Doubling the fear

As the largest recession in British history begins to bite, the government has decided to spend a good chunk of its debt on campaigns (and more “draconian” legislation curtailing freedom of advertising, etc) on fighting obesity. The justification? That it has emerged that obese patients are perhaps twice as likely to die from Coronavirus infection as others.

The “double the risk” fallacy is so universal now that it’s hard to say whether politicians simply accept it unthinkingly, or “follow the science” of statistically-challenged advisers, or are fully aware of it but are determined to squeeze every ounce of fear out of this epidemic as it peters out. With no exit strategy they can maintain the controls permanently.

The fallacy is obvious: being in my late sixties, the risk of my dying from COVID-19, should I catch it, is significantly more than younger folk without complicating pathology, and a good deal less than those a decade older. Overall, it’s slightly above what the data suggests as the overall fatality, and the figure is about 1:1000. Personally I’m very happy with such odds, which are probably about the same as I face every year from flu, even with my free NHS flu jab. There is no good reason for me to change my personal behaviour to avoid it, any more than the risk of a road traffic accident stops me driving across the main Exeter road to church.

Incidentally, they’re now also spending some more of our grandchildren’s money on vaccinating 50% of the population against flu, on the grounds that that, too, might reduce by some undetermined amount the hypothetical risk to those who might get flu simultaneously with COVID. It’s only quantitively-eased money, after all.

But back to the raw COVID risk – were I obese, my doubled chance of dying from COVID would increase from 1:1000 to 1:500. And that’s still a pretty small number, which would not alter my behaviour in any activity usually. For example, the risk of injury to novice parachutists is also 1:1000. If you were told it was in fact 1:500, would that alter your decision to do such a jump for charity?

(What perhaps ought to change your decision is that, once expenses, and the costs to the NHS of treating injuries is taken into account, it’s a totally inefficient way of giving to charity – but then, like so much charity nowadays, the point is more about having fun and virtue signalling than supporting a worthwhile cause.)

There would be absolutely no case for prioritising the control of people’s eating choices by state penalties, were it not for the irrational fear that has become associated with COVID by the pundits, the governments and the media acting in apocalyptic consort. Attention has been drawn to the perpetual ratcheting up of public fear on every public issue in a book by sociologist Professor Frank Furedi, called How Fear Works: Culture of Fear in the Twenty-First Century , which I discovered today and which I will certainly have to read. He has hit on a major truth about our times.

On close examination, none of this doom-mongering holds water, whether it be the imminent takeover of the world by Far Right extremists, or climate alarmism of an uninhabitable desert earth.

And COVID fits right into that – I am seeing an increasing number of older people, including doctors, pointing out what I mentioned back in March, ie that COVID-19 has shown no sign whatsoever of matching the severity of the Hong Kong Flu of 1969-70, nor the Asian Flu of 1957-8. Many of these commentators, including even one epidemiologist, point out that like me they were more or less unaware of those pandemics at the time, even though their severity had been recognised and their nicknames given. They had zero effect on the economy.

President Johnson suffered from Hong Kong Flu, and one of his associates died from it. Richard Nixon was elected President, Frank Borman developed it during the Apollo 8 mission, and a bit later Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. 450,000 people freely associated for the Woodstock Festival during it. I caught rubella (surely a dangerous potential co-morbidity!) as I revised for A-levels, and took my mock exams as planned at the height of the pandemic season. I bought my first guitar, without a mask, and learned to play it with a tutor-book my brother brought home from work in London. I played in concerts, sang in church, and kissed my grandparents.

Nobody was scared of flu, though the guys fighting over in Vietnam were probably afraid of the Viet Cong’s Tet Offensive, commenced even though a major outbreak of H3N2 had started in Vietnam the previous July.

Now, in dramatic contrast, a waning epidemic is causing an expensive scramble for a vaccine, which the Oxford vaccine group say may fail for lack of patients to test it on; face masks have become obligatory in shops here, and other situations are due to follow; and as I have mentioned tackling the long term problem of obesity must be successfully achieved whatever the cost by winter, in case of a second wave. The legislation will persist even if there is no second wave.

As I suggested above, it’s pretty hard to credit that politicians are really so out of touch with risk-management that they truly believe the limited danger from Coronavirus outweighs every other consideration, including the 200,000 non-COVID deaths already estimated to have arisen from lockdown – five times the deaths attributed to COVID…

… which have also, it has now been shown, been exaggerated, presumably to increase public fear, by regarding the virus as permanent once acquired, and so a cause of death, and so the cause of death, of anyone who has ever tested positive, whenever and whatever causes their later demise. It would be scientific madness, if it weren’t clearly manipulation.

Governments cannot be – and by their own admission are not – unaware of the deaths attributable to suspension of normal medical provision, nor from unemployment, poverty, violence in the home, or increased mental illness. And yet they continue, even in the light of data supporting such dire consequences of their policies, to generate messages designed to increase the sense of crisis, which the mainstream media dutifully amplify, but cannot be blamed for starting.

Take the case of face masks in shops: the retail sector, mostly consisting of small businesses, has been terribly damaged by lockdown, and many operators small and large have already gone under. So completely irrationally masks have been made mandatory, emphasising what dangerous places shops are.

The fearful believers will probably prefer to stay at home and shop online. And the rebels, disliking intensely the imposition of probably unnecessary face coverings, will prefer to avoid shops and purchase from the internet too. And that will help the country how?

The likelihood of such trade-damaging responses are obvious even to me, so why would government advisers not be trumpeting the huge losses, for little or no safety gains, in the ears of their ministers?

Various commentators have suggested it’s all too stupid not to be intentional fearmongering, with the agenda being the fundamental change of the world’s economic and social order that many of us have been suspecting for a long time, and that has become overt in the anarchistic aftermath of the BLM demonstrations.

But those commentators also tend to think our political leaders are neither devious nor intelligent enough to participate knowingly in such a global conspiracy. They point to the “powers behind the thrones,” and to evidence that, for example, the WHO working group that advised against the wearing of masks in public places changed their advice not because of the science, but from political pressure – the open question being who applied that pressure.

It would be in keeping with the pattern of our UK government, at least, to be falling into line with WHO recommendations, and so to align their politics, unconsciously, with those pulling political strings to manipulate public science. Why would they be so naive?

If Boris Johnson, or any of his associates in government, were to chance upon this piece, this would be my plea and warning. I mentioned recently that even my builder is aware of BBC media manipulation on the question of LGBTQ morality, and resents how it is also imposed on our children in schools by government diktat, and on ordinary people through the courts and police service under the intersectionalist newspeak of “hate speech.”

Since I wrote that blog, chatting to my very normal and quiet neighbour in the lane she lamented that there is no longer freedom of speech in England. I hear such things over and over again, and only my fellow church-leaders seem untouched by it, swallowing the social justice slogans in apparent blithe ignorance of the underlying intention to abolish all that Christianity contributed to society, and not least the Church and the gospel itself. Many in Britain see our way of life not under threat, but breathing its last. In America, with governors openly defying their elected federal government, many more think that way.

Boris, you were elected because a majority of ordinary people in Britain wanted freedom from Europe, and at least a good part of that longing was to reverse the moral decline the EU seemed to encourage, and impose through their powerful institutions. Yet having castigated the Remainers’ “Project Fear” you have created your very own over COVID-19 – and the people have noticed.

You have replaced the bureaucratic command and control government of Brussels with an even more liberty-stifling regime – less a nanny state than a governess government, rabbiting on constantly about our civic duty in the absence of your own civic responsibility to truth-telling – and ordinary folk are not stupid enough to miss it.

You have bleated on about the waste of the EU tower of Babel, and yet have squandered our children’s inheritance on the ghastly experiment of closing down society altogether, which from the start made even less sense than building a tower to heaven.

It might be that, according to the principles of God in ruling the world, we have got the government we deserve. But that need not prevent us longing for a government that is morally principled, economically literate, scientifically canny and really does treat the people as people, and not cattle.

Come to think of it, that’s the government promised in Jesus once this rebellious lot are all swept away. Maranatha!

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to Doubling the fear

  1. Elizabeth B. says:

    Jon,

    Good article.

    I am seeing more people who are questioning everything and don’t believe anything the media or our politicians say.

    Here, in the U.S., many think that this Covid Craziness will vanish with the election, particularly if Biden wins. But if that is what drives it, that doesn’t explain Europe and the UK. So, then it does look like what you reference as a”fundamental change of the economic and social order.”

    I listened to a podcast today entitled, ‘Of Kings and Things and What Matters.” Friar Stephen Freeman discussed the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, quoting from Shakespeare’s Henry V:

    And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remember’d;
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition:
    And gentlemen in England now a-bed
    Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

    The Friar makes the point that, contrary to King Henry’s speech here, it is not “the band of brothers” fighting the elite’s war who are so very important in the scheme of things, but the common farmer. It is with the common folk going about their daily business of raising a family, praying, working and taking care of their corner on whom the world depends. It is they who keep life moving despite nation states playing at intrigues.

    Anyway, that is a basic summary and is worth a listen to anyone interested. I listened twice. I am not Orthodox, but if we had someone like this locally, I probably would be, if only for the inspiring messages.

    And, that is your message here too, “he government promised in Jesus once this rebellious lot are all swept away.”

    Thanks!

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      I too have noticed how strangely parochial each country seems to be on COVID policy. Your people criticize Trump for American problems, and our press blames Boris Johnson, whilst the French slam Macron… Very little interest seems to be shown in why, broadly, most governments did the same kind of things and got the same kind of results.

      This is particularly significant when, in previous pandemics, they also did the same kind of things (ie not a lot), and got better results.

      You’re absolutely right that, in the end, it is the ordinary people who not only matter, but who determine, at the human level, the sweep of history. That’s why it matters so much to me that ordinary people are not misled, when the misled powerful people do all in their considerable power to manipulate their beliefs and actions.

      It will be interesting to see how the Lord governs the new world without such manipulation, but Christians already have that experience personally in how he deals with us. I’ve been a Christian 55 years next month, and he’s never used propaganda on me yet!

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