March 15, 2020

Closed borders allowed people to live normal lives, free of pandemic threats; Return to open-borders Gilded Age means return of life-disruption

Just because these extreme levels of social distancing, shutdowns, and lockdowns are necessary to mitigate the damage done by a pandemic disease, does not mean that we should consider them in any way normal. What kind of fucked up world do we live in where that's something the entire country has to do for so long?

But we will come to consider it normal -- if we have adapted to utterly pointless responses to foreign threats, like the draconian TSA screening in the wake of Arabian jihadism, then we will surely adapt to responses that actually do reduce harm to us from foreign threats such as pandemic diseases.

That's why the macro picture -- that pandemics are caused by global integration, and that they will only go away with de-globalization -- is so important to keep alive in the public consciousness. The natural tendency otherwise will be to simply go along with this stuff like there's nothing less disruptive to our lives that can be done to protect us. But there is -- closing the damn border. That doesn't disturb our lives at all, only the profit streams of those elites who depend on globalized supply chains, cheap foreign labor, and military expansion.

When we enjoyed a closed border from roughly 1920 to 1980, nobody had to worry about any of these lockdowns, social distancing, canceling of all meetings, and so on and so forth. This is not a case of younger generations finally being subjected to the hardships that their grandparents had to suffer through in their own time.

Bullshit -- my grandparents were born in 1914 and various years of the 1920s. They didn't have to live through a national or regional lockdown due to pandemic disease. My mother's father was a small child during the Spanish Flu pandemic, which did claim a very young family member of his. Other than that single case, though, no they did not have to live through a dystopia like ours -- they lived through the earthly paradise of the Great Compression and New Deal era.

We'd have to go back to the middle of the 19th century, during the Gilded Age, to find ancestors for whom it was a given that their lives would be periodically disrupted and locked down by threats of epidemic and pandemic disease. Especially if yours were Ellis Islanders: they could still have been back in Europe, which was ravaged by one wave after another of cholera outbreaks during the Gilded Age.

But our ancestors who lived most of their lives from 1920 to 1980? No way -- they had it made in the shade. Naturally that did not come easy, or for free -- they had to band together and threaten or actually exert collective leverage against the elites, who backed down and kept the borders closed in the interest of national peace.

That still involved individuals sacrificing for the greater good -- but unlike us, they weren't making a massive sacrifice like giving up their normal lives, and the magnitude of their benefit was not just "mitigating pandemic disease". Wow, what a high bar for collective accomplishment -- mere survival! Instead, they sacrificed their puny, worthless individual ambition in order to enjoy the prosperity, egalitarian distribution of wealth, purity from nasty diseases, societal harmony, and achievement of one scientific and cultural milestone after another.

How did we ever fall from such heights? Because of the return of individualist ambition and status-striving, which poisons our attempts at collective action. Specifically, those generations who were born into that socially accommodating environment took its benefits for granted. Prosperity, egalitarianism, public health, amazing achievements -- those things simply happen all by themselves, and no care needs to be taken by any of us to ensure that they continue. And you can understand them -- without forgiving them -- since they knew of no other such environment, like any part of the 1830 to 1920 period of misery, dystopia, and decadence.

Once the Silents and Boomers took over the demographic pyramid, and with it the elite levers of power in all domains of society, it was game over for prosperity, egalitarianism, health, and accomplishment. Seeing no harm in the unfettered pursuit of individual ambition (the Me Generation phenomenon of the 1970s), they upended the New Deal norms and ushered in the neoliberal shithole society that we are still descending further down into.

And no, Gen X-ers, Millennials, and Gen Z-ers are not going to make things better. Going back to the Gilded Age comparison, the generation who started turning society around circa the 1920s was born circa the 1880s. We are currently in the 1850s stage of the cycle, meaning our society's saviors won't even be born for another 30 years. And of course we'll have to wait further until they've grown up into full adults in order to see major changes made to society.

In the meantime, it is crucial for us to preserve the knowledge, for our future saviors, of what has gone right vs. wrong at the macro level over many centuries worth of historical cycles. That way they won't have to figure it all out for themselves. The knowledge per se won't change anything -- we already have it with us now, and have had for some time, yet look at how much lower we keep descending since 1980. But once the social conditions are ripe for creating a generation of saviors, it'll all catch on like wildfire if we have been keeping the embers alive in the meantime.


  1. The 1957 Asian flu epidemic killed 70,000 Americans, according to Wikipedia. I expect the COVID 19 total in the U.S. will ultimately be much less. Ask a Boomer if they remember this epidemic: they almost certainly don't. It seems what we are dealing with is not so much a question of reality as perception.

  2. Wrong: the reality is R0 was only 1.7 for H2N2, vs. closer to 2.5 for COVID-19.

    See Table 2:

    Thus mitigating H2N2 didn't require such stringent measures. In fact, they already had the main measure in place -- a very tight border, esp. vis-a-vis Asia.

    For COVID-19, we require much greater levels of reaction ("panic," "paranoia," etc.), not only because it's far more contagious, but is also more unknown in its consequences -- already looks a lot deadlier than other influenza strains (10x deadlier than normal flu) -- and we no longer have a tight border against Asia -- indeed, a wide-open border with China.

    If we had not taken these aggressive "paranoid" measures, we would see millions dead in America at the least, by the end of the pandemic (which has only just gotten started -- those 70K figures from 1957-58 are covering a much longer time than the first few months).

  3. And don't say that you "expect" anything about the outcomes of this pandemic. It's OK to say that you're ignorant of epidemiology, ecology, math, and history -- most people are.

    Just say, "Don't know much about biology," and ask a question from someone who does, rather than make declarative statements as though you're the one who knows something. "Could it be that this thing will only kill in the 10s of thousands in the US if we don't resort to aggressive measures?"

    Until you've put in the man-hours (and years) on mathematical biology, history, etc., just ask rather than pronounce.

    I'm not going hard on you specifically, only using this instance as an example of a general point.

    And of course, even knowing math and basic epidemiology is no guarantee that the person knows what's going on. Most of those people are unfortunately defective in evolutionary and ecological biology.

    They think quarantines are impossible, or discriminating. They think pathogens necessarily evolve to get less virulent over time. They don't understand what happens when you open demographic flow between all corners of the globe, for infectious diseases. And they sure as shit don't know any history to draw on -- other than some recent spectacle, in this case the Spanish Flu pandemic (literally the only example they'll cite).

  4. Perhaps this also represents the bottoming out of the cocooning trend, with the government shutting down certain public spaces and mandating "social distancing".

    This could be rock bottom, the event that makes people realize the trend has gone too far, and its time to start frequenting public spaces again.

    Walking my dog, there were oddly enough significantly more people than usual outside, making fun of 'social distancing'("does it apply to dogs?")

  5. what i dont get is that for yrs people on the fringes of politics both left and right have been hoping for liberalism to collapse and now when we might be nearly there everybody is panicking and want the state to come save us from the reboot of history.
    hic rhodos hic salta.


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