The Five Debates

One of the most frustrating parts of the insanity of the last thirteen months is the difficulty of debate. This difficulty arises for a number of reasons, from fear of censure over voicing opposition to the orthodoxy, to a lack of opportunity to engage in genuine debate as a result of social distancing rules and the closure of hospitality.

However, even as someone who has been consistently vocal about their opposition to the orthodoxy and consistently non-compliant with the rules, and therefore someone who has experienced plenty of censure while also experiencing plenty of opportunities for genuine debate, there has still be a significant difficulty once engaged in debate, and this comes from the fact that it isn’t just one single debate, but five debates, and the risk is that one gets bogged down in one of these five, distracted by the flow of the conversation to the point where 80% of the whole topic ends up getting ignored.

These five debates (or my position on the five debates) are as follows:

  1. Lockdowns are disproportionate to the threat of the virus;
  2. Lockdowns don’t work;
  3. Lockdowns cause significant harms;
  4. Lockdowns are unethical;
  5. There are better alternatives to Lockdowns.

As an example, it is very easy to find yourself spending half an hour debating debate number one above, citing studies showing a highly manageable IFR, showing high levels of cross-infection immunity, showing high levels of population immunity, showing seasonality to be a major factor, and many other elements that would make Lockdowns unnecessary, only to realise after that half an hour, that in focusing on that argument, you have, after a fashion, conceded that there may exist a situation where Lockdowns could be necessary, and so it then becomes crucial that the debate is switched quickly in order to make it clear that this is not the case at all, because, after all, the Lockdowns don’t work (debate two above).

This debate, around the efficacy of Lockdowns, is difficult in a different way, because it requires not just overcoming a year of Government propaganda, but also the “intuitive” assumption that Lockdowns must work because social interaction is reduced so therefore transmission must also be reduced – a.k.a. the Great Common Sense.

And so, you embark on the lengthy journey of pointing out the evidence that the Lockdowns haven’t worked, whether that’s the timing of Lockdown imposition, pairwise comparisons, stringency-to-COVID-mortality correlations (or lack thereof), and so on and so on, only for the inevitable response of denial to be thrown back at you.

“But they must work in theory! I’ve done my part and I haven’t got sick, so it must work for people who actually comply; the only reason we keep going back into Lockdowns is because of those irresponsible people who aren’t doing their part.” They cry.

On we go then, explaining the driving factor of nosocomial transmission of severe cases, the woeful evidential case for asymptomatic transmission, how those not adhering to the Stay-at-Home order are doing so not out of irresponsibility but out of necessity – either for work or for their mental health. But when it becomes clear that you’re not going to get through to whomever you’re locked into the cycle of debates with, you find yourself having to switch debate once more, pointing out that even if the Lockdowns do work to some small extent, it doesn’t really matter because the costs are so high (debate three above).

You point out the huge negative mental health impact, you point out the disastrous loss of businesses, the catastrophic loss of life as a result of losing access to healthcare, the irreplaceable loss of education, and so on, knowing that you will be incapable of succinctly summarising all the costs and the size to which they have amounted that will almost certainly exceed the costs of the virus once it’s all accounted for, only to be met once more with determined indignation, the unjustified claim that those costs are inflated, or the unsubstantiated claim that those costs will be recouped or repaired quickly once the Lockdowns end.

So, again, you try a different tack and point out that “debate three” becomes moot as you slide into debate four, finding yourself entering a more philosophical debate, quoting the Hippocratic Oath, or referencing “First, do no harm”, or the principle of medical ethics whereby it is, by definition, unethical within medical principles to place harm on one individual in order to prevent harm to another. Therefore, the Lockdowns are unethical irrespective of how many lives they “save” if just one person who would otherwise have had no issue without the Lockdowns suffers in any way as a result of them; that so many have suffered makes them immoral, if not criminal, but just one person’s suffering is enough to make them unethical.

But, often, even after getting to this point in the round robin of debates, you will find that the argument still isn’t won, that whomever you are debating with still isn’t swayed. They claim there is some sort of moral obligation to “do your part”; they espouse such nonsense as, “if it saves just one life then it’s worth it”, or they claim there isn’t any other option, completely ignoring the fact that the Lockdowns should never have been considered as an option in the first place, and, despite the fact that it should now be clear that there will be no value in pursuing the noble goal of persuading whomever it is you’ve failed to convince by this point, you push on, in a last-ditch attempt, to debate five.

Although it should be blindingly obvious by this point that the option of doing nothing at all would have been better than imposing the Lockdowns, you point out there is a better option than either and you explain the Great Barrington Declaration in detail and how a focused protection strategy might actually work in practice.

Unfortunately, if you have had to cycle all the way through to this point, it’s highly unlikely that the fifth and final debate will be the pivotal convincing argument; however, if you have failed to convince them by this point, then no one will ever convince them – they are a lost cause, either cognitively impaired or morally bankrupt, so move on, find someone else, jump back on the debate wheel, and try and convince whoever the new person you find next is.

I will finish with a couple more comments on why having these debates over and over again is so important — regardless of how tiring it is.

The first is that I am (perhaps naively) confident that the majority of people are sceptical of the Government’s approach: most people I talk to seem to intuitively realise that a lot of this is utter nonsense for one reason or another; the latest example I can give is a teacher who dutifully complies with the regulations and safety procedures put in place during the day, only to scratch his head as 150 kids are loaded onto school coaches in the afternoon without social distancing or masks. As I outlined all the reasons he should be scratching his head, he consistently nodded and agreed, and it is my belief that there are many, many people ready to be swayed. It is our civic and moral duty to find them and sway them.

The second and final comment revolves around protest. In three weeks’ time, the people will peacefully descend on London (look out for the hashtag “wewillALLbethere”), and numbers matter.

So, in an edited tagline finish…

Get out. See a friend. Share a hug. Have a debate. Sway them to our side.

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