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After a Long Drive Toward a Dead End, We Have Reached It
"give me kids being preferentially killed or injured by this disease...."
To take up a matter that’s been making me feel tired and irritable for two days, Sam Harris. Other people have written about this, and I was hoping to talk myself into skipping it. But it can’t be skipped.
Harris, a UCLA neuroscience PhD and (most famously) a critic of religious faith as an assault on rational thought, spent 2021 and 2022 attacking critics of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA products, like the biologists Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying. Listen to one of those attacks here. Now, finding his views wrong, he finds his views to be correct: “Had Covid been worse, you know, just enough worse to really get our attention, to really be undeniable, we would have had a different political conversation around it.”
If enormous numbers of children had died — “if kids were dying by the hundreds of thousands from Covid” — and if the vaccines had been extraordinarily effective, then anti-vaxxer sentiment wouldn’t have been tolerated, and critics of the vaccines would not now be viewed as people who got the question right, and people like Sam Harris who were vicious critics of vaccine skeptics in 2021 and beyond would be vindicated and celebrated.
If all of reality had been completely different, Sam Harris would not have been wrong, so Sam Harris is therefore not wrong.
This is what he actually says, and spend some time with this:
Change one other variable: What if the vaccines actually really did block transmission much better than they in fact did? There was a moment where it was only rational to expect them to block transmission. Turns out they don’t do it nearly as much as we would hope. At this point, they just shorten the window during which transmission is possible — if they’re even doing that now. I don’t know. But, um, let’s say the vaccines really did block transmission, but nothing else was, you know, all the other mishegas about how untested they are, and how dangerous they might be, and the spike protein, and blah blah blah, leave all of that in place, just give me a little more transmission blockage, and give me kids being preferentially killed or injured by this disease. The obscenity of much of what was said about Covid, at the time at which it was said, you know, the conspiracy thinking, the platforming of people who were obviously unwell and unbalanced, professionally and mentally, around vaccines, and their skepticism — the patience for that would have been nonexistent. Right? And so in some sense we got unlucky at how benign this was.
Now watch this portion of the same discussion, in which Bret Weinstein cannot become right merely by having been right:
If Bret Weinstein and people like him turn out to have been completely correct about every aspect of Covid and the public health/Big Pharma response to it, they're still not right right: “So Bret turns out he was right about everything, right? Will he be vindicated? Not really, because at the time, his reasons for thinking what he was thinking at the time were insufficient. Right?”
(You can watch this whole discussion here, if you prefer not to rely on excerpts, but it means listening to Sam Harris a lot.)
We’ve reached the leading edge of the inflection point, and people who’ve been aggressively wrong for two-plus years are trying to create the magical scenario in which being wrong wasn’t being wrong. The sins Harris assigns to Weinstein and Heying here aren’t about factual correctness, but are rather about ritual performance: They failed to recite the catechism at the moment when the righteous faithful were deeply committed to recitation. They betrayed a priesthood by the social aggression of bad timing. They were right wrong — they delivered factual correctness by an improper mechanism and at the wrong stage of the ritual cycle.
What I’ve been saying here, over and over again, is that we have a series of overlapping status groups made up of people who regard themselves as cultural elites on the basis of performative compliance. They chant the shibboleths when the shibboleths are being chanted, so they’re good people who are very smart.
I have other thoughts about this, but currently lack the patience to share them. If what had happened had been different than the real things that actually did happen, “we would have had a different political conversation around it.” That’s an epitaph.
It is not possible to exaggerate the howling void at the center of this allegedly elite culture. It has no ideas. It has no creativity. It has no worth. It has nothing to offer. It bears no gifts. It serves only itself, and badly. And it should be shoved aside with great force.
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