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Endemic Bullshit

  • opinion

Earlier I wrote this: Factions are (initially) small organized, deviant groups within a larger whole, for example in politics. Factions are endemic to that bigger picture. Endemic risks are those risks caused by factions threatening the whole. Mary Douglas shows in Risk and Blame how such risks are often identified and used by factions to gain influence.

A few examples: Our nationalist factions consider asylum granted to Muslims an endemic risk. Our liberal-democratic factions call the restriction of human rights an endemic risk. Our neo-classical market thinkers call the use of taxes for the redistribution of incomes an endemic risk. And our epidemiologists call ignoring social distancing an endemic risk. A balance between the four families of interests (identity, rule of law, prosperity, sense of reality) and the associated disciplines contributes to a bearable social climate (or a bearable level of collectively felt hatred between factions).

Then I went into the US election campaign. I’ll skip that part here. But I gave a consideration whose generic scope (mutatis mutandis) I still consider important.

I am writing this because we have to prevent scientist-politicians like Cliteur and Baudet (and the like) will lead us to a form of chaos similar to that the US if we do not stop them. A form of chaos that we (I am adopting the position of 75 year old Dutchmen) can no longer remember because at the time we were not yet articulate enough to recognize the lack of ‘Lebensraum’ and the Jewish danger as endemic bullshit, as we can with ‘the intention to transfer immigrants from Africa to Europe to weaken national identity so that there will be no more nation states’ (a recent proposition by a seriously successful Dutch politician).

Realize in the debate with Cliteur and Baudet (and the like) that freedom of expression does not apply to essential reporting. Not for identity-sensitive information, not under oath, not for stock market-sensitive information and not at all for science.

As of October 14, 2020, the latter is something to discuss in more detail in the Netherlands. We are in the second wave of the pandemic and we are on the brink of reintroducing restrictions. Again, we can look at examples of how different types of factions identify endemic risks. Our nationalist factions call the seizure by immigrants of care capacity an endemic risk. Our liberal-democratic factions call endemic risks the measures to limit human rights (freedoms to unite, assemble, physical integrity). Our neo-classical market thinkers refer to the economic effects of the measures as endemic risks. And our scientists (including sociologists, lawyers, economists and epidemiologists) identify endemic risks in different clusters of causes for contamination and the efficacies of measures.

A balance between the four families of interests (identity, rule of law, prosperity, sense of reality) and the associated disciplines contributes to a bearable social climate (or a bearable collective hate level), I stated.

That balance is in danger of being lost in what appears to be a moral us-them arms race – between parties that dismiss the political preference of the other as immoral. Such evokes deep-seated disgust all around.

I suspect that conflicts will last a long time when the warring parties turn their eyes off the ball (off the pandemic in its societal context) and on the moralities of the others instead – and also when we lose sight of the evidence-based science providing arguments to the normative, political debate, while remembering that science cannot and may not make political decisions in isolation.

Anyone who exclusively relies on science tries to avoid political responsibility. Anyone who ignores science (following the examples of the USA and Brazil) will soon afterwards have to sit on the blisters (or let others do so, like the elderly, the sick whose treatment has to be postponed, care institutions). Those who prefer political choices such as those made in New Zealand and China will have to accept the consequences of the behavioral and constitutional adaptations that such choices entail.

It seems that there are not many sustainable alternatives at the moment. It also seems that the debate on the choice at hand is not being held at all. It is about how wrong the others were, still are and will be.

And yes, an effective vaccine isn’t there yet.