no worse outcomes, and often much better outcomes, from the severe aspects of this disease than those who are still experimenting with rolling lockdowns. Indeed, in the last year, the American Institute for Economic Research has thoroughly documented 31 detailed studies of the empirical relationship between lockdowns and disease mitigation and found zero correlation and hence no causal relationship. More evidence pours in by the day: this is a normal virus, with natural immunity, with distinct characteristics that should be mitigated by medical professionals one person at a time – not managed by politicians and their advisors with agendas that have nothing to do with public health.
I’ve been involved in the debate over the government’s role in disease control for at least 15 years. Until last year, the consensus of the experts was that governments have a very limited role, simply because of the capacity of pathogens to outsmart even the best intentions of the powerful and their plans. In the golden age of public health in the 20th century, such brutal methods as public quarantines, shutdowns, mandatory masks, closures, travel restrictions, and universal stay-at-home orders were specifically ruled out as counterproductive, overly disruptive, and futile for achieving the task of minimizing damage from new pathogens. The powers to do all this have been there for the better part of 15 years or possibly for longer but they were not deployed for good reasons.
For reasons that will become increasingly clear over time, 2020 became the year of the great experiment. Suddenly, “nonpharmaceutical interventions” would replace our laws, our settled traditions of liberty, and love of peace and prosperity, and even the ideals of the Enlightenment itself. We put fear above rationality, division above community, power above rights, wild experiments above settled science, and the intellectual pretensions of a tiny ruling class above the interests of the social order.
It was all so shocking and inexplicable that most of the world’s population sat through month after month in a state of confused delirium, attached to screens with pundits preaching to us daily that all of this was necessary and good. And yet, we all recall now that humanity has always lived amidst pathogens new and old. We dealt with them and cobbled together an implicit social contract around infectious disease: we agreed nonetheless to build civilization and experience social progress, treating sickness and death as something to mitigate within the context of human rights. For the first time ever, we tried a global lockdown as scripted by scientific elites.
But now writing one year later, I’m pleased to say that the days of shock and awe are over, gradually being replaced by disillusionment with the ruling class and incredulity toward those who did this to us. There is no power on earth strong enough or rich enough to suppress truth. Truth exists within the realm of ideas, and that is a realm of infinite reproducibility, malleability, and portability, subject only to the willingness of the curious and courageous to tell that truth in every possible way to as many people as possible in every venue available. This is how truth wins, reaching one mind at a time.
We’ve all been tested during this last year. What are our intellectual commitments? Do we really believe them or have we adopted them for career reasons? What are the pressures to which we will succumb in order to relinquish our principles for prestige? How much are we willing to give up in order to fight for a cause larger than ourselves? I’ve been surrounded by heroes this year who have inspired me – God bless them – and others who were unwilling to step up when their voices were most needed, much to my sadness.
That aside, let’s all admit something: part of each of us has been broken by these lockdowns. No one wants to live in a world in which our essential rights and liberties can be granted or taken away based on the judgement calls of a handful of scientists who have no regard for our traditions of law. That’s called tyranny. We now know how terrible it is. And how futile. How demoralizing. How utterly ghastly and unconscionable.
I somehow always come around to silver linings, not only because it is my personality but also because they always exist. The silver lining is that much of the world has lived through the apotheosis of statism, that ugly ideology that posits that force is a better way to organize the world than choice. We dabbled in it as societies for the better part of 100 years and then suddenly in one year we went full on, just as a test. That test completely failed. We know it first hand. As I write, I’m confident that we’ve seen the worst of it.
Now is our chance – right now – to choose another path. We don’t need to work out every detail. We don’t need an alternative plan. And it’s not just about getting a new set of political leaders. What we need is a different philosophy. I humbly suggest that the philosophy that built modern civilization – that which we once called liberalism – will do just fine as a base line. Let us believe it, rally around it, institutionalize it, protect it, and fight for it. In doing so, we are not just working in our own self-interest but also in the common good of all.
Never lockdowns. Never again.