Attention Everyone: Let It Go!

Rarely does someone find a way to express what I am thinking in a more eloquent fashion than I can. Kudos to Jonah Goldberg, a conservative who isn’t insane, for putting pen to paper and finding a way to say what needs to be said over, and over, and over again; getting louder every time. A few days ago his column spoke to not just me, but also to multiple friends of mine who saw it and cheered; including some of my most liberal friends, proving that there are still a few of us who can think outside of our tribes.

Making his piece even more noteworthy, over the weekend, Oregon legislators made it known that they are moving towards making indoor masking, regardless of vaccination status, permanent. Oregon is one of the few states that never lifted its indoor mask mandates and now will become the first to create a mask society. Such lunacy makes many of us shake our heads and wonder what world we’re living in, but it also further points out the divide between us as a society.

If you tortured yourself and watched the Sunday morning news shows all you heard was that the Omicron variant is death…despite endless initial research showing that while it is incredibly transmissible, it’s also not at all dangerous. In fact, it’s akin to the common cold. Yet, we have to scare the living hell out of everyone over cases, not outcomes. With that, I present to you Goldberg’s article, with minor changes made by yours truly:

I’m just gonna throw it out there: If I had to guess—and it’s just a guess—Omicron is good news. The panic and the economic tumult caused by the panic isn’t good news. But I’m betting that the variant itself, is.

Let’s say you’re a maverick scientist with a god complex who plays by his own rules. You want to help humanity by getting rid of COVID as quickly as possible. Maybe just maybe, you’d genetically engineer the coronavirus itself to be super contagious but also much, much more harmless; virtually no deaths and very few hospitalizations, just some sniffles and maybe a head cold.

COVID-19 is here. It’s not going anywhere. For quite a while now, the hope for the long-term has been for the virus to evolve into something relatively harmless, like the cold, or at least relatively manageable, like the flu. As of now, Omicron looks a lot like that.. Omicron might be—we’re still not totally sure—more contagious than the Delta variant, but also less harmful.

Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California-San Francisco, suggested this might—just might—be the case:

Gandhi sees a historical parallel. “It’s really hard for a variant to become more transmissible and more virulent,” she said. “For it to be more mild, that would be an amazing hope, because in a way, that’s how the 1918 influenza pandemic ended. It just became more mild and burned out.”

The evidence that has emerged over the last week or so since Omicron burst into the headlines is more supportive of that theory than the idea that Omicron is a disaster requiring consideration of more lockdowns, travel bans, mask and vax mandates, emergency declarations, and other forms of panic.

In other words, the immediate response from media outlets, stock markets, and government officials was more disconnected from reality than a hopeful scenario.

Now, I get it. Governments and markets often respond more immediately and impulsively to risks and threats than to potential good news. And you know what? The same is true of the human brain. The prehistoric dude who assumed every rustle of the bushes was a saber-toothed tiger ready to pounce might have been overly paranoid, but he was more likely to live long enough to pass on his paranoid genes than the always upbeat caveman who assumed every rustle was fresh evidence that the gods had just gifted him a puppy. If every day he shouted, “Where’s my puppy!?” and leapt toward the sound in the bushes, he’d eventually encounter a tiger, or a bear, or a snake, or a jerk with a spear.

Similarly, the government that responds to every possible threat—troop movements, pandemics, shoddy nuclear power plant design, terrorist fatwah, whatever—with Christmas pony optimism is going to run into trouble.

My only point here is that this thing has gone on long enough that a certain kind of elite panic has set in to the point where it has become institutionalized. Very broadly speaking, the people who didn’t take the pandemic seriously enough were in the wrong a year and a half ago. And just as broadly speaking, the people who can’t conceive of loosening their grip are in the wrong now.

A lot of politicians live in a bubble. Reinforced by a friendly media that lives in the same atmosphere, they’ve concluded that the response to every new COVID development is to take action, to declare states of emergency as the governor of New York did in response to Omicron, to hold onto mask requirements, etc. This despite the fact the reality below them has moved on.

Now, I’m on the record having defended a lot of the early responses to the pandemic—not because I think, or thought, they were all correct in every regard. But at the outset of a pandemic, laissez-faire-ness is not the right response. When you see the Chinese army welding people into their apartment buildings, American government officials shouldn’t say, “We should do that too,” but nor should they say, “There’s nothing to worry about here.”

Still, it feels like there was a peculiar geniality between a lot of technocratic liberals and the pandemic. And whatever the justifications for their gusto for social control might have been, I think those justifications have exceeded their shelf-life. Barring some new evidence—evidence not on display in the Omicron breakout—it’s time to let go.

The same goes for the Republicans who can’t give up on their strange obsessions with the plight of the unvaccinated. The argument over vaccinations is amazingly disconnected with the reality on the ground. More than eight in 10 Americans (83 percent) over the age of 18 have received at least one vaccine dose, and 81 percent of the population over 12 years old has. The CDC even claims that 99 percent of people over 65 have.

So what the hell is everyone arguing about? The 17 percent of the population that has received no doses may be disproportionately Republican, but plenty aren’t the MAGA hat wearing anti-vaxxers whom some Democrats are determined to demonize and some Republicans are determined to defend as civil rights martyrs. And remember, a significant portion of people who refuse to get vaccinated aren’t reluctant because they think the vaccine will make you magnetic or because it’s a deep state conspiracy of some kind. They reasonably don’t want to get it because they already had COVID and thus think they don’t need it, or because they’re young and healthy and don’t think it’s worth the hassle.

In other words, this whole “debate” is shadow boxing among a bunch of elites who can’t let go of the argument even though reality has moved on.

At this point, if you don’t want to get vaccinated, I think you’re wrong. But I also really just don’t care. Similarly, if you really, really think everyone should wear a mask or that things can’t go back to normal unless everyone is vaccinated, I just don’t care (so long as you’re not a policymaker). If you want to stay home, stay home. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, don’t get vaccinated. You can deal with the consequences yourself. Don’t drag me into it. And please, until there are new facts worthy of freaking out in either direction, just shut up about it already.

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