The practical benefit of philosophy

I would generally recommend not paying attention to information that doesn’t make you happy, can’t be changed through your influence and doesn’t earn you a living. There’s information even I can’t avoid interacting with however, like the fact that my country is entering its second lockdown.

I could write yet another long essay here, outlining why this is a bad idea and how the harm outweighs the benefit. It has been done to death already by now, to the point that even the World Health Organization now points it out to world leaders. At some point I have to start writing under the assumption that my readers are more intelligent and up to date than the average person and I tend to see that assumption validated. In fact, I’ll apologize for how inefficiently I generally make use of your time.

If you’re sitting in a bus and the driver is driving at full speed towards a cliff, at some point you need to make the switch from focusing on trying to convince your fellow passengers that you will fall off a cliff if the driver has his way, to discussing how to respond to your predicament. This is why I think there are two points worth making.

The first point to comprehend is that everything we know about epidemiology suggests that extended periods of isolation of groups from the rest of the population tends to make those people more vulnerable to infectious respiratory disease. The pandemic influenza of 1918 was most dangerous for those who had very rarely been exposed to influenza. In addition, it was very deadly for soldiers, because these young men moved to different places where they found themselves exposed to entirely different bacteria, to which they had no immunity. Those bacteria generally killed them after influenza caused the initial damage.

We’re now observing that influenza infections are down dramatically across the Western world. This has two effects. With less influenza cases, the people who would normally succumb to influenza survive for a longer period than they otherwise would. Once normal human interaction resumes, we’ll have a big pool of people who would normally have died from influenza or similar forms of respiratory illness. In other words, once normal human interaction resumes, you would expect a spike in deaths from reasons beyond COVID-19 itself. This leaves me in doubt whether things will ever be allowed to return to normal.

The second effect we can expect is that we’re slowly becoming more vulnerable to respiratory disease now. The immune system needs to be trained through exposure to pathogens. The 1918 influenza was most deadly to those who had been exposed to a similar influenza just once in their lives: The body responds in a manner that works, but has terrible side effects. The people who had never been exposed to influenza were second worst off. Those who were best off, were those who had been exposed to multiple infections of a variety of strains: The body ends up with multiple ways of succesfully responding to the infection, rather than having just one learned way that throws a lack of balance into the response.

It works like this with COVID-19 too. Most people have a relatively mild infection. For some of them, the reason they have a mild infection is because the body has an immune response against similar corona viruses that cross-reacts with COVID-19. The body has this immune response because it’s regularly exposed to corona viruses. If we eliminate social interaction then we gradually start to lose this pre-existing protection, meaning that when COVID-19 does show up, we’ll be more vulnerable.

Abolishing face to face interaction is a pretty experimental response to a global pandemic. As usual, if you make an unprecedented intervention in a complex system, it’s going to respond to your intervention in ways that are hard to predict and generally detrimental to its overall stability. It will seek out homeostasis again, in a position that may differ significantly from that before your intervention.

The other thing I find worth mentioning is that you now live in a period where it’s still relatively easy to move between countries that have different ways of approaching this situation. New Zealand has such a growing pile of dry tinder that they’re going to fear any spark that might set the whole thing off. Similarly, if the humble nation of Sweden would have to provide refuge to all those young Europeans who want to have one more opportunity to go to an actual party and experience a youth worth living, even the Swedish will at some point stop saying “refugees welcome”. Globalism is a party that doesn’t last forever.

If you want to migrate, you should probably migrate when most people still think of migrating as a ridiculous overreaction. At what point during Hitler’s rise to power would you have fled Germany as a Jew? The easiest time to flee in hindsight would have been when most people still saw the threat as an absurdity. If I lived in New Zealand, Australia or Ireland now, I would work on getting out. The people there do not have a healthy mindset.

With the first lockdown you could argue that policymakers were ill informed. At this point, you have to start questioning people’s motives. Here’s a funny thing to ponder: If economists say the economy needs to shrink by 10% every year to make sure young people inherit an environment that’s still habitable, old people will ignore them. If epidemiologists say the economy needs to shrink by 10% every year to stop a virus that kills old people, old people will say that this is outrageous and the economy should actually shrink by 20% and the government is committing genocide against boomers.

In other words, there are all sorts of groups out there who figured out what’s happening and happily latched onto this to push their own pet peeves. If you say “airplanes emit CO2”, politicians will ignore you. If you say “airplanes spread the batsoupflu”, politicians become eager to bankrupt the airline industry. The reason you won’t see me do that is because I prefer being honest and sincere and I see no reason to believe the Chinese will play along in any of this, rather than laughing and moving on with their lives while Europe commits collective suicide in a vain effort to extend the suffering of elderly in nursing homes.

Dumb people only tend to care about themselves, the world beyond their senses does not exist to them, so the only way to control them is to terrify them with images of what might happen to them, rather than what they are causing to our planet. The church figured that one out long ago. It’s kind of curious how the Netherlands now wants people to stay in quarantine for two weeks after visiting another country, even as we have plenty of batsoupflu here domestically. What could possibly be the added value? There is none, except that it problematizes carbon intensive activities.

Nature has its own ways of enacting justice, so it’s not just a poetic coincidence that the Boomers suffer the existential anxiety in 2020 they ignored when the Zoomers suffered it in 2019. Carbon emissions haven’t gone down to zero overnight, but what sets the activities we eliminated apart from the ones that continue is that the eliminated activities can’t be made carbon neutral with modern technologies, whereas the ones that continue can be.

Traveling further than 5 kilometer from home almost inevitably requires burning carbon. What scared everyone with an IQ above room temperature was the exponential growth of the airline industry. That growth is now over. If I worked at Greenpeace or some other NGO you would find me penning essays arguing the batsoupflu is the worst pandemic since the Black Death, but because this is my own blog I can just be honest here. There are people who believe this was all planned, but I think we’re mainly dealing instead with dishonest people who see an opportunity to elevate their own status or push their own pet peeves and jump onto it.

We’re now moving towards a society that’s becoming ruthlessly energy-efficient. Smoking weed while you watch Netflix creates almost as much pleasure in your brain as traveling to the other side of the world to go backpacking in New Zealand, so in the long run the latter activity will be phased out as too energy inefficient. Exchanging bodily fluids with someone you met through the Internet creates almost as much pleasure in your brain as marrying your college sweetheart and raising a family together does, so the latter activity is being phased out for being too energy inefficient. The punishment that the Boomers face for their collective failure to address the problem that faces our globe is that they’re now going to spend their golden years suffering from crippling existential anxiety that prohibits them from enjoying the remnant of their lives.

Aristotle said that the benefit he gained from philosophy is that he does without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law. It’s kind of similar with the batsoupflu. If you understand that climate change is a genuine problem then you don’t really feel like traveling around the globe, or stuffing yourself full with meat and dairy to the point where you become obese. If you’re an idiot who doesn’t comprehend statistics, then you’re going to do it because the media told you a 33 year old Instagram fitness guru died after “denying corona”. I’m impressed with how little effort it takes nature to punish humans for their collective stupidity: She just gave us the rope to hang ourselves with.

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